It’s time for Day Two of my 100 Days of Fan Favorites challenge. Once again, I’m back to talk about a romantic relationship that is very close to my heart, that of Jimmy and Gretchen from You’re the Worst.
Jimmy and Gretchen don’t have a conventional love story and would be horrified at the suggestion that they did. When the show started, neither of them particularly believed in the idea of love or commitment. But somehow, what started as a one-night stand grew into a quiet and deeply affecting love story.
The show wastes little time establishing that these two people are in fact, kind of the worst. When we meet Jimmy, he’s taking pictures of his penis with the disposable cameras at his ex-girlfriend’s wedding before being thrown out of said wedding for getting in a loud fight with the bride. Which is where he meets Gretchen, outside for a smoke after stealing a wedding gift. They end up in bed together and in between rounds, spend some time discussion the terrible things they’ve done in their past. It’s not your average pillow talk, but they both recognize that they are able to be honest about their awfulness because they have no intention of seeing each other again. This becomes the base of their relationship.
The next day, after returning to Jimmy’s house to retrieve her purse, Gretchen returns a little bit of that honesty Jimmy is so fond of before stealing his car to visit her occasional boyfriend/sex partner. She attempts to open up to him about terrible things she’s done and he is understandably appalled and confused. So she calls Jimmy. He may be the worst, as she pointed out earlier, but he understood her. He is more impressed at her audacity than upset that she actually stole his car and they proceed to have a conversation about his foot fetish as she provides him with helpful fantasy material. Before long, they realize that they’ve unintentionally started enjoying each other’s company and that they’d like to see each other again.
The problem is one of them (Gretchen) is scared of anything slightly resembling commitment. Which turns out to be perfectly fine because after his relationship with Becca (the bride in the beginning of the episode), Jimmy doesn’t believe in love. So because they both know any chance of an actual relationship is doomed, they agree to continue seeing and talking to each other.
I loved the first episode of this show nearly instantly the first time around but it wasn’t until I did a rewatch a few days ago that I really saw why Gretchen and Jimmy work so well together. With each other, there is an understanding that is lacking in most of their other relationships. These people see so clearly everything that makes the person kind of terrible but they don’t want to run away. They recognize the worst parts of themselves in the other person and therefore have someone to share that with. Relationships should absolutely encourage us to be our best selves but I also think the best ones should understand us at our worst. Our worst may be a little less extreme than Jimmy and Gretchen’s, but it’s always there.
We’ll have days where we are mean and petty and grumpy for no reason and not very pleasant to be around. We won’t be a good partner because we’re trying to cover up our insecurities or issues. We’ll try to do things by ourselves instead of trust the other person to help. We’ll hurt the people we love. But despite all of that, it doesn’t mean they stop loving us. They see what we’re doing and they offer their support instead of turning away in judgement. They’ll continue to love us even when we may not feel very likable. And with that support and love, we become better. Those relationships become stronger. We learn what it means to let people in and support us. We learn what it feels like to support someone else. We learn that no matter how scared and cynical we may be, love can still sneak in.
At the start of the series, Jimmy and Gretchen are two flawed individuals who begin a weird relationship that they thought would never last. They hit major relationship milestones, like moving in together, but even then, it wasn’t a decision made in order to join their lives together. It was because Gretchen is an incompetent adult who burned down her apartment with a vibrator and the two of them spent most of their time together at Jimmy’s house anyway. Gretchen got a bag in the corner with her stuff. They were together, but still very separate. It was fun to watch them mutually freak out about the possibility of becoming old and boring after moving in together but it paled in comparison to the satisfaction I got from watching these two learn what it means to be partners.
Everything was going reasonably well when something fundamentally changed their relationship – Gretchen’s clinical depression returned. Gretchen’s depression arc is one of the best things I have ever seen on TV and I’ve seen a lot of really outstanding TV so I don’t say that lightly. On another show, this could have been the obstacle that broke them up and there were times where it seemed like that might be the better option. Gretchen didn’t know how to deal with her depression and be in a relationship any more than Jimmy knew how to be in a relationship with someone with depression. Gretchen’s depression made her withdrawn and unable to care for another person on any level, physically or emotionally. She wasn’t there for Jimmy when he needed her support. And while his intentions were good, Jimmy’s attempts to fix Gretchen only ended up making her feel like she had to fake her happiness until she didn’t have the energy to keep up the facade. They were still focused only on themselves as individuals and not of the two of them as a team. It was all they knew how to do.
But it changed when Gretchen gave Jimmy permission to leave. She had accepted her depression and her current state and couldn’t see it changing, so she told him if he wanted to leave, he could. She wasn’t going to be able to give him what he needed. She couldn’t feel anything so what difference did it make to her if he weren’t there? It was an act that was simultaneously selfish and selfless. While at that moment, it truly didn’t feel like it mattered if Jimmy stuck around, it also gave him the freedom to choose a different life for himself. As Todd VanDerWerff pointed out in his remarkable post, “loving someone with a mental illness is to invite an unseen third into the relationship”. That’s not something everyone is able to or willing to do and that’s OK. Up until the moment he chose otherwise, Jimmy didn’t think it was something he was interested in. The woman he had once enjoyed spending time with simply wasn’t there any longer and he wanted something different.
Then he realized he didn’t. No matter how exciting Nina was (despite her horrifying feet), she wasn’t the person he wanted to be with. He thought he wanted a relationship that was free of complications and commitment and anything that resembled love. But then Gretchen happened. He made the choice to stick with her through something that could try even the strongest of relationships. He stopped thinking only of himself and his own future but what a future could look like with Gretchen. And that’s what he decided he wanted, complications and all. So he built a blanket fort around her and stayed with her all night.
The look on Gretchen’s face when she woke up said everything. Someone had chosen her. Someone had seen her at her absolute worst and decided she was worth making the effort for. She didn’t have to carry this burden all on her own any more because when offered the chance to leave, he stayed. It didn’t fix her depression. But she wasn’t alone any more.
So then when he got hopelessly drunk and needed someone to take care of him, she cleaned the fries off his face and put him to bed. She took care of him because that’s what a partner does. She showed him that he wasn’t in this relationship alone. She was ready to be a part of them as a couple, not just two individuals in a relationship.
This act, coupled with his alcohol-induced lack of inhibitions, led to the first statement of love between them. And when he was awake and coherent again, Gretchen was able to say it back. It wasn’t a grand declaration, it was more of a passing comment. They could hardly even look at each other after it happened. But they were able to sit, side by side, content in their feelings for each other. They were comfortable with the ideas of love and commitment that they had once tried so hard to avoid.
Theirs is a story about very real people with very real problems who somehow found a connection with the other. I don’t expect things will be smooth sailing for them from here on out. I’m not even positive they’ll stay together forever. They will fight and make each other crazy and hurt each other by doing and saying stupid things. But they will come out of this relationship as better people than they were before. They will be people who have learned what it is to find acceptance in another. They will be people who took a risk and found something they needed. And the journey they took to get there is one I know will stay with me forever.