The response to images of the actor at a music festival while her husband undergoes treatment in rehab has been seriously disappointing, and completely misunderstands what it’s like to be in a relationship with someone going through mental health issues.
A week ago, Kit Harington checked himself into a wellness facility in Connecticut. According to his representative, Harington wanted to “utilise this break in his schedule as an opportunity to spend some time… to work on some personal issues”. Harington’s wife Rose Leslie is supporting him throughout his treatment.
And though there were some on social media who circulated insensitive Game of Thrones memes in response to the news, on the most part people were sensitive towards Harington’s decision to seek help when it came to his health and wellness.
That was a week ago, and during that week Leslie attended the All Points East music festival in London with friend Carey Mulligan, watching Bon Iver perform. While people responded to Harington’s decision to check into rehab with respect and concern, the reaction to images of Leslie at the music festival has been vastly different.
On Twitter, fans were hissing that Leslie is the “real reason” that Harington is in rehab. “Supportive wife my ASS!” one tweet read. “She’s enjoying what he’s going through, disgusting,” another added. “She loves this attention.” Another wrote: “if you go out at least be subtle about it not parade around without having a care in the world”.
Quite frankly, this reaction is appalling. What would these people rather Leslie do, cloister herself away and put her life on hold until her husband completes his treatment? How would they rather she spend her time – holed up in her house rearranging her book collection and spring-cleaning her pantry until Harington comes home?
Let’s clear something up right out of the gate: Leslie’s life is her own and she is allowed to live it while her husband is in rehab. She is allowed to take a break, and she doesn’t need anyone’s permission to do so. What she does with her time, and how she wants to take care of herself through what we can only imagine is a very difficult period in her life and marriage is entirely her business.
Support isn’t one-size-fits-all. It isn’t some misogynistic stereotype of a wife prostrate at her husband’s side in supplication, or sequestered away at home as an act of self-abnegation. Support looks different for everyone, and it takes on different forms. It impacts relationships in different ways. And someone’s own set of personal issues – whatever they may be – impacts the life of their partner, too.
Shaming someone for wanting some time for themselves, or for daring to spend an afternoon in the sun, or for spending a single waking moment thinking about anything other than their partner’s issues, displays a complete misunderstanding of how mental illness affects a relationship.
Who is to tell Leslie not to live her life while her husband seeks help? Who is to say that she is not being supportive because she takes one afternoon to herself to go to a goddamn music festival? Who is to know every minute detail of Leslie and Harington’s relationship behind the scenes and all the myriad of ways that Leslie is there for him through this time? Who is to know?
The fact of the matter is that we don’t know. We see paparazzi pictures and we read tabloid headlines and we see snippets of coverage in the media, but it’s not the full story. The only people who know the full story of their relationship and what they are going through are Harington and Leslie themselves. And neither of them, not the least Leslie, owe anyone an explanation of their behaviour.
Some of the people driving this conversation are, disappointingly, Game of Thrones fans who ‘ship’ – as in, support a relationship between – Harington and his co-star Emilia Clarke. For these fans, Leslie is the antithesis of a supportive wife and Harington’s ‘true’ partner should be Clarke.
It all sounds harmless in theory, doesn’t it? Fans who love something so much that they want to see fiction spill over into real life. Sounds harmless, but it isn’t. Because no matter how much chemistry Harington and Clarke have onscreen, they’re playing fake characters on Game of Thrones. (Fake characters who also happen to be aunt and nephew, and in the finale the nephew kills his aunt. So just how much of that would these shippers like to see in the real world, hmm?)
In the real world, Harington and Leslie are married, and Clarke is their friend. In the real world, Harington has checked into rehab. And in the real world, Leslie is supporting him through that.
The last time we saw such toxic shipping it was focused on Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga, whom fans so adored in A Star Is Born that they called for the immediate dissolution of Cooper’s longterm relationship with model Irina Shayk – with whom he has a daughter – in order for Cooper and Gaga to end up together once and for all, as nature allegedly intended.
The discourse around their relationship was as toxic as the one around Harington, Leslie and Clarke. It suggested that men and women can’t be friends without there being something more going on. (Clarke and Harington’s banter must be a sign that there’s something more going on behind the scenes, these fans say.) And it argued that sizzling onscreen chemistry always, always means that offscreen the actors can’t keep their hands off each other.
“People saw love and guess what, that’s what we wanted you to see,” Lady Gaga said at the time, stressing that what she was doing with Cooper in A Star Is Born was acting. As in, pretending. “When you’re singing love songs, that’s what you want people to feel.”
Nobody listened, of course. Fans continue to fall over themselves when it comes to Cooper and Gaga. Even now, tabloid reports suggesting that Cooper’s relationship with Shayk is on the rocks are generating enough buzz to power an electric car.
But let’s talk about A Star Is Born for a second. That movie taught us a very powerful lesson about what it’s like to be in a relationship with someone dealing with addiction and mental health issues. That movie powerfully broke down taboos around mental health and toxic masculinity and reminded us that, no matter how hard we might try, it is impossible to ‘love’ or ‘support’ someone out of addiction.
As the “three Cs” of addiction recovery state: you didn’t cause it, you can’t cure it, and you can’t control it. You can educate yourself as much as you can about addiction, mental health or whatever personal issues your partner might be going through, but you can’t do the work of recovery for them. They have to want to get better, and they have to steer themselves towards that goal.
We don’t know what particular “personal issues” Harington is dealing with. All we know is that he is seeking help and that Leslie is supporting him. And that’s all we need to know.
How Leslie and Harington get through this is entirely their business. They, and in particular she, don’t owe us anything.