How 'Gilmore Girls' Helped Me Find Myself

Through the years, I carried Rory with me.
Medium shot of Alexis Bledel as Rory sitting on couch with Lauren Graham as Lorelai.
Medium shot of Alexis Bledel as Rory sitting on couch with Lauren Graham as Lorelai.

To Rory Gilmore And Back Again 

I went through a brief phrase in late elementary school where I stopped watching television. I was reading endlessly, filling my mind with Harry Potter, new poetry, historical fiction, and children’s horror — which I stand by as being the most niche genre I’ve ever heard of to date. On weekends my parents would drive around Long Island, sometimes into Queens or Manhattan, other times into Connecticut or New Jersey. Often on those trips I read books, or played my gameboy, and occasionally watched a movie on my clunky portable DVD player.

Despite my parents’ constant desire for adventure, I was a pretty boring child.

But after I turned 11 or 12, that all started to change. I was painting my nails black, listening to The Clash, and reading Patricia McCormick. My eyeliner was crooked, I was quiet until provoked into rage, and often drawing or writing in the quiet of study hall. And after school every day — my messenger bag heavy with four or five books for my personal pleasure — I would turn on the TV and turn to reruns of Gilmore Girls on ABC family.

I didn’t get the jokes then, but there was something about the show that I loved. Maybe it was Lorelei’s caution-to-the-wind sort of attitude. Maybe it was the fact that they loved coffee as much as I did. Maybe it was the simplicity. Maybe it was the aesthetics of a small town.

I was questioning everything about myself... I was hurting. I was angry. And I felt very alone. Despite this, the Lorelei’s were there.

And maybe it was because I saw myself in Rory Gilmore, a character who (at the time) was 4–5 years my senior. She was so cool, the way she took no prisoners, the way she exhibited her passions for writing and literature, the way she swayed in her blue and white skirt with her nose in a book.

Looking back on this, I feel like there were a lot more ways I connected with Rory Gilmore at that age. I saw Lane in my friend Cristina*, who disobediently rocked to The Doors, Led Zeppelin, and Green Day in the shadow of her conservative father. I saw Paris in my best friend Ilana*, who when we meet was initially standoffish and of strict ideals, but softened as we got closer. Like Rory, my mother was (and still is) one of my best friends and confidantes. Like Rory, most people haven’t understood the complex and deep connection that my mother and I have, except for my best friends and some extended family members.

There were plenty of differences between Rory Gilmore and I as well, but she was the first protagonist I felt I understood, and in turn, understood me.

Junior high is a tender age for a lot of kids, but it was at this time that I started to delve into the world of depression. I felt like my brain was glass, with cracks that were only getting bigger, and always threatening to break. I was too terrified to tell anyone how much pain I was in, telling myself over and over that I was a burden to everyone around me. I told the people I was close to a bare minimum, because I felt like I was tearing apart and I didn’t want to rip them to pieces as well. I was questioning everything about myself, from my sexual orientation, to my faith, to my identity. I was hurting. I was angry. And I felt very alone.

Despite this, the Lorelei’s were there.

At 13, I had wanted to be a comic book artist, but was slowly realizing that I wasn’t talented nor driven enough to be drawing comics all the time. In a creative writing class with a teacher who has since then retired, I took my visualizations and wrote them on the page.

I started writing more, writing anything from apathetic love poems to tragic love stories about two girls who couldn’t be together. I read more: The Realm of Possibility, Annie on my Mind, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Perks of Being a Wallflower. I connected with people online who fell in love with my stories — people I became friends with, and some I fell in love with — and I realized what my calling was: to write the kind of stories that instill hope in the reader and, in my mind, had the power to save lives.

I have since then realized my Messiah complex was naive and an unhealthy way to live, but I still work to write slice-of-life fiction that possesses a longing for hope. I still write the kinds of stories that give names to the nameless and speak up for those who cannot. At this time, I was engaged deeply with my own work, my backpack getting heavier with literature I cared about, and my heart growing fuller with love. I was volunteering a lot at my local theater, and in my spare time trying desperately not to fall asleep. I didn’t have much time for tv.

Through the years, I carried Rory with me.

When I decided to apply for college, it was with one dream in mind: to get into an MFA program in Creative Writing. I applied to my undergraduate university with the determination to get into, specifically, their MFA program. Like Paris, Ilana was disappointed she didn’t get into her dream school. Like Lane, Cristina went to a local university with no specific desires. And as I waited for my letter to come in the mail, I imagined a big envelope would be waiting for me, or perhaps a small envelope like the one Paris receives for medical school. Instead, I got a thin envelope that, in big red letters said, Congratulations. It was the only school I applied to. 

'Gilmore Girls' falsely advertises the college experience as well, but at least it perfectly captures fleeting friendships, anger, betrayal, emotional growth, pain, hope.

I imagined college as this beautiful place where I would meet other write-types like me. Instead, I was greeted with loneliness and anxiety. I have one vivid memory of me crying under my desk in my dorm room, calling Ilana for help. I had my safe places: a spot on the floor between the F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway section of our library; the amphitheater that no one seemed to know existed; the seventh floor of the MFA professors I hoped to get to know and love.

