Let’s admit it: the mid to late 2000s and early 2010s were the golden age of teen dramas.
Some of the best shows from my teenage years were The Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl, and both shows are still enjoyed by fans via streaming platforms like Netflix and HBO Max. These shows created some of the biggest TV heartthrobs of their era, but some of these characters make toxic relationships look attractive.
Being Blind to Bad Behavior Because Of Good Looks: Klaus Mikeaelson
I was scrolling through TikTok the other week when I came across a video that made me laugh out loud. With the popular BCG Drama Effect in the background, TikTok user bbgunz127 said, “Your toxic men habit started when you chose Damon over Stefan? I chose Klaus, and I stay choosing Klaus. Always and forever.”
Hot men make toxic relationships look attractive.
Anyone who has seen The Vampire Diaries probably agrees that it’s a funny video, but I’ll break it down for those who haven’t seen it. One of the main plot points is the main character, Elena Gilbert, being torn between two sexy vampire brothers, Stefan and Damon Salvatore. Stefan is the quintessential boring and safe guy, while Damon is the epitome of the sexy bad boy trope.
In the second season, we’re introduced to vampire-werewolf hybrid Klaus Mikealson. Despite the fact that he’s a psychopathic killer, he’s also gorgeous, hilarious, and charming. He takes the sexy bad boy trope to another level, making Damon at his worst look like a saint.
He starts off as a villain (he’s a 1,000-year-old vampire trying to break a curse to make him half-werewolf through a sacrificial ritual, NBD), but fans grew to love him (mainly through his British accent, dark yet hilarious sense of humor, and relationship with fan-favorite character Caroline Forbes) so much that he got his own show, The Originals.
The Originals follows Klaus and his siblings (including his other gorgeous brothers, Elijah and Kol) to New Orleans, where he becomes a father to a little girl named Hope. Though Klaus continues his toxic behavior, he redeems himself through his love for Hope. He also becomes more likable as you get to know him, proving that he’s just a guy who will do anything to protect his family, and we can all relate to that.
The Halo Effect
Though these characteristics make Klaus a more likable character, his charm and good looks are what really make us look past his toxic traits. Some of these traits are tied to what psychologists refer to as the Dark Triad: psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism. Unfortunately for us, many women associate traits related to the Dark Triad as sexy.
When we view someone as physically attractive, we automatically assume they’re also kinder, smarter, and more confident.
Studies show that this is often related to a cultural belief that what’s beautiful is good, also known as “the halo effect.” Daisy Grewal of Scientific American writes, “The initial appeal of the narcissist or psychopath may be hard to resist. Physical attractiveness is often automatically associated with a host of other positive traits – a phenomenon known as ‘the halo effect.’ When we perceive someone as physically attractive, we automatically assume they are also kinder, smarter, and more confident. Therefore, creating a physically attractive veneer is a highly effective way of creating an advantageous first impression. Combining physical attractiveness with confidence and humor is even more effective, and it appears that people with exploitive personalities are more successful at this as well.”
Think about it: Would Klaus be an interesting character if he wasn’t attractive? Would we find him as funny without the smoldering eyes and the sexy British accent? Probably not.
We associate beauty with goodness, often giving those we perceive as beautiful the benefit of the doubt. For example, when I was in college, I let it slide that a guy I was hanging out with lied about having a girlfriend and let him back in when I found out they broke up. Though it’s not as bad as some of Klaus’s behavior, I know I wouldn’t have let that giant red flag slide if I hadn’t been physically attracted to the guy.
We Mistake Possession and Jealousy for Passion: Chuck Bass
Like most people who watched Gossip Girl as a teen, I was obsessed with Chuck Bass and Blair Waldorf’s relationship. Though I still enjoy watching the show (and probably always will), I’ve come to recognize that they don’t have a very healthy relationship. Both characters are addicted to drama, scheming, and playing games, and all of these habits create a toxic relationship environment.
I could probably write a dissertation on the horrible things Chuck does to Blair (the constant infidelity, selling her to his uncle for a hotel, etc.), but one of Chuck’s worst relationship qualities is that he’s possessive and jealous of Blair.
Though some of the men on The Vampire Diaries also displayed possessive and jealous behaviors in relationships (*cough* Klaus with Caroline), Chuck takes the cake for this toxic trait. One could argue that he makes it look romantic, but it’s not. Remember when she told him she was engaged to Prince Louis and he punched a window? He didn’t do that out of passion. Possession isn’t a sign of romantic love; it’s a sign of controlling and manipulative behavior.
We often mistake jealous behavior for passion. I’m guilty of it. When I was in high school, a guy I was close with, but not dating, got jealous and possessive when I would talk to other guys. At the time, I thought it was so sweet that he would get so jealous, but it was really a sign of the toxicity within the relationship.
Experts agree that a little jealousy is normal, but jealousy bordering on possessiveness can be a symptom of a larger problem like low self-esteem, neuroticism, insecurity, possessiveness, dependence on a partner, feelings of inadequacy in the relationship, and an anxious attachment style.
The Redemption Arc
Other than the fact that they’re not real, there’s an important difference between these characters and men we meet in real life that possess some of these traits: these characters redeem themselves, but most people like this in real life don’t. Klaus redeems himself through sacrifice and the love of his family, while Chuck redeems himself by growing up and committing to marrying and starting a family with Blair. Though these are fun redemption stories to watch, they’re not very realistic.
These characters redeem themselves, but most people like this in real life don’t.
Both Klaus and Chuck are textbook narcissists. Though narcissists can change, it’s rare. This is why it’s important to remember that these stories are fictional at the end of the day and to base our relationship expectations on reality. We can still enjoy watching these shows with these complex characters, but we need to draw a line between what’s realistic and what’s fantasy.
Teen dramas like The Vampire Diaries and Gossip Girl have given us some of the best characters to embody the bad boy trope. These characters are fun to watch, but they often normalize toxic dating habits. Luckily for us, we can still enjoy them while acknowledging that they’re toxic, as long as we draw the clear line between fantasy and reality.
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