The gritty, realistic aspect of the original Roseanne sitcom and The Conners reboot is what I have always both loved and loathed about the show. Of course, even the most realistic sitcom is still a sitcom and not exactly real life. But the shouting and one-liner cut downs felt more like home than other corny 80s shows like Full House or Growing Pains. And even without Roseanne, who got killed off in the show because of her online verbal diarrhea, I can’t help looking forward to a new episode every week, rooting for the have-nots and the underdogs, all the ups and downs of my favorite working-class family from the 80s.
But in the tradition of the show and its unique way of showing reality and the messiness that comes with it, the latest season is hard to watch. Darlene (Sara Gilbert) finally has a chance to follow her dreams, sort of. Or at least a glimpse of a normal life, one where you get rewarded for working hard as a manager of a plastics factory, with a four-day vacation to Hawaii. Which was only made possible by her high school friend that recently died of a brain tumor.
You would think that the wishes of a dying woman would be enough to convince her dream-crushing boyfriend to go on a 4-day getaway to Hawaii. But no, Darlene’s management job, saving all her money, and him living in the back of a hardware store is not enough; he also has to snitch away a measly four-day vacation. He wants her to sell the tickets for cash to pay bills so they can get their own place.
Relationship Red Flags — Stonewalling and Criticism
There is an interesting variety of red flags in Darlene’s relationship but the one that is most jarring and obvious is the way her boyfriend Ben, played by Jay R. Ferguson, completely shuts her down when she tries to explain how much the vacation would mean to her, especially after her friend’s sudden death has made her feel especially carpe diem about life.
And she’s not even being unreasonable. It’s not like she’s asking him to uproot his life and move to Hawaii to live on a coconut farm in a tent. She’s asking him to go on a pre-paid vacation, all thanks to the wishes of a woman with only a few days to live.
But not only does he say no but he gets pissed off that she’s even mentioning it again and storms off. Relationship therapists call this ‘stonewalling,’ one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, which according to renowned couples expert John Gottman, has a 93% accuracy for predicting divorce. As psychotherapist Maureen Werrback, MA, LCPC explains, stonewalling is when a person becomes nonresponsive. “Research shows that this is the most damaging behavior to engage in…You are pulling yourself out of the relationship instead of working on it.”
After that painful episode, I was hoping the writers would end the season with Darlene breaking up with him and going on vacation with Brian Austin Green. But instead, female empowerment takes a hit and she makes a hail Mary attempt to succumb to the stonewalling of her whiny wet blanket boyfriend — all in the name of love or codependency. In front of her family, she confesses her love and devotion to her boyfriend by selling the plane tickets for cash. Did that make him happy or appease him? Not really. He still has a resting bitch face while making a snide put down — another red flag and also one of the four horsemen, criticism.
Bravery is leaving a toxic relationship and knowing you deserve better.
With only one episode left of the season, I thought for sure that Darlene would come to her senses and break up with this guy. I was hoping she’d be empowered enough to realize that nothing would satisfy him, no matter how hard she tried.
Say ‘I Do’ to Disappointment
It gets even more humiliating when she makes a last-ditch effort to win him back by proposing marriage in his pathetic man cave in the back of a hardware store. He says no. He needs some time to think about whether or not he even wants to be with her. So even after giving up a Hawaii vacation and doing everything he demanded, it still wasn’t enough.
It’s funny how he’s trying to be the practical one by forcing her to trade in the plane tickets for cash. This Gen X, Boomer-rising goofball couldn’t get a magazine off the ground because, duh, nobody reads magazines anymore, not since the early 2000s. Not very practical bruh. And now this privileged, able-bodied white male that inherited a hardware store, whose at the top of the socioeconomic ladder; after he’s given all of these advantages, he still can’t get his sh*t together to be able to afford a place for him and his girlfriend to live. What’s his excuse?
Darlene, on the other hand, has two kids to support, plus a father with a heart condition whose failing business causes him to get behind on his mortgage and almost lose his house — that they all live at. But for some reason, this selfish douchebag is pressuring Darlene to make all the sacrifices. With or without her, he’d have to live at the back of the hardware store after his magazine folded.
Darlene, please stop setting yourself on fire to keep someone else warm.
Female empowerment is like any kind of progress, whether it’s justice or something else. It’s never a straight line but comes with painful ups and downs. And in this case, it’s between the sheets. For Darlene, working at a factory all day and then coming home to a cold bed is much worse than being in a relationship, even one that’s draining the soul out of her body.
With the security of everyday companionship and regular sex, the sacrifices will seem worth it for a little while, under the mind-numbing haze of light beer, family dinners, and weed, rinse and repeat. The problem is, when the romance fades after a few years, the sacrifices Darlene made won’t seem worth it anymore and suddenly she’ll realize the soul-crushing reality that despite everything she gave up, all the sacrifices she made to rearrange her life according to his demands, he just won’t be that into her.
If history is any indication, in sitcoms or real life, things must get very bad — like apocalyptic-scorched-earth-only-the-cockroaches-survive horrendous, for things to get better. Like a deluge of rain before the rainbow.
Maybe the writers are toying with us. Maybe they are showing Darlene in the most desperate state possible in order to build up dramatic tension for the next season, when, fingers crossed, she finally wakes up and has the emotional resiliency to walk away from what may have started as love but is now a pile of garbage floating down a river of piss.