In a world where we’re surrounded by movies and shows about rom-com and fairytale-style romances, it’s easy to imagine that is exactly what many people expect out of a real-life relationship.
But what happens when that type of relationship is being forced on you without even knowing it? Is it easier to follow along with it for a storybook ending? Or is something that’s real worth it more?
Once we take a step back and analyze how these on-screen relationships came to be,we realize how unrealistic those expectations are in reality. No show has understood that more than You on Netflix.
You has gained new life on Netflix after bombing on Lifetime upon its original debut. Based on the novel by Caroline Kepnes, the 10 episode first season follows Joe Goldberg (Penn Badgley), a seemingly well-meaning bookstore owner, who falls in love at first sight when Guinevere Beck (Elizabeth Lail), walks into his bookstore one day. What starts out as a cute boy-meets-girl scenario turns more sinister than expected as we witness Joe, our narrator, stalk Beck across New York City, follow all of her social media accounts, and eventually hack her phone.
Over the course of the show, we see Joe finding small ways to manipulate Beck’s life to make her fall in love with him to the point that he’ll even commit murder for her. Because nothing says “I love you” more than killing your crush’s ex-boyfriend.
Now, we’ve seen these stalker-boyfriend types before in other movies. Edward Cullen and Christian Grey come to mind when it comes to obsessive boyfriends with shady pasts. This show does a great job of holding a mirror to those archetypes to show how insanely creepy that really is. I mean, when a teen vampire or rich millionaire is stalking a girl, we accept it as a fantasy romantic pursuit, but when a normal guy just does it using your Facebook and Instagram accounts it becomes a little too real and we realize “Holy shit, this is creepy!”
The social commentary about relationships is what makes this show so interesting. It presents us the reality that romantic relationships are shaped through the lens of how media portrays them. Many want a fairy-tale romance, but it rarely ever happens that way in real life. It would be wonderful to meet the love of your life in a funny quirky rom-com kind of way but, more often than not, that’s just not the case. We’ve seen it so often, we’re so mesmerized by the idea of it that, in many ways, we crave that idea more than the real thing.
Joe is the perfect example of toxic masculinity under the guise of a “nice guy”. He wants to be the perfect boyfriend, devoted to his girl, willing to do anything for Beck if he thinks it’s for her own good. But that’s just it: he is doing what HE thinks is best for her. He never stops to ask Beck if this is what she really wants, he just assumes she does.
Sure, he didn’t make any gratuitous advances toward her, but that’s just it: he did it in such a subtle way that he might as well have slapped her ass and called her his “property”. In a post-Me Too world, men should aspire to be better, and it’s important not to lose sight of what “being better” actually means. It’s just as important to listen as well as to communicate with each other, not just to yourself and what you think the other person wants and needs.
Despite Joe being creepy AS FUCK, we as an audience somehow find a way to relate to him. He uses his charm, wit, and charisma to lure his love interest, similar to how Ted Bundy charmed his victims. The key difference is that Joe genuinely believes that he is in love with Beck, and will go to any lengths to “protect” her, so she’ll realize that he’s “the one”.
Then again, Joe isn’t the only one at fault for wanting a “fairy-tale” romance. When we first meet Beck at Joe’s bookstore, it’s easy to see why a guy like him might fall for her. She seems very book smart, interested in finding deeper meaning in things, and has a sense that she means well.
However, unlike Bella Swan or Anastasia Steele, who actually seem to try and somewhat achieve their personal goals, Guinevere Beck is just the worst. As the show goes on, we learn that Beck is basically everything that Baby Boomers think is wrong with Millennials nowadays. She wants to be an aspiring writer, yet we purposely never see her make an effort to write anything on the show despite feeling entitled to being recognized and rewarded as such. She organizes a mini MeToo movement against her writing teacher who makes unwanted advances toward her and other female students, only to drop it once she gets what she wants from him. Way to leave your sisters high and dry, Beck. Girl power much?
Now after reading this you might be thinking, “My God, what is wrong with these people?” In a way, they are both a product of the society around them which has influenced them to be this way.
Joe has seen one too many “romantic” movies and thinks the best way to this girl’s heart is finding everything there is to know about her so he can be the perfect boyfriend. In all honesty, who among us hasn’t looked up a crush/date’s social media profiles to find out a little more about them? To a degree, Joe is only following the cues taken from other rom-coms to win over the girl of his dreams, but when we see them play out in a more realistic life setting, the dreaded reality kicks in that this is creepy no matter how you slice it.
Beck is also in a similar position. If every fairy-tale ever is to be believed, she has finally met the man of her dreams and even though his intentions are genuine, once she realizes he took some unlawful steps to get there, the illusion is shattered. Had she not found out about all the things he did, they would have probably ended up together by the end. Sure, it’s a life based on a lie, but one she’d have been happy to go along with as long as she didn’t look too close.
I think the moral the showrunners are trying to instill in us is that life isn’t a fairy tale. True love is as complicated as we make it. When things fall into place a little too easily or when there’s something that just feels off, maybe you should be like Beck and check the bathroom ceiling for incriminating evidence. Just kidding, but God — could you imagine? Thank you, next.