In Defense of Toxic Love

Love isn’t just niceties and good feelings; it’s time somebody stood up for the darker side of love.

Photo by Александр Македонский on Pexels

Mental health

The argument against “toxic relationships” is fundamentally an argument in favor of mental health. Toxicity riles up all those unhappy emotions, namely sadness, fear, and anger. The argument seems prima facie; the value of mental health is self-evident. Yet, throughout life, there is a constant trade-off between risk and reward, specifically risking health for something enjoyable. For example, sweets, alcohol, drugs, smoking, extreme sports, or overexertion (in any domain), should all be avoided for the sake of health, but most of us take part in at least a few of these because they’re pleasurable or result in things we value.

Attachment styles

Two psychologists, by the names of Mary Ainsworth and John Bolwby, came up with the “theory of attachment” way back in the 60s and 70s, while working with children. They later applied this to adults. According to them, there are four attachment styles: (1) secure, (2) anxious-preoccupied, (3) dismissive-avoidant, and (4) fearful-avoidant. They are each characterized by whether or not they are anxious and/or avoidant.


Monogamy is a mixed bag for most people. Humans often demonstrate what is known as “serial monogamy.” This means that we’re with one person at a time. This trading hands a lot of us engage in every few years or months (for a time at least) is one interesting qualifier on what would otherwise be just good ol’ monogamy for life. This shows that we at least have the capacity to fall out of love with one person and into love with another while our former partner is still alive, which isn’t true for lifelong monogamous species like sea horses or bald eagles.

Pain or pleasure

Let’s call it the “nice guy dilemma.” If being kind, loving, and attentive to your partner would cause you to lose them, would you — could you even — be cruel to them? If someone is drawn exclusively and inexorably to the people that hurt them, and you love that someone, what would you do?


It has become a cultural movement to avoid toxic relationships and people. But even if we apply to it such a strong descriptor as “toxic,” there’s hardly anything that is black-and-white, 100% bad. What we call “toxic” has been the inspiration for some of the greatest pieces of art ever made and likely some of the most memorable moments in any of our lives. Love is a messy thing. It can be as ugly as it is beautiful, as painful as it is pleasurable, and as sad as it is happy. Passion is only a measure of intensity, not of positivity. Let’s not fail to appreciate the darker side of love.


1. The description of love in the brain throughout this paragraph can be found throughout a chapter titled “Addicted to Love” in a book titled The Chemistry Between Us by Brian Alexander and Larry Young, PhD.

I put the “me” in Medium. • Author of “The Ambition Handbook: A Guide for Ambitious Persons” • Instagram: @writeofpassage

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store