Our Favourite TV Show Couples: Toxic v/s Healthy Relationships
From Gossip Girl’s Dan Humphrey and Serena van der Woodsen from Gossip Girl to The Good Place’s Chidi Anagonye and Eleanor Shellstrop, we’re breaking down why some TV couples are doomed and some destined based on their relationship behaviors and personalities.
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TV relationships are a huge part of our culture. We fall in love with the characters on screen and watch those characters fall for each other. But while we awww at the pairings and root for our favorite couples, we must remember that TV couples may not always be the best examples. TV relationships are sometimes dramatic for the purpose of entertainment. They exemplify peak toxic behavior and portray unstable and outright bad relationships. We’re giving examples of a relationship that is a giant red flag and one that is as sweet as a rose!
Every week, we will break down a toxic relationship and a healthy relationship. Let’s look at today’s pairs!
*Major Spoilers ahead!*
Toxic: Serena van der Woodsen and Dan Humphrey, Gossip Girl
Much has been said and written about the toxic interactions between Blair Waldorf and Chuck Bass in the CW teen show, Gossip Girl. The extra emphasis on the two tends to draw the spotlight away from the other toxic couple on this show: Serena and Dan. The starry-eyed high school lover boy Dan and his ambitions of getting with his dream girl may seem inconspicuous, but the relationship was far from perfect.
To begin with, Dan started the gossip girl blog with Serena in mind. He orchestrated many mishaps in Serena’s life (like exposing them spending the night together when both were dating other people) and even inserted himself in situations through the malicious blog. These deliberate manipulations essentially drove the relationship.
Dan started pining after Serena when she talked to him at a party he was only accidentally invited to. From what we know of his life before the show began, he did not have a lot of friends, he mainly stayed home and worked hard, and interacted with his family (and Vanessa). Dan blames this social isolation on the fact that he was from a lower-income family at a private school like St. Jude’s but this explanation makes no sense. His younger sister Jenny was able to make friends (albeit unpleasantly) with his classmates. We further learn that around the same time, his mother leaves abruptly. All these various factors indicate a lack of social grasp in Dan especially those involving women.
But Dan’s best friend, Vanessa, is a girl correct? Yes, and he “confessed” his love to her only to have her leave. His simultaneous rejection by his classmates adds to his problems. He might be facing some social insecurities which were exaggerated by his mother’s absence. He might have feelings of rejection which he brings into his relationship.
Dan’s problems seem to mellow down as he begins dating Serena in the first season. We see him making friends more easily as the seasons go by. But through all of this, we must remember that he continued to publish on gossip girl, practically posting about his high school classmates. There seems to be a lack of empathy within him wherein he presents himself as a good guy but then spreads gossip about his friends. He might also use it as a tool to fuel his insecurities.
While he continuously tries to get together with Serena, he is not a great boyfriend to her. For one, he does not stop posting about his girlfriend on gossip girl. He pined after Serena for most of his high school life but he was quick to slip up quickly when her rival Georgina made an appearance. Dan has trouble trusting Serena and this often takes the form of jealousy. He also slut shames her quite often (think Nate, Ben, Colin) and acts gravely disappointed when she does something he did not expect. Dan also dates Blair knowing very well how much this would hurt Serena. Further, he publishes the book Inside about his friends where he presents Serena as shallow and vapid. In the final season, he orchestrates a plan to date Serena, and then publishes yet another horrible chapter about her. In the relationship, he sees his own version of Serena and ignores the real her. He is quick to judge her and can also act like a hypocrite at times. He judged her for going out with Ben although he went out with Rachel. There is a lot of negativity in the relationship which has not been resolved. We still see the two tying a knot at the end of the series.
Writer’s note: Dan was not originally supposed to be gossip girl. For this reason, some of the toxic traits, pertaining to his identity as gossip girl, could be overlooked. Regardless, he has still done some terrible things to Serena and will remain a toxic boyfriend- gossip girl or not.
Serena may not be as alarming as Dan, but the girl still has her own set of issues and insecurities that fuel toxicity into the relationship. She begins the relationship right off the bat when she returns to school to find herself a little isolated as well. She is shunned by her best friend Blair for sleeping with her boyfriend Nate also has some uncomfortable run-ins with Chuck.
Serena often accuses Dan of not trusting her but she does not make things easy for him. She habitually lies to him— Georgina, her mother, Nate, etc. Her communication contribution within the relationship is dismal. She has a habit of hiding things for the fear of him leaving her. This perhaps comes from her anxious nature within relationships which stems from the absence and neglect of her father. Her mother is present for her, but often quite critical of her daughter. To top it off, her brother is going through his own problems. Her family situation is not exactly ideal. Her closest friend Blair is not always a friend and actually frequently turns into her enemy. None of her relationships have any stability which can lead her to become insecure and anxious about her relationships. Relationships with primary caregivers often influence an individual’s attachment style in a relationship. Serena’s style feels more anxious due to the inconsistent nature of her other relationships, especially parental ones.
