7 Lessons I Learned from Gilmore Girls

If I had to pick one TV show to watch for eternity, it would be Gilmore Girls. (And to just get this out of the way, I’m talking about the original run of the series and not — for the most part — A Year in the Life. I just have TOO MANY feelings about AYITL to even start.) And this is a bold statement because I LOVE TV and could name like twenty shows I would want to watch all the time, forever. But if I had to pick one it would be GG. Anyways, after that humblebrag, my point is: I have seen Gilmore Girls (conservatively) about 100 million times. Here’s what I’ve learned. 

 

1. There’s no right way to do something,

Too often, we’re given a script on how to do something the right way. But who decided that way was the right way? What makes it right and something else wrong? Who says we can’t hold a wake for our cat or become a drummer even though our mom would freak or have two glasses of wine at lunch like a prostitute?

No character embodies this feeling more than Lorelai — who chooses her own path over the one set out by her parents, and challenges motherhood to conform to her life, not the other way around. When Emily and Richard’s initial plans for Lorelai are complicated by her pregnancy at 16, they set out new plans for her: marry Christopher. But Lorelai is one hell of a strong-willed person (to a fault sometimes), and she decides she’s going to live her life her way. What I have always loved most about this arc for Lorelai is that she’s succeeding. She IS a good mother. She’s excelling in her career. She has friendships and relationships, on her own terms. And yes, she’s flawed. She’s selfish. She’s known to self-sabotage occasionally *AHEM SEASON SIX FINALE AHEM*. But she’s living (lol, kind of) proof that there’s not one specific set of qualities that make someone a good mom. And that’s true of everything from motherhood to career success to beauty. We can’t define ourselves against what others have done or what outside influences tell us we need to be. We have to forge our own path — despite the hurdles, despite the pitfalls, despite the genuine fear we may face.

Lorelai has always been — and will always be — my role model in this arena. She knows who the f*ck she is and she’s not afraid to be that person.

 

2. Sometimes you may stumble, no matter how prepared you thought you were.

I have a confession: I find seasons 1-4 Rory a bit smug. Chilton “I got hit by a deer” drama aside, Rory’s life is pretty easy. She’s smart, she’s beautiful, she’s got two dreamy (okay, okay, I know Dean is a piece of cardboard with an oversize TJ Maxx leather jacket and Jess is super hot but also does close up magic and says things like “why don’t you Doctor Laura someone else” but just go with me here) guys falling all over themselves for her, she got into every Ivy League school she wanted. It can all be a bit much sometimes — until BLAMO she’s sleeping with her married ex-boyfriend, stealing a yacht, and dropping out of school because an old guy told her she “didn’t have it” after she brought him coffee for two weeks.

All this to say, later-seasons Rory gets some major reality checks. And I was finally like YES, YES, this is real life right here: thinking you have it all figured out and then having a crying jag on your ex’s shoulder because you thought you could take five courses at Yale and it turns out it’s a lot harder than you expected. In reality, you don’t always get what you’re banking on (if only, ya feel me?). You don’t get the Reston Fellowship with The New York Times even though you kind of thought you were pretty much going to get it.

Rory is a complicated character — and ended up being pretty divisive — but I relate to her SO MUCH when she finally becomes human and starts making mistakes. She doesn’t always deal with them in the best way (I’ll go into the whole Dean/Lindsay/Rory FIASCO in a second) but she finds her footing. When Mitchum (I’m just now realizing that’s also the name of that deodorant) tells her she’s not going to make it as a journalist, Rory flails. She steals a yacht, she drops out of Yale, she moves in with her grandparents. She does her own thing for a while and she eventually figures out “okay, yeah, I made a mistake.” And that is SO HUMAN. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done the same thing. You have to figure this stuff out for yourself — because it’s the only way. And when you do stumble, when you do make mistakes, yeah it’s going to be shitty for a while. But then maybe, if you work hard and keep at it, you just might end up on the campaign trail with Obama.

(Per above, I’m not going to even delve into A Year in the Life. I CANNOT with Rory in the new episodes. I have MANY feelings about her choices and why a lot of them feel completely out of character and weird and if she was on the campaign trail with frickin’ BARACK OBAMA wouldn’t she have had like a job for a long ass time and I’m spiraling goodbye.)

