Pop Culture and Toxic Relationships

By Victoria Mongiardo //

Toxic Relationships. Chances are you have had one, seen a friend cry over one, or even watched your family members struggle through them, and for many people…it’s all of the above. Toxic relationships are so prevalent that nearly everyone can recognize the signs. There is the repetitive fighting, lack of trust and respect, frequent breakups, and dishonestly, yet as easily recognizable as the warning signs may seem, those who are in toxic relationships are unable to accept that their relationships may be detrimental to their mental health.The question is, are human beings truly incapable of maintaining healthy, positive relationships, or is there a specific driving factor in recent struggles within relationships? 

I believe the toxic relationships are driven by pop culture, and the many forms of media where toxic relationships are essential. The high levels of drama within relationships are used to keep the viewers entertained and the ratings high. While on and off relationships and love that you have to fight for are admittedly entertaining to watch, they provide for a poor example of how real relationships should work. A classic example of a romanticized toxic relationship is from the widely famous romantic drama film ‘The Notebook’. Many people of all ages and genders swoon at the way Noah (Ryan Gosling) treats Allie (Rachel McAdams) and believe their relationship is an example of true love and passion. However, Noah displays jealousy, aggression, and manipulation throughout the movie. For example, one of Noah and Allie’s most toxic scenes is where Noah hangs off the ferris wheel and demands that Allie agrees to go out with him and threatens to kill himself if she doesn’t agree. Noah shows signs of a guilt inducer, who uses guilt to manipulate other people and he forces her into making a decision that she does not want.

Image obtained from ‘The Notebook’ (2004)

Their relationship is far from the perfect romance where both individuals should reciprocate their feelings and hold respect for each other. Instead they continue to show signs of a toxic relationship throughout the movie as they constantly fight, hit, and scream at each other during their fights. Despite all the abuse, Noah and Allie’s toxic relationship has somehow been set as a goal for romance for decades and their abusive relationship is portrayed so that viewers believe the strongest relationships are those that you have to ‘go through hell and back’ for. 

Many people also seek comfort in music when going through a break up since they seek comfort in knowing that others have felt the same way as them. This has ultimately led to the creation of the genre known as ‘breakup songs’. Many songs, such as Dua Lipa’s “New Rules”, normalize actions like unhealthy breakup sex and aggressive men who use their ex’s to feel less alone. The commonly known lyrics of one of Billboard’s Top 10 Hits in 2017 are below. 

One: Don’t pick up the phone

You know he’s only callin’ ’cause he’s drunk and alone

Two: Don’t let him in

You’ll have to kick him out again

Three: Don’t be his friend

You know you’re gonna wake up in his bed in the morning

And if you’re under him, you ain’t gettin’ over him

While Dua Lipa is considered to be a feminist by singing about how women should stand up for themselves, she simultaneously makes a list of toxic behaviors that she believes to be common characteristics of relationships that listeners are able to relate to. Having pop culture and media portray toxic relationships at an extreme level for entertainment and relatability sets the tone for what a normal relationship should look like, normalizing pain and abuse. This especially affects those who do not have examples of healthy relationships within their personal lives. 

So how do you prevent yourself from falling victim to a toxic relationship? Try not to pay too much attention to how other relationships are portrayed in media because there are normal, happy relationships that are better and healthier than a Ross/Rachel, Noah/Allie, Derek/Meredith relationship. Hold yourself accountable for your own happiness and work on building relationships of value. Even though you may not have seen evidence of what seems to be the impossible – a healthy, happy, peaceful and loving relationship – they do exist. And most of all, if you are not in your perfect, most idyllic relationship, do not settle for less because someone who does deserve you IS out there. 

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