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Giftwrapped Toxicity

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Jan. 16, 2021
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There is a gripe that I have when it comes to romance. It might be the reason I don't really like reading romance as a genre, and while I am aware that not all works in the romance genre are like this, there are too many for me to want to risk it easily:

Lollipop toxicity.

At least that's what I call it: the relationship depicted between the couple is somehow blatantly not healthy, and yet it is portrayed by the author as ideal, desirable, or even ideal. In short, it is displayed to be romantic rather than hellishly horrible.

There are many iterations of this:

- the man may be rude, gaslighting, abusive, or stalking the woman (or if it's a gay couple, one partner does it to the other one) claiming he is doing it out of love or concern.
- the woman might be physically or verbally abusive to the man (or again, if gay, one partner to the other) but he is supposed to take it because he is ‘the man’ or ‘the strong one’ or ‘the one to save the other’ or ‘the one to fix the other’
-either the man or the woman are cold, distant, and rude, neglecting the relationship or doing things to specifically hurt the other, but then come around with some token of appreciation before the cycle starts again

I'm sure there are others that I forget, but you get the picture.

This is an unhealthy direction to take a couple you want to portray as having a healthy, robust relationship that benefits both.

Sometimes I wonder if creators opt for this because this is the only way they think they can generate drama or friction, and thus create suspense or high stakes for their story.

If so, it is a fallacy. Drama and suspense can be generated in a story where the couple actually has a healthy relationship. Healthy relationships are not all sun and roses. There are rough spots, there are low points, they pass through trying times that test the integrity of the connection. The difference lies in that both partners have mutual respect for each other, and do not wish harm on the other, or ‘hurt out of spite’ or some such thing.

I dare say it could even be more impactful, if a healthy couple has to face a crisis, rather than a dysfunctional one.

What do you think?

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comment

anonymous?

iagojester at 11:49PM, Jan. 18, 2021

It’s true. Seems to happen in music, too. Sometimes I listen to the radio and get very confused as to how some of these ballads of stalkers or desperate people ever get enough sympathy to be garnered as popular songs. Then again... I write a romance comic about people who hate each other, so I guess I’m no better. (^∇^);

usedbooks at 6:56AM, Jan. 17, 2021

Yeah, the problem is romanticizing toxic relationships. Not using them in stories. Portraying jealously, possessiveness, and control as "romantic" and a sign of love will only help abusers irl control their victims and victims accept that as not only normal but romantic. There are a hell of a lot of stories about a person changing herself (or, less often, himself) to be attractive to her/his crush -- and showing that this mentality is "romantic." Even that seemingly benign "makeover story" is a messed up garbage message. A good romance story might instead have a character recognize the toxicity and cast it aside for a different partner. (Like Tristan in Stardust, who sets out to get a prize to impress the girl he's wooing and meets another girl who points out how f-ed up that is.)

The doodler at 7:38PM, Jan. 16, 2021

Toxic relationships (platonic, family, political/national, romantic, sexual, whatever) can make for great stories, but it does get tiresome when the author insists that YOU, YES YOU, THE READER, SHOULD WANT THIS FOR REAL IN YOUR REAL LIFE etc. Shove off, author. :P (@hushicho: in my freaked forays into tumblr, they sure seem to like stuff with zero-sum/one-sided violence/dubious consent overtones portrayed as cutesy and desirable. Which yikes m8, but I guess it fits in with tumblr's love of the concept of empire, just mapped onto individuals. I guess the censorious culture doesn't go so far as having a problem with that?)

Corruption at 6:14PM, Jan. 16, 2021

I am not much into romance as a genre. However, my mom is into regancy romances, and according to her they contain more sex acts described in detail then penthouse letters! (Do not ask how she knows about the letters . . . .I really don't want to think about it!) The part of romances where the parties have one hating the other but still getting together is old. Shakesperian old (Taming Of The Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing) Next comes the obssessed clingers only live for the other person, even if they are not interested, and give up everything. Then there are those where the love interest is hostile, but the obsessed person thinks they just need some love and they will open up as wonderful people. For examples of twisted relationships, look up manga labled Yandere and Tsundere.

