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Romantic relationships offer some of the most important life lessons. They are filled with excitement, joy, possibility, and hope – at least at the beginning. The anticipation takes hold, sending us into a spiral of flawed bliss. The world seems lighter, and our hearts guide us. For some of us, this will lead to a lifetime of beautiful memories and companionship. For others, it becomes one devastating blow after the other. What makes the difference? Why do some people experience the magical side of love, while others are trapped in a pattern of toxic love? Is it luck? Choice?
Expectations and Conditioning
Our expectations for romance start long before feelings arise. We project our own ideas of relationships onto others based on our own conditioning. Yes, the relationships that are modelled to us by family and friends play a major role in the love we seek for ourselves, but how about the idea of love we receive through the media?
As many of you know by now, I am a submissive cuckquean with an ambiguous sexual orientation. I married my Dom, who I believe to be the most loving man on the planet. I come from a family where affection and communication are deeply valued. “I love you,” was the most common phrase in our house. My parents were very strict about what media my siblings and I consumed. Some would even say they were overprotective. Still, I came out of that upbringing with, what many have called, extreme romantic and sexual desires. Although misunderstood in many ways, my sex life is arguably healthier than some less “extreme” sexual and romantic relationships. Why? Because we learned how to build and respect our personal boundaries, and what love and intimacy should feel like.
With the increase in virtual accessibility, parents have a harder time implementing restrictions. The main issue with this is parents have less control in the education of their children, as they are exposed to far more information than any generation before them.
I interviewed a woman named Olivia recently for a project I’m working on. She is a friend of a friend and has spent her young-adult life studying Italian culture. The premise of my project is to ask strangers this simple question and record their response in the form of a short story: what moment or experience has had the greatest impact on your life thus far? As she shared her heartbreak with me, one bold statement struck me most:
A stereotypical portrayal of Italian romance is summed up in these four words: l’uomo è cacciatore. Translation: man is a hunter. I believed in this. I also believed that if a relationship was functioning, it meant it wasn’t true love. True love requires passion, heat, melodrama – if it doesn’t hurt, it isn’t real…
What struck me most about this confession is that I, too, once subscribed to this narrative, even if my upbringing was so far from it. I remember in high school and university, picking up novels like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey. While reading them, I’d think, “I want a love like that!” Someone who is all-consumed by me. Someone who can’t help but have me right then and there! The alpha, the bad-boy, the beautifully, broken man who loves me so deeply, he feels possessed by me.
This thought process led me into relationships that were devastating to my self-worth. My love and affection were met with ego, jealousy, and deprivation. For a brief time, I let go of the values my family had helped me develop and got stuck in this vicious search for validation. I felt the most alive and loved when I was fighting, fucking, or watching his jealousy flare. I got used to the chase, and anything somewhat normal felt mundane.
Toxic Relationship Phenomenon
The sad thing about those experiences is that they are becoming the norm for the younger generation. Our culture continues to reinforce this by releasing films like Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey. The most recent being a series entitled 365 Days, which glorifies domestic abuse and perpetuates rape culture.
What these films and shows portray are psychologically damaged men who fall in love with seemingly defenceless (and oftentimes “virgin”) females, and use their power to influence and control them. Similar to my own experiences, these abusive characteristics are mistaken for protectiveness, affection, and love.
Women and girls are finding healthy relationships more and more boring as a result of watching these intense and, oftentimes, abusive portrayals of love in the media. Men and boys are either having their controlling and abusive behaviour authorized by this media or, the men and boys who do not subscribe to that behaviour – the ones who have healthy outlooks on love, intimacy, and relationships – are told they are too “nice” or too sentimental/emotional.
Healing Modern Love
In a world that is becoming more technologically driven, how do we raise a generation to be analytical and critical when receiving messages through the media?
In my opinion, it starts with communication and modelling. Yes, even growing up in a loving household, I experienced an unhealthy relationship. As much as the breakup was long overdue (took five years!), I had recognized the signs early on. I was luckier than most in that sense because my parents not only taught me to self-reflect, pay attention to my own feelings and their meaning, but also modelled it for me every day.
Additionally, teaching our young people to be empathetic is critical for any kind of healthy relationship. If children can learn to recognize when someone is hurting, and feel compassion, they will have a greater understanding of how to treat others. They will develop a radar for dysfunctional people, situations, and environments, notice when others are in trouble, and be more willing to lend a hand.
Displaying vulnerability and kindness will encourage young people to follow suit. Of course, easier said than done, so I’ve included some awesome resources below. If or when all else fails, should you come across media, such as 365 Days, start or join a petition to remove it from platforms.
Society is shifting and we are moving in a better direction thanks to the #metoo, #timesup, and #blacklivesmatter movements (to name a few). Have the conversations that matter. Ask the right questions. Take a stand, even a small one, for the future of our boys and girls. They deserve better. They deserve love – the healthy kind.