I haven’t written in a while, because of Big Life Changes… moving, working, learning how to be an adult in this strange, sometimes kind of apocalyptic world.
Life, personally, and on a worldwide scale, has not been easy lately. But early on in my journey with depression, I learned that sitcoms could be a great coping mechanism. In sitcoms, things are funny when the news is devastating, love exists no matter what, drastic changes never disrupt life for more than 20 minutes. I’ve been working my way through the pantheon of the modern greats: The Office, Parks and Recreation, Friends, 30 Rock. I started with How I Met Your Mother (which is not in the list of the greats, because I have more than a couple of bones to pick with that show), but you get the point. So, with all these recent Big Changes, (and because my building has pitiably terrible internet, Netflix on a regular basis is out of the picture), I’ve been watching The Mindy Project on DVD from the library.
It’s a great show – I love Mindy Kaling’s style of comedy. Finding it felt like coming home, since she was the producer and writer of so many episodes of The Office. The Mindy Project has all the stuff I love in a sitcom: original plots, heartfelt and dynamic characters, legitimately funny writing, and of course, the romantic subplot.
In The Mindy Project, the whole premise is that the romantic subplot is more of the A plot, as Mindy wanders her way through quirky relationships in search of rom-com perfection. Except that somehow, despite Mindy’s search for a relationship being the entire point, the show still includes sitcom subplot staple, the true love plot.
Does that make it sound like I’m annoyed about it? Nothing could be further from the truth. I love the true love subplot. The true love subplot is my bread and butter. I only started watching The Office because I had heard of the magical wonderland that is Jim and Pam. Chandler and Monica are uncontestedly the best part of Friends. And it’s not just sitcoms… the smoldering Scully and Mulder, the originators of true Unresolved Sexual Tension, are half the reason I love The X-Files so much.
I love love. I love true love, especially. I love TV love because it’s so obvious, it’s so present, because the actors embody these characters created especially for each other.
Earlier tonight, I finished the second season of The Mindy Project. I’ve been slow in getting through the last few episodes because (spoilers, I guess:) Danny broke up with Mindy just after they’d begun to date, and though I know it’s too easy to just let your leads get together without the whole dance of misunderstandings (it is called a situational comedy for a reason, you know), I was so mad. I was so mad at Danny for calling things off because he was scared of commitment and then setting us up for several episodes of a confused dynamic and awkward “are we still friends?” game. And as you do, he made some pretty poor choices, that, had this been real life, would have caused me several breakdowns, at least one anxiety attack, and a damn good screaming session.
Of course, they got together, and things ended well for now. That’s how TV works.
Here’s the thing though – I get so, so emotionally invested. I live pretty much alone, I’m a quiet person in a new city, and I’m not ashamed to admit that these characters become my friends. I think that we all feel that way to some extent, or else these shows wouldn’t work the way they do. I love TV love because it’s comforting. It says, yes, this does exist, yes, people do end up together, yes, everything is okay at the end of the day. That’s why I watch sitcoms to cope with negative feelings. I don’t expect realism, I expect safety.
I’m also demisexual/demiromantic, which means my romantic love & attraction feelings toward others are pretty minimal. True love subplots provide me a way to feel represented or participatory (or something) within the heteronormative narrative, because they are characters I’m emotionally invested in “transcending” just physical attraction. In most plots about true love, we see physical affection as an expression of emotion, as opposed to the ‘real world’ where (so I’m told) people feel attraction first and then go on to develop emotional rapport.
So when it doesn’t work out, if even for just a few episodes there’s no relationship resolution, it physically hurts me. It’s actually devastating. I cannot rewatch a good portion of season 9 of The Office because the out-of-the-blue conflict between Jim and Pam gives me such bad anxiety.
I take these shows (probably) way too seriously, but I do so because I’m looking for confirmation of love and happiness in the world. I went through the break up of my first and only major relationship almost 3 years ago now, but still when I see a TV portrayal of a relationship I love put in peril because of a man who refuses to communicate, panic seizes a part of my heart. Particularly when it’s uncalled for in the plot or is at odds with the tone of the show (looking at you, Jim Halpert). Between my anxiety, my depression, and my weird defensive neuroses about love, what can I say?
This isn’t an article to say TV romances are good or bad, that they aren’t realistic enough, that they give impressionable young girls (ie, me) terrible expectations toward relationships or anything else even vaguely argumentative. I don’t even know what I’m really trying to say, other than I’m trying to understand my own relationship with media & romance and why they are both salving and triggering to me.