Many of you have heard the news that Jerramy Stevens, former Seattle Seahawks football player was arrested this week for assaulting his fiance, USA soccer player Hope Solo. When the news broke, the coverage included multiple red flags of a domestic violence incident/relationship: dating for only 2 months before engaged, Stevens was hiding from police when they arrived at the scene (with blood on him), Solo had a cut on her arm, Stevens had a history of encounters with law enforcement (including a prior arrest for sexual assault), Solo was vague about the incident and appeared to be protecting Stevens (very common in domestic violence incidents). To be fair, a couple of things in the story add confusion to what happened: reports that it was a party (DV usually happens when no one else is around), Solo's brother reporting that he used a stun-gun on someone, another woman at the residence who suffered a hip injury, and another man with bruises and scrapes.
Before the end of the week, Stevens and Solo decided to go ahead with their wedding and married shortly after Stevens was released from jail. Immediately victim-blaming headlines emerged such as, "Hope Solo Marries Jerramy Stevens One Day After His Arrest for Assault". The headline squarely puts the responsibility for this decision on Solo, rather as a decision by the couple.
Yet, what I found most interesting was this tweet by one of Solo's friends and soccer teammate, "Happy to witness such an amazing celebration of real love #selflesslove #fewandfarbetween." I've struggled with how to frame this because the last thing I want is to inadvertently participate in victim-blaming. So, with caution, I will attempt to unpack this tweet. My reaction to this tweet was complex in that I was annoyed, thankful, and then irritated again. Let me explain.
First, the annoyed. My first reaction was of annoyance with Solo's friend that she was expressing her unconditional support of Solo and Steven's marriage, despite the many warning signs of toxicity apparent in her friend's relationship. Wouldn't a true friend have an honest conversation with you about how marrying someone right after he gets released from jail for allegedly physically harming you might not be the best idea?
Next, the gratitude. Domestic violence survivors often faced increased isolation from friends and family because of their relationship. If abusers aren't outright attempting to separate their partners from their emotional resources, many friends and family simply walk away in frustration when their loved one continues to stay (or leave and go back) in an unhealthy situation. So, for Solo to have a friend to stand by her, that's a big deal. More survivors would be so lucky.
Is there a way to reconcile these two things? Can you be both honest with your friend about your concerns and stand by them regardless of their decision. What does labeling this relationship "real love", selflesslove" and "fewandfarbetween" mean in terms of honest and supportive friendship? Can you express your reservations without blaming your friend for her choices or do you have to sweep it all under the rug to show your alliance? Can we as a community challenge labeling a marriage right after a physical domestic violence incident "self-less love" and "few and far between" without implying that we blaming Solo for whatever negative things might happen next in her marriage? And, purely speculatively, what were Stevens friends saying to him? Were they in full support? Did they challenge him to seek some expert advice before committing to a lifetime with someone? I'm wondering what an intermediary friendship response might look like, not blaming the victim for the choices she's making, but also not making invisible very real signs that something might not be okay.
And, finally, the irritation. When we label relationships with external signs of domestic abuse "real love", "self-less love" and "few and far between" what kinds of message are we sending to each other? What does this say to same-sex couples who are told they can't get married? There's something wrong in this world when relationships likely involving domestic violence are held up as an ideal when it's entered into by heterosexual couples but that other relationships are seen as deviant and illegal, whether or not they are loving and supportive, simply because of the sex of the two people in involved.
At the RNC last night, Ann Romney, wife of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, took to the stage to bring "personality" and "warmth" to the candidate. In talking about their personal lives, Mrs. Romney stated this:
"I read somewhere that Mitt and I have a 'storybook marriage.' Well, in the storybooks I read, there were never long, long, rainy winter afternoons in a house with five boys screaming at once. And those storybooks never seemed to have chapters called MS or breast cancer.
A storybook marriage? No, not at all. What Mitt Romney and I have is a real marriage."
An interesting way to go to appeal to the masses I think. Defining a "real marriage" vs a "storybook marriage". Let's break this down a little bit. What is a "storybook marriage" anyway? Is it the most simplistic pieces of what some think of as a successful marriage: longevity, fidelity, kids? If so, it sure seems like they have a storybook marriage to me.
Is it about marrying your best friend, sustained romantic love, and generally feeling happier because you are in a relationship with this particular person? If you go with a definition related to emotional connection, deep friendship, love, intimacy, and happiness, I would argue we don't actually know much about the Romney's relationship at all. Beyond the public face of being a united couple, we don't really have information about how the Romeny's relate to each other.
Ann Romney describes a "real marriage" as kids screaming and surviving MS and breast cancer. Those are certainly challenges to overcome, although I wouldn't say they are qualifiers that exclude someone from having a "storybook marriage". In fact, we can see lots of movies where one or both individuals in the couple overcome obstacles and triumph together.
In an effort to relate to every day people, the Romney's gloss over the many, many stresses and challenges that most couples face in today's world. The Romney's have never faced poverty or unemployment, stressors that routinely are shown to be a major contributor to dissatisfaction in relationships. While they may not be able to insulate themselves from disease, they certainly have the means that most people only dream of to set themselves up for success. Means that buffer potential negative effects even when they do face stress (probably the Romeny's weren't worried about having a health insurance when Ann Romney was facing cancer).
Facing obstacles together qualifies as a real marriage? What about same-sex couples then? By that definition, sure seems like their relationships could qualify. Some may even have a storybook relationship.