 

3. You can’t bend people to your will, despite your good intentions.

Oh, Emily. I love her, I hate her, I love to hate her (coincidentally, I feel this way about basically every character in GG). When I was watching Gilmore Girls in real time, I was in eighth grade and was all “ugh, Emily, get a grip lady!” But re-bingeing on DVDs and Netflix has led me to a new place with Emily: she genuinely loves her daughter… while also being one gazillion percent in the camp of “I know what’s best for you and I’ll sneak behind your back to make my dreams for your life happen.” And she is committed to her schemes — despite the fact that they can sometimes blow up in her face — the Christopher-vow-renewal-this-is-your-one-chance-disaster as the prime example — or work in her favor, but end up twisting her relationship with her daughter even further.

It’s clear that Emily wants to be a part of Lorelai’s life — she wants in, she wants to be accepted, she wants to be respected, she wants her opinion valued. And Lorelai… well, she wants to do her own thing and she’s only going to let you in on her terms. Hence, the frequent clashes between the two strongest women on this show (and two *incredible* actresses). When I watch GG now, I feel a profound sense of sadness for this relationship — that both women seem so far out of reach of the other. What can we learn from them (besides how to destroy your opponent with a single word)? That we can’t place pride before anything else — especially in our closest relationships. We can’t bend people to fit our molds of who they should be… and we can’t make decisions for them because we don’t know best. A shocking thing for me to admit, because I fancy myself as an all-knowing being (and I LOVE being right). I guess I’m more like Emily than I thought…

 

4. Going backward might seem comfortable, but it’s not the place you need to be.

Remember when we were all just chugging along like “when will Luke and Lorelei finally get together??” and BAM Rory sleeps with Dean… after he’s married to Lindsay. Drama ensues, Rory goes all transatlantic, and Dean shows troubling signs of emotional abuse. The whole thing can be summed by a hearty NOT GREAT. I watched all this play out in real time at the end of season four and beginning of season five, and it was real tough. I was so mad at Rory — cheating aside, because yeah, we all know that’s a no — because it was so obvious she was peddling backward. She was starting college, buckets of new experiences waiting for her, and she got spooked. She had the — very human, let’s cut her some slack — reaction of “wait, rewind, go back” to something comfortable, something familiar, something that never challenged her. The literal synthesis of Dean.

It’s easy to roll your eyes in pure frustration when Rory does this — because you can see it all playing out for yourself. It’s SO obvious what is happening, the eventual crash and burn painfully apparent from the start. We all knew. We all screamed at our TVs (mine was a like 10 inch, remember those?!) RORY NOOOOOOO. But when you’re knee deep in a situation like this and you’re freaked af, well, you’re making stupid decisions too. What I see more and more as I rewatch these episodes — besides that you should at least try to make the bed before your mom busts in on you and your married ex — is that the instinct to return to a time when you were comfortable, when nothing was pushing you, is innately human. Going blindly into the unknown is real hard, y’all. That’s what makes it worth it. Rory figured that out — in spectacular Rory fashion by completely losing interest in Dean and getting all tipsy at her grandparent’s meat market party with Logan — eventually.

So, because I want to be better than this version of Rory (don’t we all), I’m committed to examining my feelings during times of intense hardship, change, and growth. Does this mean I will never make another mistake? I’m guessing no. But it does mean that I’m giving myself a tiny second to understand my thoughts/actions before I do something I may intensely regret.

 

5. Your dreams may change, but they are no less important or fulfilling.

Sometimes life really hits you with a curveball — surprise baby when you’re 16… or when you thought your husband had a vasectomy, for example — and you have to readjust. Suddenly, things are a lot more complicated than you were expecting, and your dreams take a detour. And then, maybe, you lose sight of those dreams completely. They’re crowded out by new dreams, new excitement, new expectation, based on said curveball.

One of the sweetest arcs on GG (in my so humble opinion) is the through-line from the first season to the last for Sookie and Lorelai and their dream of opening an inn. It represents something really pure and beautiful — the realization that your dreams are coming true and they’re completely different from what you were expecting. There are challenges, of course, (you might, for instance, be hemorrhaging money into said dreams for your grandmother to point out at dinner) what dreams would be complete without them? But you’ve taken that curveball and parlayed it into a success — with your best friend by your side.

