With Fifty Shades Darker illuminating multiplex screens this month, we are reminded of its predecessor. Fifty Shades of Grey promised passion, romance, sex and glamour-but for some, fell short. We were left with a weird aftertaste once we had witnessed the titular business magnate stuff his childhood trauma down with coercion and barely consensual dominance over Anastasia Steele. Lauded as the love story of the times with the book outselling anything that came before it, it begged the question, ‘do we fetishize the doomed relationships that we see in the media?’
On the pure and idyllic end of the spectrum, films like 500 Days of Summer and Submarine show us that love is something to yearn for, idealize, and project onto any quirky brunette with bangs in the surrounding area. Tom likes Summer because she listens to the music that he likes, and Oliver from Submarine seems to care about Jordana Bevan for as long as he can use her to his advantage. Their relationships are a construct where the women are valued for what they represent rather than who they are. Jordana is moody and weird, with itchy skin and a constant disdain for Oliver. She has other priorities, and initially kisses him just to get back at her old boyfriend. Summer is Tom’s perfect girl, but she only tolerates his love, remaining distant and eventually leaving. These men, blind, remain besotted with these women, who really only want to engage with them as a means to pass the time.
In popular fantasy series like Twilight and The Vampire Diaries, dark brooding heroes vie with third parties over the female love interest, condemning someone an eternity alone. Our fascination with these love-triangle driven plots seems to stem from the voyeuristic pleasure gained from watching the bad boy and the white knight battle it out. Bella ditches the healthy and constructive relationship she has with Jacob Black to return to her manipulative and miserable lover, while Elena Gilbert eventually leaves Stefan in the dust for his troubled brother Damon. Why are these women fixated on the unfixable men in their lives, and why do we hold the unhealthiest options for these women in such high-esteem?
In my own life, I had spent a good five years being besotted with various people who for some reason or another, acted like they couldn’t stand me. This dynamic of ambivalence equaling aspirational love, or of waking up one Monday morning to find a guy you liked dating your friend instead, packed a punch. Yet, it wasn’t far removed from the push-pull of these messy romances we see in the media.
I’ve hung out with a boy who intensely shared all my interests online but was two-dimensional in the flesh, and ones who would ask me out and then ignore me altogether. There are the ones with a blatant disregard for the fact they already have a girlfriend, and the ones who you reject because their niceness feels suffocating. What prompted this piece, was after another six months of softly weeping into the sofa over a guy who could never get anything off the ground, I decided that I had finally had enough.
There is an episode of GIRLS from season 5 where Marnie has a chance encounter with her ex, and spends the evening cavorting around New York City in a montage that holds more joy than the entirety of her and Charlie’s entire relationship. You root for the pair, thinking that, with Marnie soaking wet in her scarlet ball gown, they will clamber out the pond together and finally walk off under the stars. They do. But the next morning, Marnie wakes up and discovers that Charlie is using, he’s been living in a veritable crack den, and has absolutely no purpose or direction. Exhausted by her fantasy shattering before her eyes, she walks home to Desi, and promptly breaks up with him on the doorstep. What she learns is that her dream boy has become too much of a bad boy, and that her reality is stifling and not for the best. Resplendent in her halter dress from the night before, Marnie decides to cut her losses, and leave them both behind.
The thing is, we unwillingly fetishize doomed relationships as there is something desirable and tension-filled about an uncomfortable fit. Plots wouldn’t exist if the ‘will-they won’t-they’ device died a death, but what we need to realize is that scripted narratives have no place in real life. Sometimes, the person who never shows up for you is giving you the hint that actually, they don’t want you-at least in a way that feels healthy and good. I had my own punk rock Manic Pixie Dream Girl evening that made all the tears feel worth the trouble. But when someone else came along and acted in a manner so proactive that there was no time for a narrative arc to occur, I realized that you don’t have to follow the storylines in their traditional fashion. Write your own script, and more importantly write your own happy ending-you deserve it. Leave the melodrama on the television where it belongs.
Words by India Alicia