When Liadan Hynes' marriage fell apart she had to work on adjusting to the new reality. In her weekly column, Things Fall Apart she explores the myriad ways a person can find their way back to themselves...
How did I not know that Gilmore Girls is a show about a single mother and her daughter?
Coming to the party late doesn’t quite cover it here. The show has been, gone, and had its (fairly awful) ten-year revival. I have only discovered it in the last few months.
I should have known I would love it; the Work Wife does, and we share a similar taste in movies. Everything from the excellent, (Heathers) to the awful, (The Holiday, and yes we realise how bad that is).
Obviously one doesn’t need to be a single mother to appreciate the TV as-escapism appeal of the Gilmores. There’s a reason some people consider a rewatching of the seven seasons an annual aid to getting through the post-Christmas months. It's the TV equivalent of comfort food; just what is needed when all about is dark, winter seems never-ending, and self-denial is the order of the day.
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What could be cosier than the New England hamlet of Stars Hollow, with its town meetings, local diner, beautiful clapboard houses, always fairy light illuminated world? Pure fantasy, obviously, but lovely.
But as an actual single mother, Lorelai Gilmore means so much more than this.
Gilmore Girls, Dorothy Parker Drank Here Productions
For the uninitiated, the Gilmore Girls are a mother and a daughter, Lorelai is the mother, a single mother, to daughter Rory. Yes, it’s all complete fantasy, and we’ll skip over the fact that Lorelai rarely seems to actually work, and the annoying underlining of how much the Gilmore women eat, whilst professing hatred of all exercise, yet still maintaining the bodies of Pilates instructors, or the fact that Lorelai’s hair is always blow-dry perfect.
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For what Lorelai Gilmore is, is not sad. In fact, she’s mostly pure joy. She loves her life. Her daughter, their home, hanging out, watching movies, eating, going to the local restaurant, pottering, chatting with her best friend. She is absolutely, definitively not an object of pity. The only thing that comes close is Lily James/Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia. Nobody is making a sorrowful moue or aiming a sad-for-you head tilt at Lorelai.
And that is so refreshing when as a single mother, Toni Collette and Rachel Weisz in About a Boy can feel like the definitive screen takes on your genre. The other unappealingly homespun, falling apart, her single-motherness indelibly marking her child. The other impossibly beautiful, slightly sad, but saveable, by Hugh Grant of all people.
Photo: Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia; Relativity Media, Playtone and Littlestar Productions
Nobody wants to be judged
That’s not to say there isn’t room for sadness, and that we should pretend to be happy! happy! happy! all the time. Hardly. But when you find yourself in one of life’s marginalised groups, admittedly for the first time in your life in my case, this kind of thing can be irritating.
As I sit working one morning, the radio discusses feckless taking advantage of the welfare system, and a contributor casually lists off those typically guilty of this crime. “Drug addicts, single mothers…”
“I work my ass off…” I scream, throwing a pencil (the first thing to hand) at the radio, surprising myself with this unplanned outburst.
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I’m white, middle class, with a body that hasn’t yet met with societal prejudice. Part of me wants to tell myself to get over it. You’ve gotten this far without ever really feeling other, feeling pitied, or judged. Check your privilege.
But when a friend speculates on whether sons of single mothers are more likely to misbehave, I don’t have a son, and yet still, I bristle. He’s commenting on something in the papers. He doesn’t mean anything by it. His face freezes a little when he realises what he’s said, and he tries to backtrack. I make it easy for him. Because I know he didn’t mean anything by it.
“It always makes me sad to see a marriage end when there are kids. Because that will never be ok.”
A friend said it to me aeons before my own marriage combusted. But it stuck with me. People say things.
And they don’t mean them.
And they haven’t experienced your reality, so they don’t really know what they are talking about.
And because this is a situation in which everyone gets out alive, and it will be ok.
But still. I bristle.
Photo: About A Boy; StudioCanal, TriBeCa Productions
My poster girl
And so part of me feels determined to push back against these lines someone else draws on my life.
Against the idea that to be a single-mother is for certain things to be preordained.
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And so there is Lorelai Gilmore, with her unbridled joy, and relish for life. Her own life, specifically. Her life with her daughter, these two women who are each other’s person, each other's home. “These two women… (who) belong to each other,” the show’s female creator said.
Lorelai Gilmore is my poster girl.
Photo: The Gilmore Girls, Dorothy Parker Drank Here Productions and Warner Bros. TV