Romantic relationships can be complicated. Trying to meld two lives together while maintaining individuality is difficult, requiring continuous time and patience. People all have their own backgrounds, boundaries, expectations, hang-ups, and faults. Now, all of that is normal and perfectly fine. It’s just a truth of life. But it is not a truth that popular movies, fairy tales, or lure teach us.
Popular depictions of “true” romance, like romcoms for instance, are notorious for excusing and even glorifying abusive, manipulative, and unhealthy patterns/ interactions. For example, in the movie “The Notebook,” the main characters only begin to date because the male protagonist threatens suicide unless the female lead agrees to date him. When behaviors like these, from literature or big screen movies to commercials and print ads, become normalized or are seen as just cute character quirks, it is not surprising that certain destructive and unfair behaviors are normalized to a certain respect. It’s hard to fight back against something that is made to seem romantic or is justified by someone claiming they are only doing it because they love you.
Specifically in this piece, I want to talk about jealousy. While I am not currently in a romantic relationship, I have had the conflicting experience of watching my brother navigate through his first long-term romantic relationship. His partner is a really sweet woman, but she has some worrying patterns of jealousy and controlling behavior. She gets upset and insecure when my brother hangs out with his friends, specifically if any of those friends are female and single. She does not want him hanging out with co-workers if some of those coworkers are single women. If my brother does not respond to her calls or texts within five minutes or so, she practically blows up his phone with calls. She is even jealous of friends that he used to have or women that he used to date, going so far as to call mutual friends of ours sluts or bitches.
I recognize these signs as predecessors to an abusive relationship, but my brother and the rest of my family do not. Her friends back up her behavior, citing how anyone would feel jealous of “their man” hanging out with other single women. My parents just see her as young, believing that she will grow out of her insecurities. I often wonder if perspectives would be different if they reversed genders or were of different ages.
Personally, as someone who identifies as pansexual, I recognize just how stifling any inkling of jealousy can be in a relationship. Bisexuals and pansexuals have gotten the unfair reputations of being unfaithful and unable to commit. I would have no friends if I were not allowed to be around single people I could possibly be attracted to. I feel like I shouldn’t have to shout this from the rooftops so often, but just because people are attracted to a certain sex/gender does not mean that they are attracted to everyone of that gender. And even if someone is attracted to someone else, it does not mean they ever have to or even want to act on that attraction.
From sitcoms like “Friends” that enforce the idea of men and women being unable to be solely platonic friends to best-seller novels like “Twilight” that depict jealousy as endearing and a proof of love, I am starting to think that people just do not know what a healthy relationship looks like. And how can we model what we don’t know? There is so much more I could say on this topic, let alone on the plethora of other unhealthy behaviors in celebrated romantic relationships, but I guess I will leave it at this for now: are we able to spot abuse in real life if we rarely seem to call it out in our fiction?
I'm a bi female undergraduate student majoring in Psychology, with minors in Women and Gender Studies and African American Studies. I am passionate about issues of domestic violence and sexual assault, and intend to get my masters in social work in order to serve those populations.