What is Love?
Makenzie Swanson, CHW
DELTA Project Coordinator
Turning Point at People’s Place
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month! Each year in February there are nationwide efforts to help educate about the prevalence of adolescent relationship abuse, the impacts individually, socially, and economically, and how to foster safe and healthy relationships. REAL Relationships has realized that many of these conversations are occurring online, and in an effort to reach our audience, we have created a website and started to engage more with our community on social media. Social media is a great way to find people and interests that inspire you, connect with family and friends, learn something new, and share with others. However, social media influencers and popular culture also create content that may be complex, perpetuate stereotypes, and often spread misinformation. These can be difficult to navigate as adults, even with vast knowledge and life experience. Although many youths are tech-savvy and incredibly intelligent, how does all of this information on social media impact their worldview and expectations of relationships?
Some adolescents idolize celebrity couples and internalize the messages they see online and through popular culture. For example, popular rapper turned punk rock star, MGK, just recently proposed to well-known actress Megan Fox. At first glance, the emerald and diamond ring appears beautiful and sentimental as it represents both of their birthstones in a nontraditional setting. However, the deeper meaning of the ring is much more concerning. The ring resembles thorns and is held together by a magnet that, if Megan were to try to remove the ring, would cause her physical pain. MGK proudly claims that this is because “Love is pain” and that is why the thorns are an integral part of the design. Scrolling through Megan’s Instagram and social media you can now see the ring front and center in many photos, along with thousands upon thousands of comments of fans exclaiming their love for the ring and the symbolism behind it. How many youths are seeing this and thinking that pain associated with love is okay and that your partner physically hurting you is a sign of love and not a red flag? Jealousy and pain aren’t a sign of love, they are a sign of possession and control.
Now, we can’t stop influencers and stars from sharing their beliefs and stories, but we can point out to youth what celebrities are in healthy relationships and what alternative role models might look like. Take Zendaya and Tom Holland, for example, the famous spiderman couple that also breaks traditional norms. Tom appears secure in his masculinity and relationship by supporting Zendaya wearing high heels and any creative and artistic clothing she desires, despite society consistently pointing out she is taller than him. Although Tom was cast as another white, straight, male superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he utilizes his privilege and voice to actively advocate for diversity in the forms of race, gender, and sex in future collaborations and movies. Zendaya is also a strong supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, actively speaks about women’s rights, the LGBTQ+ community, and voting. She is a figure that many youths, including young black girls, look up to and Tom has made an effort to learn about Zendaya’s values and supported in every way he can. The couple can be seen making statements about being proud of each other, supporting each other's career moves and independence, actively keeping parts of their relationship private, and upholding secure boundaries with the public. Sounds a lot different than “love is pain” doesn’t it?
So how is it that youth, and many adults as well, look up to both of these relationships often at the same time? How do we differentiate between what is love and what isn’t? It is important to recognize that youth are going to be exposed to both of these kinds of stories and that they present an opportunity for us to discuss what we want in our own relationships and what is healthy and unhealthy. Regardless of what the media has staged for the public to see, these stories can hold fruitful lessons.
Love shouldn’t hurt and love definitely isn’t pain. Love may not only be limited to what Zendaya and Tom Holland have, but we can surely learn more about it from them and other role models in healthy relationships. Social media can be a powerful tool, so let’s use it to learn about and spread REAL Relationships: Respect, Equality, Acceptance, and Love.