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What these TV love interests taught me about real relationships

From "I May Destroy You" to "Gilmore Girls," here's how these TV relationships have helped me clarify my real-life romances.
TODAY Illustration
/ Source: TMRW

Art imitates life, but all too often the romance depicted in TV shows and movies feel like a tired trope or cliche. But these six TV shows have introduced characters with more layers and nuance than a classic Prince or Princess Charming.

From pop culture touchstones to modern hits, here's what I've learned from these different types of fictional love interests.

1. “Schitt’s Creek” — Patrick: The sweet, level-headed guy

Patrick expresses his affection with heartfelt gestures that tear down David's emotional walls.Christos Kalohoridis

The opposite of his high-strung boyfriend, David, Patrick is the definition of level-headed. He likes the simple things in life: watching baseball, grilling burgers on a summer day and dreaming of living in a cozy house with the one he loves.

He expresses his love in the little things, like ordering David a giant cookie to celebrate their four-month anniversary. It’s hard to believe Patrick is this perfect, but with every small token of love he gives — including a massage that turns risqué on their wedding day — he’s able to help David through his anxieties.

The takeaway: His tender demeanor and unconditional love make him impossible to resist. With a Patrick, you’re looking at a lifetime of healthy conversations and sweet gift giving. Sometimes a giant cookie is worth more than 1,000 Moira Rose wigs.

2. “Feel Good” — Mae: The strong partner with hidden insecurities

Mae Martin, far right, stars in the show she co-created.Netflix

Canadian comedian Mae Martin is not only the co-creator of this new Netflix love story, she also portrays the main character (also named Mae). As a queer woman navigating addiction, fictional Mae quickly falls in love with her girlfriend, George, who had never dated a woman before. While George seems to be the indecisive one at first, it becomes clear once they move in together that Mae feeds off of a fast-paced, frenzied lifestyle. While she’s very loving and supportive of George, Mae's intense personality actually masks insecurities that she needs time to process.

The takeaway: If you have a Mae in your life who seems completely confident, look again. She may be hiding insecurities that can lead to codependency. It’s best to take it slow and let your partner process and confront her insecurities before moving too fast.

3. “I May Destroy You” — Biagio: The player

Michaela Coel’s groundbreaking show explores how difficult it is for victims to heal after sexual assault.(C)HBO

In Michaela Coel’s new HBO hit, she portrays Arabella, a rape victim who is loosely based off of Coel's own experience with sexual assault. Composed of fragmented flashbacks, the show depicts Arabella bravely trying to pick herself up after trauma. Her healing journey faces pitfalls, including trying to revisit her former fling Biagio, an old hookup and drug dealer. He’s noncommittal, emotionally unsatisfying and someone her friends warn her to avoid. At one point, he stops responding to Arabella’s texts, pushing her to go visit him in Italy unannounced. While she is an accomplished and talented person, his behavior often tries to undermine this, forcing her to act in irrational, destructive ways.

The takeaway: Biagio is the classic player type. If you ever find yourself with a Biago who’s ghosting you or not giving you the reassurance you need, cut him off. Listen to your friends who are telling you to steer clear and remind yourself that you’re worth more.

4. “Gilmore Girls” — Jess: The mysterious bad boy

Jess is basically the opposite of Rory's first boyfriend, Dean.(C)Warner Bros / Courtesy Everett Collection

Dean was “the perfect first boyfriend" to Rory, as her mother Lorelai put it. He was sweet and overprotective to a fault. Jess, Rory's second boyfriend, is the opposite. Less clingy than Dean, Jess is mysterious and smart. Since buying gifts isn’t his love language, he uses his actions to show his love for Rory. But his lax attitude soon spirals into a fear of commitment as his teenage baggage drives them apart. He comes back to Stars Hollow in season 4 to tell Rory he loves her and then promptly drives away — not the best way to express your love, Jess!

The takeaway: Jess’ recklessness is what forces their relationship to crash and burn. While mostly harmless, the Jesses out there often need a few extra years of maturing before they’re ready to commit.

5. “Never Have I Ever” — Ben: The brainy love interest

This adorable show turns the rom-com trope of enemies-turned-lovers into something more believable.(C)Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

In this Mindy Kaling-produced coming-of-age show, Devi is torn between two classic love interests. Paxton is the hot, popular upperclassman who Devi has a major crush on, while Ben is her life-long academic rival turned friend ... and maybe something more. In the first few episodes, Ben’s know-it-all attitude is infuriating, but as he reveals his family troubles and opens up to Devi, their common ground reveals his sweet side. Their kiss in the final episode is like a long-awaited truce that feels just right after years of animosity.

The takeaway: If you’re secretly enjoying intellectual tiffs with a frenemy, odds are you might have a Ben in your life. Instead of fighting your attraction in the form of intricate debates, lean into your banter. It’s bound to be one of your most flirty relationships.

6. “Sex and the City” — Harry: The ultimate nice guy

Real-life romance isn't always what you pictured beforehand.(C)New Line Cinema / Courtesy Everett Collection

After realizing her life-long goal of marrying a rich, hot doctor wasn’t the ultimate romance after all, Charlotte finds it hard to commit to Harry, her divorce lawyer who doesn’t match up to her unrealistic standards. With his sense of humor and family-oriented nature, Harry fell in love with Charlotte almost immediately. Arguably the best boyfriend in “Sex and the City,” Harry consistently shows his unconditional love. Charlotte finally realizes the value of their relationship at a synagogue mixer, hoping to find him after they have a big fight. When he shows up, he proposes to her right then and there, helping Charlotte realize she doesn’t need fanfare or a knight in shining armor — in fact, being with Harry is her dream.

The takeaway: If you have a Harry in your life, don’t let him go! Harrys are the most caring, wholesome gems out there who you can always count on. And that's worth more than a picture-perfect fantasy.