On Emotional Martyrs

The other day I was dragged, against my better judgment, to see Me Before You. I had seen the previews, I knew the basic storyline, I knew how it ended. I should preface this: I don’t like emotional movies. I hated Dear John; Her was one of the dumbest things I’ve given my time to; I thought Seven Pounds was boring. I don’t like movies that have the sole intention of manipulating my emotions. And I hate, I hate, emotional martyrs.

So, enter Me Before You. Here’s the trailer, if you somehow haven’t seen it yet:

Girl cares for boy, boy falls in love with girl, girl falls in love with boy, boy says, “I’m not good for you.” I agreed to see the movie because Sam Clafin is incredibly attractive. And my friend didn’t want to go alone. But I knew it was going to piss me off.

I understand the idea of wanting to protect someone, of caring for them so much that you want to do what’s best for them. “I don’t want you to miss all the things that someone else could give you.” That’s what he says. And it’s sweet, right? He wants her to be happy, to live life to the fullest. And he doesn’t think she can do that with him.


Who says he gets to decide what’s best for her? She is a fully rational adult who can make her own decisions and if she wants to be with him then gosh darn it why can’t he just appreciate that instead of making them both miserable??

After seeing the movie, I realize that this isn’t the case and he’s not just an emotional martyr, but it’s a common enough trope in fiction that I figured I could address it. Edward Cullen tries this in the second Twilight book, leading to one of the worst and most dizzying scenes in cinematic history.

In fact, it’s a common thing in paranormal romance, for obvious reasons. Though, as I’ve already talked about paranormal romance, we’ll move away from that to more damaging (and popular) examples.

Rogue, from the X-Men movies, is a great example of an emotional martyr. She accidentally sends her boyfriend into a coma, so she runs away from home without a word. Then, she continues to run for the next three movies, often moving the plot forward with her stupidity and inability to face conflict or work through her problems.

Love me. But don’t.

In The Proposal, Sandra Bullock grows a conscience because of love, ruins everything, wastes the family’s money, and runs the chance of sending them both to jail. Because of love.

Remus Lupin, in the Harry Potter series, tries multiple times to end his relationship with Tonks for her sake, even leaving her and their unborn child. All in the name of nobility and “it’s for the better.”

Even Aragorn, from The Lord of the Rings, strong, balanced, lovely human that he is, falls prey to this mindset. “You cannot give me this,” he says to Arwen as she hands him the Evenstar (in the films) and thus would give up her immortality in order to be with him. Cannot. She cannot give it to him. Come on, kid, really? Arwen, lovely badass that she is, however, comes back with the perfect response: “It is mine to give to whom I will. Like my heart.” So he’s saved from becoming too much of a dweeb.

And then there’s Tony Stark.


I didn’t hate this type of character nearly as much before I met a few. In fact, I thought it was sweet. I mean, they’re all doing it to protect the ones they love; they’re all characters with a strong sense of right and wrong and a deep and abiding care for people. They’re unselfish and very generous. They’re good people. But oh my gosh are they annoying.

It was only recently that I realized what bothered me so much about them. They’re always convinced that they’re right, that they know best. But here’s the thing: THEY DON’T. Because not only are they hurting themselves by leaving or hiding things or whatever self-sacrificing thing they’re doing, they’re hurting every single person who loves them, often more than would befall the loved ones had they stuck around or done the hard thing.

If you want to protect me, that’s fine. I enjoy being protected, even being coddled occasionally. But you are not stronger than me, nor are you more able to handle things. In fact, we’re going to be strongest together. So don’t lie to me in the name of love. Don’t leave me with an “it’s better this way,” and no other reasons. If you think some objective piece of information will hurt me, then tell me with a cup of tea and a hug. If you think one of your opinions of me will hurt me, then tell me and we’ll either work through it or this relationship isn’t worth having. Don’t keep everything to yourself and then play the martyr. It’s annoying.

Emotional martyrs aren’t sweet, they’re cowardly. They’re plagued with a harmful mixture of pride and insecurity, and the worst part is that they’re fully convinced they’re doing the right thing. Their moral compass points directly at “run” and thus all problems are avoided.

I am a firm believer that most problems in both films and real life can be solved–or at least made better–with communication. So communicate. Don’t keep all insecurities and doubts to yourself until they implode. Don’t assume you always know best. And don’t run because you don’t see any better options. There are usually better options.

