‘Mad Men’ is a reminder that relationships have never been easy

For the past few years, I’ve written a lot about the research conducted on the underwhelming crop of millennial guys. Kay Hymowitz even wrote a book about it, and while you’ll never get me to shut up about my string of bad romantic situations and dating horror stories, season one of “Mad Men” opened my eyes to an even darker truth.

Don Draper of Mad Men works on Madison Avenue
Don Draper of Mad Men works on Madison Avenue (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m pretty late in the game (although I’ve seen episodes here and there), but I just started watching “Mad Men,” and like many others, I became an instant fan, not only because I truly believe I was Peggy Olson in a former life (that’s a post for another day), but also because it’s a fairly accurate depiction of the way men treat women now, at least in the realm of dating.

As many of you know, “Mad Men” is set in 1960s Manhattan. The advertising men run the city and bring home a ton of money to their submissive housewives. The office is predominantly male, and the women who do find a place there are objectified and bossed around regularly. Office manager Joan Holloway is the Queen Bee, so to speak, and embraces sexual attention from co-workers. Peggy Olson starts off as an insecure new secretary and finishes out the season with a leading role in an advertising campaign. Her ego inflates really fast, but she stands up to Joan, who appears secretly threatened by Peggy, probably because she knows from the start that Peggy has potential.

At the beginning of season one, Peggy starts a sexual relationship with Peter Campbell, a newly married colleague who aims to oust top dog ad man, Don Draper. Peter tells Peggy that he wishes his wife could  understand him, and sure enough, he and his wife get into a huge fight a little later. He seems to view his spouse one way and Peggy another, but when Peggy asks to playfully dance with him at a work event, he looks at her with a surly expression and says, “I don’t like you that way.”

Pete and Peggy
Pete and Peggy

They’re silent and he heads for the door. Peggy goes back to dancing, with tears in her eyes. The following day at work, she waits for him to walk past her desk and say hello. He enters the office through another door, failing to even look at her on his way in. She accepts that he’s never going to give her what she needs, but sure enough, he goes back to flirting with her just days later. He becomes angry and aggressive when she shoots down his efforts with short responses and zero eye contact, and while today’s men couldn’t get away with that kind of bossiness, they still pull the same crap Pete Campbell’s character does — and this is applicable to all the fellows on “Mad Men.”

I still have four seasons to go (and believe me, I intend on watching every single episode before the upcoming April 7 premiere), so while I’m far from an expert on the show, I definitely feel comfortable saying it speaks true to a lot of romances today. Sure men can’t get away with infidelity as much these days, but they’ve had issues with commitment for a long time, certainly before millennial men came around and made 20-something women feel worthless. Some things never change!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to watch season two. Any chance I’ll finish this season with a less cynical, negative perspective?

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