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But it's that frightening scene in their apartment afterward that hits the hardest. Don chases Megan in a fit of panic and rage. He tackles her to the ground in a moment of shocking physicality and the two lie there for a moment, hurt and angry and out of breath. And then Megan delivers that absolutely devastating line: "Every time we fight, it just diminishes this a little bit."
For all the observations Mad Men has made about sexism and the radical social changes of the era, that might just be the most astute line in the history of the show. It’s a thesis statement the series has backed up with the sad, empty lives of all its characters. The flush of new love will always be temporary, and you’re lucky to squeeze a year or two of good memories out of any relationship before arguments and compromises slowly chip away at your feelings for one another. Don Draper has been with more women over the course of five seasons than I've seen in my lifetime, but each relationship has ultimately ended in failure because of the inability of two people to compromise.
Again, we’ve all been there. I was in a two-year on-and-off-again long-distance relationship where I spent far too many nights lying awake in my girlfriend’s bed after an argument. I remember looking at her from across the table in a crowded restaurant, where our own stilted conversation was adding little to the noise, and wondering how this was the same person I'd stayed up all night talking to via webcam only months before. But every time we fought — about my passiveness, about her busy life, about a misconstrued text message — it took a little bit out of what we had together. Real love is as much about weathering each emotional blow as it is about uncontrollable bouts of fiery sex on an office couch, and the reason Mad Men speaks so much to me is that, like those of the characters in the show, all my relationships have been ground to dust by disagreements.
That passionate love is unsustainable is a hard truth that most people don’t need a basic cable television show to teach them. The fact that any whirlwind romance will turn, at best, into a life of passion-destroying commitments and responsibilities is hardly a reason to swear off ever finding someone to be with. But still, I can’t keep the show’s cynicism from creeping into my own life. I think about how I could spend years devoting myself to a marriage that only ends in misery. I think about how I could one day despise someone I care very deeply for. Hell, I can’t even find Christina Hendricks hot anymore without contemplating how the male gaze devalues women until they’re little more than a sleek, shiny luxury sports car to be lusted after. How am I supposed to just take a girl out to dinner without thinking about how in a few years she could be angrily throwing my pasta at the wall?
Tempted though I am to sue Matthew Weiner for emotional damages, part of me still realizes that Don Draper’s world is a fictional one. For however true-to-life the show seems at times, I know that even the most convincing Jon Hamm monologue reduces the complexity of real life. Perhaps observing my own relationship troubles in the marital issues of fake middle-aged executives is less about the death of love and more about my worrying if I’ll ever find someone right for me. That Mad Men has compounded these fears is a testament to its brilliance, but at the end of the day, the all-consuming malaise of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is as unrealistic as the boundless love found in Nicholas Sparks novels and the Channing Tatum movies based on same. It’s just a different kind of extreme, more believable because it's darker and less defined by an amazing set of abs.
So, no, I won’t follow the advice of Peggy’s mom and proceed to live out my life with a string of feline companions. I’ll have the same concerns about relationships as everybody else, and I’ll probably keep letting those concerns be unduly influenced by pop culture. I think Mad Men is one of the best things on television right now, but even after many disastrous endings to my own relationships, I know life isn’t as miserable as a painfully obvious rotten-tooth metaphor makes it out to be.