Tag Archives: writing relationships

Q&A: A Healthy Relationship Is Not Cliche

Is there any way for a reasonably smart girl to be involved with a dangerous rich boy? I really hate the trope of that kind of ‘healthy’ relationship, and I’m afraid to fall in that cliche. I apologize if this kind of ask doesn’t fit the blog’s specialty.

Well, the reasonably smart girl and the dangerous rich boy as presented usually isn’t healthy. It can be, but you’ve got to work at building the relationship and address the inherently lopsided power dynamics arising from the boy having all the resources and the girl having none.

As for reasonably intelligent girls making dumb choices? Intelligent young women don’t always make the smart choice. In fact, we all make stupid choices when we’re young. No one is going to be perfect 100% of the time. That isn’t a moral failing, that’s life. This is especially true when it comes to romance, and why its important to be forgiving regarding mistakes. Take into account what the mistake was, rather than the fact it happened. People make choices, sometimes they’re the wrong ones. Sometimes, they knew better and others they seemed right at the time. Mistakes are part of how we learn and grow. Sometimes, it takes sticking your hand into the fire before you learn not to do it anymore. This is especially true with intelligent young people. They may know the choice is bad, but they still think the outcome will be different for them. Sometimes, they’re right. More often, they’re terribly wrong.

We don’t always get to control who we’re attracted to, and sometimes we pursue them even when we know it isn’t a smart idea.  That’s human nature across the board. Doesn’t matter if the spark that started it is physical attraction, mental attraction, or emotional attraction. Smart girls and smart boys make dumb choices because the heart and libido aren’t driven by logic or reason, and sometimes the brain isn’t either! Ego gets in the way. Most teens don’t have the life experience to know the early warning signs of dangerous relationships. Or they lack the ability to tell a culturally pronounced “dangerous boy” who doesn’t fit the societal mold from one who actually is dangerous. There’s the appearance of bad and actually bad, and it can be difficult to tell the difference. These young people know what they’ve been told, but the experiences of another and your own are very different. Still, sometimes even when they consciously know and all the intelligent parts are telling them this is a terrible idea, their hormones are still in overdrive and off they go.

Don’t let anyone fool you, girls stumble around in the dark when it comes to romance just as much as the boys do and they make many of the same choices. Unless they luck out, girls don’t really get smart about relationships until they’re in their mid twenties  and by that point they’re women. Even then, intelligent women still make terrible choices when it comes to love.

The dangerous rich boy is one of those stunningly attractive stereotypes that young women have been conditioned to want even when they know they should know better. Or they’re in their late teens early twenties and a no strings attached summer relationship on a rich boy’s yacht could be the definition of a good time. (Remember, sometimes, the guy falls first in a no strings attached.  Girls get play too, often more. For all girls interested in this boy, there’s likely more than a few interested in the girl too. Rich boy probably has friends.)

It really depends on what ways this boy is dangerous and whether the risk he represents is worth it to our hypothetical female character. If it’s dangerous in the classic “I’ll break your heart” or “threat to virginity” way, then he may not be so bad and just is a player. (The virginity part is worth considering, because the idea of “purity” is still a fixture in most romantic tropes and it’ll ambush you in all its societally regressive nastiness if you’re not careful.) If it’s “I take out my anger issues on anyone who is close by and lash out, creating a codependent relationship where you feel responsible for me” or “threaten with physical violence” type, then that’s nowhere near a healthy relationship. If it’s the “I’ll get you addicted to designer drugs and alcohol” then that’s a little more serious. Lastly, if he’s the “I’m dating you so I can dump your drunk body in the ocean and watch you drown” type then chances are he’s murdered before and we’re in an I Know What You Did Last Summer scenario.

The romance genre is built on unhealthy relationships, unhealthy dynamics, power imbalance, and unattainable fantasies by choice. It’s wish fulfillment, a fantasy where the man society conditions us to want actually turns out to be the best choice. (Rather than an abusive, controlling trash fire.) That’s not all it has to be, but that’s what the genre often boils down to. The fantasy by itself isn’t bad, and if you want it that doesn’t make you bad either. The princess fantasy is incredibly appealing. In the classic sense, the dangerous rich boy is just another version of the Beast from Beauty & the Beast. He’s the princely hero here to be redeemed by the heroine’s good heart, then he carries her away from all her troubles to a life of safety and luxury. He is not, however, a Mr. Darcy. If you want a Darcy, you’re gonna have to work for your dinner.

