Here are two things that you will learn about me in the coming months. Number one, I live in Los Angeles with two large, straight men, both of them broad-shouldered and over 6’2 with alliterative first names. Jeremy, my boyfriend (awww!), and Josh his close friend and screenwriting partner.
Number two is that they both, Josh especially, love Downton Abbey, the British WWI drama on PBS. Josh and I watch it together and drink wine.
Don’t watch D.A., yet? Well, if you’ve ever had a daydream in which you’re wearing exquisite Edwardian clothing and are locked in some sort of tragi-passion situation involving a uniformed man with a British accent, you should probably start. That said, beyond my libido and rapacious desire for literally every hat I’ve ever seen on screen, I should also point out that D.A. is REALLY WELL DONE, like Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility well done. It’s beautifully shot (OMG so gorgeous), and it’s wonderfully written. Meaning, it’s funny; it’s sweet. It’s dramatic and a little bit epic, too. There are real good guys and real bad guys and you’re hooked on all of them. Not only that, it features major talent, people like Maggie Smith (You know, uh, Professor McGonagall…), who is particularly rad in her role of the Dowager Countess.
So, are you googling Season 1 Episode 1 yet? Good. You’ll find out that it’s not only online but also streaming on Netflix. Talk to you tomorrow when you’re done with the first season. You forewent washing your hair and doing your laundry and going outside today? Me too. You’re welcome.
Anyway, back to what happens when Josh and I drink wine and watch period dramas. It is this: Ask me how long it’s been since I’ve seen a man tear up and ask me how long it’s been since I watched Downton Abbey with Josh. The answer to both questions is yesterday.
I have a lot to say about this. First, why is it so funny to me that Josh, who is 6’2, shed a tear (or two) while watching D.A.? And why, when I saw him do this did I make fun of him? “Ohhh, snuggle bear!!” is what I think I said, verbatim, mockingly, for the record.
Now, let’s also expand this analysis to what Josh and I are watching, which is a drama that draws its central conflict from some of the freaking ginormous changes that affected the world a century ago. Things like: electricity, the telephone, the automobile, suffrage, women’s lib, Communism, the machine gun. “It’s like the Mad Men of the BBC,” Josh said yesterday. And it totally is.
Without revealing anything (because you are all obviously going to go out and watch D.A. now), a main plot point revolves around Lady Mary, the oldest daughter, whose boldness inspires some risky choices. These choices cause her to fight both an internal and an external battle between ‘honor’ and empowerment. The thing is, that all of the struggles we see the characters face, despite being completely antique, remain relevant. Given the fact that I’m living with Jeremy AND Josh, we can go ahead and assume that I am, unlike Lady Mary, not terribly concerned with my ‘honor.’ However, the boundaries Lady Mary tests – the ones that divide cultural mores and what Mary herself wants – are similar to the boundaries I test when I tease Josh.
Theoretically of course, I have no issue with Josh even bawling his eyes out, because of course men have feelings. Men have a right to be in touch with their emotions and I’m glad for it – for the sake of both sexes. I mean, how many of you have wished at one time or another that a boyfriend, a brother, a father, a co-worker could be a little more in touch with your, or even their own, feelings? Or, even, have you ever felt that as a lady, you were self-conscious about your emotions, that they might be overwrought or (ugh) unjustified because a man would have reacted differently? We’re all better off remembering that having feelings isn’t gender-specific.
However, Josh’s reaction to D.A. was such a stereotypically feminine reaction, that even though it is something I condone, it was not something that I expected. Bummer. So, in the moment, I teased Josh about his teary eyes.
In a word, WTF?!
Apparently, there is a discrepancy between what I want to expect of men and what I actually expect of men.
A moment of honesty: There’s something comforting about the man-ness of men, even if it’s only perception, their heft, their strength, their stoicism. We all watched Disney movies, read Jane Austen. We were all imprinted with the knight-in-shining armor paradigm, something that the male characters, in D.A. (particularly Matthew and Lord Grantham) provide in droves. See my aforementioned “tragi-passion situation involving a uniformed man with a British accent” as a series selling point. There is a prototype of masculinity that makes women feel rescued or safe, and often it is nostalgic. This, by the way, is what makes D.A. so GOOD! The show is relevancy, wrapped in fantasy; meaning, it touches on gender divides that we still feel our way through today, while simultaneously playing to nostalgic fantasies of gallantry and tradition.
So, when Josh got teary, he contradicted what I abstractly wanted him to be, perhaps not a Matthew Crawley, but at least a 2012 version, maybe something like the lead in a Judd Apatow film. Say, a tall, strong, farty-yet-unselfconcious dude, who, because he is smelly and unafraid of being smelly, is thereby strong, a big brother-type.
But, what DID I expect from Josh. Grunts? Some good old American Paleolithic Al Bundy? With my conscious brain, I can tell you that’s just about the last thing I’d get from either Josh or Jeremy. I mean, we’re all watching DOWNTON ABBEY, here. They’re not exactly ax-swinging, pick-up driving MEN, even if Josh is from Lubbock, Texas. Moreover, a heightened emotional intelligence is one of the things I like best about both of them. It makes them approachable, moral, sincere and intelligent arbiters of art. The three of us are all writers after all. Only, there I was, mocking a quality in Josh that I most respect.
Why did I do this? Because a part of me wanted Josh to be unaffected, manly. It’s a gender role that we’ve all been taught and boundary we all test. It’s why you laughed when I made a joke about Josh crying earlier. It’s why you’re reading this article. It’s why you’re all going to go watch Downton Abbey, right now.
P.S. Stay tuned for the next in-series. I think it’s going to be called Relationship Advice from Your Mother, The Dowager Countess. But don’t hold me to it. I’ll get it up shortly…just as soon as I live through WWI.
Alison Steedman is the editor at Dating & Hookup. She lives in Los Angeles with her boyfriend and their histrionic cat, Charles Dickens, where she still carries on a nostalgic and long-distance love affair with her 20's in Brooklyn, NY. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @yosteedman, and you can also send her your writing at [email protected], both of which make her very happy.
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