Modern Romance in The Mindy Project
The hopeless romantics among us are facing a difficult time. After each failed date, each awkward encounter with the opposite sex, each well intentioned foray into the world of OKCupid, one can hear young, single people bemoaning the fact that “chivalry is dead,” cursing the hook-up culture of our society, and wondering what causes so many to actively avoid commitment and serious relationships. The dating landscape has shifted from serious to casual, and label-less relationships and no-strings-attached sex are wildly popular and even preferred by many. Open relationships are becoming a viable option for many, and online dating is no longer viewed as desperate and creepy, rather, it’s now a strategy for casting a wider net. Adding to the confusion is the omnipresence of social media, which leads to miscommunications, jealousy, and the pressure to present oneself a certain way.
FOX’s The Mindy Project tackles all of these issues and more. Starring Mindy Kaling as Dr. Mindy Lahiri, an OB/GYN working at a practice in New York City, it combines the dynamics of a workplace comedy with Mindy’s seemingly endless quest to find love. Aspects of the current dating scene are presented in a humorous, ridiculous fashion, and Mindy’s love life is typically a mess. After all, in the pilot episode, she causes drunken chaos at her ex-boyfriend’s wedding, and that messy chaos never truly disappears.
Over the course of the series, Mindy ends up in plenty of cringe-worthy situations as she chases after the affections of various men, from accidentally hooking up with a male prostitute to starting a regretful secret relationship with a business competitor. While other shows often feature conventionally suave characters who are wildly successful when it comes to the opposite sex, it’s refreshing to see a character that is somewhat awkward in the romance department, and even more refreshing to see a character that wholly embraces it, saying “I figure if I’m going to be a mess, I might as well be a hot mess.” Mindy’s disastrous attempts at transforming her life into the romantic comedy she has always dreamed of living are highly relatable to those navigating the current dating scene, which seems to be characterized by the very same mishaps that Mindy experiences and odd situations she always happens to encounter.
Hook up culture
In the pilot episode, “The Mindy Project,” Mindy is hooking up with Dr. Jeremy Reed to distract herself from the harsh reality of the break-up that she’s distraught over. A common trend nowadays is the idea that “the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else.” Often, the goal is to avoid real “emotions” by engaging in strictly casual sex. Although this works for some, it’s often a risky ploy, as the viewer sees when Mindy deals with the personal repercussions. She realizes that is using her “relationship” with Dr. Reed as a crutch, and that sleeping with him is just a failed attempt at getting over her ex-boyfriend.
Other characters are active players in the casual hookup game, such as Mindy’s friend and colleague turned love interest Danny Castellano and her former frat boy coworker Peter. Including Dr. Reed, most of the male characters display an interest in no-strings-attached “relationships,” often engaging in flings that last about an episode before pursuing something new.
Fear of Commitment
Multiple characters are notorious for their “commitment phobic” attitudes. Mindy’s cheating ex-boyfriend Josh is a clear offender, but so is her former fiancée, Casey. Josh displays an inability to commit to one person. In Season 1, Episode 9 (“Josh and Mindy’s Christmas Party”), Mindy finds a voicemail on Josh’s phone from a woman named Heather, who is revealed to be a girlfriend who Josh did not break up with before he began dating Mindy. Casey, on the other hand, can’t commit to a stable lifestyle. In Season 2, Episode 3 (“Music Festival”), Mindy realizes that he simply flits between careers-missionary, DJ, event planner-without considering how his lifestyle changes affect his future with her. He seems to be caught in the same plight as many young people: what do I do with my life? His decisions cause Mindy to break off their engagement.
Our generation seems to live by the mantra “together, but not ‘together.’” People will act like boyfriend and girlfriend, but avoid putting a label on it until the last possible second-or not at all. Mindy and Danny struggle with this when they discuss their relationship in Season 2, Episode 18 (“Be Cool”). Danny tells Mindy to keep quiet about their relationship and “be cool” because he doesn’t feel that they should tell everyone in the office that they’re dating, and carefully avoids revealing that he has a girlfriend. Mindy tell herself over and over that she can “be cool” for Danny, thinking that “Dating is fun. But dating in secret is really fun.” But it’s hard to keep emotions in check when you’re ready to throw yourself into a serious relationship, yet the other person isn’t.
So many “label-less” relationships seem to pop up these days, as if both partners can simply avoid romantic feelings by also avoiding dirty words like “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.” But eschewing labels doesn’t inherently protect you from heartbreak. In fact, it can often cause more anguish, as we see when Danny ends things with Mindy in the very same episode, saying he doesn’t want a real relationships because he is scared of losing his best friend. As casual relationships and sex become more acceptable (and even celebrated), more and more people find themselves struggling with complicated transitions from friends to significant others.
Technology and Miscommunications
In one of the most hilariously realistic episodes of The Mindy Project, Season 2, Episode 8 (“You’ve Got Sext”), Peter and Morgan steal Mindy’s phone and take this opportunity to sext her love interest, Cliff, a lawyer who works in the building. The texts appear across the screen so that the viewer is privy to “Dr. Lahiri’s” (surprisingly successful) attempts at seducing Cliff. The texts start out with the simple question of “What are you wearing?” and the sexual tension escalates from there.
This episode is painfully true to life. The two plan out exactly how to present Mindy to Cliff: bold, extremely flirty, sexually confident. They want Mindy to appear as someone who Cliff will instantly fall for. They come up with one-liners after putting their heads and celebrate appropriately when Cliff responds to one particularly raunchy text with a winking smiley face. Their ploys illustrate the issues that social media presents us with: how do we choose to portray ourselves to the world? What should we play up? What should we hide? What do we feel comfortable saying behind the protection of a glowing screen that we could never reveal in person?
Oftentimes, people are initially successful at creating a positive image for themselves online, and are able to cater to exactly what they think other people want them to be. But the problem arises once you start getting to know others in person, when you can no longer hide behind the façade that you crafted-what if they don’t like what they see when your true colors start to show?
Peter and Morgan definitely capture Cliff’s interest, and he and Mindy begin a serious relationship. But they ultimately end up going separate ways due to more trials that social media adds to the dating scene.
Cliff and Mindy eventually break up in Season 2, Episode 13 (“L.A.”) because he sees a photo of her with Casey at a party in Los Angeles. She happened to run into him after promising Cliff that she wouldn’t see him, so naturally, this upsets Cliff. But he won’t accept her explanation: Cliff is a divorce attorney, and feels more cautious than most because of this. He breaks up with her because he feels that she violated his trust, and he doesn’t know how to bring that back. What we see on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram isn’t always the whole story, and when we take it as such, we do ourselves a disservice by ignoring the truth. This can result in ending a relationship due to jealousy over what we see online.
Television shows like The Mindy Project remind us that we are not alone when we end up in screwy, unsatisfying romantic situations. Mindy may seem to get knocked down every time she turns a corner, but she always gets back up again to continue seeking the love that she knows is out there. Dating can be discouraging, but The Mindy Project allows us to laugh at that discouragement and reminds us that if all else fails, at least we have a funny story to tell.
What do you think? Leave a comment.