The way to avoid cliche is to acknowledge the cliche, and remember that cliche is only a cliche in broad strokes. If you can get away from generalities and into people, then you escape its deathly grip.

Unhealthy relationships spawn for all sorts of reasons, and healthy ones do too. The major difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship is that the healthy one is shared growth while the unhealthy one tries to force the other person to change. Two people, together, who mutually respect each other and share a partnership is a healthy relationship.

Love is both inherently selfish and incredibly selfless. The difference between them is desirous or possessive love for your own sake, when you seek the other person for the fulfillment of your own happiness. That’s often an imaginary love, driven by your idea of who the other person is or should be. The other is sacrificial love, where the object of affection’s needs take precedence. Often, when we’re young, we can’t tell the difference. Are you nice to the object of your interest in the hopes they’ll notice you? Or are you nice to them because you genuinely care about them? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell. When you reach a point where you realize you’d continue to do nice things for them because you want to and not for any potential outcome or relationship reward is the point where we’ve reached sacrificial love.

Unhealthy relationships are built on the bones of possessive love, on selfish love. It is not a give and take, it is often all one way. One gives and the other takes, one sacrifices their comfort in order to sustain the relationship and the other refuses to change. The emotional labor is entirely in one corner rather than a shared burden. Sacrifice for their partner revolves around whims, not needs. Demanded to fit the image their partner envisions for them or imagines them to be, rather than trying to understand them.

Behind Unhealthy Relationship Door Number One is the pedestal, and this is the one you’re most likely to fall prey to when writing romance. The pedestal is a fantasy construction and it is sexism, but it is also very attractive, extremely flattering, and safe. It tricks us into thinking we’re beautiful, treasured, and valued. The truth about the pedestal is its the realization of a societal construct where women have not only have no power over their lives but actively give their power up in pursuit of the fantasy. They are pretty objects who exist to be looked at and adored, much like a statue. This happens easily if you believe the pedestal is love, which it isn’t. The pedestal and the emotions it evokes often feel like they’re love, but true love is a relationship of equals. True love cannot exist when one person is set higher than the other and their value lies in objectification. (Men and women can both end up on the pedestal, but it is more common for women.)

The fantasy version of this trope is the prince or rich man who comes to carry the girl off. She is safeguarded, protected from the world, and her needs provided for. The best a young woman can hope for in a world where she cannot chart her own destiny. For all the perks that arrive with the pedestal, the trade off is power and freedom. It is easier to let others make the decisions for you, but the trade off is reduction into an object. The one who sets another on a pedestal doesn’t truly love them, they love the statue. Silent, voiceless, existing solely serve the whims of others and be admired. Safe, perhaps, but without control.

When you’ve got a male or female character talking about how beautiful someone is and never mentioning who they are and what they do, you’re halfway to the pedestal. Oh, those looks may be the first indicator of attraction (or not), but if the relationship never moves beyond it and if one character begins making all the decisions for the other then we’ll end up barrelling toward that pedestal.

Real love is mutual respect and partnership, it is a relationship of equals. The pair are a unit, keeping their own opinions but working together to become more than the sum of their parts. The relationship is built on a foundation of trust and good communication, rather than insecurity and jealousy.  They won’t be perfect. There may be drama, but the drama is built on real, external issues or internal issues and not the perception of wandering eyes. They work together to solve the problems with come up, and grow stronger as a result. They know they are loved. If a girl or boy starts flirting with their significant other, the answer is not going to be a jealous rage. They’re going to look at their SO, wryly raise their brow, and go, “really?”

Believe it or not, when someone tries to break up a solid, healthy relationship the member that’s being hit on goes home and tells their SO about it. They don’t hide it, or if they do they eventually fess up and the fact they didn’t say anything is the source of the drama rather than the person hitting on them. Trust is allowing another to make decisions for themselves, and decide their own feelings. Protecting someone from the truth, even with the best intentions, isn’t a love of equals. Jealousy is the result of insecurity. It is often an early warning sign of trust issues, healthy relationships work those kinks out through communication. Respect is based in honesty. It does take courage to be honest, to give up control. If you’ve got a character who can’t give up the idea they don’t control how their partner feels or is trying to control them, then the relationship isn’t healthy.