Which just goes to show that whatever you think your life will be right now might not work out, but that’s not a failure. Your dreams may evolve and change right along with you — to something no less beautiful or fulfilling because it’s different than what you were expecting. Isn’t that comforting? God bless you, Gilmore Girls.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Paris here — one of the greatest characters in television history. I have so much love for Paris (even during the whole Tristan saga) and her journey is one of the best on GG. There are a lot of problems with Season 7, but the Paris and Doyle storyline is not one of them. Sometimes, your dreams come a little early and you’re not ready for them — as is the case when Paris realizes she wants to factor Doyle, her college boyfriend, into her graduation plans… and she didn’t want to be tied down yet. She doesn’t want to base her decisions around a man — that’s not part of her plan — but she loves Doyle. Cue one of the sweetest scenes of GG: Doyle bursting in after Paris has broken up with him to declare he’s not okay with the breakup and he’s going to factor her into his plans. I love this turn for Paris, because she’s always been so sure of her career — it’s the major touchstone of her life. And now her plan is disrupted by something positive, something she wants: to be with Doyle. Watching her reconcile the unexpected is a lesson in allowing ourselves to bend, to change, when the situation calls for it. We can’t be so focused on making sure our plan plays out exactly like we wanted it to, that we lose sight of something beautiful.

 

6. You’re never too old to change your mind, push your own boundaries, and seek your own happiness.

I know I said I wasn’t going to talk about A Year in the Life (UGHHH SO MANY FEELINGS), but one thing I did really love about the new episodes was Emily’s arc and journey. And you can see stirrings of Emily breaking free throughout the series — an incredible (and incredibly acted) reminder that it’s never “too late” to make choices for ourselves and our own happiness. I was cheering Emily on when she finally stands up to Richard early in season five and makes an enormous change — because she’s unhappy. She’s not being appreciated as a woman or as a wife anymore. And she realizes that’s not okay with her. So she makes a conscious choice to change her situation. That. Is. So. Freaking. Powerful. She also makes losing your skirt shimmy-ing out a basement window look really good. Killin’ it.

Emily is in a hard position for much of the series — she’s part of an old-world way of doing things that’s on its way out… and she’s struggling to adjust. Part of her separation from Richard stems from this displacement she’s feeling. Where does she belong? Who is she to Richard anymore? Similarly, in A Year in the Life, she’s once again dealing with a system she no longer fits into. How Emily reacts is something we all can learn from. She stands up for herself — to her husband (no easy feat sometimes) and to her friends at the D.A.R., whose opinion she once highly valued. Breaking out of a prescribed way of doing things, with the determent of family or friends, takes a strong person. You have to have faith in yourself… even if you have no idea what you’re doing. It’s especially heartening and (cliché but true) inspiring to see a woman who has been doing things a certain way her entire life break out of that loop and start doing things for herself and her own happiness. Two glasses of wine at lunch, here she comes.

Let’s take a quick detour to talk about Lane. Sweet, sweet Lane Kim, who embodies “seeking your own happiness” by living her life the way she wants… despite her mother’s serious disapproval. Lane is an insanely strong woman on a series about strong women and if I am ever one-tenth as motivated, brave, and kickass as she is, I could take on the world. All the love for Lane.

 

7. Always make the reference. Always.

Sometimes people who don’t watch Gilmore Girls (ew, who are they, why) are all “I don’t get the references.” And I truly just DO NOT UNDERSTAND those people. GG is probably the pop culture product that had the most influence on my life and I remember watching it when I was nine, twelve, fifteen, twenty and jonesing to talk the way they do. To have a permanent bantering partner and speak eighty miles an hour and throw out references to everything from Proust to Bananarama. Now, watching GG is like wrapping a cozy blanket around myself and falling into a world where quips reign supreme and food has no calories and your mom is your best friend.

All that to say, I make as many references as possible. Because when you can make the reference, you should. Oy with the poodles already, amiright?

 

What are your favorite moments from Gilmore Girls? Tell us in the comments below! 

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