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How Teen Dramas Romanticize Toxic Relationships

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Teen dramas are well known for their dramatic and often unrealistic storylines. However, it draws the viewers in as we live vicariously through the lives of their characters. Part of the appeal is the relationships that come from these shows, many of which become the main focus of the story. In an effort to keep the stories entertaining and the viewers tuned in, teen dramas often turn these relationships into toxic ones that fans end up romanticizing. 

If you’re like me, then you’re probably a sucker for a good love story. I find myself constantly rewatching my favorite teen dramas as my comfort shows whenever I need to relax or can’t find anything else to watch. Over the years, I’ve noticed that some of the relationships I (and many other people) used to love may not have been as perfect as I thought. 

Although it’s not that deep as these characters are fictional, I feel like it is important to point out because these shows are aimed at teens whose perspectives are easily influenced by what they see on their screens. These are some examples I have come across: 

*Disclaimer: there may be some spoilers*

1) Lucas and Peyton- One Tree Hill

From the first episode when Lucas and Peyton interact, it is obvious that they are being set up as the one of the main couples of the series. In typical teen drama fashion, viewers can expect that this means they will eventually end up together, no matter how long it takes.

Additionally, Lucas has always had a crush on Peyton. Because he was characterized as the nice underdog who is often ignored, fans root for him and his success in both basketball and getting the girl he wants.

Throughout the show, we see Lucas cheat on his current girlfriend Brooke (who is Peyton’s best friend) because he has feelings for Peyton. This happens twice, the second of which happens after he begs Brooke to trust him again. 

Additionally, when Lucas gets a new girlfriend who becomes his fiancée in the later seasons, Peyton is extremely rude to her simply because she is jealous of their relationship. 

Although they eventually end up together, the idea that you should be with someone no matter the cost becomes problematic when you are constantly hurting other people in order to get there. 

2) Seth and Summer- The OC

Although this makes me sad to write, Seth and Summer from the OC did not have the greatest relationship. More specifically, Seth was not the greatest boyfriend. I started off by loving him because he was a sarcastic but sweet guy who has been ignored by his popular crush Summer since the 3rd grade.

 However, once they actually got together, I started thinking that Summer deserved better. Seth constantly lied about times when other girls would flirt with him, but he was also very easily threatened when Summer would talk to other guys (unromantically). The show kind of makes it seem like it’s sweet that he acts that way because he has always been ignored and he never thought he would actually get Summer, so his actions are justifiable. However, that is no excuse for some of the things that he does. He often makes it up to Summer using grand gestures or sweet speeches that win both her and the audience back over.

Although his geeky and fun personality makes it hard not to like him, a consistently healthy relationship is always going to be better than always having to make up for your actions. 

P.S. If you want to watch a show with a sarcastic, sweet, and funny character like Seth, Teen Wolf is the show for you. Stiles Stilinski > Seth Cohen any day. 

3) Ezra and Aria- Pretty Little Liars

This one is fairly agreed upon by fans of this show. However, I remember being 14 years old watching Pretty Little Liars for the first time and loving Ezra and Aria. I was even angry at her parents for keeping them from being together for so long, and I know I’m not the only one who felt that way.

As I’ve rewatched parts of the show a few times in the last few years, I cannot believe that this student- teacher relationship was ever portrayed as being acceptable and even something that young viewers should root for.

Obviously an adult being in a relationship with a 15 year old isn’t okay, and it becomes even more problematic when that 15 year old is his student. To add on to that, the sole reason Ezra got close to her in the first place was to do research on her and her friends for a book he was writing. These are major red flags, and I don’t know how I and the show’s million other viewers ever looked past it.

4) Rory and Jess- Gilmore Girls

While most people agree that Luke and Lorelai from this show were destined to be together, there is a lot of debate within the fandom about which of Rory’s three boyfriends were best for her. While I am and always will be team Logan, Jess Mariano and Rory Gilmore’s relationship is a fan favorite. Although I may be biased, this is why I think that Rory and Jess weren’t that good together.

It’s undeniable that they had really good chemistry. They had very similar interests which allowed for conversations that Rory couldn’t have with anyone else. However, Jess did not treat her in the way that she deserved. 

He was incredibly inconsistent, often taking his issues out on her. His communications skills were lacking, and Rory was often left hanging. Out of all the guys, it’s obvious that Rory felt the most unstable with her relationships with Jess. We as viewers never really knew where it was going or what was going to happen.

Jess is a good guy who knew Rory well and cared deeply for her. However, at the time of their relationship he wasn’t ready to commit. Unfortunately, by the time he was ready to take it seriously, Rory had already found someone else.

While teen dramas are not meant to be taken seriously and are made all in good fun, it’s important to be aware of the kind of messages these shows are sending. A medium as powerful as TV has the ability to influence our perceptions on how life, including relationships, should be.

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