The healthy version of the “dangerous” rich boy and the smart girl is taking a trope card out of Pride and Prejudice to run with called, “Challenged to Change.” (Encouraged to Change is more appropriate, no one is making ultimatums.) This is the card where two people bring their personal flaws and foibles to the table and their experiences with each other open up the opportunities for them to grow. Their joint character development occurs as a direct result of their interactions or relationship, allowing them to see themselves, their surroundings, and their potential in new ways. The most groundbreaking conclusions occur as self-discovery, they realize their behavior needs to change. They then take the steps to do so, often independent of their romantic partner. Or, with them, not out of fear of losing them but because they want to be better. They learn to communicate, they listen, and they compromise.

They may fight, but the fighting is key to character development. They go away in a huff, they reflect, they come to new realizations, and ultimately they change their behavior (with no promise of reward). They see themselves through new eyes, with new perspectives, and understand why what they did was wrong. They apologize. They don’t change for the other person in order to please them.

Remember, Mr. Darcy’s most groundbreaking character development happens when he is absolutely certain that Elizabeth has rejected him. He doesn’t help her family in the final act out of any desire to win her over, in fact he doesn’t want her or anyone in her family to know. He helps them because he loves her, he sees the damage done by Wickham to the Bennet family, and recognizes his culpability in allowing this event to occur. He shoulders the burden and the expense, in part because he cares for Elizabeth, but mostly because Wickham is his responsibility. Elizabeth’s rejection of him caused a realization of his behavior (which according to social traditions of Victorian England should not have happened), and encouraged him to change as a result. He didn’t just change toward her or her family, his behavior changed toward everyone. He got mad, yes, but he realized she was right. Upon reflection, she realized he was right about her family too.

It doesn’t need to be as drastic as Pride and Prejudice or start in dislike, the part where they encourage each other to change, act as catalysts to character growth, and pursue their dreams is what’s most important. The balancing of power dynamics so they learn to approach one another as equals, with valuable opinions, and respect each other is key to developing a healthy relationship in your fiction. The process where they come to this realization as they fall in love is your story.

Don’t be frightened of cliches, every relationship can be a healthy relationship or an unhealthy one. The narrative is defined how you explore the romance between these two, whether you paint in specifics or broad strokes. Do you follow the formula? Or do you carve out your own unique path based on your characters’ personalities?

At this point, perhaps, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice may seem cliche. However, what is so enduring about her novels is their challenge to Victorian social structure and defiance of those expectations. Her heroines are struggling against the realities of the world they live in, trying to decide their futures beyond just their future happiness. Marriage for love was a revolutionary idea in Victorian England, a privilege accorded only to the very rich and sometimes not even then. For Elizabeth to refuse marriage to someone like Mr. Collins is, in itself, revolutionary considering her social situation. Refusing Darcy on his first offer is mind blowing, marrying him would secure both her and her family’s future.  The idea she said no out of a desire to pursue her own happiness was, for her time and for a woman in her financial situation, revolutionary.

Similar problems exist now, today. They are different, in their way, but taking into account the social requirements, expectations, the family members, and friendships surrounding your characters will help you path the external challenges as well as the internal ones between them.

What is it about this boy that attracts this girl? Why is the relationship a stupid choice? (Is it?)

What is it about this girl that attracts this boy?

Why is he considered dangerous? And by whom? Who is he dangerous to? Her? Girls like her? How did he come by this reputation? What are the rumors surrounding him?

What are the social circumstances surrounding him? His relationship with his parents? His family? His friends? What responsibilities does he have? Or will be expected to have? What is the danger in pursuing a relationship with her? What is it about this relationship that might disrupt his future prospects or his family’s plans for him?

What are the social circumstances surrounding her? Her relationship with her parents? Her family? What responsibilities does she have? Or will be expected to have? What is the danger in pursuing a relationship with him? What about him might disrupt those future prospects?

These characters are going to have flaws, foibles, backgrounds, and possibly morals which will cause them to conflict. Working through those conflicts is part of their relationship developing.