The problem arises when Serena also manipulates the situation to get Dan. She lied about the pretend relationship during Blair’s wedding just to get close with Dan, she seduced him when he was dating Blair, she also had a term as gossip girl herself in the series. Serena can become mean when she feels wronged. During her first break-up with Dan, she belittled and tried to isolate him from his classmates and also bullied a girl he was talking to. When they are together, she turns back to the lies and secrets and then lashes out when Dan stops trusting her. She also comes in with an air of superiority when she is with Dan. Dan acts pretentious and snobby because he wants to be part of the upper-class society and can’t, but Serena is quick to remind him of his position as an outsider. She has implied that she invited him into “her world.” She is also insensitive to his insecurity as someone with lesser means. She paid for their first date when Dan had worked hard to make the money to take her out to a fancy place. She bought him expensive gifts when he told her not to. These factors further fueled their gaps as a couple and further rooted Dan’s jealousy and insecurity.
Overall: TV relationships, especially those in teen shows have a knack for being unstable and on and off. It adds to the drama quotient and keeps viewers engaged. But some relationships exemplify toxicity and make us question the pairing. On again off again relationships seldom work. Dan and Serena come into a relationship with their own personality issues. These issues, when left unresolved or unaddressed can cause a relationship to turn toxic. Psychology Today ascertains that toxic relationships often contain couples who display jealousy, dishonesty, and negativity like we see Dan and Serena doing. Further, they are both very insecure about losing the relationship and for that reason go to extreme ends. Relationships require stability and a strong foundation. Serena and Dan have none of these. They also do not respect each other enough as we can see from the various schemes and backstabs. Further, when the series was running, we see almost no character growth. They did not address or try to rectify their insecurities and communication problems. Dan and Serena had great reasons to not trust each other, and great reasons to not be together.
Goals: Eleanor Shellstrop and Chidi Anagonye, The Good Place
Eleanor and Chidi from The Good Place have been through a literal kind of hell, lost their memories and knowledge of each other numerous times, and still somehow found their way back to each other. What makes Eleanor and Chidi’s relationship so special?
Eleanor has problems. She is selfish and lacks empathy when we are first introduced to her. Chidi is indecisive and anxious, constantly doubting himself. These are the primary reasons why the two found themselves in the Bad Place. Eleanor and Chidi’s relationship began in season 1 when they were first introduced by Michael as soulmates.
During the first run, Eleanor is Chidi’s soulmate and soon trusts him instinctively to get him to help her. Trust for Eleanor is huge, and this gesture alone signals some form of growth. Eleanor, owing to her parents, her douchey ex-boyfriends and friends became closed off. For her to open up to Chidi and trust him with her existence in the good place alone makes this a good start. Chidi on the other hand struggles with indecisiveness. He needs to decide whether to help Eleanor or turn her in and he manages to make a choice just fine. He also puts a great deal of trust in her when he chooses to help her stay in the good place.
Eleanor and Chidi forgot each other numerous times in different trials and came back together. The relationship has endured a lot and it stands strong because Eleanor and Chidi, for the most part, have a lot of respect for each other. Secondly, they often start as companions, confidants, and friends rather than boyfriend and girlfriend. This gives them time to build trust and allows them to feel comfortable being honest. Eleanor is known to be secretive but as she grows throughout the series, we see her becoming more open. This applies to her other relationships too— Jason, Michael, and Tahani. Chidi in turn gets influenced by some of Eleanor’s confidence and is able to overcome some of his nervousness. Their characters complement each other. They have a strong foundation and very little resentment. Even as the show is set in fantasy land, their relationship is very realistic. We see that it does not happen overnight and that it takes hard work and commitment.
The couple is good at standing up for each other and the two think highly of each other. Research suggests that this trait is a sign of good relationships because it also signifies higher self-esteem. Further, they are able to become interdependent throughout their friendship and relationship. They are both dependable and lend significant distress relief when either is in trouble.
Chidi is shown to be very patient while dealing with Eleanor as she tries to become a better person. Eleanor on the other hand has high regard for Chidi and values what he thinks. This leads her to share some core values with Chidi, another sign of a healthy relationship. They strive to be as good as they can while in each other’s company. A truly fulfilling relationship is one where the individuals continue to grow as a couple and as individuals. The theme of character growth is very strong in The Good Place and we see all the characters become better versions of themselves at the end of the series. Eleanor becomes kinder and giving while Chidi becomes confident. They battle through getting to the good place and are at each others’ side supporting, comforting, and loving each other. The two have similar goals, getting to the good place. Psychology Today marks that couples high in instrumentality are more likely to be successful in their relationships.
Overall: The relationship shows us that love is not a bed of roses and that it takes time, effort, and ultimately undying regard for the partner. The two bicker, disagree and Eleanor sometimes tries to coax and manipulate him to agree with her, but they never have bad intentions around each other. Their relationship has always seen an upward trajectory, so has their individual personalities. This pairing will forever remain a realistic and adorable one.
Tune in next week to see us break down more TV couples!
Riddhima Dave is a senior journalism student at Emerson College. Originally hailing from Mumbai India, she has previously worked at Harper’s Bazaar India and wants to build a career in multimedia journalism. Along with entertainment, she is interested in social issues, fashion and culture.
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