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I Love You And I Like You: Parks And Recreation And Unconventional Romances

February 23, 2013
Warning: This post contains spoilers for the February 21st episode of Parks & Recreation.

This week, I’ve been thinking a lot about what pop culture thinks about women and gender and what the characters it creates seem to be saying about their places in the world. It became clear to me that with the marriage of Ben Wyatt and Leslie Knope Parks & Recreation has made a radical statement on modern relationships.

Leslie and Ben’s journey’s to the altar didn’t have the normal comedy troupes about finding yourself or accepting yourself, weirdness and all (Like Liz Lemon’s marriage on 30 Rock), Leslie has always been confident in who she is and what she wanted. Instead her relationship and subsequent marriage to Ben is about a couple whose dreams at first seemed at odds—and the challenging ways the characters went about solving those issues.

When they met, Ben was working as an auditor, a job that showed both him and the state government that he’d left the disaster of his first foray into government behind. But over the course of his relationship with Leslie there’s been a shift from planning for his own long-term ambitions to taking on Leslie’s dream as his own and living with the consequences of that shift in perspective.

Alyssa Rosenberg over at Think Progress explained that change of perspective most clearly when she wrote:

“But for Ben, dating Leslie and supporting her run for office have entailed real sacrifices. He gave up his job in city government so she could keep hers and survive an ethics trial prompted by the revelation that they hadn’t disclosed their romantic relationship, a move that let Leslie preserve the prospects of a potential run for office, while putting another strike on his own record, precisely the kind of thing he came to Pawnee to avoid. Losing his job has real emotional consequences for Ben, who at one point ends up weeping in a Batman suit. He puts his energy into getting Leslie elected, and after that victory, takes a job working as a higher-profile campaign consultant in Washington. But once again, Ben chooses Leslie over his own career trajectory, coming home from Washington to propose to her instead of going to run a Florida campaign. And now that they’re married, Ben has settled into Pawnee and is running the Sweetums Foundation, a job that allows him to do good and to make smart decisions about budget and impact, but that also is a respectable local job that bolsters Leslie’s relationship with the town’s dominant industry. The dichotomy of a relationship like this, in which loving what you do is something you both value instead of being a detriment. There’s a lot of evidence in pop culture and in life that tells men that they’ll find a partner who’s supportive even when it’s not in their own best interest—not so for women. The idea that Ben and Leslie both prioritize her work and dreams is a radical comment for the series to make. Ben was in search of a purpose and he found Leslie’s career and made that his cause.”

It’s no wonder than that in her vows, Leslie told Ben “The things that you have done for me to help me, support me, surprise me, to make me happy, go above and beyond what any person deserves. You’re all I need. I love you and I like you.”

Love is confusing and all consuming, but ultimately one of the most primal motivators for human behavior we have. Like is a genuine appreciation and a hug when you need it. It’s a nice indication that their marriage will have equal amounts of gazing into each others eyes as it does excitably discussing the latest episode of Doctor Who or how blue Joe Biden’s eye’s are. They’re buddies as well as partners and that’s a version of marriage and relationships that isn’t often explored on television.

For any other couple, it might have seemed odd for the bride to wear a wedding dress partially made from newspaper headlines of her personal victories (i.e. winning her city council seat, bills passed, important documents), portraits of her heroes (Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama), and the Pawnee city logo, but for Ben and Leslie, it was a perfect representation of their relationship. Working together on these projects isn’t just what brought them together, first as friends then as a couple, —it’s at the core of their relationship and values.

It’s also why I don’t just love this show; I like it too.

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