Let me tell you, I hated Starke when I first met him. I did not like him at all. He was this really annoying guy in my American Film class, who always asked questions that distracted the whole lecture. After every question it took forever to get our professor back on point. Those segues were interesting but after they happened five times in a single class, it got super annoying. Sometimes, we didn’t even get to finish the whole lecture. Every time I heard his voice, I wanted to smack him. (Not the cute kind of ‘attracted to him’ either. No, it was “not this guy again.” I just wanted to hit him.) Then, one night, we got paired up in a group to talk about the film we just watched. Then, we started debating the film. (It was 8pm.) After class finished we went out to my car, continuing to talk about the film, and ended up standing by my car talking about it until 1am. After the first night, this became a routine. We started hanging out together more and more. We talked about all sorts of things, and I discovered he was a very interesting person to talk to. Eventually (a year later), we started dating. And that is one (small) part of the story behind why this blog exists.

The moral of this story is relationships start for all kinds of weird reasons and they’re not always convenient, which is why we roll with them instead of constantly trying to justify their existence. Anything can be the catalyst, what happens after is where the story is.

-Michi

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How realistic or unrealistic are battle couples, provided they have sufficient mental discipline? Is it even realistic to have two people working together to fight the same opponent hand-to-hand, or is focusing on both your opponent and your partner too much? What if one person is a distraction (by fighting the opponent head-on) so the other person can stab them in the back, so to speak? Is that too risky?

You’re asking a lot of questions here and most of them have absolutely nothing to do with having a romantic relationship with your working partner.

Some things first:

1) The relationship between a battle couple and any platonic working partnership are not really any different in most cases except that they share a romantic relationship.

2) You don’t need a functional or professional partnership or partnership at all to fight in a group or gang up on an individual.

3) Fraternization just as often falls into casual sex as it does a romantic relationship, if not more often.

4) Almost none of what you’re asking has to do with romance.

Falling in love on the battlefield happens, it happens a lot. Combat is a high stress environment and people are people. Just because something isn’t a good idea or is unprofessional doesn’t mean it won’t happen, it just means you’ve got an added benefit of complications.

Some people can handle romantic relationships with an SO who also engages in combat, even one who engages in combat with them. Those are the ones who can compartmentalize between being on the battlefield and being off it. However, if they can’t (there is a very good possibility that they can’t) then it becomes a real problem. When they can’t handle the stress or the distraction, if they can’t put the romance aside, then their relationship puts everyone at risk, including their mission.

When you’re fighting, especially with a goal in mind, one person’s life cannot be more important than the mission.

It takes a significant amount of trust for a battle couple to function because their romantic partner cannot afford to jump in and save them when things start going sideways. Both participants need to be the kind of people that when the choice is between their partner or the mission, they choose the mission.

This concept is one that’s very difficult to grasp if you’re setting out to write a romance, because most of the normal steps you’d take to fulfill that romance will leave the battle couple hamstrung and unable to function. You can’t have the guy or girl jumping in to save their guy or girl when it looks like they’re about to die, they have to trust their partner to save themselves.

That is hard.

This is a very difficult state to handle emotionally. Imagine, you are at risk of losing your loved one at all times and you can’t do a damn thing about it. You can’t obsess or brood over it, because you can’t afford that kind of distraction. Whether they’re right in front of you or on a battlefield somewhere else, you can’t think about it. You’ve got to focus on keeping yourself alive, because that keeps everyone else alive, and by doing what you can you help to ensure the survival of both your loved one and your team. You’ve got to do your job, even when you’re about to lose everything you ever gave a damn about and its within your power to stop it.

A true battle couple is one who exists in complete equality, trust, and partnership with their significant other on the battlefield. They keep a cool head and a cool heart while in the midst of gut wrenching emotional turmoil. They don’t baby, they don’t hover, they don’t keep a careful eye on, and they don’t obsess until the fighting’s over. They don’t sacrifice their own life or their own body to keep their lover from getting injured. They don’t break position.

If they do any of the above, they will both die and so will anyone who is relying on them. If you are writing characters where the relationship is more important than the mission, more important than the team, more important than surviving the fight in front them then you have, narratively speaking, a serious problem.

This is not a bad one to have in a story or an unrealistic one in life, romantic relationships on the battlefield are built around this concept, but it does need to be addressed. If its not, tragedy strikes.

If you’re writing a battle couple, you need two characters who when faced with the choice between saving their loved one and stopping the bomb from blowing up downtown Manhattan, they pick the bomb.

And, in fiction, that’s not normally what love is.

It also has to be both of them, they both need this very specific outlook to function while in combat together. If one has it, but the other doesn’t then tragedy strikes. If neither have it, tragedy strikes. They need to be on the same page.

