Sorry Gossip Girl Fans, But Dan and Serena Were Always Meant To Be
Let’s talk about the “Derena Complex.”
Hey, readers of The Queue! Gianluca Russo here: Your one and only source into the scandalous lives of entertainment’s elite. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since Gossip Girl’s reign of the Upper East Side began. Who would have thought that we’d fall in love with her (sorry, his) petty antics so quickly?
Alas, upon celebrating the show’s anniversary a few weeks back, the age-old argument resurfaced on everyone’s favorite website, Twitter dot com. That’s right: how on earth did Dan Humphrey and Serena Van Der Woodsen end up together? Being the serious, investigative journalist that I am, I took to the source itself to get you the reasoning you so desperately crave. Yes, within three weeks, I binge-watched all six seasons of Gossip Girl and you’re not going to be happy with what I found.
The unfortunate truth is that Dan and Serena were indeed perfect for each other. Hard to accept? Yes. Hard to believe? No, not when you take into consideration what I am calling the Derena Complex.
The Derena Complex is the consistent and recurring pattern of emotions and feelings we see both Dan and Serena exhibit throughout each season. Among these are loneliness, desperation, the need for validation, and the constant search for true love. The only difference between the two is that they both begin at opposite ends of the social and wealth spectrum. While Serena’s standing on the Upper East Side remains the same, Dan must climb his way up the latter. When he ultimately reaches the desired point of pretension, he no longer must look up to Serena but finds himself directly at eye level with his true love. It is then that the Derena Complex is in full force and the two finally embrace their foolish fate.
Analyzing each instance of the Derena Complex throughout the six seasons of Gossip Girl would take more time and energy than a petty reporter like I possesses. But if you’re not convinced quite just yet, let me lead you along a short journey of why Dan and Serena were unequivocally meant to be.
The most obvious tell of the Derena Complex is Dan’s motive behind creating the tyrant that is Gossip Girl. In the final episode, he explains that he simply wanted to write himself into Serena’s narrative, a narrative he was excluded from due to the social class he was born into. At the time of creation, Dan was still in a high school: a lonely and, to be frank, hormone-possessed teenage boy. Yet somehow, he knew that Serena was his true love if there even is such a thing. In a time when his parents are going through a complicated separation, Dan is looking to latch on to some stable source of love. Not only has his mother left for an undetermined period of time, but he is unsure if she will even return. This causes Dan to search for, in a sense, a replacement for his mother during this time; a woman he can love and hold on to when the pressure and rejection are simply too unbearable. And, as we well know, Serena is that woman.
His desire for love is not the only reason he creates Gossip Girl, however. Due to the bullying and rejection, Dan desperately craves some level of power over those who have made his existence a living hell. He must have control over them, as well as over his own life. This need for control and power, combined with his search for love to fill the new void in his life, lays the fundamentals down for the Derena Complex.
“But Serena is rich. She doesn’t need power,” you may say. And in a sense, you’re correct. Unlike Dan, Serena does not have to struggle to obtain an esteemed level of social hierarchy. However, Serena’s struggle for power lays within the relationship with her mother, Lily. While we grow to love Lily and her antics throughout the series, she is, undeniably, controlling. Whether bailing Serena out of jail or sending her there in the first place, she must constantly be in control of her children, her husband(s) and the Upper East Side. Essentially, Lily is the Baby Boomer version of Gossip Girl.
Serena constantly struggles to break free of her mother’s controlling ways. She rebels again and again, yet can never escape from Lily’s power. When she meets Dan, she instantly sees an opportunity to gain control. After sleeping with Nate, her best friend Blair’s boyfriend, and supposedly killing a man by letting him overdose, she returns to the Upper East Side after a short disappearance to nothing. No friends, no social status, no control. Dan, the lonely Brooklynite, is separated from the craziness of Serena’s world. By dating him, she is finally able to have control over something: something stable that her mother cannot have any impact on. Unfortunately, Lily has long history with Dan’s father, Rufus, that ruins this. But for a short period of time, Serena is in control of her life and in control of her man.
Serena is also infected with the disease of desperation, even more so than Dan. Love is something Serena has truly never had. From the rocky relationship with her mother to her father’s walking out to her mother’s many marriages to the disassociation with her aunt/cousin (we know, it’s a lot), Serena is desperate for love. Throughout each season, she jumps from man to man and from borough to borough. Yet in the end, she ends up right back where she started: in Dan’s arms.
The layout of the Derena Complex is clear in season one as we’ve just discussed. From the start, both Dan and Serena are in search for love, control and power, whether over themselves, their city or their enemies. The Derena Complex is the foundation for the entire series. It presents a pathway for the writers to continuously have Dan and Serena find their ways back to one another. Without this established connection, their marriage would have no reasoning behind it. But the Derena Complex clearly explains why they are perfect for one another. Sure, they screw each other over, they fight, they sabotage, they expose each other’s secrets. Yet, in the end, they come to the inevitable realization that they complete each other’s’ wants and needs.
As much as I hate to admit it, Dan and Serena were always meant to be. We can deny it, but we can’t fight it. When all else failed, Dan and Serena were always there waiting. Behind his computer and her wardrobe, Derena stood, waiting to unleash it’s glamorous, extravagant, petty rule on the peasants of the Upper East Side.