Everyone has someone. That’s what jumps out at you as you watch the first six seasons of Grey’s Anatomy in the space of a few months. The patients, the ones with tumours, the ones with bullet wounds, the ones who did something insane and their limbs are not where they should be, the one whose heart had slipped down to his kidneys, the one who didn’t want to lose his lung because of his opera-singing. They have someone standing/sitting by the bed, the anguished loved one, generally the spouse, sometimes the sibling, occasionally the best friend. The someone wants the one in the bed to be fixed, to be fine, to live.
And the doctors, our favourite characters, the ones we really watch for, have someone. Derek/Meredith, of course. Christina/Burke then Christina/Hunt. Etc… And if they don’t have someone for a week or three, they get desperate, that’s all they want.
“None of this matters if you’re alone.”
Dr Miranda Bailey to Dr Derek Shepherd, Grey’s Anatomy, Season 3, episode 20, ‘Time after Time’. She means: You don’t want to be Chief of Surgery if it means you have to give up the person you love.
When you first watched the show, when it was first shown 14 years ago (although you realise now you gave up, let it slip, somewhere in Season 5), this is not what you noticed. Past You was, you think, caught up in the romance of it, the will-they-won’t-they, the excitement, and oh-my-all-that-sex in the on-call room. You were 34 then, and then 35, 36. You yourself were in a relationship, one which would end eight years later, and which taught you a lot, about what you wanted and didn’t want, weren’t built for. During Seasons 1 through 5 you were still hopeful, still trying to make your relationship look like some of what you saw on screen in shows like this.
Derek & Meredith, did they give Past You a reason to keep working at it, with all their on-off, up-downs? Did Seasons 1 through 5 give you permission to see how messy it is to try and be intimate with another human being, whose thoughts and motivations you’ll never really grasp?
What you notice now, as someone who chooses to be single, as a woman moving alone through the world delighted to not be taking anyone else into account, is how so many of the storylines deal with women who want to work, who want to do what they want to do, and the men who seem to want to constrain them, marry them, fit them into boxes. What you notice now is how Derek leaves it to Christina to really be there for Meredith, because it’s her best friend who is able to. Or is it because she has a best friend that he feels doesn’t have to?
You think of death often, you find it helpful – you are writer-in-residence in a cemetery, after all, so it comes with the job. Remembering how little we might have left inspires you to seize joy. But that doesn’t mean no watching television, which you persuade yourself is material for your own fictions and poems. From television, films, radio and books, you collect data on all the many different ways to live, to talk, to suffer, to love, and, of course, this makes you contemplate your own.
You are watching an episode of Season 6 right now, and what you conclude when you realise that everyone has someone is that you think you would be fine if you were there, in a hospital bed, and there was no spouse, no sibling, no best friend, no-one imagining your loss. Because you have made your choices and aloneness isn’t loneliness.
“I don’t want you to be alone,” says Derek to Meredith exactly as you write that sentence.
You have been telling yourself as you watch and watch and watch that it is actually – or it can be – a blessing that there will be no anguished spouse, no devastated children, if that were you. You probe inside this idea, you wonder if you are in denial, but at 48, you are pretty sure you don’t hide much from yourself any more. You feel a lightness, at the not-wanting of what you had longed for because everything around you told you to long for it, that it spelled completeness. You do understand that being happily single does not make for an interesting TV character, does not create much drama. Although you think it might, if someone tried. Happiness is so easily written off as boring, but it has shades and colours. Happiness has depth.
You will keep watching, Season 15 is airing right now and you enjoy the idea of living alongside Meredith, Christina, Derek, for a little while longer. You may give up at some point. You love the medicine, the scenes where flaws are smoothed, chests are sliced, brains are altered, but you may grow tired of the bed-swapping, the endless unsettledness, the lack of the delightedly-single person. Maybe.
Tania Hershman is a writer living in the North of England, the author of three short story collections and two books of poetry. She is currently work on a hybrid book about time. She watches quite a lot of television. For research. http://www.taniahershman.com Twitter @taniahershman