Inspired by an essay by Michelle Sagara West “More Than a Marriage of Convenience,” from Finding Serenity
Where are all the adults on TV?
No no. Don’t point at anyone above eighteen years old. Where are the real adults?
Where are the people in real, committed relationships? Where are the people struggling to make ends meet, working two jobs, where are the people that aren’t dancing around in a “will they won’t they?” Where are those that are past that dance?
Firefly fans will know what I’m talking about with this one: Where are Wash and Zoe?
To explain for anyone unfamiliar with these two: Zoe is a kick ass, level headed “warrior woman” and a very reserve, private person. Wash is a pilot that plays with dinosaurs in his spare time, wears Hawaiian shirts, has a strange, slightly silly sense of humor, and mad piloting skills. On Firefly, we walk into their relationship after they have been married a while. They are disagreeing about if to have kids, they are not ripping each other’s clothes off at every turn (though that certainly happens occasionally), and they are out of that young love stage. They are very different, but they are very solidly committed to each other.
The young love stage of a relationship, the “honeymoon” stage, only lasts for two years on average. I’m hitting that end point in my relationship. I know that looking at TV for an accurate picture of life is a stupid idea, but it would be awful nice to see someone like my girlfriend and I on the TV occasionally. The only couple I can really think of that is even sort of close to that is Ellie and Awesome from Chuck, and that’s only up to the point I watched, which was the end of season three. Even then, they weren’t married yet, and the wedding planning stage seems to always fall solidly in the honeymoon stage, or even prolongs that stage if the couple was starting to hit the end of it.
Point is, I don’t know of any couples outside of sitcoms (why I refuse to count those is a whole other ranting post about what cheap, poorly written bullshit American sitcoms are are), that has a real, established couple near the center of the action, that are in every episode, not just visited occasionally as a subplot. And age is not a limiting factor here. There are plenty of adolescent relationships amongst legal adults– House and Cuddy are just one example.
I know, I know, it’s more exciting when everyone has butterflies and can’t keep their hands off each other, when they’re running into the empty closets and exam rooms to have a hot fuck when they should be working. That part of a relationship is thrilling, we wish it could last forever because it’s so exciting. Everything is so new, so wonderful– and you haven’t realized that they leave their socks all over the floor, that they don’t wash their dishes for at LEAST two days after they’ve eaten out of them, or that they’re clingy as fuck and will call you at three in the morning because they had a dream you broke up with them and want to yell at you for it (laugh at that last one and how crazy it sounds, but it’s happened).
The problem here is that television is the main media a lot of people consume, and because of that a lot of people mistake what they see on television for what their life should be. We live in a world centered around media, and in part due to that, the American Dream seems to have morphed into living like a movie star with all the scandal, money, and fame one could possibly have. The general impression seems to be that if you are a normal person, with a job that doesn’t make you famous (or infamous) and makes you enough money to swim in, you are a failure. And what type of relationship does that “normal” person have? A marriage, and not just any marriage– it’s a terrible boring marriage where no one cheats, they “never” have sex, and they have to actually work to earn a living. Who wants that when you could be rich and famous and fucking whoever you want every night, but always have some sap to fall back to when fucking around doesn’t work as well as you hoped?
Well, one could argue that any sane adult wants that former one. The problem is, that first “boring” marriage means that both people have to realize that there is something a more important to them than excitement in relationships. They have to admit they want someone to walk through life with, they have to admit they want actual commitment, not just the excitement of new love. They have to not just throw up their hands and leave their partner at the first sign of trouble.
In my experience, it’s that last one people have the most problem with. Not only are you out of that honeymoon stage, but UGH, your partner is being all… human. Not like the couples on TV. If they’re mere morals, WHY would you WANT to work so hard to keep them when, obviously, you deserve a REAL relationship, one filled with passion and drama and a man that looks like Patrick Dempsey. REAL couples don’t HAVE to work to keep each other. They’re soooo in love that nothing else matters. That’s how it should be. If you get married and it turns into that boring marriage, then CLEARLY you’re not with the right person, and you should get rid of them so you can find “the One!”
I know the above paragraph seems absurd. Looking at it on paper, it SOUNDS absurd. Everyone knows TV is all bullshit. Right?
Honestly, I’m beginning to think that many people don’t. That many people, due to so called “reality” TV, people have a distorted view of what reality should be. I honestly wonder if these type of expectations are why the divorce rate is so high. People encounter one problem and boom, they’re not the right person any more. If having a baby doesn’t fix whatever problem you have (because all couples with babies are happy on tv!) then off to court.
Now, let me say something: there are many, many valid reasons for divorce. People make mistakes. Sometimes, a relationship worked at the beginning but just doesn’t age well. No one should stay in a relationship they are not happy in. It’s terrible for your mental and physical health. What I AM saying is that maybe people need to redefine what they think an unacceptable or unhappy relationship is.
I’ve wandered a ways from Wash and Zoe here, but I have a reason for it. That boring relationship up there? That IS Wash and Zoe.
Wash does not look like Patrick Dempsey, he’s not a male model. He and Zoe fight. He and Zoe do not have crazy wild monkey sex every night, but they still have sex. Maybe infrequently enough to be considered “never” by some people, especially if they’re used eo sex most nights of the week. Zoe and Wash sometimes yell at each other, they sometimes get frustrated, and they sometimes can’t stand to be around each other. They have to work at their relationship. Sometimes they have to work to see why it is they put up with each other, and it is no one person’s fault. Zoe wants children and for Wash to stop trying to rule in on situations he knows nothing about, Wash wants his wife to rank his opinions above her Captain and old War buddy Mal and he also wants Zoe to realize that it is a really, REALLY shitty time in their lives to bring a kid into this chaotic world. So, Zoe agrees, begrudgingly, to wait on children for now. Wash, after a few choice events, realizes that his opinion does matter more than Mal’s– but Mal will always have authority on some subjects due to his experience. Both of them compromise, and both of them realize that compromising is not a slight against what either of them want.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what a real adult relationship is in my estimation. Furthermore, I think the process of reaching compromise is just as dramatic as the screaming fits of “WELL YOU DO YOU LOVE ME OR NOT?” that are on TV now. Just as much yelling is involved. Just as high of emotions are involved. The stakes are just as high. So why isn’t it on TV more? Where are the adult relationships that I can sympathize with whenever I want scream because my partner and I are fighting over something as important as where to move to, if we should ever have children, on who should be in charge of what decisions that are not the silly, dumbed down version of those relationships that exist on American sitcoms? I want to see two serious adults resolve serious problems. I’ve had enough of the high school drama of who kissed who in what hallway and s/he loves me, s/he loves me not. I’m bored, and it’s because I see that dynamic everywhere. I want something new and fresh. I get that those new relationships are so popular and such selling points for their “living vicariously” value, but if you watch more than one show religiously, you’re going to get tired of going on the same ride three nights a week for months.
One last question before I go: Anyone else notice that all those shows that try to hinge their popularity on the “will they won’t they” dynamic of one couple go down in quality faster than you say “Just fucking get together already?”