And filmmakers, writers: Please stop writing emotional martyrs as the sweet ones, the ones we’re supposed to love. It’s starting to sicken me. And it’s perpetuating a “fix the broken” mindset that’s unhealthy for everyone involved.

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Baccalaureate (Or, Things College has Taught Me)

It’s my last week of college. I’ve finished all undergrad classes and I only have three finals separating me from the all-encompassing void that is life after graduation. They say college is supposed to be the best years of your life. Don’t ask me who “they” are; I don’t actually know. But I really hope they’re not right. Because while I did some fun things in college, I hope I haven’t peaked.

Me, talking to friends with plans.

I’m assuming I haven’t for the sake of hope and sanity, and, in that case, I’m not really sure what the point of college was. Sure, I’ve become a better writer, but I could have done that with any concentrated practice, and I’m not sure these four years were worth the piecrust promise of a well-paying job. I didn’t go to parties, I barely made friends… So, what what was the point? Learning, I hear the small voice in the back of my head say, the same one that told me writing a thesis was a good idea and that the one thing I said to that one guy four years ago was really dumb and he probably still remembers it. But, as usual, small voice, I think you have a point, even though I don’t want you to. So, what have I learned in college?

With the cram ‘n spam method of studying (cram the night before/ morning of, then pour every piece of irrelevant information you can remember into the essay test), you don’t retain a lot of information. So I remember random facts.

  • Lord Byron kept a bunch of pets, among which were a crocodile and a goat with a broken leg. He also bought the Greek revolution. Seriously.
  • Shakespeare was played in a movie by the same guy who plays Lestrade on BBC’s Sherlock.
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was a marketing ploy.
  • Shakespeare’s plays are mostly dick jokes. Much Ado About Nothing is innuendo.
  • There’s an erotic retelling of Wuthering Heights. There’s also a children’s book version. About weather.
  • It takes approximately three minutes to read two pages of double-spaced, 12 point text. There are about 300 words per each double-spaced, 12 point page.
  • William Carlos Williams turned a refrigerator note into a poem and got famous for it.
  • There’s a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde musical. There is also a Wuthering Heights musical. More than one.
  • Celeste Ng spent six years on Everything I Never Told You.
  • Dr. Seuss hated children. Shel Silverstein wrote “A Boy Named Sue” as well as a song called “F*** it.”
  • Wassailing started as a bunch of drunk children breaking into houses and demanding food and money. Fa la la la la.

And that’s just the things I learned in classes. That doesn’t account for the random facts remembered because I heard them from people. I have a friend taking comparative anatomy and physiology, so I know a lot more than I wanted to, such as the anatomy of a cat testicle and the fact that humans have the potential to develop extra nipples on their thighs. I also learned that Michael from The Princess Diaries is the younger brother of Jason Schwartzman and is the frontman of a fairly successful band.

But I could regale you with random facts for a very long time. It’s one of my favorite pastimes. But I think I learned some solid life lessons in college as well.

I’ve learned that I can write a novel. More generally, I learned that I am more stubborn than I thought I was and that I can do anything I set my mind to, even if I end up wanting to tear my hair out. I also learned that I have good friends who will keep me from tearing my hair out.

I’ve learned that you can buy Long Island iced teas in a can. For under two dollars. They taste about as good as you think they would, but after about the fourth sip, you stop noticing. I’ve also learned what your basic cocktails have in them and even how to make some of them. I can now tell the difference between beers and can order without looking like a newbie. I’ve come to realize, though, that no one really knows everything about alcoholic drinks.

I’ve learned that getting a job is all about who you know.

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Me, trying to get a job.

I’ve learned that paint on asphalt in the rain has a bad reaction with Old Navy flip-flops, as proven many times over almost doing the splits in front of countless moderately attractive men.

I’ve learned that when two or more people planning weddings get together, they will talk about weddings. Then they will talk about their significant others, then living arrangements and lingerie and future plans. They will then talk about weddings again.

I’ve learned that while settling for the sake of being in a relationship isn’t the worst thing in the world (if you both have that mindset, anyway), be careful who and what you’re settling for. Someone who won’t hold your hand for newfound religious reasons isn’t worth it. Especially if the two of you have exactly two things in common, no more, no less.

I’ve learned that I’m capable of keeping a plant alive.