The reason why the military and other combat groups prohibit fraternization is because romantic relationships inevitably fuck everything up. If they can handle it, great. However, the all to likely outcome, for either one or both parties involved, is they can’t.

They’ll do it anyway though, because people are people.

When you engage in violence, that violence and training separates you from the general population. You’ve been through experiences that most people cannot comprehend or relate to and that makes maintaining relationships difficult. There’s a lot to be said for being in a relationship with someone of similar background, who can empathize with your experiences, who has been through what you’ve been through. You don’t need to look much further than the rate of divorce among the FBI or CIA to understand just how difficult maintaining a relationship in an incredibly stressful environment is.

As humans, we crave having a partner we can relate to. With whom we can share our secrets. Who won’t judge us for the terrible things we’ve done. When you have to rely on each other for survival, attraction, desire, even love becomes easy. It’s often a false sense of connection built on desperation, one which if born inside the environment won’t function outside of it, but that doesn’t mean it feels any less real.

When you might die tomorrow, sometimes you just want to feel something, anything at all, and that’s where the causal sex comes in.


Casual Sex:

In mixed gender units, casual sex is really common. Not romantic relationships, mind. It’s just sex, and it doesn’t go any further than that. It’s desperation, it is all about sensation, and a reminder for the participants that they are alive.

When dealing with these types of relationships in your fiction, its important to remember that the emotional component is neither needed nor wanted. They’re not looking for comfort. They’re looking for sensation, to feel something before they (potentially) die.

Because the author controls everything in their fictional world, it can often become difficult to remember and insert qualities like the random chance of dealing with the unknown. We’ve often got characters that are necessary to the plot, who become identified as “safe”, and behave differently because they know they’re going to live through the fight or battle to get to the end of the story.

It becomes important to learn to live in the moment. To live in the twilight hour on the night before a battle, to be unsure, when the character doesn’t know what will happen next. If you don’t then there is a whole array of human emotions, experiences, and terrible choices that you’ll never touch on in your fiction.

If you don’t, you’ll be all the poorer for it.

The Two on One Battle: Real.

You don’t need to be in a relationship, or even particularly well-trained, to accomplish this. Two versus one happens a lot and the pair off usually wins because eight limbs trumps four. One person locks up the individual, the other circles and attacks on vectors they can’t defend from. We’re social animals. Our natural instincts will help us more when we’re fighting in a group as opposed to fighting alone.

1 v Group is a bad situation to be in if you’re the one, and it doesn’t matter how well trained you are. Numbers will kill you.

Part of the reason why you see single characters fighting groups in movies and other fiction is to establish that they’re great fighters. The problem is that this has become so widespread that we now think fighting a group is easier than fighting a single, skilled individual. This is untrue. The group will kill you because the individuals within the group can move onto vectors that cannot be defended.

What your describing in your question in a battle between three people in a two on one is normal behavior, its standard tactics. However, you’re also demonstrating the exact kind of behavior for why two people engaged in a romantic relationship should not be on the battlefield together.

If you’re ever sitting there and wondering if something that is a basic and bog standard tactic is now, suddenly, too dangerous because your characters are dating then that is the exact problem.

Things that are normal suddenly become too risky, and the focus transitions to preserving their lover’s life rather than making use of their significant advantage over their enemy.

That is the exact kind of thinking which will cost them their lives, and for no benefit at all.

Good job.

-Michi

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If a student is learning how fight from their parent(s), how might that affect their relationship?

The biggest problem with parents teaching their children is unrealistic expectations. They care about them more than they should, so they either push too hard (expect too much) because they believe they know them or they go too soft (can’t stomach it). A parent has a greater emotional investment in their offspring than they do a random student who leaves and goes home at the end of the day. They are with them all the time which makes it harder to set boundaries on when training ends and becomes easy for them to slip into “Master” mode as a constant.

It’s the stage parent problem and, for the child, there is no escape.

I’ll make a list:

1) Do my parents love me for me or do they love my skills?

For a child, doing well in their parent’s chosen martial art under their parent’s guidance can double up for positive reinforcement. Doing well makes their parent happy, they receive adulation, love, and affection. The parent feels good because not only are they receiving adulation from all the martial artists around them for having such a talented student, but they’re also receiving praise from the parents of the other children they teach. “Wow, look how well your kid is doing, you must be a great parent and teacher! I can trust my kid to you!” Whether it’s intentional or not, the child may accidentally become bound up in their parent’s own sense of pride, their self-worth, and (possibly) their business.

