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.
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.