I'm going to say something rather shocking now.
Or, well, I find it commonplace — common sense, even — but apparently the world in general does not. Certainly not society, nor books/films/television/discussion thereof. Judging from the lack of this sentiment being sung from the rooftops, as I think it should be, I guess I'll just say it here.
Just because someone loves you doesn't mean you owe them a darn thing.
Or, tried the other way —
Just because you love someone doesn't mean they owe you a darn thing.
Sounds pretty simple, I know, and I'm sure I look silly for making a big deal out of it. But the truth is, people seem to forget this a lot, and the media certainly isn't making it any easier to remember.
I see this trope everywhere, but particularly when the dreaded discussion of Nice Guys comes up again (please see this iconic post by MightyGodKing in lieu of me ranting about it — I'll wait). A guy loves a girl. He's a good guy — both Nice or genuinely nice count here — and he does a lot of things for her. Maybe he helps her realize she doesn't need to do [insert self-destructive behavior or relationships here]; maybe he helps her realize she doesn't need to listen to her family all the time; maybe he literally sacrifices his life for her, or at least puts himself in danger to save her.
The rhetoric that follows is usually thus: the girl is, somehow, obligated to fall in love with him, and if she doesn't she's "ungrateful" — but even if she does, she won't deserve him. Scores of fans and/or critics will kvetch about this nice, self-sacrificing guy doing all this for a chick who isn't good enough for him.
Katniss from The Hunger Games gets this — Peeta has feelings for her, he's a fairly good guy (at first), and he nearly gets himself killed in several horrible ways for her. Yet she doesn't instantly drop into a swoon, instead taking a while to focus on her feelings independent of all the outside pressures — and, you know, not dying — so wide circles of the Internet have declared her an unfeeling, callous bitch.
Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany's (the film) doesn't want to be tied down, and refuses to believe that she should own — or be owned by — anyone. Her day job is a high-priced escort, and she's had enough of it that she doesn't want it in her relationships. It's not exactly healthy, but it's what she wants right now. The hero, Paul-not-Fred, can't let this go, going so far as to tell her that she does belong to him, because that's what happens when you're in love.
The end of For Better or For Worse was basically a clustermuck of wilting, mustachioed proportions as Elizabeth, a spunky, independent woman who dated more than one guy in her life (shocker!), slowly gets whittled down by family and friends to give up the life she carved in order to settle down with Blandthony, a boring guy who married a woman he didn't love and had a baby she didn't want and works at a gas station and who saved Elizabeth from a rape only to sob on her shoulder five minutes later that his marriage was cracking and he still loved her.
The girl in Avril Lavigne's Sk8r Boi decides that popularity is more important than a guy she made eyes at a few times across the cafeteria, and so she spends her life "nursing the baby, […] all alone", complete with "gotcha!" moment when she realizes the guy is MTV-famous now. (I could do a whole post about this song, really.)
I don't even think I need to list the modern (as in, 80s and later) romantic comedy for this one.
In discussions about these types of stories and in real life, the smug sentiment prevails that this girl had better "come to her senses" and snap him up now, because he won't wait forever, and then one day she'll realize her mistake but it will be too late and she'll spend her life with cats or some jerk who doesn't love her or the kid some guy knocked her up with before leaving — and the nice guy won't care because he's moved on and is married to twenty Swedish supermodels who are also contortionists and nuclear physicists. Bitch.
"He won't wait forever!" "Soon it'll be too late!" "It'll be your fault!" "You'd be lucky even to have him!"
On and on and on. There are so many problems inherent with this, especially given that we aren't existing in a medieval society where the first gaze meant ownership, that I can't even go through them all. That having a child and then becoming a single mother is shown to be the "punishment" for not being interested in Nice Guy X is a rant on its own.
But at the heart of it, it boils down to this: we fall in love when we fall in love. Yes, other people can affect that, but they can't actually make us unless they do something very illegal with a syringe and oxytocin.
And if we don't fall in love, it's not out fault; we aren't bad people; we don't do it on purpose; and we don't deserve to be stigmatized for it.
Love is not Quinn Morgendorffer's checklist of which guy is the best to date, based on car, choice of restaurant, clothing, or seasonal vacation equipment. We don't actually sit here thinking, "I know this guy loves me, but I'm going to consciously erase the part of my brain that might reciprocate".
Harsh? Yes, but I'm tired of it. Being in love does not entitle you to anything, and that includes if you're a nice guy or the one who really understands her or the one who's known her longest or has her coffee order memorized or, yes, saved her from death.
Loving someone does not entitle you to anything.
Being loved by someone does not mean you owe them anything.
Let's get out of the dark ages and into the proper millennium, shall we?