The mishandling of toxic relationships

I think this is actually one of the biggest problems in romance novels. Quite a few of them have some big secret or lie between the main protagonists, or they broke up because one of them did something supremely shitty, and the books just seem to say that you can forgive anything if you love someone enough. There have been times when I have to take a step back and ask myself if any reasonable person would have been able to resume a romantic relationship after one of the betrayals in a book, and a lot of the time, the answer is no.

Even slightly more insidious, is when authors portray toxic familial relationships. It is infuriating when they force their characters to keep trying for a relationship or to mend a relationship that is so clearly unhealthy, just because it’s with “family”. Plenty of toxic romantic relationships end in romance novels because of various reasons – granted it’s only permanent if it’s with a secondary character – but hardly any unhealthy familial relationships end, and it is such a disservice to both the characters and the readers, I think.

It’s not about forgiveness. You can forgive someone, and still cut them out of your life, and a lot of the time that is the best option, but one that doesn’t sit well with people, because they’re taught that family comes first. So authors have their characters forgiveΒ and forget. If they do end a familial relationship, it’s typically one that is obviously abusive, and only after the protagonist has been repeatedly stepped on and mistreated and has continued to try and make an effort to connect with their family. And even then, they usually find some sort of long lost relative or something, because God forbid someone doesn’t have a family that’s related by blood. Oh, and it usually only happens after the SO gives their encouragement and/or “blessing” to end the relationship.

I don’t think love and trust are a foregone conclusion just because of some shared DNA. Maybe that’s just me. But I sometimes just wish that authors would do their characters a solid and let them say “Fuck you. You’re a heinous, miserable excuse of a human being and I no longer want or need you in my life.”

I bet that it’s pretty empowering.

Here’s why: People can tell themselves all they want they know books and movies aren’t real, but they still impact the way we think and view the world. So if in someone’s favorite romance novel, the main character has a shitty relationship with their dad or someone, that’s fixed by the miraculous intervention of their shiny, brand new life partner, then if that person ever meets someone who is distant or non-communicative with members of their own family, the words “I bet it’s not that bad,” or “It’s probably a misunderstanding,” or even “You’re not being fair to them,” might come out. And that’s just shitty.


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