Netflix’s “Love” is one of many series featuring a “toxic couple”—a romantically or sexually involved pair who consistently mistreat and misunderstand each other, often willingly, sometimes obliviously. Mickey and Gus have been dating for around a month and have already shown up angry at the other’s job, cheated with an ex, insulted each other’s personalities and careers, and shut each other out while dating long distance. She is a “love and sex addict,” and he’s anal and self-absorbed—and they frequently swap these shortcomings. Yet they always wind up convinced they’re good for each other, and we find ourselves believing it too.
Their relationship has one strong advantage. They have seen the worst of each other. Most of us begin relationships with certain delusions about the other person and ourselves. We are told half-truths, and we often believe them only to find out much later, maybe even once we’re already living with the person, that they hadn’t been truthful about their past experiences and mistakes, their needs and their vulnerabilities. And the struggle begins to have one become the person they promised, end the relationship, or continually compromise, together transforming in the process.
Mickey and Gus have, rather tumultuously, skipped straight to that third option: the mutual struggle to fit two amorphous bodies into one cramped space, with the hope to expand. Yes, they have lied to each other and will likely continue to work through the lying and its consequences. But they are not delusional about the other person, and they aren’t setting impossible expectations. They are not investing in a person whose weaknesses they do not see.
Mickey knows that Gus is both judgmental and clingy, needing her constant acknowledgement while also to always be involved and have a say in her life. He crumbles without control, which inevitably extends to demanding an overbearing grasp of his significant other.
Gus knows that Mickey is conflicted about what she wants and avoids commitment and exposure. While she seeks out regular male attention and affection, she is also aggressively independent and craves the freedom of having no social or romantic obligations or ties. She runs from being tied down but only towards an equally restricting situation.
While seemingly opposites, they are both searching for a stability and groundedness that is also freeing. Because freedom comes from first acknowledging and facing yourself, “Love” focuses on not only their relationship but also their friends, jobs, past experiences, failures, and ambitions. A relationship can be complicit in maintaining a debilitating or stifling status quo, but it can also be a catalyst for finally confronting your weaknesses and making constructive changes. While they both often deny the reality the other makes them see, they also realize that the challenge of truth, along with moments of elation and lightness, is exactly what they need.
As many couples, they have different interests and temperaments but are simultaneously drawn to each other. What makes Gus and Mickey particularly resilient, however, is that their desire to change compels them towards each other, fostering a relationship that affirms a mutual commitment to be better. Their happiest moments are not when they are behaving the way they “should” but rather when at ease with themselves while also absorbing and adapting to the other.
Photo Credit: Netflix