As we were talking it occured to me that, throughout my childhood and my teenage years, very few of the relationships I was presented with in the media I consumed were what I, in later life, would consider to be a healthy one.
That is, perhaps, because such things aren't exciting. They aren't what we all thirst to read about or see or hear about - but then, perhaps our idea of a fairytale romance is informed by the fairytales we were subjected to.
We all love a good Disney movie, right?
Well here's the shit - we grew up with princesses and princes and love's true kiss, none of which prepares you for, you know, relationships. They are profligate with shitty messages about love and trust. A quote that I borrowed from Stephen Colbert a few years ago:
“So, Disney, I demand that you drop this two mommies plot & go back to delivering wholesome messages. Like teaching our children that they can be a princess if they let a man make out with them while drugged, or that there's nothing wrong with bestiality if a candle says it’s OK.”Change yourself and you will have value because a man will want you, says The Little Mermaid and Cinderella. Relationships are something that happen to you rather than something you do, says Sleeping Beauty. They want you, and that's enough, says Snow White. Any level of deception is acceptable once they see the REAL you, says Aladdin. Stay in your lane and accept what you have, says Wreck-It Ralph. You can change them to make them into something you want, says Beauty and the Beast.
Disney isn't the only culprit, of course. The very notion of True Love, of the kind of love that you know full well happens to you and that you can't resist and that you should pursue at all costs et cetera - that notion is implanted into us real young, and is...well...dangerous.
Imagine you are taught from a very early age that needing to urinate is what a healthy relationship is, and nothing deviates from this reinforced teaching. (It's ridiculous, I know - but it's meant to be.)
I will state at this point that I am probably very biased. I'm socially a little malformed, and have had social anxiety for a long-ass time. So perhaps my word shouldn't be taken as academically sound - but then this blog is all opinion anyway, just sometimes backed with statistics.
So if we are raised in a world in which love is a thing that scares you rather than comforts you, and something that you can't ever give up on no matter how bad it is for you, and something that you MUST pursue in every aspect of your life, and that a life without love isn't worth living...well...
...okay, does anyone actually believe this is true? Like, really?
Is anyone going to truly claim that the best relationships they have in their lives aren't about comfort and trust and knowing each other and being able to exist in each other's company for basically years without going crazy? That they are based on mindless devotion and anxiety?
My mother once told me that before you can go out with someone, before someone can be your girlfriend, they have to be your friend. I scoffed at this. Film and television teach us that you fall in love with someone you meet out of the blue and charm and woo and then they love you and this is symbolised with a kiss which is obviously the desired result.
It took me a long time to realise what she meant. That to have a sexual and romantic relationship with someone that I can't be friends with is...well it's idiotic. If I can't hang out with someone and just be okay with them, how am I meant to be their other half? If we can't goof around with each other and laugh at dumb stuff, then...how complete and happy will our relationship really be?
It's easy to believe that relationships that are objectively harmful are the right way to do things, because all through our lives they always have been. We dismiss feeling like we are being mistreated because "shrug, well, that's the way love goes". We have all heard the story of "we're from the era when you fixed things rather than threw them out". That is held up as a virtue while we ignore the fact that domestic abuse was absolutely rife, and the notion of leaving that relationship was stigmatised to the point that you'd take the beating rather than the sidelong looks.
It does not have to be like this. It never had to be. We can change - and we can change the media that teaches people.
Steven Universe is something I come back to time and again. It has very healthy examples of relationships working, and examples of people resolving problems in a safe, smart way. It's just the tip of what needs to be an iceberg, though.
Creators - put healthy relationships in your books. Let them be friends first. Let people not be obsessed. Let people recognise that Romeo & Juliet is actually harmful, that infatuation is a form of obsession which is also harmful. Let people recognise that loving someone is an ongoing friendship, not a cycle of abuse.
Because my fairytale romance isn't a fairytale. It's a friendship. Just more.