Breaking up is hard to do and we all know it. My chosen method of coping is to get outside the influence of my own thoughts for a while by binge-watching TV shows. It’s soothing to be able to care about someone else’s (fake) life for a while, especially if a series or season has wrapped and you can depend on minimal closure – something not always available in real life. And this might be inadvisable, (I believe they call it emotional transference?) but I also feel better when big life problems get sorted out, villains get what’s coming to them, and heroes live to see another day.
But I don’t need to tell you why TV is awesome.
My most recent break up hit me hard, you guys. Like, real hard. It was years of investment down the drain, thousands of tiny memories that suddenly hurt, and my self-esteem was at an all-time low. It turns out that the guy was a bit of an asshole. HOWEVER, it was hard (read: impossible) to see any of this stuff objectively right after it happened. Like I said before, it was necessary to shut off the old noodle. You know how TV essentially shuts off the active beta waves in your brain and essentially puts you in a state of meditation? And how it transfers activity away from the centers that process critical thinking? Well, that was exacty what I wanted. Fortunately, it was this state that also allowed me to gain some distance from the immediacy of the painful events and begin to move on.
I also noticed, completely unexpectedly, that being in this receptive state allowed me to hear little truths. Beyond the catharsis of seeing closed story arcs and justice (which I consider to be truthful within the worlds they inhabit), I started noticing character parallels. I noticed that I could see flaws or pick up on communication cues that I couldn’t in real life, and immediately asked myself how I responded to them (or how I wanted my favorite character to respond to them). I took mental notes about what healthy reationships look like, what is toxic in relationships, and what it looks like to have confidence or healthy self-talk.
I know, BO-RING. But it’s not. It’s like… emotional wellbeing is exciting. Seriously. I’m tired of games, pain, manipulation, secrets, and all of the confusion that goes with them. So, for your heath, I present my TV Break Up Diet (your results may vary).
I feel I should mention that this list is not a recommendation per se. It’s very specific to my situation and what spoke to me at the time I needed it. And not a single one of these shows was something I started watching to find truth; I started watching… well, I’ll explain below. Suffice to say, I was surprised by what turned up in the following, but I am very grateful that it did.
Why I started/kept watching: To catch up on seasons 4 and 5 before season 6 began on AMC this past April.
Biggest lesson: that you can’t change anyone who doesn’t want to be changed. Don is emotionally unavailable (understatement of the year). Because Don is ostensibly the protagonist of the show, there is a natural tendency to root for him, which I did until I realized that he is caught in a destructive cycle. He didn’t mean to hurt those around him, but his intense pain rendered him unable to see past his own need for love (in the form of pleasure). It doesn’t excuse his cheating, lying, manipulating, etc., but it does give it context. Once I realized that hurt people hurt others, I was able to stop blaming (myself for not being what he needed and him for hurting me) and start focusing on what I could do about it. Hence…
Who I connect with: For as long as I’ve watched this show, I have never identified with ANYONE. I just watched because I appreciated good drama. However, once I started noticing that Don was very much like my ex in certain ways, I realized that Betty’s behaviors (insecurity; jealousy; fear; self-loathing; need to be perfect; need for attention and validation, especially from men) were things I contained within myself. She went from being a really annoying character to the one I felt sorry for. Suddenly her crazy had a source, and that source was Don’s big secret. The episode when Don reveals the truth to Betty, I cried like I never cried watching a TV show before, because I realized that all of my pain came from a deep need to hear the truth, regardless of how bad it was, because the secrets were infinitely worse.
“If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” (Season 3, Ep. 2)
GOSSIP GIRL (6 seasons, CW; seasons 1-5 on Netflix Instant, but don't click that link. Seriously. No need.)
Why I started/kept watching: Ugh I KNOW. I wanted something mindless, something pretty to look at, something with good music and angst that was dumber than my own. The series was over so I knew everything would be wrapped up (SOB. I AM A BITTER DAIR FAN).
Who I connect with: Blair (well, Blair when she’s with Dan). I understand the need to work for everything you have, and of giving your heart to someone who doesn’t understand its significance. I understand thinking you were equals only to realize one person was holding all the cards, and being the one who has to walk away. I honestly want to be the sort of person who recognizes when a Dan in standing in front of me because Blair didn’t for a long time, and could have avoided a lot of pain if she had.
Biggest lesson: Love yourself and the rest will follow. Seriously. This show is terrible (okay seasons 1 and 2 were mildly proficient), but somehow the clustercuss of a writers room managed to create the most genuine, healthy, endearing relationships I've seen on TV. Like, ever. I had to keep checking my sanity to see if I was making that up in my compromised state. But there it is. Blair is a spoiled but driven Upper East Side girl (or as Dan described her, “basically everything I hate about the Upper East Side distilled into one 95-pound, doe-eyed, bonmot-tossing, label-whoring package of girly evil.”) and Dan a smart kid from Brooklyn who ended up on the Upper East Side for prep school. They are not friends. But then somehow, in season 4 (just when I had started tuning out), they begrudgingly came to respect one another and realized that they were actually intellectual equals. Dan fell for her, she got into lots of ridiculous relationship trouble and compromised her integrity along the way (“Somehow between being traded for a hotel and selling out for a tiara, I lost my true self. But I want to be found.”) and Dan managed not to save her, but help her save herself. As someone who feels like a lot of me has been lost over the years, I relate.
Dan: “I have a feeling that the Real Blair Waldorf is a lot closer than you think. Wasn't all that long ago that she and I were working side-by-side at W. And I totally fell for her.”
Blair: “And what was that girl like?”
Dan: “That girl is fiercely strong. Independent. Outspoken. Beautiful Capable of anything. And no man or magazine should be able to take that away from her.”
Blair: “She sounds great. I look forward to meeting her again.”
(Season 5, Ep. 21)
MY MAD FAT DIARY (1 season so far, Channel 4 in England; on YouTube or Dailymotion)
Why I started/kept watching: Found through Tumblr; was intrigued by the character gifs and quotes that were being posted. Found all 6 episodes of season 1 on YouTube. I was hooked within (literally) 2 minutes, when the big handwritten “L.I.E.” pops up on screen. Rae’s voice is also pretty similar to the running commentary in my head (sarcastic, sassy, brutally honest, etc.) so I was amused by how it sounded coming from another person. Also, it’s SET IN THE 90’S.
Who I connect with: Rae. In more ways than I care to admit here. But seriously, I could be Rae. (Checks self. Am I Rae? No… Okay.)
Biggest lesson: There are always more people who love you than you realize, if you can get outside of your own head for a while and learn to accept it. BOOM. (Runner up: you have to verbalize what you need. It’s not enough to just write it down, or think it, or try to telepathically communicate directly with someone else’s mind.)
Favorite quote: “So you can’t spend the rest of your life being afraid of people rejecting you. You have to start not rejecting yourself.” (Season 1, Ep. 6)
THE MINDY PROJECT (1 season so far, FOX)
Why I started/kept watching: I saw a PaleyFest panel interview with the cast, and liked Mindy Kaling and Ike Barinholtz (who both write and star in the show). I was also tired of watching New Girl reruns but wanted a new sassy comedy with a female lead.
Who I connect with: I guess Mindy? I definitely admire her, but if I’m being honest I’m much more like like Danny Castellano with a little Morgan Tookers weirdness thrown in. I like Mindy’s mix of seriousness/professionalism/drive/intelligence that exists alongside her serious need to party. She has concerns, but she doesn’t really worry, which is something I need to get better at.
Biggest lesson: A little confidence goes a long way. Mindy is kind of a mess sometimes. She makes some sketchy life choices. But she has a good inner compass and knows where to draw the line when something isn’t lining up with what she really wants. She shows up for herself and trusts her instincts, something I used to do more and would like to get better at doing again.
Favorite quote: “It’s so weird being my own role model.” (Season 1, Ep. 4)
HONORABLE MENTION: Six Feet Under (5 seasons, HBO)
I haven’t finished this series yet but, so far, it’s one of the best TV shows ever to TV. Serious and refreshing look at relationships, death, family expectations, and faith.