A couple of weeks ago, I listed my top 5-onscreen relationships that are actually healthy and it got me thinking about all the ones that aren’t. Here are 6 romanticized on-screen relationships that are actually incredibly toxic.
- Joker + Harley Quinn, DC Comics (1936-), Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995), The New Batman Adventures (1997-1999), Suicide Squad (2015)
“The dynamic the Joker and Harley share was never and should never be anything anyone should aspire to have; it’s your cookie-cutter picture of an abusive, manipulative relationship.”
Around the release of DC’s Suicide Squad, the hype around Harley x Joker was pretty much uncontainable. You’d open twitter and all the fandoms (any and every fandom, you name it) would be talking about their relationship. Eventually, you decide you’ve had enough and just wanted some good old Egyptian memes on Facebook. You won’t find any stans there, right? Well, the Harley x Joker plague had spread to Egyptian pages and you had nowhere to go. Everyone was shipping them and, at a point, I was quite intrigued with how they’d go with Harley’s character and their relationship in the film.
However, gullible naive me had known practically little to nothing about the nature of their relationship in the comics or in the Batman: The Animated Series. All I knew is that they had romantic/criminal partnership going on, so I searched it up before the film’s release to get a decent idea about it.
What I found wasn’t the exactly what the cutesy fan art I had seen depicted, instead all I found was red flags and obvious signs of a mentally and often physically abusive relationship. Joker exploited Harley in every way imaginable; he would pretend to be “madly” in love with her whenever he needed her. Otherwise, he’d constantly belittle her whenever she tries to help him; he’d cheat on her and he never even blinks an eye when she was in danger.
In fact, there are numerous occasions where he was the one who “jokingly” wanted her dead. (He tried to launch her into space, run her over with a car and crash a bombed plane into her).
And that’s why I got fed up with everyone romanticizing Harley x Joker; it is one thing to enjoy a character, a movie or a comic, but aspiring to a toxic relationship where the woman has to constantly forgive the man? A relationship which turned you from a sensible, genius psychiatrist into a woman with no aspirations except pleasing your man? It’s just absurd.
I was rather ecstatic, though, to know that Harley is becoming more and more independent from the Joker, at least in the comics. She’s slowly but surely breaking free from his grasp, she’s finally molding into her own character and not just whoever he wanted her to be.
- Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson, Grease (1978)
It’s the most successful movie-musical of all time, starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, with a killer soundtrack that’s got classic songs like “Summer Nights”, “Greased Lightning”, “Hopelessly Devoted to You” and the crowd-pleaser “You’re The One That I want”. Surely there’s nothing toxic in harmless musical about 1950s high-schoolers? Yeah, that’s what I thought to until I re-watched the movie and realized how stupid the entirety of the relationship was.
From the beginning, Sandy sees their summer love as something greater and divine, true love. Meanwhile, Danny sees it as a summer fling he could brag about to his friends. When they went on a date, Danny acted incredibly rude; he hid behind his menu as if he were embarrassed because of her. He also tries to persuade her to make out/do stuff she clearly wasn’t comfortable doing, I’m talking about the car scene.
Then in the final scene, Sandy changes her entire image and attitude just to please Dany. Despite the entertaining songs and dancing numbers, I can’t help but wondering if that’s really what we want to teach young girls?
- Christopher Hayden and Lorelai Gilmore, Gilmore Girls (2000-2007)
This was a relationship where the timing was just never right, and Lorelai used that to excuse everything in regards to Christopher. Compared to our favorite diner owner, Luke Danes, he is so obviously the worst choice for her.
For starters, Christopher was never there for Lorelai, not really. Both were only 16 when Lorelai got pregnant with Rory but, unlike Lorelai, Chris never owned up to his part of being a parent and practically abandoned her and the baby after the birth (which he didn’t even witness). When he finally does show up after almost 16 years of not seeing his own daughter, he lies about having a steady job and getting his life together.
Chris was always an unreliable person; he was reckless, irresponsible and never managed to keep a job until Sherri, who later on became the other woman, made him get his life together. And Lorelai was his exact opposite; she took care of Rory alone, built up her career at the Independence Inn until she became the manager and eventually opened her own inn, The Dragonfly, with her best friend Sookie.
