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Spotted: In a small town in Upstate New York, a thirteen-year girl is sitting cross-legged on her bed, eyes transfixed to her television. Mouthful of metal, perpetually messy hair, and every single pore clogged with acne. Aware that she is painfully awkward, she spends her Monday nights lost in the magical world of Manhattan, following the lives of the beautiful New York Elite: Serena, Nate, Dan, Little J, and, of course, Chuck and Queen B. Watching in awe of these teenagers with their flawless skin and perfect figures living out these crazy but exciting lives that were much more interesting than hers. Swooning over the torrid romance of on-again-off-again power couple Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf. They’re so perfect for each other. Why doesn’t anyone love me like that? the girl would think.
Oh hey, that’s me. I was obsessed with the TV show Gossip Girl during my teen years. I loved everything second of it. But my favorite aspect of this teen drama was Chuck and Blair — my favorite fictional couple of all time. I’d watch, sometimes teary-eyed, at the two so much in love it’s almost unbearable. Being overjoyed when they were finally together, and pinning after them when they were apart. At thirteen, my ideal boyfriend was the charming, well-dressed anti-hero with the perfect voice. My ideal boyfriend was Chuck Bass.
Let’s fast forward about eight years. I’m twenty-years-old sitting with my best friend Kat on the couch in our suite, eating Easy-Mac and marathoning Gossip Girl. At twenty, I have straight teeth, clear skin, can’t lose. And while my self-esteem was still low, I was a great distance away from my thirteen-year-old self.
Gossip Girl shifted to a guilty pleasure for me. The plot lines were ridiculous, everyone changed partners faster than a game of musical chairs, and no one in the cast could pass as a teenager. It was something that two English majors could watch for fun on an introvert weekend. Still, I would become enthralled whenever the episode would involve Chuck and Blair. Watching, with a certain amount of masochistic glee, as the couple fought and made up, ripping my bleeding heart out of my chest because I just wanted them to be happy.
Which lead to the light teasing from Kat, who would often say Blair and Chuck was the worst couple, to which I would give very passionate arguments that Chuck and Blair are meant to be together. They are two deeply flawed individuals who bring out the best (and sometimes worse) in each other. Blair, behind her tough perfectionist mask, is riddled with bone-deep insecurities. Chuck, behind his womanizing and party boy front, is a deeply broken person who just needs to be loved. Both their passion so strong, it must be expressed in extreme ways.
At least that’s what I told myself — and everyone else. Sure, maybe they weren’t total #relationshipgoals. But it was a relationship I thought a lot about.
Now I am twenty-three and nursing a relationship hangover that was nearly a year of hell. I thought it would be fun to watch my favorite guilty pleasure show, Gossip Girl, thinking it would be nice to watch my favorite fiction couple and prove to myself that love is truly not dead. However, as I watched the “love story” unfold, my thoughts were no longer true love but horror as it mirrored my last relationship, which was marred with horrible emotional abuse that still haunts me.
In the decade between the first time I watched Gossip Girl and now, I learned that the story of Chuck and Blair is not one of love, but an example of a toxic relationship.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Blair and Chuck are perfect because (insert your top twenty favorite Chair moments here),”. But I’m here to tell you that all those “perfect moments” is the exact reason their relationship is toxic and abusive.
Let’s start off with what an abusive relationship is. Psych Central gives a nice list of the warning signs of an emotionally abusive relationship. Out of the twenty-one signs listed, Chuck and Blair have done all of them to each other at one point. Humiliation, unreasonable jealousy, making everything your fault, and domination and control being the top ones on the long list.
Domination and control is the core of Chuck and Blair relationship. These are two calculating, ambitious people who will do anything to succeed, in both life and in love. Their relationship can be seen as one long chess game. Both are trying to pull a power move on the other in order for them to feel good about themselves or to keep the other person from leaving. Their relationship has two settings: “I love you and I will do whatever it takes for you to not leave me,” and, “You hurt me and I will do whatever it takes for you to feel as badly as I do”. Both are terrible mindsets to have when you are supposed to be a healthy relationship. Chuck and Blair try to gain control of the relationship using a variety of different means: withholding affection and sex, belittling feelings, sabotage of both career and personal relationships, and using jealousy for personal gain. Heck, all of Season 2 was Chuck and Blair withholding sex and “I love you’s” from each other in order to not be the vulnerable one in the relationship. How messed up is that?
