It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman who can’t find what she’s looking for in real men, must be in want of fictional love.
My very first television crush was Uncle Jesse played by John Stamos, in the 90s sitcom Full House. Like heroes of most 90s shows, Jesse Katsopolis was unrealistic in the best possible ways: As a musician slash ruggedly-macho-biker-dude, he was exciting, adventurous and in every sense, sexy; but as the uncle of three little girls, he was also stable, loving and romantic. And let’s not even get into the jawline. He met the lovely Rebecca Donaldson in Season Two and dated, married and had babies with her in the next six seasons of the show. See, this was the era before commitment phobia became a ‘thing’. And TV shows didn’t waste eight seasons telling us how the pretty boy and pretty girl really liked each other but had to overcome all these fashionable psychological issues, before they realised they were meant to be together. I was only 11 then, but I fell in love with Jesse. Of course, I had no idea that he’d be the reason I’d later fall for the exciting, adventurous types and come out heartbroken and disillusioned when they weren’t ready for “anything serious”. Or get involved with the stable ones and give up halfway—bored and terrified—when all they wanted out of life was a happy family, annual vacations and larger TV sets.
So, over the years, I turned to other fictional men for answers (which I never found) and comfort (always found). There were classical heroes, superheroes, funny non-heroes, even non-human-and-somewhat-predatory anti-heroes with fangs (oh, I get around and how). And it wasn’t just me. Women of all ages, it seems, are guilty of drawing parallels between their real life relationships and vicariously-lived fictional ones.
About six years ago, a friend of mine who was in the middle of a messy breakup, tearfully declared, “But we’ve always been like Carrie and Big. Maybe we’ll find our way back to each other. It’s possible! Right?” Fast forward to conversation overheard at a ladies’ room a few months ago: “I know you think you guys are like Harvey and Donna but maybe you just can’t see what everyone else can—he’s a douche and he’s mind-fucking you.” The names have changed but it’s the same story every time—women thinking that they’re getting some kind of sneak preview into their own future based on what they read in books or watch on TV. And when their own lives don’t turn out quite the way it does for their fictional counterparts, they come to the somewhat defeatist yet comforting conclusion that perhaps, these beautiful fictional men were created specifically for situations like this. To give them what their real men never can: everything.
Enter Shonda Rhimes—creator of Grey’s Anatomy and other prime time dramas; notorious for creating complex, layered and entirely lovable characters, and randomly killing them over off-screen drama. One of her biggest contributions to fictional-love-seeking women world over, was Dr Derek Shepherd played by Patrick Dempsey and popularly known as Dr McDreamy on the show—for his dreamy eyes and insanely high aww quotient. For the last 11 years that Grey’s Anatomy has been around, McDreamy has seen millions of women through breakups, dead-end jobs, bad hair days and just about every other first world problem simply by showing up on their television screens every Thursday night.
A moment’s silence.
A couple of weeks ago, news of McDreamy’s completely random and uncalled for death (he was hit by a truck and didn’t get to say goodbye) broke the Internet. Updates and tweets ranged between ‘That’s eleven years of my life I’m not getting back,’ and ‘I keep going to the Grey’s Anatomy hashtag because I feel like it’s a support group and I need one at such an emotional time in my life’ to ‘Grief counsellor says it’s OK to mourn a fictional character’s death’ and ‘If you look carefully, you can see Shonda Rhimes driving that truck.’
Fans were hysterical for days. I mean, it was a McMurder! This wasn’t the usual TV show withdrawal that happens between seasons or after a show has ended. This was good old-fashioned grief. I spent a few minutes reading the tweets and all I kept thinking was—I’ve handled real breakups and a divorce better than this.
But then again, none of my real relationships have lasted 11 years. Which brings me to one vital question—what is the point of these perfect backup boyfriends if they are going to be snatched away from us so rudely, after so many years?
I am so glad I quit Grey’s three seasons ago. But that’s still eight years of my life and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a McDreamy-shaped hole in my heart. Well, I suppose the only cure is news of Full House returning as Fuller House after 20 years, and the promise of Jesse Katsopolis—aged to perfection—in my life again.
Am I emotionally depleted because of my involvement with fictional men? Or do I get involved with fictional men because I am emotionally depleted?