Keep in mind that, even after he made a small effort to reconnect with the Gilmore girls, he still missed out on important dates in his daughter’s life. For instance, he missed out on her Chilton graduation ceremony; one simply doesn’t miss something like that. Honestly, he was never there when they needed him to be.
I don’t even have to mention the fact that he never stood up to his parents when they’d insult Lorelai, which is something that happened more often than you’d think. He would, however, freak out and pick up fights with Luke just because he’s jealous.
Personally, I think neither Chris nor Lorelai was actually in love with the other. I think both were so in love with the illusion of the perfect family they could be. But let’s face it, that’s never a basis for a healthy relationship, let alone a non-toxic marriage. Once Lorelai realized that, she had to let him go and go back to her one true love, Luke.
- Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, Wuthering Heights (1847), (1939), (1970), (1992), (2009)
‘14-year-old me’ is currently trying to stop me from criticizing her, but even she can’t deny how toxic and unhealthy this thing between Heathcliff and Cathy was.
It’s safe to presume that anyone reading this was either a book nerd, who actually read Wuthering Heights in High school like me, or just a normal human being who saw one of the movies to pass a test/write an essay about the story. That’s why I believe it’s pretty much self-explanatory; Heathcliff and Cathy’s love story was never actually about their love for each other, but rather everything else surrounding that love.
It was about the class difference between them, the misunderstandings and their consequence: revenge. Wuthering heights was never a “true romance”, but then why was Heathcliff seen as the ultimate tragic romantic hero especially when, throughout the novel/film(s), he remains unredeemable? I thought maybe that’s because most of us read/watch it somewhere during our teens, we don’t fully realize how much of sadist Heathcliff really is.
Let’s take me as an example. I was also gravitated towards the Heathcliff’s allure; he’s tall, dark and handsome, combine that with him being troubled, misunderstood and in love and it almost seems like a “troubled soul saved by romance” trope. And that couldn’t be farther from the truth, because his love for Cathy and his desire for revenge turned him violent, abusive and needy. (We’re not even going to mention all the abuse he put Isabelle through just because she was Edgar’s sister.)
Charlotte Bronte, the author’s sister, probably described this relationship best when she described it as “perverted passion and passionate perversity”. It’s perfectly clear to everyone, even 13-year-old me who’s in denial, this relationship was based more on obsession, cruelty and manipulation than romance. To put it simply, it was toxic as hell.
- Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, Romeo + Juliet (1996)
This couple created the “star-crossed lovers” trope before anyone else and boy do they make me mad. Romeo and Juliet, who are somewhere in their teens, meet one day at a party and it is suddenly love at first sight!
Let’s all forget that Romeo was only there to catch a glimpse of Rosaline, the girl he moaned about the entirety of the first act? The girl he’s so in love with he describes her as “The all-seeing sun / ne’er saw her match since first the world begun.”? Did I mention she’s also Juliet’s cousin?
If we choose to go past this minor detail, are we going to ignore the fact that Romeo was actually overwhelming me high on ecstasy when he saw her for the first time in the movie? Or the fact that Romeo stalked Juliet and was a major “peeping Tom” when he literally stands under her bedroom and observe?
Fine, fine, I’ll get into the heavy stuff. This couple was willing to marry each other from day one, die for each other a week later; it doesn’t exactly scream healthy, does it? Plus, the whole affair is more rash decisions and impulsive actions that feed obsession than actual love. Their week long love was one built on lies and secrecy, lies that backfired at the end causing the couple’s (real) suicide. (Well, that and the obvious miscommunication). It doesn’t really scream healthy and non-toxic does it? And that’s without counting the whole Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt, killing Mercutio and Romeo’s revenge plot.
If you wanna read more about the kind of toxic relationships you should avoid, check out out the Egyptian version of this article here! I bet all this will hold you up until part 2! Comment if we missed any of the relationships you wanted to see here, we’ll make sure to cover them next time!