LOVE IS SUPPOSED TO BE BETTER THAN THIS

 


TV COUPLES WHO MADE ME BELIEVE LOVE IS SUPPOSED TO BE BETTER THAN THIS

For a really long time that’s all I had. I just had little moments with a girl who saw me as a friend. And a lot of people told me I was crazy to wait this long for a date with a girl who I worked with, but I think even then I knew that I was waiting for my wife.

— JIM HALPERT, THE OFFICE




It will not at all surprise you to know that a lifelong hopeless romantic with an overactive imagination and a not-that-great personal life who loves TV has shipper tendencies (see: someone who gets incredibly passionate about a fictional relationship, be it TV or film or in books, what have you). Mine range from Logan in Veronica Mars(I know he’s not perfect, but they’re Logan and Veronica, what do you want from me), Leslie and Ben from Parks and Recreation (the best TV couple to ever exist), Olive and Todd from Easy A, Chris and Jal and Freddie and Effy from Skins, Jane Villanueva and Rafael Solano from Jane the Virgin (I know Michael Cordero was her heart, but have you seen Rafael? Have you?), Idgie and Ruth from Fried Green Tomatoes, Jim Halpert and Pam Beesly from The Office (seasons one through four only), Gunnar and Scarlett from Nashville (seasons one through four only), and Jaye and Eric from Wonderfalls. I have at times thought of making my Tinder bio “Jim Halpert or die.”


And yes, I do watch these shows over and over again, often curating specific episodes like “Okay, so we should start here because this is when Ben and Leslie first meet,” like I’m creating a super-cut version of the show that plays out like a twenty-hour rom-com. And even though that’s a fucking long rom-com, I am always so gutted when TV shows end, when a TV rewatch is done. Often I’ll go back and start the whole thing over again because I don’t want to leave that world. I want to stay safely wrapped inside it, so immersed I feel like I can move within that world, that I live inside it, that I’m a part of it. Nik once very accurately observed about my obsessive relationship with television: “Oh my god, Lane. I just realized something. You rewatch your favorite shows because they’re like your family. The characters are people who are there for you when you need them, you’ve grown to love them, you know them well, you’ve spent so much time with them. In some cases, the shows were with you when you were growing up, they raised you, they’re your family. And when they’re done, you don’t want them to leave because then you’re alone again and your family is gone.” And he was very, very correct.


But back to Jim Halpert.


Before I first started watching the American version of The Office, I remember my friend Joy telling me, “Jim Halpert is like porn for female writers,” and then later watching the show and thinking, “Truer words were never spoken, my friend Joy.”


In the years since, I have come to the conclusion that Jim Halpert probably doesn’t exist. Like, I want him to exist more than anything so we can get married ASAP literally anywhere at all. In a ditch? Sure. Outside a gas station? Okay. On a stranger’s porch until they ask us to leave? Fine. But in my experience, Jim Halpert is as unattainable of an ideal as you can get because he makes even the most well-meaning dudes look like serial killer bores and I hate it.


I seriously can’t watch seasons one through three of The Office without just crying nonstop at how beautiful the world would be if more dudes were Jim Halpert in pretty much all of the ways. It’s physically painful to behold his existence, and I don’t feel like that’s an exaggeration. His relationship with Pam is basically a fairy tale that seems like it could actually happen, so once you get out into the world of online dating apps and guys you meet at bars who think negging is cute, it’s reasonable to find you’re very, very angry because you were told there would be Jims. (Or at the very least, one Jim.)


Maybe there are Jims! Maybe there are! And if there are, I’m so hyped to meet them, it’s insane. But also, yeah fucking right. You mean to tell me that there’s a man out there with impossibly floppy nineties hair who is also the king of intricately planned romantic gestures? Because right now I’m living in a world where dudes can barely set up a date that doesn’t involve coming over to their apartment and watching them play video games while I try to find something in their kitchen that isn’t PBR, so thinking about a real-life Jim is something I can’t even do without my brain melting into a Jim-shaped puddle.


Oh, and wait, because there’s more. Jim Halpert (and it should be noted, I am basing most of this on seasons one to four, as the character got a little hit-or-miss as the years went on so we DO NOT ACKNOWLEDGE THE LATER YEARS!!!!) wasn’t confused about what he wanted, he didn’t want to just “see where it went,” and he didn’t suggest he and Pam Netflix and chill. He met her and he knew and he acknowledged this and held out hope they’d end up together, even though she was dating some dickhead for a long time. WHO ARE YOU, JIM???? Oh, just someone who can pull off a gas station proposal and still make you think he’s a goddamn dream? Cool.


