Growing up, I loved romantic comedies. Give me some Harry Met Sally, 500 Days of Summer, or Say Anything. I loved the endearing meet cutes, the frustrating missed signals, and, most of all, the grand romantic gestures.
Sprinting through an airport. Urgent, surprise kisses. Appearing out of the corner of the room at their holiday party. Declaring their love on top of a cafeteria table.
The thrill it must be for a man to love you so much that he just has to have you.
But as I’ve grown, these gestures come off less as devotion and more as domination. Less as love, more as leverage.
Of course, not every gesture is problematic. Some people enjoy the attention and are happy to make intimate moments less intimate. But every relationship – platonic or romantic – has a power dynamic. That dynamic is influenced by personal and cultural factors. From age, appearance, status, and confidence, to gender, race, ability and class. As such, a relationship between a man and a woman will have some sort of power imbalance.
So when a man makes a grand public proposal in a stadium filled with 20,000 people, there are external pressures. It’s no longer simply asking someone if they want to spend their life with you. It’s putting the woman in the hotspot, under the prying eyes of strangers. She must make a personal decision in a public sphere, with societal pressures like promoting the institution of marriage and forming families looming above her.
Public proposals are often done with the best of intentions, but that doesn’t change the fact that they make a woman’s answer susceptible to public pressure and criticism.
In fact, any public plea changes the dynamic of the question. The individual posing the question becomes innocent, and the person responding holds all the power. Which ironically means the responder is powerless to evade public scrutiny.
So before we celebrate men for being vulnerable by publicly bearing their soul, we need to ask why they’re asking such private questions in public spheres. And in some cases, we need to ask why they keep asking the same question after they’ve gotten an answer.
Mr. Markle isn’t dad of the year.
This week, Meghan Markle’s dad, Thomas Markle, went on air to plead for his daughter to rekindle their relationship, claiming Meghan refuses to communicate with him despite his many apologies.
Many will defend Mr. Markle, pushing for familial harmony and reconciliation. This reaction is understandable, but Meghan has chosen not to have a relationship with her father for a reason. Presumably for a good reason, as people don’t become estranged from family members because they got in a tiff last Tuesday.
What Mr. Markle did is emotional abuse disguised as love. Love is not refusing to take no for an answer. Love is not speaking about, rather than to, your daughter. Love is not asking for something over and over again until you get it.
Choosing to centre himself in this fractured relationship and ignoring Meghan’s boundaries shows that Mr. Markle is more concerned about getting the answer he wants rather than respecting his daughter’s wishes and wellbeing.
His decision to speak on-air with Piers Morgan is a clear example of manipulation and gaslighting. Morgan – the self-proclaimed MRA (men’s rights activist) – has been publicly harassing Meghan since her relationship with Price Harry began. In the interview, Mr. Markle and Morgan spoke at length about Meghan “ghosting” the two of them, framing her choices as an undesirable trait rather than a survival tactic.
These two used their privilege as white men to twist a situation to benefit themselves – to earn public sympathy while denigrating a woman of colour. Given that the patriarchy paints men as rational and white people as reliable, Mr. Markle and Piers Morgan are perfect candidates for public support.
The common message that “family is everything” is harmful for people who have unsafe or unsettling relationships with family. To insist that ‘families stick together’ is to ignore the valid concerns or fears of the person choosing to sever ties. A person cannot be forced to love someone, and being a blood relative shouldn’t trump an individual’s well-being.
Don’t make Cardi B the bitch.
Also this week, Offset – rapper and estranged husband – crashed Cardi B’s show at the Rolling Loud Festival to ask her, in front of thousands of people, to take him back. Offset said, “I just want to tell you I'm sorry, bruh. In person. In front of the world.”
Cardi and Offset got married last year and they have a daughter together. Cardi recently announced the two had split, amid rumours of Offset cheating. Since then, Offset has launched a very public campaign to get her back, posting on Instagram and discussing it on radio shows.
It’s not romantic, it’s emotional manipulation. He’s refused to take no for an answer and using a public platform to exert pressure on Cardi. He burst into her place of work and made a show in front of agents, critics and fans.
Cardi now has thousands of people weighing in on her relationship. The Game uploaded a video to Instagram saying, “…it’s only right you guys re-unite immediately for the good of you guys family unit.” 50 Cent and 21 Savage has also publicly supported Offset.
