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When Fiction and Reality Collide

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Average Everygirl #15: Aftermath of the Seductive Billionaire | Panel 1: The Seductive Billionaire, looking forlorn, says, "I don't understand. Deep down I'm a nice guy. I donate to charity. I like puppies. I play a magnificent violin solo when I think no one's listening." | Panel 2: His rambling monologue fills the space behind him. "So I tapped her phone, and followed her, and broke into her house to watch her sleep. And isolated her from her family and friends. And gave her the passive-aggressive cold shoulder. And may have physically abused her a time or two. And maybe psychologically abused her every time we talked. And overall treated her like she was an object instead of a living, breathing human being." | Panel 3: He says, "But it's all because I love her so much… Plus, I'm rich and hot." | Panel 4: Hands in the air and oblivious to reality, he asks, "Why would she throw all this away?" The narrator dryly concludes, "It's a mystery."

I think one of my favorite cliches about the “Ruthless Character with a Heart of Gold” is to what lengths authors might go to show no, in reality, he’s a super nice guy; he’s just emotionally tortured and misunderstood. The whole “Character A walks in on Character B playing a heart-felt instrument solo and suddenly sees Character B in a different light” scenario gets me in the feels every time. If “the feels” are somewhere around the upper intestines and share characteristics with bilious indigestion, I mean.

But I digress.

The point of this week’s series, in a nutshell, is this:

Dear World,

Please stop glorifying abusive behavior.

Thanks and Kisses,

Expectation vs. Reality

What some consider harmless escapism I consider mental programming. I’ve witnessed manipulative, destructive relationships firsthand, along with the damage they can cause even years later. I’ve seen otherwise bright, intelligent people on the receiving end of abuse, harrowed of mind because they somehow failed to please someone who was hellbent on treating them like an object from start to finish.

Their relationship was supposed to be “Happily Ever After,” just like in the stories. Except that it never was.

It’s all fun and games in fiction, because the man reforms by the end of the book. Not so much in reality, where emotional patterns become etched upon a person’s heart. That’s not to say that an abuser can never reform, can never break bad habits, can never change for the better, but it’s an endless uphill path, and it requires a relationship with a Higher Power for true success.

That Higher Power, sadly, is not the undying Lurrrve of a submissive woman desperate for affection.

So here’s the cold, hard truth.

The Honeymoon Phase of any relationship is just that, a phase. When the dust settles and the infatuation dies, both parties typically revert to their former behaviors. If that behavior included abuse before, it will likely include abuse again. “The rats in the cellar,” as C.S. Lewis calls them, don’t disappear just because we haven’t gone down the stairs in a while.

Part of good literature is that it propels our minds into the unknown that exists beyond the lines on the page. We don’t have to take an author’s word for it that their characters lived happily ever after when the pattern for such a life exists in the story. When that pattern is false, though, when it goes against every instinct and statistic, when it undermines worth or objectifies individuals, its “unknown beyond” becomes a sinister wasteland. Sometimes this is what the author intends, and sometimes it’s a byproduct of superficial storytelling.

But sometimes, we close our eyes and pretend that the wasteland is all sunshine and butterflies, just like an abuse victim might pretend that their abuser didn’t really mean it, won’t do it again, and loves them more than anything.

I prefer to keep my eyes open. Don’t expect me to cheer for a character whose only positive traits are external. Wealth and good looks might make a nice addition to any love interest, but coupled with destructive behavior, these attributes create only a cheap veneer, easily cracked by those who dare to look at the monster that lies beneath.

The book that invokes such a character is not a great romance. It’s not brain candy, and it’s not escapism.

It’s a prequel to Sleeping with the Enemy.


Be smart. Choose better patterns. Maybe someday we can finally let this trope wither and die.