Seriously, if your ex-boyfriend proposed to you in a gas station, you’d call your mom crying, but when Jim does it, it doesn’t even matter and somehow it’s even cuter because he couldn’t wait any longer to do it and also because he is Jim. Jim, who is reliably calm and empathetic, no matter what happens. When Pam’s veil tears at their wedding (if you haven’t seen this show yet, I feel zero regrets about spoilers—it’s, like, ten years old, dude), he doesn’t tell her to get over it or panic, or just say “sorry” and move on. Nope, he compassionately cuts his own tie, thereby yet again doing anything and everything he can to make sure she’s happy all the time, like it’s his freaking job to make sure of it. Come. On.


Oh! And this is so fucking sad that it’s worth noting, but he actually asked Pam out on a date for dinner like a normal human being. He didn’t ask her if she wanted to chill or hang or come over to his place. He asked her if she was free to go to dinner with him for a first date that is a date for dating purposes. Man, it is sad that this is so rare.


And even when she rejects him, he doesn’t get angry at her! There’s no angry tirade about how she’s a tease or a liar or a bitch. If anything, he freaking cries and BLAMES HIMSELF and apologizes for misreading signals. (I just sighed heavily.) When Pam is upset that Jim lifted her up at the karate studio, he starts to write her a formal apology email, but then does one better and buys her a bag of freaking SunChips and quietly puts them on her desk, expecting nothing in return, just so she knows he cares about her and would never intentionally upset her. I might cry soon.


He’s totally happy to still be her best friend even if she never loves him back, which is just literally unreal, though it shouldn’t be. He’s not just being her close friend because he presumes one day they’ll end up together or sleep together, and you know that because for the first few seasons, he had no reason to believe that would ever happen. So many guys only befriend you or stay in your life because they assume one day they’ll get whatever it is they want from you, and the second you disprove that theory, they’re out. Jim, on the other hand, would’ve probably still been Pam’s friend even if she’d married dumb Roy and had his dumb kids because he loved her unconditionally. Jiiiiiiiiim.


Sigh.


In a world where guys will go out with you once and never talk to you again, but then like all your Instagram posts for the rest of your life like they never really wanted to date you and instead just wanted to capture you in glass and look at you forever like a caged fucking bird, Jim Halpert is a fucking revelation.


I wonder all the time if TV and movie characters are mirrors of the writers themselves, of the ways they wish they were romantic, or are romantic. I know all of my most upbeat, optimistic, romantic It Was Romance songs are one thousand percent my wishing for someone I hope exists but have no evidence of. So that is how I know. I also know so many people who claim to be romantics and identify as such, yet they are the laziest and least romantic people I’ve ever met. So maybe the people who write these characters just like the idea of it and have no intention of ever being that great to anyone, making my touchstone fictional love interests impossible fiction at best. But I hope not. Because otherwise I guarantee you that when my future person proposes, I will think about Jim Halpert, and then remember that he is a fictional character, and then for one second think, “But what if he isn’t???” remember that he is, and then and only then reply, “Okay.”


I actually did a quick search for people’s favorite romantic couples and it was full of (almost exclusively white) people I wasn’t that taken with, honestly. For me, I don’t want to watch a “they hate each other but they love each other,” because that’s not what I want for myself. I also don’t love the “Eh, we have a connection, but you’re not what I want,” so none of those couples made my list.


I truly wish TV shows and movies would change their ratings to things like “Rated R, for Really Good Romance,” or “Rated PG, for Promising Gays.” Throughout my life, TV and movie couples ruled everything around me, truly. I want my love to have a soundtrack for every single moment; I want music to swell when we first kiss, and for every kiss after. I don’t want the wedding proposal to be the biggest moment of our lives; I want someone who proposes to me multiple times throughout our lives, and vow renewals—just numerous, constant ways we keep choosing each other and celebrating that we found each other, we did it against all odds.


One of the biggest frustrations I have with TV couples in particular is that most writers have no clue what to do with them once they get together because that’s seen as boring. What a dangerous, depressing message to send to people: that the only exciting part of a relationship is before it even starts. The chase. That’s all. I wouldn’t be surprised if this assumption had a fair amount to do with how many people, in my generation in particular, view the world as a space with countless soul mates, countless options.


