Would I move to a different country for love? Would I marry someone who doesn’t speak the same language because we share a passion for beekeeping? Could I handle the rejection from in-laws or stepchildren in front of cameras? Everytime I watch TLC’s 90 Day Fiancé, these questions throw me into an existential crisis.
Each season, the reality series, which launched in 2014, focuses on a new cast of couples who go through legal hoops so that their non-American partner can relocate for true love (and what’s left of the American dream). “Ninety days” refers to the window during which couples need to get married in order to receive the appropriate K-1 visa.
90 Day Fiancé is one of TLC’s most resounding successes, mainly because it’s a study of our society’s delusional obsession with romantic love as a life priority. But it also toys with some Americans’ assumptions that their country is the greatest on Earth and that heterosexual couples are the best at making marriage work. As Joan Didion once wrote, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Let me tell you one thing: These stories make for incredible television.
The tropes are obvious—and a big reason why the show is so riveting. Couples have included a Thai woman in her twenties expecting her white, middle-aged husband-to-be to be well-off, only to realize he’s in a financial pinch; a raspy-voiced menopausal blonde crazy for her younger Nigerian beau; a ridiculously in-shape Slavic woman who confronts her American fiancé because he can’t jog for five minutes before falling to the ground. Casting dictates that every relationship has to have both great promise and great disappointment. But isn’t that just real life?
This season, a lonely American woman gives birth to her fiancé’s third child (each from three different women) in a Russian hospital, while both assure viewers that he won’t leave her. A Brazilian woman in her early twenties surprisingly befriends her older fiancé’s ex-wife after a conflict about parenting the ex-couple’s children. A Florida man and his Dominican fiancée decide to get engaged after spending just one day together.
On the one hand, the show is a display of a Trumpian worldview: It depicts immigrants as manipulative individuals exploiting defenseless Americans. But to gain access to what life exactly? I’m not sure. On the other hand, it’s an antidote to Trumpism: By coupling with people from different countries, who often speak other languages or practice different religions, the show reminds us that some Americans are open-minded.
All couples in the 90 Day universe have been heterosexual—until now. A same-sex pair will join the new season of Before the 90 Days, launching February 23. New York-based social media influencer Stephanie will finally meet Erika, an Australian photographer she’s so far only talked to online.
Now that same-sex marriage is legal in the U.S., it’s about time that a queer couple be allowed to be as starry-eyed and optimistic about love as the straight couples. After all, delusion and romantic disappointments are certainly not exclusive to heterosexuals. That is real equality.
When you find yourself in a deep January funk, what else can you do but spend that extra $9.99 to get Crave’s HBO add-on? Overwhelmed by the state of the world and my own case of seasonal affective disorder, I have spent the better part of this month in bed, binge watching everything. I am unsure if this constitutes self-care or self-harm.
While scrolling through the HBO programming, I stumbled upon Euphoria, a dark, trippy teen soap with mixed reviews. I had heard that most of the budget was spent on glitter eyeshadows, and that was enough to make me want to dive in.
Centered on the life of relapsing teen addict, Rue (played brilliantly by American actor and singer Zendaya), Euphoria follows her and her schoolmates as they navigate the stormy adolescent suburban seas of domestic abuse, sexual assault, drugs and internet sex work. It’s elevated and pushed to previously unseen teen-TV extremes by the stunning cinematography, stellar performances and, of course, its wild, uncensored sexuality. Pornhub is to Euphoria what New York City is to Sex and the City; it’s the backbone of the show.
My friend Greg recently said, “I hope I’m alive for when HBO starts showing literal buttholes,” and he might not have long to wait. Euphoria has already delivered an iconic locker room scene that’s basically a 60-second parade of flaccid penises. Given that the characters are meant to be 16 and 17 years old, watching Euphoria often feels uncomfortable (the actors themselves are all over 21). The way the show sexualizes teenagers, especially the girls, can be disturbing. (Side note: One of the show’s executive producers is Drake. Surprise!)
I was especially disturbed by my attraction to the character of Nate Jacobs, played by Jacob Elordi, who is presently the hottest man on earth. You should know that I have the most basic taste in men, and that has not evolved, nor matured, since high school. Both a misogynist and a sociopath, Nate is the embodiment of toxic masculinity. He’s Patrick Bateman Jr. He yells like an animal when he works out, and it’s the hottest thing I’ve ever seen.
As I watched, I kept asking myself: Why am I always attracted to toxic men like Nate? The fraught interactions between Nate and Jules, a trans character played by Hunter Schafer—who steals every scene she’s in—reminded me of all the horrible jock-types who bullied me as a kid and teen. Nate and Jules’ relationship made me ask myself questions I’d curiously never asked before: Was there an underlying, unspoken sexual current between my bullies and me? Behind aggression, can there sometimes be a toxic kind of love? Did those experiences program my brain to associate sexuality with toxic masculinity? Or have I just been watching too much Euphoria?
Looking for answers, I came across an interview with Schafer in which she explores a possible link between trans-femininity and misogyny: “Jules being transfeminine and having this relationship to womanhood, seeing women in her life being treated a certain way by men, and a certain dynamic playing out in almost every interaction she’s witnessed…I think it goes back to something deep-rooted, like transitioning, wanting to be treated a certain way by a man in order to feel like a woman in this very binary vantage point.” I was not expecting a teen soap to raise all of these important, complicated questions—and that’s exactly why Euphoria is a must-see.