In some not-so-shocking news: Leading men on both television and in movies are far from flawless. As much as you may love a certain romantic comedy or root for a male hero in a series, you might not even realize that sometimes a romantic hero is gaslighting his love interest. Unfortunately, it's a common trope in storytelling — and one that will hopefully, eventually come to an end.
In 1944, the film Gaslight, starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman, was released. It told the story of a man manipulating his wife to the point of her questioning her own sanity. This is exactly what gaslighting is. It's a form of psychological and emotional abuse. According to Psychology Today, "Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality."
You might not be convinced that something so serious happens in, say, a romantic comedy, but it absolutely does. Many of the male heroes you've come to adore actually aren't as great as they come off to be. Once you see the following examples of gaslighting, it will probably change your opinion of the movie, the TV series, and the character — and as it should.
1. Joe Fox — You've Got Mail
Joe Fox. F-O-X. Before even discovering that the woman he's chatting online with, aka ShopGirl, is his nemesis Kathleen Kelly, he controls the situation. When he first meets Kathleen in her bookstore, he keeps his identity a secret knowing very well how she feels about his company, Fox Books. He needs to always have the upper hand over her. After learning she is the woman he's been messaging, Joe uses that to his advantage. He lies to her. He controls her. He makes her life miserable, because he knows something she doesn't.
Then, once he discovers he's falling in love with her, he manipulates her even further by "tweaking" their contentious relationship into a romantic one. He meticulously plans out how he's going to get her to fall in love with him, despite putting her out of business and being a jerk. Kathleen spends most of the movie wondering if she's made the right choices in life, questions love (she even breaks up with her boyfriend Frank, though they totally weren't meant to be), and constantly thinks about Joe Fox and the things he's said and done to her, which is exactly what he wants. Seriously, all she can think about is him and he ends up making her question her judgment.
2. Kevin — 27 Dresses
Kevin weasels his way into Jane's life. No, he forces his way into her life — and all for a story. Jane thinks Kevin is a reporter covering her sister's wedding to Jane's boss. That's what his story starts out as, but then Kevin finds a bigger story in Jane — and how she's been a bridesmaid in 27 different weddings. As soon as he discovers this and sees all of the dresses she has worn, Kevin questions Jane's sanity and the choices she's made. He makes her feel like she's crazy by convincing her that as serving as a bridesmaid multiple times isn't normal.
The thing is, yes, Jane wants to find her forever person, but she's happy in how she's given back to these other women by standing next to them on their special day. However, Kevin squashes Jane's happiness and she soon becomes so miserable that she even nearly sabotages her sister's engagement/soon-to-be wedding. Granted, her sister is pretty selfish, but Kevin manipulates Jane to go over the edge.
3. Zack Siler — She's All That
In She's All That, Zack's relationship with Laney starts off with one major lie — that he actually likes her, wants to date her, and hopes she'll go to the prom with him. It's all part of a bet with his friend Dean, where Zack promises he can turn any girl in their school into prom queen. The problem is that Zack basically makes Laney believe she's not good enough by changing her appearance. He manipulates her into allowing his sister (played by Anna Paquin) to give her a makeover that he essentially promises will make her noticeable in a positive way.
Laney is extremely cautious around Zack and his so-called good intentions, but along the way she does start to believe that he finds her beautiful and that her new look is superior to her old one. Then, she starts falling for Zack, who has been using her since day one. The fact that Zack gets Laney to believe that the only way she can be worthy of someone like him is by changing who she is and her physical appearance is evidence that he's gaslighting her. She starts wondering who she can trust, who is lying to her, and if she really is worth nothing more than just a bet — so much so that Laney ends up going to prom with Dean, who she recognizes is a jerk, because Zack pushes her to truly believe she can't do any better or that no one else will want her.
