My favorite movies are romance movies. Growing up, I would hold rom-com tropes close to my heart. I was convinced that true love looked exactly like what was in films. I expected grand gestures from people I’ve only met once and individuals that were so in love with me that they would do anything to have me. It seemed perfect to fantasize about, but as an adult, I now understand the dangerous reality of these behaviors.
The ideals and expectations of love in the media aren't love at all. Many tropes that are presented as romantic can be creepy, and even downright abusive. These characteristics are often referred to as “red flags.” Red flags can range anywhere from personality traits to interests, actions or habits.
In books and films, red flags are not only tolerated but often romanticized. This creates an unhealthy and unrealistic expectation of what a relationship should look like. Things like purposefully disregarding boundaries is incredibly selfish and not romantic. I feel like as a society, we are pushed into tolerating these behaviors, even when it makes us uncomfortable.
Some of the most common red flags that appear in a partner are narcissism, gaslighting, being overly controlling, lack of communication skills, lack of trust and any type of mental, physical, emotional or substance abuse, though those listed are only a few red flags out of potential hundreds.
Abuse doesn’t take only one form, and sometimes there won’t be a list telling you explicitly when something is problematic or abusive. What I have found to determine if it’s a healthy action or trait is to trust your intuition. If something makes you uncomfortable, then it is wrong, and that feeling should be respected.
When red flags are ignored, it could lead to dangerous complications. Things such as manipulation tactics could be used to create an abusive relationship dynamic, like codependency, stalking or even violence.
While these behaviors can put a strain on relationships, they can also greatly impact your mental health. Toxic relationships can leave a person anxious or depressed. You could be worried about upsetting your partner or them leaving you if you don’t comply with their needs.
Some signs that your mental health is being compromised from a relationship are being unable to communicate with your partner, always being in a poor mood around them — which can be any negative feeling — and disregarding your own basic needs.
When these red flags are ignored, victims are often pushed into a savior complex. The “I can fix them,” mentality is very common from what I have seen throughout social media and other general forms of media like books and films. I have seen the “I can fix them,” trope be mocked online, since it is something people realize is an unhealthy mentality, but I believe it should be taken seriously.
The damage that abusive relationships have on an individual can be severe, and even once someone escapes an unhealthy relationship, it may take extra help like therapy to understand what a relationship should look and feel like.
It is important to set boundaries and work to recognize these red flag behaviors and address them instead of ignoring them. No matter the age, ending up in toxic relationships isn’t something to be ashamed of. We most likely all have some red flags of our own to address. As we mature and learn from our experiences, we are paving the way for better relationships.
Red flags aren’t unique to romantic relationships. Unhealthy and abusive behaviors are common in friendships and other types of platonic relationships. It is equally important to address red flags in these relationships like in romantic ones.
It is very easy to get caught up in an infatuation and want an unrealistic type of love, but addressing red flags in relationships is incredibly important. Having mature conversations over boundaries and expectations is difficult but paramount. Creating healthy relationship patterns right now will set you up for better, healthier relationships later in life.
Alexia Woodall is a sophomore English and journalism double major. Reach her at email@example.com.