Sweet, not spicy: Prioritize respect over trends in relationships

Gwen Henry | Cartoonist

By The Editorial Board

Is your relationship spicy? Is it straight out of a romance novel? Is it like those of couples on TikTok? It doesn’t have to be.

While relationships vary from person to person and no partnership is the same, there are undeniable trends that are promoted on social media as well as in romance novels that are popular on apps like TikTok.

Popular romance books promote and romanticize toxic and often abusive relationships, making them seem more normal and even desirable. However, choking, stalking, physical violence and other behaviors aren’t sexy; they’re dangerous and unhealthy. You aren’t supposed to enjoy being stalked by a romantic interest.

A relationship based on fear or a power imbalance may be entertaining to read about, but it’s a horrifying reality for many people. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 24 people per minute are victims of stalking, harassment or rape.

It’s crucial to realize how the content we consume in books or while scrolling on social media can change how we look at relationships and what we deem normal or healthy. When you spend too much time consuming content that romanticizes unhealthy relationships, you’re more likely to accept behavior that makes you uncomfortable in real life. The more you read about a romantic interest stalking a character, the more you see characters as desirable for being controlling or toxic, and the more likely you are to allow behavior that is controlling or toxic in your own relationships.

In one book by Colleen Hoover, the first scene includes the main character ruminating on how her father abused her mother, when an attractive man meets her and begins to kick over chairs. What does this main character do? She marries him, teaching readers that despite the pain domestic abuse causes, if your partner is hot enough, you can let it slide.

You can’t. And we need to be vigilant in pointing out how popular media sells this narrative to people of college age and younger.

However, it isn’t just found in books. Toxic behavior is abundant on social media, as algorithms push videos that can show trust issues and commitment phobias, teaching an entire generation of “players” to build “rosters” and keep everyone an arm’s length away.

And it doesn’t stop there. Because we live in a more sex-positive society today, we end up seeing a lot more content along those lines. But remember: Intimacy is only one part of a relationship, and it isn’t everything. If you see something on social media that’s trending but makes you uncomfortable, you don’t have to participate.

The importance of communicating boundaries and having a respectful partner cannot be overstated. Stand up for yourself, and don’t accept less than you deserve. Know your standards, and don’t let social media take away from them. Real relationships aren’t about “spice” — they’re about mutual trust and understanding.

In relationships, shoot for healthy and respectful, rather than trendy. It’s OK if your relationship doesn’t look like the ones in a romance novel. Base your standards for a relationship on your own personal boundaries and values, not on social media trends.