Unlearning the Romanticization of Toxic Love

Featured image here.


I would give a lot to be able to have a chat with my younger self. I’d tell her to take movies like The Notebook, Romeo and Juliet, Twilight, and even The Little Mermaid with a grain (or a spoonful) of salt. Because what she actually did was watch those movies and think, “Man, I can’t wait to have a love like that.”

Those are the kinds of stories that have led to the romantic fantasies of so many. A love that’s all-consuming, that you can’t live without it. But those relationships are harmful, tiring, and ultimately not the kinds of love we should aspire to.

Some red flags (jealousy, possessiveness, etc.) are too often mistaken for a determined love, an unfaltering love, a love that fights to remain.  But, in reality, these are signs of mistrust and insecurity, and shouldn’t be disguised as romantic gestures. Love, even a lot of love, sometimes isn’t enough reason to put yourself through a toxic relationship.

It’s easy to see the act of giving up pieces of yourself for the sake of a relationship as selfless; showing that you’re all in, and that you can fix this. That savior complex is something that transcends the fictional world– I’ve seen friends and family members do this, and it’s not as romantic as it sounds. And it’s certainly not a stable foundation to build a relationship on.

My younger self watched those real world relationships in all their heartache, but she still glorified that idealistic, big screen movie romance that somehow only managed to work out with a script. She always had this idea that her future significant other would be her “other half” and that always sounded so romantic. So more than anything, I would want to remind mini me of this: You are not half of a person; you’re whole, all on your own. Don’t romanticize the idea of being somehow completed by another human— it’s not romantic and, moreover, it’s not healthy.

None of this is to say that watching these movies, or even enjoying them, is wrong. It’s just important to watch with a critical eye when being presented with this kind of material, for the sake of keeping relationship expectations rooted in reality. Raise your bar of expectations higher than these movies do for you– not in terms of sweeping gestures and grand declarations, but in terms of an honest, sustainable relationship.

It’s okay to love someone; it’s even okay to love someone a lot. And it’s okay to prefer having that someone in your life as opposed to not. But keep in mind that you were a whole person before that someone came along, and you can be a whole person if they’re ever gone. But most importantly, you can and should maintain your wholeness while in that relationship. Don’t let yourself be convinced that another human gives your life more meaning than it had before. You have meaning and purpose all on your own. 

“Know this: You are the type of woman who is searching for a place to call yours. Let the statues crumble. You have always been the place. You are a woman who can build it yourself. You were born to build.” -Sarah Kay, “The Type”

5 thoughts on “Unlearning the Romanticization of Toxic Love

  1. GIRL. This post (especially the conclusion) gave me legit goosebumps. I once did a research proposal on the rhetorical strategy of the “Nicolas Sparks model of romance” that explored some similar topics. Why is it that people are attracted to this fabricated kind of unattainable, self-denying (and downright unhealthy) love? Yet I also wonder if there is something healthy (even beautiful) about making sacrifices for your partner. There is definitely a line where it becomes unhealthy, but doesn’t true, unconditional love mean a certain amount of self-sacrifice? Relationships are hard and one of the hardest, yet most rewarding parts is the act of self-denial – being willing to give up some of your time to support your partner’s fundraiser, some of your money to buy your partner that trinket they’ve been wanting, some of your preferences to let your partner choose the movie tonight. Obviously, you were mainly discussing unhealthy sacrifices, which is so important to understand. But perhaps sacrifice isn’t always bad…? I think the world likes to tell us to “never change for someone else,” but the truth is, sometimes love requires change (hopefully positive change). For instance, I’ve had to learn to handle differently than I do naturally, in order to be able to effectively communicate with my partner when we argue. Have I changed for him? Yes. And I’m really okay with that. So where’s the line? It would be cool if you could maybe go into more detail about how the problem isn’t necessarily making sacrifices, but maybe when it reaches a certain extent? What are some of these red flags to watch for? Once again, absolutely brilliant piece (possibly your best so far in my opinion)! Just some thoughts 🙂 Well done tackling an important issue 🙂


    1. Thanks so much!! I definitely agree that (healthy!!!) compromise is a huge part of relationships, and doesn’t need to be a bad thing. I also agree that there is a hard line that needs to be drawn when said compromise leads to one parter (or both) losing pieces of themselves. There’s room for compromise in what each partner wants, but I think the line should be drawn when it comes to denying yourself of your needs. My post was primarily trying to show that this kind of behavior (excessive sacrifice, glorified jealousy, romanticized incompleteness) all stem from unhealthy expectation of what we THINK relationships are supposed to look like. But I think coming at our real life relationships in a more organic, sincere way will help them in the long run, and help us hold on to ourselves and to our core.

      Thanks again so much for your response!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Got a book commendation for you that I think you’ll love based on the ideas that you explore in this post. “The Art of Loving” by Erich Fromm, which is about unlearning many of the saccharine narratives we have been conditioned to believe about love. One Fromm’s key arguments that correlate with one of your ideas about how we need not be “half” a person when it comes to relationship, is that relationships are about building ourselves together as entirely ourselves, and not trying to fool ourselves into “being in love” when we actually have little to no connection with said person. Its about raw and unfiltered connection building in all of its ugliness and wonder and wonderful ugliness. So…Erich Fromm-“The Art of Loving”…A GOOD TIME!


  3. This is something I really needed to hear, and you gave words to some feelings I’ve had difficulty coming to terms with. Just thanks for putting this out there


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