The Perfect Woman 2.0
A couple years ago, I found myself in bed with Roseanne Barr. I was binge watching the Roseanne collection on Netflix and paused after watching an episode from the second season, called “All of Me.” Jackie has a new boyfriend, Gary, and they are having dinner with Roseanne and her husband Dan. Jackie, who is 33 years old, is clearly smitten and “acting like a high school girl,” according to Roseanne.
Dan and Gary go out to the garage so the women can talk. Roseanne brings up a man Jackie dated the year before. She hints at Jackie’s bad track record with men and seems concerned Jackie is, once again, throwing herself into another man’s personality while ignoring her own. “We do things I want to do all the time. Or, we will,” says Jackie. They continue to talk in the kitchen, and Jackie is convinced she shouldn’t have to tell Gary what she wants because he should already know. “Yes, he should be able to read your mind,” says Roseanne.
In the next scene, Jackie and Gary are in bed. He asks her if she wants to go out to dinner the next night. He asks what kind of food she’s in the mood for. “I’ll do whatever you want.” “I don’t care, whatever you want.” It’s impossible to know what Jackie wants because she’s trying to be so agreeable with Gary. The more agreeable she becomes, the more distant she becomes. By this point, she has turned her back to Gary and the camera is focused on Jackie’s face. She is unhappy because he is making all the decisions and she’s letting him by not saying how she feels.
When I watched this scene it actually felt as if it were possible for time to stand still. He asks her if something’s wrong. She didn’t want to say anything to him because she doesn’t want him to be mad at her. She’s quickly apologetic. This was quickly becoming all too real. “All you had to do was say something,” says Gary. This haunted me. All you had to do was say something. It seemed so simple when Gary said it to Jackie. Suddenly, I began to see different versions of myself grasping for the words I couldn’t seem to find. I could feel the breathlessness of the words I’m fine haunting from the graves of relationships past.
In my early twenties, I stopped taking birth control because I didn’t want to pay the $35 and I was too embarrassed to ask my gynecologist for free samples, which she had provided for me in the past. During this time, I briefly dated someone I met through a mutual friend. I hadn’t been with anyone in over a year and was more concerned with that than anything else. He didn’t wear a condom, and when he was about to finish he asked me if I was on birth control. I felt like I was in sexual limbo. I also felt like the timing of this question was ill-conceived. And when I said yes, he finished. I was frozen.
I went to Planned Parenthood twice in less than three weeks for the morning-after pill. This guy I had been seeing broke up with me through a Facebook message a few days after this. I quickly learned within less than a week he was already seeing someone new. According to our mutual friend, this new girl was an ex-heroin addict with Hepatitis C. That relationship didn’t seem to last long for him and soon, he was texting me again. He told me he had gotten tested and that his test had come back negative. Not long after he was back in my bed, and it happened again. It was as if I had disappeared from my own skin; like I didn’t know how to have control of my own body. But at least I already knew I could pay the $28 for the morning-after pill. Again.
I used to be humiliated by this story. I used to think there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t speak up for myself when I needed to the most. Despite the short life of this relationship, there was another moment where we were in bed and I asked him what he was thinking. I don’t like those kinds of questions. When he shot back with those words, I felt my body retract. If only he had known how difficult that was for me to ask. All I had to do was say something.
“You have your own thoughts. You have your own opinions,” Roseanne tells Jackie.
“He doesn’t know the real you. He likes ‘perfect woman’ Jackie.” But Jackie still refuses to take that chance, and at this point, the episode became almost too painful to watch. It felt like a head-on emotional collision. Jackie and I both know once we let our guards down we’re toast. We know they’ll change their mind.
During this episode, I couldn’t help but wonder why Gary sticks around for her. Why he is so persistent with Jackie. I wonder what it will take for her to believe that Gary isn’t going anywhere. Finally, at the end of the episode, he tells her he’s in love with her. Something shifts with Jackie and maybe that’s all she had needed to hear all along. But will it be enough?
The idea of being vulnerable with a partner has always felt like fantasy to me. The concept of being able to find someone you can be yourself around more idealistic than realistic. I sympathized with Jackie because I saw so much of myself in this episode. I began to remember how difficult it could be to say my boyfriend’s name, or even just say hello to him in the parking lot. It was as if it were somehow inappropriate for his name to pass through my lips.
Even though this episode was filmed in 1990, it still speaks volumes about the dynamic between expectations and communication in relationships. I was confronted with watching a fictional character refuse to let something good happen to her, but it felt more like I was looking in a mirror. In this mirror, I saw someone who was conflicted with not just herself, but her place in the world. Someone who treats romance like an invisible anchor, holding her back from, well, herself.
This ‘perfect woman’ we pretend to be is merely a trap we set for ourselves because we are afraid. We set unrealistic expectations for who we’re supposed to be because maybe we’ve dated the wrong people. Maybe we’ve convinced ourselves we have to compete with the women we’re seeing on our screens. In reality, the perfect woman is the one you wake up to every day. She’s the one you go to sleep with every night. She’s broken. She has scars and dirt under her fingernails. She’s strong and sometimes impossible because the world is an impossible mess. Most importantly, she’s someone you already know. She’s you.