When the news of the recent dowry harassment death in Kerala made the rounds, I witnessed the netizens splitting into three. Some of them spoke about the indignity of dowry and its patriarchal ties. Others spoke about normalising domestic violence as a deal-breaker in marriage. The third group raised concerns over how parents ask their daughters to conform to societal norms and gulp down tears. I sifted through many of these viewpoints and there was just one question that lingered in my mind. Why do women fall for toxic relationships?
In Vismaya’s case, we know that she was an independent, level-headed doctor who chose to find her own partner through a matrimonial site rather than shying away and saying, “achantem ammedem ishtam pole”. According to statements from her family, prior to marriage, she seemed to have hit off well with the guy during their phone conversations. So, what went wrong?
Love is a two-edged sword – it will either make you or wreck you. For all you know, you may not even realise that the latter is happening until you find yourself drowning in the middle of the ocean you call love (read toxicity). That’s the thing with toxic relationships. It has the capacity to be a blind spot because everything seems so picture perfect through your rose-tinted glasses.
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Which brings us back to my original question: what makes some women accept toxicity in return for love? Here are seven reasons I can think of.
Low Maintenance Nature
Low maintenance usually translates to fewer demands and drama. Such women don’t really mind not being treated as a priority. And even if they do, they don’t voice their displeasure or create a brouhaha out of it. However, that is no signal for a man to put her through shit and manipulate her. But toxic men take this as a cue to continue giving them a treatment way below what they deserve. Picture this: You wait for them for over an hour, and they turn up quite unapologetically an hour later. They may have been late for genuine reasons, but they skip the apology part. They do so because they think you are “too nice” and super chill, and so can never be mad at them.
Their Go-getter Attitude
This is especially true in the case of successful women like Vismaya. Well, successful women typically have a high amount of drive to get things done (which is why they are achievers, duh!). Their go-getter attitude makes them believe they can sort out anything including messed up individuals. They put in heaps of effort in relationships just as they do on the corporate or academic front. Being used to giving it their all, they possess the capacity to deal with the self-taxing impacts it entails. Their “don’t quit until it’s fixed” demeanour makes them more susceptible to toxicity.
Some women find themselves grappling with low levels of self-esteem. Their zilch self-worth could be an aftermath of a traumatic past relationship or their incapability in proving themselves in their career or even day-to-day decision making junctures. It could even be an outcome of belonging to a peer group or family that devalues them or shames them for the way they are. This, quite often, makes them go all out to be a people pleaser. And this is exactly why women who are insecure about themselves are easy prey for toxic men.
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There are women who pity themselves and feel that they don’t deserve to be treated well. They adapt to pain and feel that it’s what they deserve because they were born a woman. Dialogues like “penkuttikalyaal sahikkan padikkanam” and “karayan vidhichavala pennu” do nothing but internalise sexism. It labels a partner’s abusive behaviour as destiny’s mischief. In most cases, the woman is asked to endure all the agony, including domestic violence, because she is married, has kids and thus, cannot be ‘selfish’ to walk away from the relationship. The rare times when their own parents tell them to break away from all the pain, the societal conditioning and the whole “naatukar enthu parayum” make them cling onto such toxic patriarchy to an unhealthy extent.
The fear of not finding someone to connect emotionally with is real! The thought of solitude gives painful pangs to tonnes of women around the world. It’s high time they realise that they don’t have to open their doors to someone just because the thought of having no company makes them feel morose. A toxic person can never fill that void of loneliness. On the contrary, in the long run, such people will dig a bigger void in their hearts.
What you see and experience while you grow up has a lot to do with the kind of relationship you have with your partner. If you had an unhappy childhood and were used to emotionally distant parents, broken relationships or even abusive parents, then chances are that you will be okay to be trapped in toxic relationships. Your prolonged exposure to such relationships in the past may have normalised it in your eye.
High levels of Empathy
Empathy is great. But not at the cost of your own wellbeing. If your partner churns out a sob story every other day and you do things for him only because you feel overly sorry for him, then puhlees stop! You don’t need to let go of your me-time or self-care habits to make them feel loved – you don’t owe them your everything! There are also women who constantly walk on eggshells and evade certain circumstances just because they don’t want their partners to overreact.
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It is important to understand the people whom we are with or whom we tend to fall for. Are they really toxic or is it just an outlier behaviour that they have demonstrated? If you feel that you’re in toxic relationships throughout the years and that it is a pattern, then stop and perform a self-awareness check. Being clear on what you expect from a relationship versus what you get attracted to can help you perceive the big picture. And most importantly, if you feel you are stuck in the vicious cycle of toxicity or abuse, remember it is never too late to leave!