Toxic Relationships are not Glamorous & Television Shows Need to Stop Portraying Them as Such
Toxic Relationships are not Glamorous & Television Shows Need to Stop Portraying Them as Suchbecause they are making it harder to succeed in love.
I just got done watching this new show on Hulu called Shrill. There are a lot of good, yet questionable things about the show I could talk about, but this essay is about relationships. Specifically, how it’s no wonder to me, and everyone I know, end up in toxic relationships. What I’ve noticed is every toxic behavior, mindset, or societal expectation that exists, we can learn from the media surrounding us. You know why? Because toxicity is exciting and it’s capitalized on. I have failed tremendously in relationships because of it.
Let me take you back to day one of dating for me. I have always been the person to pick the people who make it very apparent in the first week of me dating that something is very, very wrong. We call this the red flag. Due to the powerful force of lust, I truly believe that l can and will completely change all of their behaviors and have the ability to mold them into what I need them to be. Most times, they do change. For a while. But then the red flags start to make themselves known again.
Examples: they don’t call you for a week. They bail on you on all the plans they make with you. They don’t respond to texts. They are vague with their information. They continue to make you feel miserable, but you just let it roll off your back and convince yourself that they will do better next time. They never do. But we’re still there anyway because it’s exciting, right?
I’m watching Shrill and this is being played out right in front of my eyes with the characters, Annie and her “partner,” Ryan. You know where else we see it? With Blair Waldorf and Chuck, or Dan and Serena from Gossip Girl. We see it with Rory and Dean, or Jess from Gilmore Girls, and I’m sure it is plastered throughout every show that we know and love (these are just the shows I’ve been watching lately, so it’s fresh).
In my dating life, the excitement never ended. When I wasn’t getting what I needed emotionally, sexually, mentally, whatever– I went elsewhere. I have used and abused other people to fulfill the needs that my partner could not fulfill. That’s so exciting, right? No, still not. It just perpetuates a cycle of abuse and toxicity. It ends up being this black hole that we all get lost in until some sort of big bang happens and it all comes out.
Then a break up happens.
But like anything toxic, it doesn’t go away after just one go. You go through the cycle over and over again until you have just completely exhausted yourself. You FINALLY realize that you are worth more than accepting the behavior being done to you and you accept you can no longer participate in your own toxic behaviors.
Or like with me and Annie in the show, her friends stop putting up with it. Her roommates, Fran, makes their house a “Ryan Free Zone,” because she refuses to let her do this to herself.
Surprise! She still does regardless of her friend’s advice. Why? Because it’s exciting!
Eventually, finally, a clean (but messy, really) break happens, but the cycle continues with the next person. It never looks the same each time a new cycle starts, so we think, “Oh, it will be different this time!” And it never is. The cycle continues. Maybe this time you don’t go elsewhere, but you sit there, miserable in a relationship that you aren’t happy in and it affects every aspect of your life. But it’s still exciting, right? After a while, it isn’t so much exciting anymore as it is exhausting. We almost always learn this too late and the hard way.
In media, we are often shown a clean break when things end. No mess. Just a handshake, hug, and a see ya around. Let’s explore this in my childhood favorite, Gilmore Girls. Though this time, it’s Rory who is treating Dean badly. Dean isn’t perfect, but she dragged him along even when he was married just because her life wasn’t turning out the way she wanted it to. She kept him on the hook and it was messy. But like good television, they tied it up all in a bow and made it look pretty so we all believe it will be okay. We deserve a Hollywood ending that lies in between the romanticization of toxicity and this unrealistic, clean break.
In real life, it is never that clean or okay. It always feels like failure. Big failure. These shows make it look so fun and exciting, though. They make it look like this is the romance we are all looking for, that we have to go through hell to get the right person. We are taught that we are meant to accept horrible and toxic treatment in order to be in love.
All I know is that I have failed a lot in a lot of relationships, and although I can’t put all the blame on sitcom television, I do think that it’s time we stop making it look so glamorous.
There’s something to be said about having to go through hell to get the right person. I am currently in something I would call a Healthy Relationship™, but it wasn’t easy to get here. Does it have its failures? Yes, often. Am I sure to fail again? Yes! But you know what we don’t do? Blame each other. Verbally abuse each other. We do cry (just kidding, I’m the only one who cries). We give the silent treatment (just kidding, I’m the only one who gives the silent treatment). See? I’m still unpacking learned toxic patterns and behaviors because, not only do we learn in through family, generations, etc., but we learn it from media and I saw struggle as romance. This isn’t the case.
I just hate that we think we have to accept these super toxic behaviors to find love. We are worth so much more than that. I do believe that we have to go through a lot of hard head and heart work to get to what I perceive as a Healthy Relationship™. It is a messy path and full of failure.
All I know is that there is so much success in being able to identify when a situation is no longer healthy for you. That may come a week after it starts, or it will come two years later. Whenever it comes, it will be a success because you have made it to the other side of it. You will have done something good for yourself even though it doesn’t feel as exciting as toxicity can. You deserve to find excitement in others ways like kissing a person you know will answer your texts or skydiving or cuddling your cat. And maybe no one will watch a TV show if those things are the plots lines, but who needs television when you have your one, amazing, healthy and exciting life?
Samantha Slupski is a poet and writer from in Kansas City, Missouri. Her passions include creating and facilitating brave poetic spaces, traveling and performing poems, and figuring out what home means to her. When she is not writing, she is working at an art studio teaching and assisting artists with developmental disabilities or is hiking around the Midwest. You can find out more about her at www.samanthaslupskipoetry.com or on Instagram at @samfromkc.