4. Zack Morris — Saved by the Bell
Let's face it: Kelly Kapowski should've never married Zack Morris. He isn't a good guy. It's all about what he wants when it comes to a relationship — and he will go past the point of no return to get it. There are multiple times when Zack lies to Kelly, but in the end, she becomes so immune to his horrible ways that she finds them romantic. Even when Kelly develops feelings for her boss, Jeff, she questions herself and her feelings — because of how much pressure Zack has put on them as a couple. She thinks she's in the wrong. At one point, she's even willing to sacrifice what she feels for Jeff, so she doesn't hurt Zack. Luckily, Zack's gaslighting attempt fails, and Kelly ends up dumping him for Jeff.
But let's not forget that during their Las Vegas nuptials, Zack again lies to Kelly about having to use the money for their wedding to bail himself, Screech, and Slater out of jail. They end up getting married, because Kelly is once again brainwashed by Zack into believing that every time he does something stupid and hurts her, it's his way of showing how much he loves her.
5. Patrick Verona — 10 Things I Hate About You
It's such a shame that a multi-dimensional character like Julia Stiles' Kat was controlled and played like she was by Heath Ledger's Patrick Verona. Granted, 10 Things I Hate About You was based on Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew, but it would've been nice to see this story told without Patrick gaslighting Kat at every turn. In a scheme conducted by four men (Cameron, Patrick, Michael, and Joey), Patrick ends up getting paid by Joey Donner to take out Kat so her sister, Bianca, can go to prom with him.
After a lot of work, including publicly serenading her with "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You" during soccer practice, Patrick convinces Kat to go out with him. In the process, she also starts to fall head over heels for him. And because of his manipulation, Kat starts to believe in love again and that there are decent guys in the world. She's actually the happiest she's been in a long time, until she learns that her entire reality is a lie, becomes angry and even has a mini-breakdown in class in front of everyone. When she recites her famous poem about Patrick, it's clear that Kat can't quite wrap her head around why she doesn't even hate him, despite everything he's done. Kat, a formerly self-assured young woman, now feels like she's going mad because of the way he's made her feel.
6. Chuck Bass — Gossip Girl
It was a huge mistake for Gossip Girl fans to root for Chuck and Blair to be together, and not only because he was a sexual predator. He goes behind Blair's back so many times and uses her for his own gain. Let's talk about that time he manipulates her into almost having sex with his Uncle Jack in exchange for ownership of his hotel. He knows her so well he uses her against herself so he can get what he wants — by convincing her that she should sell herself for his hotel. Blair breaks up with Chuck after learning what he's done, but she still keeps going back to him. She isn't completely innocent when it comes to their relationship, because she lies and schemes as much as he does, but Chuck is a master manipulator.
He messes with her so much that Blair actually believes he is her soulmate and that this is how relationships work. The way Chuck treats Blair pushes her to a point where she can't even be happy with anyone else. She always wanted to be a princess, and she has the chance when she meets Prince Louis. However, she destroys their relationship by constantly worrying about Chuck. She always thinks the worst of people, wonders if they're out to get her, and then she ends up sabotaging not only relationships, but also friendships. In Season 2, Chuck even pits Blair and Serena against one other by manipulating Serena into taking over Blair's role as Queen Bee. His manipulation stems from Blair choosing another guy over him, because Chuck isn't able to tell her he loves her. If Chuck isn't happy or he can't have Blair, then he makes sure she also isn't happy with herself or with someone else.
7. Dean Proffitt — Overboard
Nothing says romance better than when a man, Dean, kidnaps a woman, Joanna, who has amnesia and manipulates her into believing she is his wife, who must now take care of him and his children. That's the plot of Overboard starring Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. To make matters even worse, she ends up falling love with him because a male captor mentally tormenting a woman is the epitome of romance.
Once Joanna regains her memories, she's more confused than ever, especially since she's now developed feelings for Dean and his children, who she thought were hers. As easy as she thinks it will be to go back to her old life, Joanna's whole life has been flipped upside down and she can't help but wonder if she's going crazy all over again because she wants to be with Dean, her captor. Let's also not forget that there is also going to be an Overboard reboot with Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez that will tell the same exact story, but with the reversal of the leading roles. Oh, joy.