I’ve learned that everyone is a person. There is no hierarchy of humanity; everyone isn’t out to judge me and hold me to an impossible standard. There’s no exact formula for communication: no matter what you’re doing, you’re talking to a person, a person with feelings, with likes and dislikes, good days and bad days, self-esteem issues and constantly misspelled words and probably questionable fashion, and a bona fide sense of (often inappropriate) humor. I am as much a worthy member of society as anyone else.

I’ve learned that humility and self-deprecation aren’t the same thing.

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I’ve learned that you can’t fix people, and you can’t fix their problems. But you can give them coffee and chocolate and a safe space to vent or cry or sleep. Which helps.

I’ve learned that you’ll never regret putting people before work, but you’ll often regret putting yourself before your work. Sleep is not more important than that ten page paper due tomorrow. Netflix is not more important than that group project. But your friend’s life crisis is more important than both of those. And your professor will most likely understand and be lenient toward the latter.

I’ve learned that you won’t get what you won’t ask for. And if you’re offered something and you say no, it won’t often be followed by “are you sure?” My freshman year I was sitting alone in my room, hungry and single. An attractive guy knocked on my door and offered me a donut and, because it was my knee-jerk reaction, I said, “no, thanks.” He shrugged and left, and I regret that interaction to this day. If I had said yes, at the very least I wouldn’t have been hungry anymore, and at most I could be planning a wedding of my own right now. Ah well.

I’ve learned that attraction is a bitch.

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I’ve learned that “Hi, I’m Kristen, I don’t know you,” is a perfectly acceptable way to start getting to know someone. (It actually led to a relationship. Who knew.)

I’ve learned that if you care about a person, that conversation is worth having.

I’ve learned that finding ways to decompress and de-stress is incredibly important. Stress is bad for your body and bad for your mind and, in the long term, bad for your productivity. Yoga is good, as is drawing/painting, and walking, and crocheting, and purposefully watching movies–none of this trying to multi-task homework and entertainment. Multi-tasking important things just hurts your brain and leads to less things getting done.

I’ve learned that needing alone time doesn’t make you a bad person. Extraverts don’t have to understand. But you need to try to explain it anyway.

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But don’t you want to hang out?! Nope.

I’ve learned that coffee is not a substitute for food.

I’ve learned that the world was designed for people much dumber than I am. No one wants me to fail, especially not at ordinary everyday tasks.

I’ve learned that you can’t fight over text. Well, I suppose you can, but it’s the exact opposite of productive.

Most of all, I’ve learned that communication is underrated. For goodness’ sake, don’t be passive aggressive. If you have a problem, address it. If you want something, ask for it. If someone is doing something good, tell them, even if it’s just a great choice of socks. If you want to talk to someone, talk to them. Don’t let fear keep you from saying hello. Don’t let a miscommunication turn into a fight or a ruined relationship.

College is about growing into a person. And I think I’ve learned that it’s acceptable just to be a good one.

This has been a PSA.

“I meant what I said, and I said what I meant.”

I recently saw one of those stupid Facebook pictures (you know, the ones that get passed around for a week and then forgotten completely) entitled, “Five Deadly Terms Used by a Woman.”  I’m sure you’ve seen something like it.  It listed words such as fine, nothing, and whatever as words that, when used by a woman, definitely don’t mean what you think they mean.  I’ve seen things like this before–in fact, almost exactly like this; people aren’t very creative–and they bother me every time I see them.  It might have been sort of funny the first time, but the fact that I’ve seen it as many times as I have worries me.  It’s no longer supposed to be funny, it’s supposed to be true.  And that’s sort of sick.

Not only is it advocating and perpetuating the idea that this is okay, that it’s just a part of life that women have the upper hand in all conversations and men are always a clueless step behind, that it’s perfectly acceptable for women to be deceptive and obnoxious, but it’s stereotyping all women as manipulative bitches.  And I’m not okay with this.  Any of this.

I’m a firm believer that most conflicts in romantic comedies (and a lot of other movies, too) could be solved by a little communication.  And since the funny part of a lot of movies rests in the similarities to real life, a lot of real problems could be solved by communication, too.  Starting with this picture, for instance.  If the women who inspired this picture, or the women who continuously repost it, would just communicate their problem, instead of being manipulative and snobbish, maybe a few–even just a very few–problems would disappear.  Then again, maybe not.  But I think it’s at least worth a try.

Also the picture had horrible grammar.  You can see it here.  I don’t know where the original is, but this is where I saw it.

So, I’ll leave you with the wise words of Dr. Seuss: “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant.  And elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent!”  Go be elephants.