The focus has shifted from Offset causing a division within the relationship – allegedly cheating – and has moved onto whether Cardi is caring enough to forgive her husband. The narrative has become whether she is ‘good woman’ who will keep her family together.
There’s nothing loving about it.
Countless people have rushed to applaud Mr. Markle and Offset for their apologies and their efforts to re-establish relationships with their loved ones. Reconciliation can be a beautiful thing, but there’s nothing beautiful about forcing a reconciliation on someone. In fact, that’s not reconciliation at all.
It generates sympathy for the one who reaches out, and places all the responsibility and burden of the relationship’s future on the respondent.
It says that they don’t care what the other person wants. The woman said no last week? They don’t care. They are going to continue asking them the same question. Berating the woman until she gives them the answer they want. The answer they think they deserve.
And it’s less as question than a muted command. If it was truly a question, they wouldn’t keep asking it. They’ve gotten an answer. They just don’t like it. They aren’t asking out of curiosity, they’re asking out of selfishness.
They asked a question and she said no, so they ask the same question in public, in front of thousands of prying eyes and judging ears. She may have said no in private, but the hope is that she will say yes if there’s enough public pressure.
It’s holding her hostage – placing her in the purgatory of public acceptance – to give them what they want. It is pressuring her to disregard her own wants and needs to accommodate their own.
It is playing the good guy by ‘doing it out of love’ and gaslighting them by making them seen like the antagonist for not reuniting.
These ‘loving gestures’ prey on the public’s sympathy as a tool to achieve a goal. This kind of strategic maneuvering isn’t romance, it’s emotional abuse.
Offset is using their baby daughter as leverage to convince Cardi be to get back together with him so to ‘keep the family together.’ Mr. Markle is tugging on the heartstrings of the masses by playing the deserted father (ignoring that Meghan severed ties for a reason) who seeks the wholesome goal of reunion and reconciliation.
Yet, neither of these men are talking about their own actions.
Mr. Markle hasn’t acknowledged whatever his wrongdoing was. He hasn’t apologized. He hasn’t shared what he’s learned. He is simply using public exposure to pressure his daughter into reconnecting.
Offset is so entitled that he thinks it’s acceptable to saunter on stage in the middle of Cardi’s performance and embarrass her in front of thousands of people. He interrupted her work and he ignored her wishes. He too hasn’t shared how he has changed or how he will better himself.
They both just want their girls back.
This behaviour from men is so normalized that countless people believe this is an appropriate way to express love. But these grand gestures are not something to be celebrated. They are manipulative, emotionally abusive, guilt-tripping, coercive, and harassing.
What’s more, we know what this behaviour can lead to. Some men give up and leave women alone, some men cause irreparable harm to the women they chase. They stalk women, they verbally abuse women, they physically abuse women, and they kill women.
Whose emotions are valid?
This public pleading is wrong, but it’s smart. These men are making a calculated decision.
They know how society humanizes men over women; brings the emotions of men to the forefront of the conversation and disregards what women need and want; gives men’s motivations the benefit of the doubt while constantly questioning those of women.
That is why the public manipulation by Mr. Markle and Offset are being received with sympathy. That is why Meghan Markle and Cardi B are caught in an impossible crossroad: between being shamed for taking back the harmful men in their lives, and being demonized for having enough self-respect to walk away from harmful relationships.
It’s commonplace for men to use power, coercion, manipulation, and aggression to assert control and get what they want. When they proclaim they’re doing it for ‘love,’ we believe them and stop interrogating the context. We don’t ask what they did to harm said love. We cater to their feelings, expect the woman to do the same, and forget about her feelings.
This twisting of tales, from valid fracture to heroic quest for reconciliation, is in and of itself concerning, but made more troubling by the support it receives. Problematic behaviour will always be employed, but it’s only when society endorses it that we witness serious harm.
The #MeToo movement has shone a light on sexual harassment and assault, igniting a conversation on consent. But we need to expand our conversation on consent – not just consent for sexual acts, but consent to a relationship in general. We need to expand our interrogation of male entitlement – not just to women’s bodies, but to women’s unconditional love.
Public pleas are not love.
Love does not corner. Love does not encumber. Love does not pressure. Love does not overpower.