8. Ross Geller — Friends
Ross and Rachel were the "it" couple of Friends, but if you really think about it, Ross was the worst. How many times did he lie to Rachel? Let's not forget that time they get drunk and accidentally get married in Vegas and then Ross lies to Rachel about annulling the marriage. He keeps Rachel completely in the dark about it and convinces her they're no longer married, when they actually are. If that isn't enough, he gets Rachel to move in with him. As Phoebe points out, this is Ross' way of hopefully convincing Rachel to fall back in love with him, so he doesn't have to get another divorce. Rachel goes on living her life as if all is well and that things are better than ever with Ross.
This is typical Ross behavior that he uses to his advantage in order to manipulate Rachel into wanting him just as much as he wants her. There was even that time after she gives birth to their daughter that she starts to question whether she should be with Ross or not, because he is the father — an idea that he puts into her mind constantly. He holds over head that he's been in love with her since high school and that means they're meant to be. Rachel can't escape that fairytale and ends up even giving up her career in Paris for him.
9. Ezra Fitz — Pretty Little Liars
Nothing is more attractive than a manipulative stalker of a teenage girl, ammirite ladies? There are a lot of problems with Ezra Fitz, and they aren't only limited to him having sex with a student and continuing to date her after discovering he's her English teacher. One of the major issues with Ezra is how long he keeps his biggest secret from Aria. Yes, Aria is also at fault, but Ezra basically creates a reality that lures Aria and her friends into his life so he can write a tell-all book about one of them. That's why he starts dating Aria. After she discovers this massive lie, Aria's reaction says it all. She doesn't know what to believe. She begins questioning everything from the first day she met Ezra to now and even loses control.
He presents himself as this caring, moral man with values (save for him dating a student) who Aria can lean on and confess everything to. He makes her feel safe in order to get what he wants out of the relationship. They both have many ups and downs, including breakups, but Aria runs right back into his arms, because he's her first great love. She compares everyone else to him. She can't escape his cunning ways, which he has her believing are romantic.
10. Damon Salvatore — The Vampire Diaries
Damon is TVD's tragic and dark hero, who fans absolutely adore. However, he really isn't all that wonderful. He literally messes with women's minds by compelling (mind control, vampire style) them into believing untruths and so he can control their actions. How can anyone forget his relationship with supporting character Caroline at the beginning of the series? He uses her for his own gain, pretty much like how he uses everyone throughout the show's seven seasons. As soon as he meets the series' protagonist Elena, aka his so-called great love, he compels her to forget him. His first interaction with her involves him changing her understanding of her world and they still end up together.
Throughout the series, there are multiple times when Elena questions if she should even be with Damon. It's a constant back and forth for her. After she turns into a vampire, she remembers everything Damon compelled her to forget. She then has to work through all of these memories she didn't even knew she had. It's almost like she has to reestablish her life — and not just because she's now a vampire, but thanks to Damon literally controlling her thoughts.
11. Mark — Love Actually
Oh, Mark, you are creepy. He is secretly in love with his best friend's wife, Juliet, who he treats like crap in order to convince everyone around them that he actually hates her. Mark also kinds of stalks her, like when he films her wedding video and edits it down to footage of her zoomed-in face. Despite Mark acting like a complete jerk, he somehow convinces Juliet to feel bad for the messed up situation he created.
Then, when he shows up to her doorstep with those infamous cue cards, Mark gets Juliet to feel so sorry for him that she ends up kissing him. Even though Mark is completely at fault, Juliet starts to question her own treatment of Mark and wonders what she has done wrong.
These are only a few of the times a romantic hero has gaslighted his love interest. Yes, most romantic comedies are unrealistic and they're easy to watch because they make a great escape from reality, but this genre needs to stop having leading men putting forth the idea that the only way to fall in love is by convincing a woman through lying and manipulation.