While this makes for great TV, to live through this in real life would be detrimental to your mental health, as you are constantly navigating emotional landmines, wondering which little saying or action will cause the next blow up.
Arguments happen in every relationship, and that’s normal. But when fighting no longer becomes what you originally argued about, but who wins, no matter the cost, everything becomes a weapon to use. Once your arguments become a competition, you no longer have a partner, you have a competitor. All of this is made worse when fighting and scheming is used as sexual gratification, as we often see in their dynamic: fight and have sex, which seems exciting until tried out in real life. I was in a relationship where our only form of catharsis was throwing hand grenades via text message. It wasn’t pretty.
Jealousy is another poison the couple uses against each other. When Chuck and Blair are not together, they are constantly ruining each other relationships. This jealousy is often seen as a sign of love. “Oh, this person loves me so much that they can’t see me with anyone else.” When I got drunk and fell asleep one night and my then boyfriend read all of my text messages to my male friends and messaged an ex of mine, then accused me of cheating, I originally wasn’t mad because I thought it was a sign of caring. He did because he loved me and I was making him feel so insecure and unloved that he had to look into my phone. I blamed myself for what happened. But jealousy isn’t a sign of love, it’s a sign of control, and a lack of trust. Chuck and Blair, who are constantly back-stabbing each other, have trust issues. Chuck even recognizes in Season 3 when he says “Blair. You and I both know you'll never be completely trustworthy. I admit it's not my strong suit either, but it keeps things interesting between us.”
Cool line bro, but that doesn’t work out too well in the real world. Someone who loves you will trust you. Someone who loves you will want your happiness over everything else, even if that means being with someone else.
Then there’s Chuck Bass, the anti-hero of the show. He’s wealthy, witty, and has a knack for creating chaos. He’s slimly and manipulated, but we are won back by his grand romantic gestures. We can gush for hours about how he voted for Blair for prom queen 150 times, rigging the ballot box so she would win, or when he flew to Europe to finally say “I love you” and gave her all her favorite things. But these nice romantic gestures make us forget and/or rationalize all the terrible things he’s done, like pawning her body off to his uncle for a business, humiliating her in public on more than one occasion, and blaming all of his failures on her. Not to mention, he tried to rape fourteen-year-old Jenny Humphrey in the first episode. Just one of these things would traumatize anyone. And having them happen consistently, to be forgiven by big gestures, is a dangerous sign. This might be why I wasn’t really surprised when the actor who plays Chuck Bass, Ed Westwick, was recently accused of sexual abuse. Very hard to distance the actor from the character.
The relationship is tantalizing because Chuck is the bad boy that we, as women, are taught to fix. If we fix him, we somehow won because we got the guy that no one else can tame. You were not put on this Earth to fix a man. You were put on this Earth to live your best life possible.
So why is it important? Because Gossip Girl got most of its viewership from teens 12-17-years-old. That is the same age that most girls are getting to their first romantic relationships. Chuck and Blair were the most popular couple on the show, winning awards as “top couple.” And because young women are idolizing their relationship, they are ultimately being groomed to accept emotional abusive relationships when they get older — because that’s what they are used to seeing. That’s what they are taught that love is. I spent a decade thinking that Chuck and Blair were the perfect couple and today, it’s still hard for me to come to terms that I was emotionally abused. I feel I can’t admit it because I’m afraid I’m being dramatic, or that I deserved it. I was never hit so how could it be abuse? Chuck never hit Blair, so it’s harder to see it has abusive. Just because there are no bruises doesn’t mean a relationship didn’t leave emotional scars.
Gossip Girl is not the only show that romanticizes toxic relationships, in fact, it’s a common trope in many shows aimed at young girls. It needs to stop. In the era of #MeToo and #TimesUp, we need to have real conversations about emotional abuse and stop feeding it to our children as true loves. We deserve and demand our young woman to see happy and healthy relationships onscreen to save them a lifetime of pain. It’s 2018, and we deserve better.