SIORR: Episode 9: Partner not therapist please.
Hello Folks! Welcome back to this week’s episode of Sorry I Only Read RomComs, my name is Aanu, and here we talk about romance and all the ways it shows up in our lives, especially in books. This week has been interesting, nothing particularly exciting happened, it was just okay. Anyway, as usual i was strolling through twitter streets earlier this week and I saw a tweet that said something along the lines of “your partner should be your therapist”. Hmm to be honest, when I first saw it, I didn’t give it that direct translation of them being your actual shrink, maybe someone you can confide in or whatever, but then this I was like Aanu, this person used the word “therapist” and words mean things. Then I just thought, that sounds like a lot of work, the emotional labor there alone is a lot. And of course, mental health professionals jumped in to offer their perspectives that basically shut that shit down. Anyway, in true Sorry I Only Read RomCom fashion, I decided to turn it into an episode. And today, we’ll talk a bit about how this is explored in RomComs, let’s dive in.
Ok, so usually I throw shade at the damsel in distress trope and how it feeds into the patriarchy, but there is one instance where the roles are switched. This is where the damsel becomes the knights therapist. Now this therapist comes in different types and shadows, we see it as the confidant, we see it as them bringing a smile after a long ass time, we see it as them inspiring some other change in behaviour or inhibiting a specific negative behaviour. Because she’s there, the man isn’t going to fight his brother, or because she’s there he’s not snapping at his staff, because she’s there, he can finally talk to his estranged family, because she’s there (just fill in the blank). We never see the problem in this because we admire the goodness in it, you know love will find a way, love has saved the day, love has changed the man, love has done the work and because this has been done, it has to be real love hence, they have to live happily ever after. We almost never ask why she had to come and clean up this mess?
The emotional responsibilities placed on these partners is a whole ass therapist job! A lot of times the work is so shoddily done, it leads to a breakup and it’s not even that the guy now goes to do the work. What we see is him missing the dependence the woman has taken away hence he goes back to reconnect with her. So we read lines like “I can’t sleep without you, I can’t eat without you, yesterday I was taking a walk and it wasn’t the same without you, I miss you and I want you back”. Don’t get me wrong, it’s ok to miss people and when habits form it’s hard to unlearn them. What I’m giving side eye here is when his life is less than optimised because someone exited it, like she left and he’s back to snapping at his team, he’s back to not talking to his family, he has basically reverted to who he was before she came in because that emotional work wasn’t done by him.
What we read as a side effect of him loosing his love is a withdrawal from a codependent relationship, he doesn’t have the tools or language to process it. The worst part is what we read as a reunion is often interpreted as a change in these characters, because they finally admitted that they love these partners. They go on to live happily ever after, quote and unquote and nobody asks, what prompted my meanness, why did I act the way I did? The authors just wuru wuru to the answer the reunion and everyone assumes a change and I’m just like, haba, show your workings. I guess what I’m trying to say is, in romcoms, love and the acknowledgment of it is written as the gold standard for character growth. We forget that love can be unhealthily given and people can love badly even if the other character doesn’t know it. As a reader, I have the third party privilege of observing this dynamic, sometimes, I just want a bit more emotional growth and development than, I miss you, I can’t do without you, hence we have to be together. That is not the only conclusion to be assumed here, if we are going to show that change has happened, more work should probably have been written and that work should have been done by the man or woman not their lovers.
I’m going to take an excerpt from the poem “when it is but it ain’t” by Yrsa Daley Ward’s first book, titled “BONE”. This piece kinda sums up the love that we read sometimes and we still go awwww:
“Some of us love badly. Sometimes the love is the type of love that implodes. Folds in on itself. Eats its insides. Turns wine to poison. Behaves poorly in restaurants…. Some of us love others badly, love ourselves worse. Some of us love horrid, love beastly, love sick, love anti light… chases lovers into corners. Leaves them longing. Seasick. Says yes. Means anything but.
So here’s the thing, love isn’t goodness, love is love. And love is a very amoral emotion, it is also not a reward. You don’t earn love, you just fall in love. But authors ram this random emotion down the characters throat and turn it into a transformative tool. You can love someone very much and love them very much in the most terrible way because you haven’t done the work and this is what we see and call flawed characters and we forgive them and forgive the codependency and we all live happily ever after at the end of the book, umm ummm. This is not ok and it’s also not ok to write the duty of change in the woman’s character. Going forward, I’d rather read more amoral characters that are in love, let them have their issues and let them be loved without the change happening unless they do the work themselves.
In the words of prophettess Titilope Sonuga:
“The woman is not your mother, not mammy or wet nurse… she’s not your training wheel, the woman is not your God, she’s not your savior or salvation, a name you call upon like a prayer, your last chance at forgiveness”
This is an excerpt from her poem, “The Woman is not your mother” in her book “This Is How We Disappear.” Listen!!! This poem and this book should be required reading for everyone, that’s all I’m saying.
Finally, in true Sorry I Only read RomCom fashion, I will recommend a book that did a decent job of maintaining that thin line between witnessing and absorbing the labor. Unfortunately, the only book that comes to mind is a female/female romance by Jae called, “Conflict of Interest”. Unfortunately because I can’t think of a single book that has a male character with a high level of inner work done without the emotional labor of his love interest. Anyway, in Conflict of Interest we see a therapist who was raped in her home and had to go through that process of healing while navigating a new relationship with her partner. I thought this was written beautifully and realistically and I loved how the love interest here wasn’t written as a savior, just a safe space.
As usual, I’d like to hear your thoughts, drop a voice note, on the anchor app, slide in my dm @ sorryIonlyreadromcoms on Instagram, you can also follow my personal page @ helloaanu, i.e hello a a n u. I’ll talk to you next week, bye!
Listen to the episode here: