From Sitcom to Spinoff: The Big Lesson I Learned By Ending A Relationship
Being with him was the closest I had ever come to the perfect sitcom life. F.R.I.E.N.D.S or How I Met Your Mother where everyone always gets into shenanigans together and is paired up into perfect segments. We were a perfect group of perfectly matched couples. We showed up at parties together; had dinners and brunches together. If there was a show there were six tickets bought. We were witty children of middle-class families struggling to make our names in large anonymous jobs, and mostly just spending our time searching for more places to drink beer together. There were other people that we hung out with regularly, but they were most often out of the frame. The television series didn’t necessarily register them except as supporting characters in our plot developments.
There is a reason that the sitcom group of three guys and two to three girls works so perfectly. When you have that group dynamic you have the flexibility of a multitude of relationship dynamics. You can have the single guy interacting with the girl in a solid relationship with his best friend, or the three girls in the group forming a united front against the three guys. There are a finite number of plot points available, but they are usually pretty solidly entertaining ones. Secrets can be kept in a group that large, but you can also reinforce a sense of dependency where you don’t need to exclude anyone from the episode. It is pretty perfect TV.
But unlike in those shows, after we broke up I knew we were not going to continue hanging out. That was the end of the sitcom. All of our fans who shipped us and were rooting for us behind their screens (mostly friends and family members watching our static online presence through their phones and computers) would be disappointed by our bitter ending. There was no post-breakup hookup drama. We had lunch twice. He started dating someone else. I ran away to follow a job and a dream of warm weather in a foreign country. The likelihood that we will reconnect beyond awkward drinks or run-ins at someone else’s party is slim.
Even then, I cut myself out of his life entirely. I had friends outside of our sitcom life, and I turned to them to shield me from the pain and awkwardness of forced social gatherings. Many of the people in the screen of our sitcom life were his friends and I left them behind. The luxury of being 23 is that you can make choices like that, and living in a city there were plenty of places I could hide. There were always other bars to go to, bands to see, beer to drink in other places.
That is why I never understood why the girls in those sitcoms would always hang out with their ex-boyfriends. They lived in big cities, why couldn’t they/wouldn’t they embrace the anonymity and make friends? I know it is impossible to dissect the intricacies of these women’s lives because otherwise there would be no show, but if they had the choice to start over, why wouldn’t they? Rachel on F.R.I.E.N.D.S, Robin on How I Met Your Mother, they both were the catalysts that started the plot developments of those two shows. They were the unknown element that joined the show without defined connections from the past like the other characters. Why didn’t they just do that again?
Well it turns out that while I don’t miss him, I do miss that companionship. Having a guaranteed group of five other people to do things with is extremely rare and hard to cultivate. We quit our jobs together, entered adulthood together, got too drunk and smoked and watched cities fly by from windows of cabs that we shared home. Then we curled up on couches content and comfortable in the knowledge that we were among a family of our own creation. These were the people who saw the most of me and still loved me.
But as much as I want that group again, I know that I don’t want to be the Rachel or the Robin. I don’t want him to show up on my doorstep begging me to take him back, or go through the endless on again off again of a sitcom relationship. I am the guest-star girlfriend who is there for a season or so — the one that never becomes a permanent cast member. I always had one foot out the door of the group. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy: I didn’t want to lose all of my connections to the world outside the little group, and I cultivated them just in case I needed to make a clean exit.
My life is not a sitcom. Sitcoms don’t generally feature women sitting in their sweatpants, drinking boxed wine alone on a Friday night in a foreign country. It sounds a little pathetic and boring, but it is what separates reality from fiction. Sitcoms need to have a group of friends that live in the same city forever without interruptions from the outside world. They need to have that guarantee that Rachel will end up with Ross someday. I can’t guarantee that in my life, and if given the choice I will always choose the sweatpants and boxed wine over the guy showing up at my door unannounced with a bouquet of red roses. Part of adulthood is making that choice, and moving on.