Culture

3 things we can learn about relationships from Toronto's love affair with Kawhi Leonard

A clinical psychologist offers advice to move forward with.

A clinical psychologist offers advice to move forward with

(Credit: Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

It's been an emotional spring for Toronto Raptors fans. The anxiety of the playoff run and the thrill of victory united a country behind the team as a whole, and one player in particular. During a single post-season, Canada fell in love with newcomer Kawhi Leonard. Murals  appeared around Toronto. Citizens proffered tribute in food and wine and Toronto's most precious resource: real estate. And before the champagne buzz even faded, elation gave way to desperation. Kawhi was a free agent and, terrified of being abandoned, fans analyzed his every move online. A local news station followed cars thought to contain the star player and fans gathered outside hotels where he was rumoured to be.

To many, Toronto was taking their adulation too far. To help us figure out what everyday relationship lessons we might be able to take from Toronto's behaviour toward their newest sports crush, we spoke to clinical psychologist Jessica Conitzer of Mont Royal Psychology in Montreal.   

1. Don't wave early red flags

At his very first press conference in Toronto, reporters asked Kawhi: "would this be a long term commitment from you or a one-year 'one and done'?"

First impressions are important in any relationship. According to Conitzer, it's normal and advisable for people to project cool confidence when they're trying to impress someone new, even if it means masking stronger feelings. So, when is it appropriate to raise the topic of long-term commitment? She told us that "there is no exact number of months you should be together before you start talking about a long-term relationship, but the first date is generally too soon."

The same holds true of airing our insecurities and romantic history. Even if we've been hurt in the past, Conitzer says that we should keep it to ourselves in the initial stages of a relationship: "If you challenge somebody right away with your insecurities and your relationship problems, then that's a red flag right there. 

2. Bribery, obsessing and digital stalking = low self-worth

During the free agent period last week, Leonard was considering offers from several teams including the Raptors. We asked Conitzer what we should do if a person we were interested was contemplating a career-based move away from us. Even if you want them to stay, Conitzer told us that "You have to respect the person's agency."

Attempting to bribe or manipulate them with gifts isn't usually a winning strategy. "It makes sense that someone would do that, but if it comes across as desperate, it's probably going to have the opposite effect." Conitzer also noted that if you go overboard, "not only are you likely to push the person away, it doesn't look like you have much self-esteem."

If you find that you're trying to follow them, track their whereabouts, and ruminating on their intentions, Conitzer says you've probably gone too far.  "If you are always looking out for signs of rejections, and are frantically trying to avoid, that is a sign of insecure attachment. That's a disordered way of thinking that we associate with a compulsive need to check if your relationship is stable or not." 

3. Focus on the positive

Toronto hasn't got a great record dealing with rejection. Vince Carter was Toronto's darling from 1999 until 2004 when things went sour and Carter was traded to the New Jersey Nets. When he returned to the ACC the next year, the crowd booed him and chanted "V-C sucks!" It took ten years before the organization tried to bury the hatchet by honouring Carter with a video tribute in 2014. 

In personal relationships, blaming the other person is a common strategy for maintaining one's own self-image, but Conitzer told us that it often involves "distorting the truth or reality to preserve a sense of dignity, which is not right." In any case, continuing to jeer someone at their workplace a decade after splitting doesn't reflect well on the jilted. 

According to Conitzer, those who are dealing with a break-up are better off looking to the future, working on improving themselves, and even trying to focus on the positive aspects of a relationship.  

There are some signs that Toronto has grown. When the news was revealed, Toronto mayor John Tory released a video thanking the L.A. native and wishing him luck, "but not too much." This is promising, but it's still too early to tell what the emotional legacy of Toronto's fling with Kawhi will be.

For an analysis of the laughs and memories Kawhi has left fans with and all the latest NBA news, visit CBC Sports.


Clifton Mark writes about philosophy, psychology, politics, and other life-related topics. Find him @Clifton_Mark on Twitter.

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