Everything I Know About Love I Learned From… The X-Files

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Lessons for navigating sexually-tense friendships from TV’s most famous supernatural detectives.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as Mulder and Scully in the X-Files

Recently, during another late-night viewing of The X-Files, I reached a four a.m. revelation: this show had a major impact on my romantic patterns. (Or pathologies, if you prefer.) When the show first aired, I was still a romantic tabula rasa of sorts, and the imprint of Scully and Mulder's sexual back-and-forth has endured — for me, and for the many guys with whom I’ve shared sexually charged, never-quite relationships.

Given its action-heavy supernatural theme, The X-Files might not seem like an obvious reference point for matters of the heart. But it's the central relationship, rife with romantic and sexual tension, that makes the show amazing. That relationship is built not on emotional intimacy or physical expression, but on tension and constant potential. Over the years, The X-Files has helped me navigate the murky waters of many almost-romantic relationships.

1. Jealousies will arise
In “Syzygy” (Season 3, Episode 13), while on a case involving teenage witchcraft, Mulder and Scully partner with a local law-enforcement agent. Detective White, a buxom blonde, is obviously hot for Mulder, which prompts Scully to insult everything from her intelligence to her hair color. When Scully walks in on Mulder and Detective White drunkenly entangled in a hotel room, things really break down. If you’re involved in a “Mulder and Scully” scenario, your semi-platonic partner will still sometimes be jealous of your romantic interests. There’s really no way to totally avoid these types of jealous outbursts — and technically, you’ve got nothing to apologize for — but it’s best for all parties if you keep your drunken make-outs behind closed doors.

2. Brush off overt advances
In “Triangle” (Season 6, Episode 3), Mulder finds himself aboard a passenger liner in the Bermuda Triangle, caught in a parallel WWII-era universe populated by his friends and colleagues from the real world. Scully appears as Marian Warwick, a fellow passenger. Together, the two attempt to stop a scientist from letting knowledge of atomic weapons fall into Nazi hands. Mulder, unsure of how events will unfold, looks into parallel-universe-Scully’s eyes, says, “In case I never see you again,” and kisses her before jumping off the ship. Back in reality, when Scully visits Mulder in the hospital, he grabs her and tells her he loves her. She shrugs it off as a product of his medication, as she should. Never indulge your platonic friend’s confessions of love. It will only strain the unspoken rules of your relationship.

3. It’s okay to role-play
No, not like that. I’m talking about situations where you need a pseudo-partner: weddings, high-school reunions, nights at the bar when you’re receiving unwanted attention and have to take your friend’s arm and pretend you’re together. In "Arcadia" (Season 6, Episode 15), Mulder and Scully go undercover, posing as husband and wife, for an investigation. Yet it’s pretty obvious that their repartee is not just a performance to convince the neighbors, but a reflection of something real. This kind of role-playing is healthy — you can play out your romantic longings without actually taking the dive into proper relationship territory. Just don't cross the line.

4. Don’t sleep together
Difficult though it may be, I cannot stress this enough. After averting the coming apocalypse in “Millennium” (season 7, Episode 4), Mulder kisses Scully as the New Year’s ball drops. This is acceptable — he's showing affection without hopping into bed, and it doesn't snap the thread of sexual tension that holds them together. We would do well to remember that when Mulder and Scully actually sleep together and she ends up pregnant with his child, the series takes a serious turn for the worse. Sometimes, the joy is in the anticipation, not the act.