But, what if their kid wants to quit? It’s natural as we expand our horizons to want to find other dreams for ourselves. For some kids, being a martial artist or combatant like their parent may be all they’ve ever wanted to do. If the kid decides this isn’t the life they want then there’s a lot more at stake for them then just disappointing a mentor, even if that mentor is like a parent. (A martial artist who raises a child in isolation of their family is practically their parent, if they raise them from an infant regardless of blood relation they are their parent.) They aren’t just hurting the feelings of someone they respect, they’re disappointing their parent. If the only love and positive reinforcement they’ve received has been for their martial arts, then there may be some anxiety over whether or not their mom or dad will still love them.

Saying, “Hey Mom, now that I’m in High School, I don’t want to wake up at 5 every morning for extra practice before school. I want to try playing guitar instead.” Or “Hey Dad, I know we’ve been talking about entering me in X tournament on the stepping stones to the Olympics but maybe I could do Soccer instead?”

The structural familial support isn’t there for them, especially if they’re from a one parent home or both their parents are invested in their training. Eventually, the time will come when the child will have to choose their path for themselves. How would you feel if the choice you were making might alienate or harm your bond with one or both of your parents?

2) My parents have two separate visions for my training (or worse want me to choose between their two different martial arts). Help?

Even two parents who get along in the best of times (and maybe enjoy a bit of friendly rivalry) can cross the line when it comes to their offspring. A child is a legacy, but whose legacy do they choose? In the early stages, they can’t do both. It’ll hurt their training and send mixed/conflicting messages to their body. It’s best to learn one and then the other, but which one?

Either way, one parent is going to get hurt. In a relationship that’s already dysfunctional, it’s all too easy for it to become a game of “Who Do You Love Best?” with one winner and one loser. It can damage the child’s relationship with both their parents and make one feel inferior to other. It doesn’t even have to be two separate martial arts, it can just be two different training methodologies. If the parents have a conflict, their child is now more likely to be drawn into their fighting (physical or otherwise). If there’s two children, then they may play favorites between them and alienate their kids from each other.

4) My parent(s) almost made it to the top, but were denied the championship. They think I’m way more talented than them. They’re sure I’ll make it where they failed. I don’t know if I can, but I don’t want to disappoint them. I’m really stressed. What should I do?

The curse of the talented legacy with a disappointed parent. Whether they mean to or not, they may attempt to turn their child into a “Mini-Me”. The one who will vicariously achieve all their failed dreams. “You have too much talent to waste it”. This is one of the worst combinations for a kid because their parent doesn’t just have their emotions wrapped up in their training, they have all their goals, dreams, and ambitions in there too. Having a child with talent just makes the dream stronger because “you will do all the things I never could”. However, wants are not a question. Their kid is just like them and they have so much talent, why would they want to waste it chasing other dreams that don’t matter?

5) My Dad/Mom is one of the best in the sport. They want me to be just like them, but know I’ll never measure up. I try as hard as I can, but they’re just so amazing. I have half their genes, why can’t I do it too?

This one is even worse when they come into the world ahead of or behind a more talented sibling that their parent(s) puts all their effort into. They want to be good at martial arts because that’s what their parent values and if their parent values skill then they will value them. This is a kid who comes from a very competitive environment with a parent who devotes a great deal of time to a single thing. They love their parent and they want to emulate them, but they feel their parent will never respect them if they don’t defeat them.

6) My Dad/Mom always calls on me in class to demonstrate, the other kids think I’m the teacher’s pet. I might as well be since I’m the teacher’s kid. I’ve told my Dad/Mom that I don’t want to demonstrate anymore but he/she says my technique is the best in the class. The other kids could learn a lot from me. Maybe, but I’d rather be anonymous.

If you’ve ever been the teacher’s pet think about how much all the other kids hated you, if you’ve never been the teacher’s pet think about how much all the other kids (or maybe you) hated that one kid who had all the answers and just kept getting called on. Now, think about what it would have been like if that teacher was your Mom or Dad and they’re calling on you because they know that you know the answer. This sort of treatment builds resentment in the other kids, especially if it’s a repeat offender.

