When Nikki Sage was 18 years old she was in an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. Her experiences triggered her mental health problems. Now, she pens G4RL: Girls for realistic love, a blog about the intersection between mental health, sex, and love.
When Nikki went through a breakup, she searched for the antidote to her heartbreak online. And, was met with what she kindly refers to as “some Grade A bullshit.”
“Many of the search results were variations on the theme: How To Win Back Your Man. I did not want to win back My Man. My Man was toast. I wanted to eat something else. Like a delicious bagel coated in a thick layer of positive self-regard, topped with resilience and sprinkled with the freedom to make meaningful choices about my future.”
What Nikki found I’m sure tallies with many people’s experiences of how sex and relationships are dealt with online. While there are vast swathes of content about mental health, so much of the stuff that she wanted (that I want!) simply was not there.
Cosmopolitan, Glamour, and the litany of glossy women’s magazines seem to be able to talk about anxiety and depression. The shelves are laden with first-hand accounts of living with a mental illness. So why, when it comes to relationships and sex, are these publications ignoring the very real need for positive, feminist and progressive discussions about their intersection with mental health?
It’s no secret that glossy mags don’t do wonders for women’s self-esteem. When it comes to relationships and heartbreak, Nikki is right. Most of what I have encountered is laden with misogynistic sentiment, somehow insinuating that winning my man back will make me feel better, or finding another man to love us will alleviate any strains that our mental health has gone under. And this might not always be wrong, or might not be wrong for everyone, but it’s not enough.
So why, when it comes to relationships and sex, are these publications ignoring the very real need for positive, feminist and progressive discussions about their intersection with mental health?
Understanding the intersections between love, sex, and our mental health is important for everyone, and for me at least, seems especially important for young girls who have so often internalised these messages. What we really need are honest, authentic, and sincere accounts of how a bad break-up, or an abusive relationship, or experiencing unrequited love can affect us.
That, in essence, is why Nikki tells me she set up G4RL.
She tells me she wanted to write about mental health online for herself, but also to help others. The latter seems to inform the didactic elements of the blog. Interwoven into anecdotes about her life, and stories of her friends’ experiences, are messages and lessons.
“Love is not easily bought. Even if you sacrifice a goat to the gods, it won’t make somebody love you the way you want, need or deserve to be loved. Even if you wear your brightest smile around them and just grit your teeth when they leave the cap off the toothpaste. You cannot control how other people feel, no matter how much you want your best friend to fall in love with you.
“Nobody can erase you by not loving you.”
“You will feel like a fool. You will burn with the hell-fire of shame, humiliation and regret. You will wonder how you could have allowed yourself to fall so hard for somebody who is indifferent to your feelings. Or somebody who shows the same respect towards your feelings as they would towards the last squeeze of toothpaste in the tube.”
She rounds off this message in a post about unrequited love with a message that really sticks with you, and encapsulates the entire ethos of the blog.
“Nobody can erase you by not loving you.”
This notion of prioritising self-love and understanding self-worth outside of romantic relationships permeates the blog and Nikki’s message. This is what she says about the mission statement of G4RL; ‘to unite under this common idea of realistic love.’
“It means accepting that love comes in many forms. It means understanding that romantic love is not the only meaningful or valuable love. It means only engaging in romantic love which is fully reciprocal, devoted, and consistent.”
This familiar conception of love and romance has become so ingrained for young women that it wasn’t until diving into G4RL that I even acknowledged what was going on
This idea of ‘realistic love’ underpins this ‘anti-community’ Nikki has created. In a large part, she says, it’s ‘a fuck you’ to the culture of love found in the media and in the arts.
‘Part of it is counteracting the images of romantic love that we see in our culture. Movie love.’
We all know the type of images she is referring to; The Notebook, Romeo and Juliet, The Titanic. Images of an all-consuming, ‘I would literally die for you’ type love, that Nikki says is not only unrealistic ‘but feeds into a really unhealthy set of values, and eats away at self-love.’
This familiar conception of love and romance has become so ingrained for young women that it wasn’t until diving into G4RL that I even acknowledged what was going on. And that’s where the power of Nikki’s work lies. She addresses these problems and indicates how they intersect with both her own mental health and perhaps more generally, in an unashamedly candid and funny way.
G4RL, while it is just one woman’s perspective (sometimes she collaborates with friends), throws into sharp relief the relationship between these elements of our culture and our mental health.