hushicho at 5:49PM, Jan. 16, 2021

But most of all, I think people need to understand more and better the line between reality and fantasy, and they tend not to get it, which is 100% their problem, but it's also frustrating to be a creator who wants to craft a narrative that appeals to them, even if it's not what in reality would be called healthy in terms of interpersonal relationships, whether romantic or otherwise. There's too much of that hyper-judgemental super-puritanical nonsense out there, especially in communities (like tumblr has increasingly become) that continually foster the approach to virtually everything. Sometimes, you just want a romance that makes you hot, and that doesn't always happen when you're trying hard to make sure it's something that would work in real life.

hushicho at 5:45PM, Jan. 16, 2021

This is a very hard topic to breach well. I do agree that it's best to have healthy relationships if you can, but I also agree that it's typically a boring relationship if it's idyllic. There's also the very common factor of the audience either not realizing what's truly toxic, or deciding before the story begins that they're going to take everything in the worst possible way. It's difficult to write popular romance, in large part because the audience tends to be the biggest problem with any such story. You're never going to please everyone, but when you get right down to it, a lot of people genuinely have no idea what makes for a healthy relationship.

ShaRose49 at 2:48PM, Jan. 16, 2021

I totally agree, this is one of the main reasons why the romance genre is so off-putting for me. It’s more fun to write about wholesome relationships (whether romantic or not) that go through struggles and challenges together, even the best relationship can have really hard times that make for great drama

Teh Andeh at 1:30PM, Jan. 16, 2021

i feel this really comes back to being taught to "write what you know" and in a lot of cases toxic relationships are a lot more common than healthy ones. should we glamorize unhealthy relationships? no absolutely not. but i don't think many would TRUTHFULLY even want to read a story about a healthy couple and their morally safe "tribulations" at least imho

Tantz_Aerine at 8:34AM, Jan. 16, 2021

Marcorossi: my problem is when a dysfunctional relationship is portrayed as desirable or ideal. Beyond that, of course there are all kinds of relationships and should be written and explored.

marcorossi at 6:11AM, Jan. 16, 2021

I'm not sure people actually always write about "healty" relationships or situations: there a re a lot of stories about violence and murder for example. In my webcomic, my protagonist does a pair of things that are at the very least arguable. This is because stories tend to depict extreme situations that are more emotionally charged and therefore more entertaining. So there is a more general question of whether stories portray, or should portray, morally good, or "healthy", contents.

usedbooks at 5:17AM, Jan. 16, 2021

Unhealthy relationships packaged as romance just give me major horror/thriller vibes. There's a hilarious ad on Pluto TV for two channels one is "Love Stories" and one is "Thrillers." And as the ad goes on the scenes and lines from each channel start to sound like each other, so you don't know which is which. XD "I'll follow you anywhere." Etc.

usedbooks at 5:13AM, Jan. 16, 2021

Agreed. I hate "romance" stories that show clearly unhealthy relationships or have one character that has to change the other or change for them. They feel juvenile at best and dangerous/cringy at worst. A healthy relationship is one of synergy. Characters who were good on their own become even better with their partner. I don't watch strictly romance/drama in general. Because the conflict is so often either what you described or horrible tropey misunderstandings. If the conflict is more external, like families clashing. Or more personal, like coping with a previous loss, I can be more on-board. The conflict shouldn't be with the relationship itself. Although, a long-married couple who needs to rediscover their old spark or figure out an amicable split can be enjoyable. (Grace and Frankie leaps to mind. Despite the fact that two marriages are broken up by spouses' affairs, the romance of the ex-husbands is really lovely, and the conflicts are mostly tolerable.)

SophieD at 3:58AM, Jan. 16, 2021

I know it's not really the focus of your point here, but I would like to agree, via the medium of Twilight. Twilight has creepiness and double standards at its core, making neither character remotely likeable. Ultimately, Edward is a very old man, lurking surreptitiously around schools and banging at least one barely-legal student. On the other hand, we have Bella, who represents the dubious view that it's okay to enable Edward's lascivious behaviour because he's conventionally attractive. I suppose though, if Twilight hadn't been such badly written genre-fiction, it might have literary reviewers calling it a subversive, modern take on Lolita. As it is, it just comes across as badly thought out, preteen 'wish' fulfilment.

Gunwallace at 12:59AM, Jan. 16, 2021

I think you're right about the need for tension and drama in the plot often making one (or both) of the characters a bit too flawed when you take time out and examine them. Often so flawed it's creepy.


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