I tried to join the literary magazine, as I had been an editor for the one at my high school, but kept missing meetings because of the fear I let consume me. College, in most media, is depicted as this quintessential aesthetic necessity: it’s perpetually fall until Christmas, and then fall again, and somehow no one has any classes to really worry about. The media is wrong to assume most students finish in four years when I’ve met very few people who have done so. Gilmore Girls falsely advertises the college experience as well, but at least it perfectly captures fleeting friendships, anger, betrayal, emotional growth, pain, hope.

In my junior year, Gilmore Girls was put on Netflix. I was working in the theater department as a videographer when during a break, someone in the lighting booth was watching Lorelei and Rory sipping coffee at Luke’s.

My senior year, I decided to watch it again.

As I filled out applications, struggled with my personal essay, and worried about how my thesis would finally come together, I put on each episode to put my mind at ease. I expected to connect with Rory the same way I always did: the bookish, sweet future journalist who was determined and ready to take on the world.

What I did not expect was our paths to be parallel.

Like Rory, I dated the “bad boy” type; unlike Rory, my Jess came before my Dean. I was strictly queer, out and proud, but at the beginning of my sophomore year I started dating Alex*. When he asked me out, he told me he’d “loved me for as long as he’d known me”. I genuinely thought he did. We dated for three months, and while I struggled to stop crying for the first time in a long time, I thought I was happy. I thought the emotions I felt, the stupid arguments, were all my fault. I couldn’t figure out why I was so depressed when I had someone who wanted to kiss me and take me around the world.

On the surface, he seemed perfect. Everyone loved him, including my family until, suddenly, he decided he didn’t love me anymore.

And it wasn’t for another year — after I wouldn’t move all winter, after I would spent three to four hours at a time crying, after I went on one too many binges and had one too many regretful, alcohol-filled nights — that I realized the level of emotional abuse I went through. What they don’t tell you about depression is, even if you realize you’re depressed, the why can manifest in the most physical form. My body was warning me, through lack of self control, through headaches and aches and pain, that I was in danger.

I’ve always connected with Rory Gilmore on a deeper level and, like her, I’ve decided to take my dreams back and run.

When re-watching the series, I couldn’t remember why I hated Dean so much. When he broke up with Rory on their three-month anniversary, because she was 16 and couldn’t say “I love you,” my heart dropped and I remembered the why.

When he sleeps with her and tells her, “I’ve always loved you. I’m gonna leave my wife,” Lorelei is right to question; she is right to accuse and argue with Rory that sleeping with a married man isn’t what love is. I can imagine having this conversation with my own mother, except in reality Ilana was the one who told me You want to ruin your life? Fine. But if you continue waiting for him I won’t be around anymore. I needed a Paris as much as I needed a Lorelei, and in that moment I was glad she embodied both.

Rory goes through a series of relationships, and by no means are any of them healthy. Dean is manipulative, jealous brat. Logan is emotionally manipulative as well, but in ways much more subtle than Dean. Jess certainly isn’t perfect either — he’s emotionally stunted, angry, and immature — but he grows up and passes through Rory’s life to encourage her. Jess sees Rory as a whole person, whereas Dean and Logan see her as someone they can make a wife. Sure, there were moments in which Logan could have redeemed himself, but when he breaks up with Rory because she won’t accept his proposal at her college graduation, he should be ashamed. Instead, he walks off with his old college buddies, more of a manchild than ever before.

When Rory drops out, it reminded me of when I was just starting to come out of my depression. I was hoping to have a leadership position in the Queer Society, but was surrounded by toxic people, former friends who were trying to hurt me by having more outgoing, likable people run against me. I remember telling myself, “If you lose this election, take a semester off.” Luckily, I never did, and was able to overcome many mental and emotional obstacles that, had I been elected, I would have continued to suppress and ignore.

What no one talks about is Rory’s own struggle in finding herself as others try to crush her dreams. She struggles with her identity for months until she rips it away from Mitchum Huntzberger with her bare hands. She stops ignoring her emotional struggle, the trauma of being told after almost two decades of dreaming that she will never be good enough. She empowers herself, gets a job for a political blog, and the prodigal daughter returns.

And while I applied for Master’s programs, I watched Rory apply to her dream schools, attend an Ivy League University, drop out, reenter, and soar toward a successful life as a journalist. I’ve always connected with Rory Gilmore on a deeper level and, like her, I’ve decided to take my dreams back and run. I know many people aren’t as lucky, and I’m blessed to have a Paris, a Lane, a Lorelei, a Max Medina, a Richard Gilmore, a Luke, a Miss Patti in my life. I have struggled a lot with the idea of being seen, but the truth is, everyone I’ve grown up with has seen me all along. The truth is I haven’t been able to see myself. While my dreams may end up crushed, I will always know in my heart who I am: A queer woman. A friend. A writer. Rory Gilmore. Me.

*names have been changed to respect the privacy of those mentioned

This piece was originally posted on Maura Lee Bee’s blog & Medium.

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