What We Can Learn About Red Flags From Watching Nate on ‘Euphoria’

written by ANDI WYNTER

Trigger Warning: This story mentions sexual and emotional abuse. Please take care of yourself if those topics could be triggering. If you have experienced sexual violence and need support, call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Source: HBO
Source: HBO

If you have taken a scroll on any social media platform lately, you’d know that HBO’s teen drama Euphoria has taken the world by storm, as the newest season aired earlier this month. While I could go on for days about how the show perfectly captures the struggles and growing pains of adolescence and the way the world feels so heavy at that age, I feel particularly strongly about the way romantic relationships are portrayed and how seamlessly the show portrays the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to love.

My high school experience was not dressed up in glitter and sporting lingerie in the school hallways, to say the least, but I can definitely relate to the feeling of having a crush or a relationship being at the center of my world—or at least feeling like it should be. No Taylor Swift song could ever prepare me for the kind of heartbreaks I had in high school and especially the walking red flags I let into my life when I was 16. It is safe to say I am emotionally attached to the characters in this series, and I spend half the time wanting to tell them “it gets better, I swear!” and to “stay away from Nate; he’s isn’t a good guy!”

Speaking of Nate Jacobs, if you watch Euphoria, I’m sure you know what I am about to say. For those of you who haven’t watched the show yet or don’t plan to, think of the most toxic character you’ve ever watched on TV and multiply that by 100. Nate Jacobs is still worse. Jacob Elordi plays the supervillain high school football star Nate Jacobs, whose inner demons are projected in every single move he makes, manipulating and controlling everyone who gets involved with him (but more on that later). 

Watching Nate move through life is both uncomfortable and infuriating to watch, and if you found “red flag” in the dictionary, I am certain there would be a giant photo of him in the middle of the page. Still, there is something about him that makes a couple of the characters in this show blind to the signs that he is just not a good guy. As much as I hate to say it, we could learn a lot from Nate Jacobs. The toxicity fostered in his relationships is so blatant and has shown me clear signs to look out for if my relationship is not headed in a positive direction. If you’ve found yourself completely oblivious to these signs and therefore stuck in toxic flings, here is what you should keep in mind based on what I’ve gathered from watching Euphoria.

Fair warning: If you have not watched Euphoria before, we have a few spoilers ahead!


Source: HBO


Hurt people hurt people 

When it comes to how Nate has proved to be TV’s worst boyfriend in the world, the list goes on and on. Rue, played by Zendaya, narrates the series and shares in season 1, episode 2 that “Nate loves the feeling of winning. He was obsessive.” Because Euphoria reveals the lives of multiple characters, we’re able to see that Nate’s high school persona—the gorgeous, rich, popular athlete that everyone worships—is not directly reflected in his home life. Nate often displays a violent and controlling manner that we can directly link to his upbringing, particularly stemming from his father Cal, who we find out through Rue’s narration has an extensive collection of sex tapes he has filmed with men and transgender women that Nate found when he was 11 years old.

From a very young age, he develops not only a warped perception of sex but also a controlling, often violent, and obsessive way of behaving. It is clear when you’re watching Euphoria that his father’s influence on him in addition to the masculine persona he feels pressured to maintain amongst his peers has proven to be an inner battle as he navigates his sexuality and who he really is. 

Cut to: Nate’s relationship with Maddy Perez. It goes without saying that the way he treats Maddy is inexcusable, and as someone who, fortunately, has never been in an extremely toxic relationship, watching their journey on the show always leads me to ask the question: Why would someone treat someone else this way? Watching Nate and Maddy’s interactions is quite intense. Their love for each other is wrapped up in a distorted idea of what love really is. They are both obviously physically and sexually attracted to each other; however, their relationship follows a typical high school make-up-to-break-up relationship formula fueled with mistrust and jealousy. What’s not so typical of this relationship is Nate acting out violently when he feels he is not able to control Maddy.

Seeing that, as the viewer, we’re able to make sense of their relationship through different perspectives, I can infer that Nate is only able to make Maddy feel as good as he feels about himself. Personally, I have never seen a more tortured and angry soul than when I watch Nate Jacobs on this show, so it is to no surprise that he has nothing but anger and toxicity to offer for their relationship. So to answer the question “Why would someone treat someone else this way?”, the best thing explanation is that the way someone treats you is a direct reflection of how they feel about themselves.


It’s them, not you

We’ve all heard the saying “it takes two to tango,” and while that is absolutely true, specifically when it comes to a relationship, no one should feel like they deserve a toxic relationship or that they can’t get out of one. Maddy is definitely a less-than-perfect character and also has a hand in acting out in her relationship with Nate. However, the moment I watched Nate physically assault Maddy in season 1, episode 4, I knew there was no saving their relationship because Nate was never going to learn the difference between loving women and feeling the need to control them.

His dynamic with Maddy is not the only area we see this play out—we also see it in his connection to Jules, another one of his schoolmates. When Nate finds out that Jules is one of his father’s conquests from his hidden tapes, he sets out to manipulate the situation to, once again, come out on top, threatening to report her photos sent to his father as child pornography if the secret came out.

Nate has shown his peers exactly who he is time and time again, increasingly getting more violent and insufferable as the show goes on. So long as this show airs, I don’t have much hope that Nate will be able to unlearn his misogynistic ways, and so long as Maddy continues to try and win Nate back, I don’t anticipate him changing his ways for her nor to better himself. This serves as a great reminder that no one should have to earn being treated right, and if you ever have moments where you ask yourself “why me?” or “why am I not ___ enough?”, flip the narrative and tell yourself that you are enough. If you are compromising your character to be with someone, then it’s time to rethink the space they hold in your life.


Source: HBO


If you are lying or hiding things from your loved ones, it’s time to reevaluate

Maddy’s life is highlighted in season 1, episode 5, beginning with her trying to cover up the bruises left on her neck from Nate assaulting her. Despite her efforts of trying to act as though nothing happened, school officials find out, which leads to her mother opening up a police investigation. Not only does Nate deny hurting Maddy once he is accused, but as the victim, Maddy denies it as well. Looking at it through the lens of Maddy, who thinks she is deeply in love with Nate, telling the truth about what happened and who he really is would result in her relationship with him ending.

Like most things in life, moderation is key, and a romantic relationship should never take up the most space in your life. If you find that you have to hold back, take less time for other things, or hide parts of your relationship from your loved one just to make it work, it is time to assess the longevity and the value your relationship brings to your overall well-being.


Final Thoughts

I may get emotionally invested in just about every TV series I watch, but Euphoria offers some powerful perspective when it comes to the company that we keep. Nate’s relationship with Maddy has certainly shown me what love is not. Despite Maddy confessing to her mother, “the one thing I know is that Nate loves me no matter what. He’d f*cking kill for me, and I’d kill for him,” having a relationship that feels like it needs saving all the time is probably not going to be beneficial in the long run.

The storylines and realistic situations the characters face in Euphoria feel all too real despite it being a series centered on high school, and I think we can all place ourselves in a moment of time where we couldn’t recognize signs that a relationship we were involved in really did not serve us well. With season two under way, I have a feeling we have just scratched the surface of Nate’s antics. Being involved with someone who is toxic can be tricky to navigate, especially when the potential to be better is all there, but the best way to get through a tumultuous relationship is to believe someone when they show you exactly who they are.