What makes Bay Area relationships so toxic?

Note: Talk of the Town highlights Oakland residents talking about the Town (aka the city of Oakland).

The stakes for securing romance in Oakland have always been high. Many relationships come with manipulation, coercion, egotistical desire, and parties alternating between playing the victim and the perpetrator. 

Perhaps no one better than Oakland rappers have captured the toxic nature of some approaches to relationships. In “Toxic,” Oakland-bred singer and songwriting Kehlani details, “All of this love is toxic, all of this love is toxic, all these kisses and hugs is knock sh*t, you a damn drug, you’re toxic.” 

Too Short opens his 1993 song, I’m A Player” detailing his mindset: “You see I made up my mind when I was 17, I ain’t with no marriage and a wedding ring, I’ll be a player for life, so where’s my wife? Probably at the rehab stuck on the pipe.”

As a young Filipina American girl growing up in Oakland, I didn’t have many examples of what a “healthy relationship” was supposed to look like.

While there is no shortage of toxic love stories in cities across the globe, there always seemed to be something unique about the kind that people from Oakland produce. This begs the question: What is it about people from Oakland that make Bay Area love stories so toxic?

Adrianna Boles

Adrianna Boles

“Everyone hangs out at the same places and don’t explore or get out of here. Oh, and the cost of living! I feel like people meet people, start dating and within a week move in to split bills without even knowing each other. That’s the start of a toxic love story that’s just never ending because people can barely afford to live on their own so they’re stuck living with someone they barely know. And/or living with someone that they’re just now getting to know and learning isn’t for them.”

Adrianna Boles, Crocker Highlands

Cairo Armani Moore

Cairo Armani Moore

“As a base, love is difficult and requires a high level of commitment, trust, and loyalty. When speaking specifically about toxicity in the Bay Area dating scene, I feel there is minimal trust, ample options and opportunities, which leads us into promiscuous behavior with no healthy communication. I believe so many people in the Bay Area (well everywhere) have been scarred by love or attempting to find it. An extra layer of protection is added around our hearts, preventing new love from entering. The city and the people are hurt and are in need of proper healing before venturing out on the roads of love.”

Cairo Armani Moore, Temescal

Morgan Chandler

Morgan Chandler

“The toxic love story is the illusion of quick love and saturation. It’s a small environment where many people know each other so we settle for whoever is left in a small period of time, in order to “secure” that person. Once it fades, we’re stuck in a cycle of trying to find the next best person that hasn’t already been tainted and the love bombing starts all over.”

Morgan Chandler, Oakland Hills

Albrey Brown

Albrey Brown

“People from Oakland think they are the main character in their own story. This mindset makes relationships toxic because everyone is thinking about themselves first, rather than committing fully to putting their partner first.”

Albrey Brown, North Oakland

Author Profile

Nani Smith is a published author and Filipina American multimedia storyteller born and raised in Oakland, California. Her work encourages readers and listeners to develop healthier relationships with their own psychological landscape. Since her career path has mostly been self-guided, she decided to join the Oakland Voices Journalism Program to advance her professional development by learning in community with fellow and like-minded Oakland residents. Nani hopes to formalize her craft and network by connecting local arts and culture stories to larger topics that support her mission such as identity, sociology, and mental health.

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