I loved Leslie and Ben on Parks and Recreation so much because it wasn’t better when you were waiting for them to be together, or wondering if they would; it was better when they were together, by far. And while I haven’t experienced that kind of love yet (yet!!!), I have experienced the “will they, won’t they” shit enough to know that the buildup means nothing. I’ve burned out on the excitement I used to get from “I have a crush on you,” because nowadays that seemingly means literally nothing. So all I hear when I hear it is, “I would fuck you,” whether they mean that or not, because that’s how it seems people view people and it’s just the saddest thing. When I was younger and someone had a crush on me, it meant everything. I assumed it meant, “I am so taken with you, and I think you are so special, the most special, and I would love the chance to make you feel as special as you are, for as long as you’ll let me.” Followed by a series of formal courtship activities designed to win my heart and keep it safe and held forever. Not “FYI, I’d put my stuff in your stuff.” Stop it, no.


Since the writers of many of these shows had no idea where to go from there in order to make “good TV” (see: relying on conflict instead of connection), they resorted to just killing one of them off (Freddie on Skins and Chris on Skins—what the fuck, Skins???), or removing everything that made them great and turning them into a bickering backbiting couple you’d never want to sit near at a restaurant (Jim and Pam), or having them circle each other through years of bad timing, which sucks the life out of their chemistry and makes you not even care when they get together in the end (Rafael and Jane).


The other frustration is that in TV shows and movies, your soul mate is always the most obvious choice. If you’re a straight woman, it’s your superhot, super-funny, super-supportive, clearly into you friend whom you “just don’t see that way” and about whom you will (super unbelievably) say to your friends, “Really? Charles? My friend who is stupidly hot, ripped, more attractive than most people in most towns anywhere on earth, who is also super thoughtful and we have great banter and he’s always there for me and he believes in me and the chemistry between us is undeniable and insanely obvious and he’s kind to all my friends and gives me thoughtful gifts all the time? THAT loser? Man, I’d never even thought about dating him!”


Am I the only one who has literally thought about dating every single person I’ve ever met who was in my age and sexual-preference range? Even if only for a second? I’ve lived my whole life with every person I meet, every person I spark with, wondering if the next frame is us falling in love. So much so that I’ve never been able to date multiple people at once. I’ve never been on a first date with someone while also dating around and seeing what was up. I’ve treated every person I’ve ever been excited about (which excludes random dating-app people because I’ve been excited about maybe one of those ever) like this was a possible beginning of our lives together, focused on the task at hand.


In the years after Everett and I split and dating apps became more and more pervasive, I wondered if I was the only one who was still doing this whole “picking one person who seems the most special and makes you feel everything and going for it and seeing what happens” thing. And that’s why I love TV and movie couples. The palpable, viscerally felt inevitability. The “even if it takes my whole life, I will win your heart” of it all. None of these men were like, “Well, I asked her to come chill on my futon and she said no, so fuck her.” No. They spent years with a passive, eternal devotion to the person they loved—who, it should be noted, expressed mutual interest because I also hate this “yeah, he pursued her for years, even though she wasn’t interested, until he finally wore her down” trope too—with the quiet knowledge that one day they would have everything, and no matter how long it took, no matter the number of grand gestures executed perfectly, time and again, no matter if she wasn’t ready or was afraid he’d hurt her or was mentally or physically sick or had been badly hurt before, he was her person, and he was happy to show her with every word he spoke and every action he took, and he would love her always, when she was ready.


In real life, that inevitability is hilariously elusive. On any given day as a single person, you’re mostly, like, “Okay, who are the people I already know are in my cast whom I spark with. I have Will, Mike, and Justin. Will has gross emotional limitations. Mike and I just talk on the internet, but it seems supersweet and I really like him. Justin is okay, but I think he’s still into someone else, so he’s not even remotely an option, as I require my romantic prospects to have a laser-like focus and want only me and nothing but me and see me as the only romantic option until they inevitably die. Fuck. Back to square one. I hope we’re casting again soon. This show is going into season twenty-six and society tells me I need to meet my soul mate by season thirty or I’ll die.”


I absolutely see my life as a movie/TV show and always have. One time I told my old roommate Claire, “Aww, we’re entering season two of our apartment!” because I view life like that absolutely. I’ll even think, “Ooo, what if my soul mate was on like season fifteen and he’s gonna come back this season because he really was a fan favorite and we’ve had a ratings dip because we haven’t had a viable romantic option for the lead character, who is me, in literally years and the audience is getting frustrated.”


Anyway, my point is I have lots of friends and leave my house with a regularity that is congruent with social norms.






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