I would have never gotten into Grace and Frankie if my ex-boyfriend hadn’t cheated on me with five guys.
He was my high school boyfriend. We met through a family friend winter of senior year. We both were already committed to colleges in Ohio and viewed that as a ~sign~ we should stick together. We dated long distance, or I should say, I spent the first semester of college glued to my phone. Let’s call him Matt.
The morning after Thanksgiving, Matt went to take a shower and left me with his laptop to “text some of our mutual friends to organize a group hangout.” To be completely honest, I was engaging in some minor snooping, but Matt later told me that he had left me with the computer in hopes that I would find incriminating texts because the guilt was “killing him.”
The incriminating text was between him and his friend from Catholic camp. I still can picture it: “maybe I should just leave Caroline and try things out with you,” followed by a purple heart emoji. Scrolling further back into the conversation, I found this had been going on for a while.
To make matters more complicated, I had just started sorting out my own sexuality. And I had selected the perfect liberal arts college to do so. It had a huge queer population on campus — there were even rhyming monthly events such as “queer beers” and an all-campus “anti-debutant ball” that centered and promoted exploration of sexual and gender identities. Attending these events, I began to accept a part of myself I’d never before been able to explore.
This acceptance of course became completely undone once I discovered Matt’s texts. There was something particularly painful about being told over and over again that someone feels so connected to your spirit, your personality, your emotions — but that your body couldn’t fully “do it” for them.
But our relationship did not end then. Over the next few months, we really hit our stride: a pattern of Matt pulling at my heartstrings and begging my forgiveness, followed by forgiveness, followed by more admissions of cheating (each time slightly worse and with slightly more men). Rinse and repeat.
Without a place to put my pain and anger, I began to resent his sexuality, and in turn, my own. I began to equate queerness with infidelity, pain, cruelty, and selfishness. Every queer man on my campus became a scapegoat for my emotions, and suddenly, I wanted nothing to do with the queer community at all, let alone the queer aspects of myself. When I’m honest with myself, I know I was repulsed by my queerness.
Enter: Grace and Frankie.
For those of you who don’t know the show’s premise, Grace (Jane Fonda), a WASP-y, uptight, beauty mogul and Frankie (Lily Tomlin), an earth-loving, sage-burning Jew, find themselves living together after their husbands announce that they’ve have been having an affair with each other for the past 20 years.
While it definitely was a bit dramatic to compare my 10-month relationship with my first boyfriend to 40 years of marriage between Frankie and her husband Sol (Sam Waterston), hormones really do something to a teenager’s heartbreak. (Everyone on this show is in their 70s, so yeah, it was a stretch.)
I saw myself in Frankie — in moments where she embraced her oddities and quirks, her loud personality and unconventional kindness to strangers. How she believed in talking ghosts and being psychic and attracting energies and marching to the beat of her own drum. How she dressed for comfort and not for appearance. How she tossed around Yiddish phrases and referenced Jewish customs. These little things made me feel akin to her character and her journey. And then, of course, there was that whole being dumped by her queer partner thing.
The season starts in a place of anger and pain. Grace is furious and demonizes her husband Robert (Martin Sheen). Both the couples’ kids are shocked and feel like their respective father’s selfishness ruined two beautiful families.
But then something changes. Grace and Frankie are forced to move in together and begin raising each other up. They discover a new side of their ex-husbands, a joy that has been unlocked. They loathe how they chose to go about their relationship in secrecy, how it put them through years or lies and pain, but now see that this is who they are and have always been.
Frankie is full of patience, full of compassion, and full of hope for a better future. She lets herself feel, but tries to catch negative thought patterns and displacement of her frustration and pain.
I began to internalize this thought. My ex’s sexuality didn’t make him cheat. Cheating wasn’t something “out of his control because of his immense lust for men,” as he had so easily excused himself. Nope. He just chose to do a shitty thing. He was being selfish.
But where the show really became my ultimate saving ”Grace” (excuse my pun) was for my downward spiral of self-loathing. It was a prayer for healing. I was able to get out of my unhealthy relationship with Matt and back into a healthy relationship with myself.
Since I severed ties with Matt — you know he got blocked on all social media accounts — I’ve been able to comfortably explore my sexuality. From micro-actions such as letting myself daydream about a counselor I crushed on at summer camp to big leaps like opening up to my mom about a girl I was involved with while abroad. I’ve worked with queer artists who have revolutionized the way I make theater and I’ve written poems that helped me understand thoughts I labeled as “wrong” when I was younger.
And as I watched the new season that came out this January, I realized how, six years in, the show had morphed into something entirely different, with hardly any references to the betrayal the titular characters had once felt.
Similarly, I finally feel nothing towards Matt. No anger. No resentment. Just nothing. As if that time in my life has been completely erased.
Like Grace and Frankie, I’m onto bigger and better things. For me, it’s publishing my writing, producing my plays, and assisting badass female artists off-Broadway. And for Grace and Frankie, it’s inventing vibrators for elderly women and pitching robotic toilet seats to Shark Tank. Amen.
Image via Netflix