If the kid isn’t working as hard as their parent thinks they should, they may get called out more often. It becomes more difficult for them to do anything right even when their awesome. Always work hard, never slack off, no breaks allowed. To the kid, their peers have it easy because they’re graded on a different scale. For their peers, the kid constantly gets the teacher’s special attention which cuts into their learning time.

The other kids get frustrated because they never get the chance to show off. It feels unfair because the teacher’s kid is so good or isn’t that great but gets picked because they’re the teacher’s kid. Whether the kid is mediocre or best in the class, it doesn’t really matter. If their parent finds another kid who does it better and invests in them then it may hurt their kid’s sense of self. Any which way you look, it’s a no win situation for anyone involved.

Granted, a bunch of these can happen when the child isn’t their parent’s student but we’re going with the basics. While all of these can create an extraordinary martial artist, it has the chance of combusting spectacularly.

TLDR:

1) No choice in joining

2) No choice to opt out

3) Your peers all hate you or suck up to you because of your position (standing)

4) You’re graded on a different curve from your peers and don’t have the option to slack off

5) Your parent always knows when you’re slacking off and may punish you even when you’re miles ahead of your peers

6) Even if you’re successful, you’re always disappointing someone

7) It’s very easy for the parent to lose perspective and it becomes all about what they want and not what their kid wants

It’s a very lonely place to be and an incredibly unfair position to put any child in. It’s not just martial arts either, it’s any specialized field. This doesn’t mean the parent needs to be separated from their child’s training forever. They can train together after their kid has established a base, developed a love of their craft separate from their parent, and secured their sense of self. That way the training can just be about the training and not their parent entirely informing every aspect of this skill which will become part of them.

I hope that made sense!

-Michi

Some Thoughts: Emotional Blackmail

This isn’t really a post about how to write emotional blackmail or even what it is. This is more my attempt to point some lines that have become common in the writing of relationships that are so insidious in the ways that they present unhealthy relationships as okay and even desirable/romantic.  I’ll be honest and say that emotional violence is among the most difficult forms of violence to recognize because it hits and hurts so deeply but leaves no physical signs of abuse. A character that is experiencing a dysfunctional relationship may be blown off by their friends, family, and others who aren’t receiving the same treatment by the person who is abusing them.

Emotional blackmail is all about guilt and controlling the subject’s behavior by making them feel badly about themselves. They attempt to keep them with them by threatening them, not just with exposure, but through harm to themselves. “It’s your fault I did this. I love you so much.” is common. Emotional blackmailers are commonly jealous and controlling, they want the object of their affections to be with them only and are often insecure when they are with anyone else or behaving in a manner that they do not want them to.

It’s the undercurrent of blame in the discussion and the shifting of responsibility to the object of the blackmail that makes it blackmail. It sounds like they’re talking about you, but the reality is that what they’re saying is “me, me, me, me, me”. (Also, “your fault, your fault, your fault”.) It’s often an obsessive love and it’s worth noting that it can happen between family members and friends, beyond just romantic relationships.

Some common phrases:

“I don’t need anyone but you.”

This might sound really romantic on the surface, but the truth is that it’s actually very insidious because the expectation is the co-dependant response of  “I also don’t need anyone but you” with the expectation that the object of their affections will throw their entire life away to put the person they love first. They aren’t taking the other person’s feelings into account, all that matters is theirs.

“I told you, you have the ability to hurt me more than anyone else in the world.”

This phrase is insidious because it means that if the object of their affections steps out of line and hurts them, then they can blame them and play the victim. The person on the receiving end of that statement will feel that they are the cause of the person’s hurt and will be less likely to leave them.

“Look I am taking a huge chance trusting you and if you screw me over, I’ll probably never try anything like this ever again.”

This places the blame for the relationship failing directly on the shoulders of the object. If they leave or want to call it quits then the suggestion is that they’ll have screwed up the blackmailer’s whole life. They love them so much that they’ll never be all right again and must sacrifice their feelings (and whatever future feelings they may have) so that the blackmailer can feel safe and secure. A statement like this doesn’t take the other person into account at all. It’s about one person and ensures that the object knows that they will be the villain if they leave.

It comes in many different flavors and these are just a few of the possible ways it can assert itself. It’s always worth looking into what makes a relationship dysfunctional when trying to write them.

-Michi

(Edit: Also the true killer: “I did X for you, why haven’t you given me Y?”)

Starke Edit: “If you really loved me…”