December 31, 2016

Crowded beds

I like how many people know I'm obsessed with the Golden Girls. I was a strange kid with odd interests who would get picked on or teased, so I kept really quiet about my quirks until I got older. It's absolutely the most refreshing thing about being an adult: to love what I love, fearlessly.

I've got every season on DVD. I can quote episodes - whole dialogues, even - with ease. Before I had Noah, it was my go-to when I was grading tests and papers - put it on in the background so I can listen and laugh but I can still grade since I don't need to actively watch. Now, I don't watch it as much - I try to do as much work on-campus so my time at home is wholly dedicated to Noah - but whenever it's on, I like to tune in to an episode while I fold laundry or do the dishes.

When a show has an ensemble cast, it's not just for diversity of plot lines, but for diversity of the characters - the more people on screen, the more likely the viewers will find someone to relate to. Think Friends, think Sex and the City - everyone who loves those shows finds a little of themselves in a character.

For me, it's the Golden Girls, and I'm totally a Dorothy. There are some details that don't match up entirely - she got pregnant in high school, she got divorced after 38 years - but I see a lot of myself in her. Bookworm, sensitive but tough on the outside, strong, sarcastic, and deeply loving to her friends and family. I see a lot of her bad traits in me too - I've definitely got know-it-all tendencies, and I definitely get my heart broken a lot from being perhaps overly trusting, from wanting so badly to feel loved and connected to someone that you're willing to overlook a lot of terrible things because this moment feels alright. I forget what movie or show I was watching, but one of the characters said something to the effect of: when you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags. That's definitely Dorothy - and it's totally me, too.

Over the seasons, Dorothy has a few different relationships, but the biggest recurring one is with her ex-husband, Stan. They got pregnant in high school, married, then divorced after he ran away with a woman with whom he was cheating. Dorothy's hurt, for sure - and in an early episode, she finally tells him off and gets the closure she wanted from her divorce. But he doesn't disappear - they've got kids, not young ones, but they still have that shared history and future.

Stan is comic relief - he's a caricature of a man, the butt of every punchline in each of his episodes. He often makes efforts to redeem himself, but they're almost always driven by selfish reasons. He claims to want forgiveness, he says he wants repaired relationships - but mostly, he wants things to be better for himself. His bottom line is that he wants to do right by Stan - and Dorothy gets hurt a lot by this, because she's overly trusting. She remembers the good times, she enjoys that comfortable familiarity of being with someone with whom she has history - but the leopard doesn't change his spots. He's still the man who cheated. He's still a liar. He's still deeply immature as far as relationships go.

Still, they rekindle their relationship at various times - just physically at one point, then dating, then even a proposal that gets as far as the wedding day before Dorothy comes to her senses. On their second wedding day, Stan asks for a pre-nup - which offends Dorothy, because if anyone should have trust issues in the relationship, it should be her. They may still have feelings for one another, but that doesn't mean they ought to be together - and remarried?! Certainly even less so.

The one unselfish thing Stan does for Dorothy is in the series finale. (I hope it's not a spoiler but, some on, the episode's almost 25 years old.) She's getting married to Lucas, a man who adores her and treats her right, a man who loves her for who she is. And she discovers in her limo on the way, Stan's the driver. He's upset that he wasn't invited to the wedding. And he goes into an anecdote - a strange metaphor about his hair. About how he's loyal even though he irritates her endlessly, and what that ought to mean to her. And she confesses why she hadn't invited him:
Dorothy: All right, Stanley, the truth. Things have been going so well with Lucas, I didn't want to deal with you. But, as Freud said: our beds are crowded. When I sleep with Lucas, I'm not alone. There's this phantom of you there, and he has the haunts of his prior relationships, and, well, I can't pretend you're not a part of me.
Stan: So, what are you saying, you slept with this guy?
Dorothy: Stanley, you're missing my point ... what I'm saying is thank you. Stanley, for the first time in a long while, you're really acting like a man.
Stan: I love you, Dorothy. I've always loved you.
Dorothy: And I love you, Stanley. Now drive.
At the church, we hear Dorothy's internal monologue. She's happy - really happy. She didn't think she'd ever be loved like this. Didn't feel like she deserved real joy. But this day - this love - this is all for her. The priest asks "unless anyone here has cause for objection..." and the camera cuts to Stan. He looks humbled. He finally knows what he's losing - and this time, she'll be gone for good. And the first, best thing Stan does for her in a decades-long relationship - he keeps quiet. It's his first unselfish decision in the series, and likely ever.

The first time I saw the episode, I sobbed. And I wasn't even married at that point. I don't think I'd even met Matt, to be honest. But now, as my relationship continued, then ended, and now exists as it is ... it rings truer.

I love Matt very much. It's hard to explain, because I also don't love him, and I care for him, and I can't stand him, and he understands me, and he doesn't get me at all, and I still feel incredibly angry a lot of the time. I can forgive how badly he hurt me, because I know there is good in him, and I believe in second chances and redemption. But I can't forgive him leaving Noah. I can't forgive him valuing whatever is in Chicago more than this time with his little boy. Maybe it's socializing, maybe it's the job - I don't care, there's nothing he could say to justify it. I'm selfish in a lot of ways, but not when it comes to Noah.

I definitely relate to Dorothy in a lot of ways surrounding relationships. I wonder a lot if Matt was my one chance, if I will be alone if I don't settle for him or someone just as wrong for me, if I will ever know what it feels like to be honestly loved by someone. Sometimes he visits and I'm angry, remembering so many difficult times - and sometimes he visits, and I wonder why I was so desperate to leave him.

In those times, I turn to my writing - not just blog posts, but little notes I composed for myself along the way - like time capsules for me to reread in weak moments down the road. They're very raw, very emotional. I reread them and remember just how I felt: so hurt by someone who was supposed to love me, so alone even when we were in the same room. It's important to remember that for all of the good history, there's just as much of it (or even more) that was painful.

It's been an interesting week, for sure. I've enjoyed having him around, not only for the extra help while I've been still fighting a cold, but just in general. It's been nice to not be alone. It's been nice to feel like a family again, even if it is a little broken one. I'm trying to be Dorothy - loving, but firm. Allowing him closer, but not losing my head. Forgiving, but not forgetting.

Certainly not how I expected to spend the last day of 2016, but somehow, it fits.

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