Grey's Anatomy, or: the Terrible 2000s Boyfriend

In an effort to spice up our relationship, I asked The Beloved if I could watch an episode of her favorite show, Grey’s Anatomy, with her. The joke’s on me; now I can’t stop watching it. After a particularly long day, I am now laid out on my back, reflecting upon how much I enjoy this show, and also about how it has made me terrified about the prospect of ever having surgery.

Characters in Grey’s Anatomy appear to care about being surgeons exactly to the extent that nothing interesting is happening in their own lives. Once they are fucking, or thinking about it, their patience for surgery wanes rapidly. They start doing things like staring into each other’s eyes while patients go into cardiac arrest in neighboring rooms. They also appear to have no HR department to deal with things like bosses sleeping with their employees, which strikes me as wildly irresponsible when the decisions being made on the basis of flirtation are things like “why don’t you hold the saw?”

I’m not sure there’s any lessons to be gleaned here, except that it occurs to me also that this show has one of the most terrible male leads I’ve ever seen in a TV drama. Maybe it’s because I’m back in the early 2000s episodes right now, but Derek Shepherd seems to me appalling by the standards of any time.

For the uninitiated, Shepherd is the boss of the protagonist, Meredith, and also her on-again, off-again boyfriend. He is also secretly has a wife that he abandoned after she cheated on him. When the wife reemerges hoping to reconcile, Shepherd acts completely baffled about why either woman would have feelings or be upset. After deciding to stay with his wife, he very carefully avoids standing within a few feet of her, while also sniffing Meredith’s hair in elevators and such. When he finally confesses to his wife that he is still in love with Meredith and needs time to get over it, he accuses her of being the “Queen of Passive Aggressiva” because that makes her sad.

Watching Derek Shepherd’s incredibly talented and charismatic wife raise her eyebrows and say things like “I was hoping we could have sex”, or appearing over and over again in a shot just as Meredith has exited it, is the most heartbreaking thing I have ever seen. The woman performs heart surgery on babies for a living, and she would like her husband to either love her or divorce her. That kind of thing will eat you up inside, until you’re just constantly rewording the question of “but do you like me though” over and over, hoping for the right answer.

I, like Tiresias, have been both Shepherds in this situation, and I can safely say that both positions suck. So please, if you find yourself constantly trying to ask the right question that will unlock the love in someone’s heart, it’s time to walk away. Someone else will see you for the brilliant neonatal surgeon you are. And similarly, if someone is trying to hand you love and you don’t really want it, it’s important not to accept it and then leave it lying around on the floor of your bedroom where you inevitably step on it in the middle of the night. I have seen too many people bumble along in a relationship feeling nothing, wondering why the other person is making things so difficult.

I think I have grasped this lesson (I hope), but to the early 2000s male romantic leads of the universe: look to your bedroom floors. It is a harsh and cruel enough world without making it harsher and crueler by acting irresponsibly; if you cannot care for someone, or they clearly cannot care for you, let them be. Or as Dr. Bailey, the only character of any importance on the show, says, “We’re all part of the cosmic joke, O’Malley. Now, leave me alone.”