As a gay man, I learned a lot about unhealthy relationships through consuming queer media. I loved Justin and Brian’s relationship when I watched Queer as Folk in high school, though now I see how Brian’s character acted in abusive ways both toward Justin and his own friends. When I read and watched Call Me by Your Name as an early grad student, I felt repulsed by the relationship dynamics promoted by the narrative, the glorification of a relationship that entailed little to no healthy communication, boundary setting or conflict resolution, or clarity and mutual respect. I suspect that queer narratives may adopt these unhealthy relationship norms from toxic heterosexual/heteronormative relationships. So much media perpetuates the trope that we should chase a romantic flame – especially a man – even if they are emotionally unavailable, do not treat us well, or are outright manipulative or abusive.
I do not spend much time on romance and dating and men. That said, I have found myself within unhealthy relationships and relationship dynamics, ranging from my abusive mother and neglectful father, to the emotionally neglectful male friend I wrote about in an earlier post, to a few crushes I harbored on guys, to even a few former friendships with women. I feel so sad and angry that our society teaches us about valuing our work and careers and pursuing the heteronormative path of marriage and having children, yet it does not teach us much about what an actually healthy relationship looks like, between parent and child, friend and friend, or partner and partner. Since the fall out of my most recent crush, I have thought a lot about what my expectations for myself and others in healthy relationships. They look kinda like this list my therapist gave me several months ago:
What if, instead of pursuing this idea of a passionate, fiery romance, we instead put in the work to form healthy friendships that entailed explicit boundaries, care and compassion, and a sense of security? Maybe I can stop chasing emotionally unavailable men who seem attractive on paper and at first impression, and instead I can devote myself to making sure that I treat my close friends and myself in ways that follow the guidelines in the picture above. It makes me feel sad and furious that we socialize men to behave in ways that specifically contradict healthy relationship functioning, that we raise men to value winning and aggression and secrecy instead of kindness and nurturance and vulnerability. It makes me even more frustrated that we do not socialize everyone to treat friendships with more intentionality, that friendships often take second place to romance even when they have the potential for so much more.
I sense that we do not teach people about healthy relationships because to do so would disrupt the patriarchal order. If we taught everyone about caring, connectedness, and consent, fewer relationships based on abuse, domination, and manipulation would exist. If we taught people to expect more and invest more in their friendships, we would not need to depend so much on romantic relationships, especially romantic relationships that feel unsatisfying or unhealthy.
Ever since my youth, I have valued femininity and acted in more feminine ways, in large part thanks to my grandmother and my various female friends. I love providing emotional labor and showing compassion for others and engaging in vulnerable and meaningful conversations. As I grow older, though, I recognize that I have to set boundaries with people, that I have to assert my needs and treat relationships with a level of intentionality that most romantic – or even platonic – narratives leave out. I want to help build a world filled with loving and healthy relationships of all kinds. To start transitioning that world from fantasy to reality, I will start with myself. I will do my best to show up in my relationships and I will settle for nothing less in return.
What do you think is essential in healthy relationships? When did you first learn about what makes a relationship healthy or not? How can we as a society work toward normalizing healthy relationships? Please bestow me your glorious feelings and reflections in the comments below. See you all next post.