Trust – in particular the rebuilding of it from a position where one partner is not even able to trust enough to admit to the need to trust – is one of the most common and most uncomfortable tropes in fiction. Yikes, that is a bad sentence. What do I mean. All of those books where one partner kidnaps another for their own good and “earns” their trust. The trope comes in many guises: the forced marriage, the ill patient, the research subject, the undercover policeman, the alpha male just not accepting a no … all of them are a form of this. And about most of these we are getting more and more uncomfortable about. And it is right that we are getting uncomfortable about it – all of them are a form of non-consensual sex.
Yes, that even relates to those stories where our main character then falls in love and only has sex after that. That is Stockholm syndrome and still counts as non-consensual.
In this place I am not really going to look into why we are uncomfortable with the forced sex trope in fiction (I think there are good reasons for it) but I will concentrate on why so many of us like, and even have an emotional need, for these stories of forced trust.
The standard answer to the question why do, in particular women but also men, flock to stories of forced trust is that we have been socialised into it. That we have been told to be subversive and that fiction is perpetuating the patriarchal construct of our society. And there is something to it. But I do not think that removing forced trust tropes from fiction will remove the patriarchal structures of our society or make them more able to change the world we live in. We can only do that by looking at the reasons why we want to have stories of forced trust.
And I am intentionally using the concept of forced trust. It is at the bases of it. No one, neither male nor female, dreams of being raped, of being forced to have sex. What we dream of, in differing degrees, is being forced into making a connection to another human being when we are afraid to do so ourselves and have that connection not destroy us.
So, why are we in that position, or at least so many of us (I have asked my partner and he does not have any desires in that direction – but then, he is the most grounded and happy in himself person I have ever met)?
I think the answer IS the structure of our society which is if not strictly patriarchal anymore then still a remnant of a patriarchal structure which has formed our understanding of the world for centuries.
We are taught early on that we cannot trust anyone, then, increasingly, we grow up in a society which is based on the concept that everyone is out to get you. Every situation, every law, every rules is designed and judged based on how people can misuse it rather than on how much it can help people. We internalise this and make it part of our world view without being conscious of it.
This infiltrates our view of relationships with the people around us, even our children and most importantly partners. This undermines our ability to relax or trust others.
For women this situation is exasperated by the constant harassment we face. Vigilance is inbuilt into our daily life. Not only inbuilt – but we are taught from early on to not walk down dark streets, not to wear certain clothes, not to trust leave a drink alone… not to do anything that would invite harassment. And this is very much how it is phrased and comes over: It is our responsibility to make sure we do not get harassed, vigilance is the key to not get hurt and not to trust men (or really anyone because women are popularly sold as backstabbing so we are supposed to be weary there too). Life is a constant litany of “do not trust anyone or you are responsible for your own pain” and “everyone is out to get you.” It is exhausting.
It is also entirely unrealistic. One cannot live life like that – not even in the most limited way. We constantly are required to trust each other. All basic human interactions from shopping to accepting packages are based on it. So, having told half of humanity that they are vulnerable, constantly under threat and responsible to make sure we do not get hurt. But at the same time we are still told that our fulfilment lies as a part of a trusting relationship. And for many of us, not all and that is ok, that is still how we see our life and want to live it. I like having a partner and kids. But I am happy to admit that the constant dichotomy of life “trust but be aware that everyone is out to get you” is a litany that weaves through every interaction and is frankly exhausting.
So yes, the idea of a partner who takes away the constant vigilance and forces on one the realisation that they are absolutely trustworthy is appealing. It is a dream that takes away the exhaustion of life. It creates a idyll of a world in which one person is trustworthy beyond doubt.
It is very unhealthy as a trope ar a dream but there is a reason why it is not uncommon. The fact that we are starting to be uncomfortable about it is a good sign but if we want to get rid of it we need to address the basic trust problem in society rather than push the symptom underground. There are some things we need to unlearn>
1. You are not responsible for getting hurt by another.
2. Not everyone is out to get you.
3. If someone cheats on you, in a relationship or a business transaction, it is not your fault.
4. You are allowed to wish for trust, it does not make you weak.
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