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» Got Questions? Get Answers. » SCARLETEEN CENTRAL » Abuse & Assault » Romantic...or abusive?

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Author Topic: Romantic...or abusive?
Heather
Executive Director & Founder
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One really tricky thing about our culture is that it can -- strange as this sounds -- be pretty hard sometimes to tell the difference between romance and abuse. Often, what literature -- from cheesy romance novels to classc lit -- and movies present as romance is actually romanticized abuse. Heathcliff, for instance, the romantic "hero" of Wuthering Heights is COMPLETELY abusive, and yet, totally romanticized.

There's a long tradition of making it seem that a partner who is very possessive or jealous is so because that's just how in love they are, when, in fact, these are abuse dynamics.

Sometimes, partners who want to control how their partner dresses or presents will make it about how much they "love" them in this thing or that one, manipulating the very real desire for control, to have a partner be exactly -- and only -- what they want them to be.

One of the most textbook abusive behaviours there is is for a partner to want to isolate, or to isolate, their partner from other possible romantic interests, from friends, even from family. Yet, popular romance will often butter that up with a setniment like, "he wants you all to himself."

So, how do you tell the difference between what's romantic and what's abusive? If you grew up with ideas and dreams about romance that do include some behaviours that are warnings of abuse or actual abuse, how do you reprogram your head so as NOT to find those things romantic? How do you explain to friends or family who might have the idea that abuse is romantic that it's not? Have you ever been in (or are you now in) an abusive relationship where you mistook abuse for romance?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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twentysix
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Although I'm only 16 years old and have only been in ONE "serious" relationship, I have definitely noticed signs of abuse either from my then partner or from myself (!)

It is difficult to tell the difference when it comes to abuse vs. romance, because I am so inexperienced. I remember playing pretend games when I was little with other girls and boys. Often times, there would be a theme of jealous kings fighting over their queens with another man.

My ex boyfriend only hung around with other girls, and although he never did anything to cause me to mistrust him, I would ALWAYS wonder if something else was going on. The mere possibility of another girl's attraction towards him made me cringe. I suppose his jealous feelings towards my guy (and sometimes... girl) friends lead me to believe that what I was doing -- frequently accusing him of flirting with others -- was justified. I always made him feel guilty about going out with them.

I did realize that both of us were being overly posessive and insecure, but if I really loved him, why wouldn't I feel like this? I was in denial of my codependency... and hopefully, with time, I will be able to rid myself of these destructive (and REALLY UNCOMFORTABLE) behavoirs, because most of it was not out of love.

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September
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I've noticed that a lot lately, both in the media and with friends, that jealousy is mistaken for a sign of love. As in, if your guy spazzes out because you've just been out with friends and flirted a little with someone else, that means he's in love and rather than feeling uncomfortable or angry (which I think would be the natural response to that behaviour) you should feel flattered.

Jealousy is not a sign of love. It's a sign of insecurity and lack of trust. And those aren't ideal for the basis of any relationship.

Along that same line though, there was something I noticed recently that really freaked me out. I used to read historical romance novels several yeras ago. I still had them in my room, so over the summer I decided to throw them out and ended up re-reading some parts. I made the unsettling discovery that nearly all of the novels start out with the "hero" raping the heroine and end with the heroine having 'tamed' her rapist and turning him into prime husband material. It seems to me that the authors were propagating the idea that rapists are just men with no social skills who don't know how else to approach a woman, and all it takes is a strong, determined woman who sets out to tame him et voila, problem solved. Ick. And I mean, these were bestselling novels! Millions of women have read them! You got to wonder what that's done to them.

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Johanna
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"The question is not who will let me, but who is going to stop me." -Ayn Rand

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-Lauren-
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Ditto to what's been said, so far. I totally agree about the portrayal of abuse as love in the media. It's been around for a long time.

For example, when Phantom of the Opera was released in theatres last year, all of my friends were absolutely obsessed with the phantom, and couldn't understand why I wasn't. This guy was totally creepy, but was portrayed as passionate and romantic. He basically brainwashed and kidnapped the lead female, trapped her in an underground dungeon, and became fumingly jealous of whoever trampled on his plans with her. Totally romantic.

And don't get me started on Les Miserables, the novel. The love between the young Marius and Cosette started with the young man stalking her. He became so obsessive that he smothered and kissed her handkerchief he stole, and followed her to her home, where he snuck about the property putting things out of order until he got her attention. And yet that was portrayed as the epitome of romantic love.

Myself, I'm disgusted with those ideals, and thus have never really been in a relationship where that's been prevalent, and don't plan to.

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DarkChild717
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Funny you should mention Phantom. The movie phantom, and even the musical phantom are considerate and caring compared to their namesake. Read the actual novel, man. Wheeeew. That guy is off his rocker.

In Phantom, what I find romantic is the love between Raoul and Christine, but I think Phantom represents something else entirely. I have my own issues with Raoul and Christine, mind you. (You'll guard me and you'll guide me? No.)

What I find hardest is watching a relationship where you know in your gut that it's a budding abuser. An old friend of mine is engaged to a guy like that. He pushed for quick engagement, won't let her see certain people, and tried asserting his masculinity and authority with her mother. That was a spectacular failure. My parents were mortified, because they announced their engagement in a very public forum without telling the family privately first. For some families, this would be okay, but for them? Not so much.

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Caylin, Scarleteen Volunteer
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-Lauren-
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Just thought I'd chime in that the glorified love of Raoul and Christine in Phantom could be a form of the same thing. I mean if you think about it, that situation in of itself is the "Damsel in distress meets White Knight" mentality.

While not directly abusive, utter dependance shouldn't be romanticized in my opinion, either.

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