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The Romantic Asshole: A Literary Rant

March 29, 2013

**Head’s up, this post is pretty spoiler-tastic about the book Unbroken by Melody Grace**

I read a book.

It pissed me off.

I need to rant.

I don’t mean to be harsh here, and I don’t want to criticize women as a woman because that is just the worst. But I am so sick of reading books about young women characters who are emotionally dumb. I don’t mind reading a character who is confused or has a moment of weakness or is in a situation that is going to make them a more mature, stronger person in the end. I love characters who grow and change. What I don’t love are characters who do things that are emotionally unhealthy.

For example, I recently read Unbroken by Melody Grace*. Grace’s writing is great (if a little redundant in some of the sexier scenes, but, to each her own), and I, at the outset, loved the main character, Juliet. I completely understood her emotional struggle on whether or not to return to the man, Emerson, who broke her heart years before.

I’ve been there.

I get that.

Grace would expertly describe Juliet feeling a magnetic connection toward Emerson, but she intelligently described that feeling more as muscle memory. I was reading this going YES YES YES because, y’all, I have been there. You tell yourself that this person is bad for you and that you need to be strong and not give in, and then you’re around them and your body is all, “BUT I WANTS IT” and then you’re like, “Well hell. All right then.” But you end up regretting that and having to pull yourself out of the crying puddle of a person that you become and eat a shit ton of ice cream to get over it. Again. Because deep down you know that you know that this guy is bad news bears for you.

Anyway, I was reading this book and was all excited to have found a book that was so RIGHT about what these situations feel like and how hard it is to go through and having to find out all over again why this guy is so bad for you. And, just for the record, Emerson does some HORRIBLE things to Juliet. Things that should be unforgiveable even if they are because your deceased mother’s final wish was for him to let you go because she thought you’d be better off without him. I mean, okay, there’s something very noble in him doing what Juliet’s mother asked, but the things that he said and did to achieve that were beyond cruel. They were so much more than what was necessary to push her away and make her leave.

Another thing to note about the relationships between these characters is that it is a big pile of physicality. The only real conversations—or anything outside of glaring at each other, hooking up, or crying—are in flashbacks. At no point do they really sit down and say anything substantial to each other. While I understand that there does need to be a physical connection between two people, that will not sustain a relationship, and definitely doesn’t translate into love. That is lust, my friends. And while sometimes lust is the thing that you want, it is not love.

So this entire book, I’m reading this thinking, “This is so great. It’s such a good example of what an emotionally-dysfunctional, lust-charged relationship is like. I’m so excited about this” because I was so sure that Juliet would realize how horrible Emerson is for her and that her mother was right.

Then he does a big, grand gesture at the end and she gets back together with him despite the fact that they haven’t known each other in four years, have hooked up, like, twice—one time of which he left her in the middle of the night ON A BOAT with no explanation, no transportation, and a note that ended up being a lie—and haven’t had any sort of conversations about their current lives and future plans and the types of things you need to actually talk about when you’re in a real realtionship. I was sitting there thinking, ‘ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME, JULIET?! This asshole had you crying in a heap outside of your house 15 pages ago, but then you learn about your mom’s letter, and get caught in a hurricane together and have sexy times and now everything is okay? NO. NO IT IS NOT.”

Because here’s the thing that I have learned from experience: your feelings will dupe you into believing that a guy cares about you and loves you. You tell yourself that that time he lied to you was because you were being too clingy or that time he yelled at you was because you were being a brat and that time he humiliated you in front of his friends was because you asked a stupid question. THAT IS NOT TRUE. A guy who really loves you and cares about you WON’T DO THOSE THINGS. Ever. Period.

And, okay, maybe you’re thinking, “Bethany, sweetie, you are so many kinds of overreacting right now. It’s just a book.”

I hear you.

I know it’s just a book.

But these kinds of guys really exist as do these types of relationships.

And I’m not the only person reading this book.

There are other women (and probably some men) out there reading this, and some of them probably think this book is extremely romantic. And that is my problem here. Somehow we’ve all been lead to believe that romance consists of sacrifice and pain and grand gestures that are too little too late. And that it’s okay if a man hurts you as long as he buys you a house or has a good explanation for why he did what he did.

That shouldn’t be okay.

It’s definitely not romantic.

And I’m sick of reading books that romanticize assholes.

Because it’s through “escaping” into entertainment—reading books and watching TV and movies—that we tend to get our ideas of what healthy, romantic relationships are like. And, y’all, most of the time they are wrong.

I’m not saying that you should never give someone a second chance, or that a strong physical connection with someone can’t lead to love. But a guy who is willing to hurt you in a malicious way, even if he has a “good” reason, is not a guy you want to choose to stay with.

Be strong enough to walk away. And don’t look back.

*Note: Unbroken is not the only book guilty of romanticizing an asshole, but because I had such high hopes for what the book might be, I Hulked out when it went in the opposite direction.

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