Love & Sex

Love Lessons From Mad Men

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Has Don Draper finally learned something about love?

After a lengthy contract-related hiatus, Mad Men finally returns Sunday with a special Season Five two-hour premiere directed by Don Draper himself, Jon Hamm. First off, commence masturbating. (If you haven't thought of fucking Hamm or at least someone in the cast, contact your mortician.) Secondly and probably of more importance, let's consider if Don's proposal to his secretary Megan signals a new Mr. Draper, or if his characteristic restlessness and fear of intimacy will detonate their relationship into a million well-coiffed pieces. Can Don Draper or any of the rest of us significantly change our behavior regarding love?

When Mad Men debuted in 2007, Don wryly informed his client and eventual paramour Rachel Menken that her dream of love was created by men like him to "sell nylons." He believed true partnership was a fallacy, even as he returned home to his wife and their two kids. And it resonated, because we all know people like Don who marry for appearance's sake rather than for love. But by the end of Season Four, Don had been divorced for a year and his best friend had died of cancer. Two hugely transformative times for anyone, but particularly for Don, a man who willfully erased his past. 

After a period of binge-drinking, casual boning, and sporadic vomiting, Don regrouped and began swimming each morning, keeping a journal and spending more time with his children. Much to the delight of fans, he even started dating an intellectual and professional peer, product analyst Dr. Faye Miller, in whom he'd confided the secret of his real identity and with whom he'd had lamp-breaking sex. Don seemed more mature and trusting and allowed himself to grow close to Faye. 

But that didn't stop him from proposing to Megan. Don told Megan he was in love with her, thought he had been for some time and that he felt like himself with her, but the self he always wanted to be. Don seemingly now believed in the love that once made him scoff, and was more buoyant and affectionate than we had ever seen him. It was a moving declaration, but will his infatuation last? As the devastated Faye snips, maybe prophetically, "I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things."

I'm an optimist, and experience and observation have taught me that love can change people, but with a few catches: an individual has to want to change; no one can cajole anyone to change substantively; and to quote Carrie Fisher, "Nothing is ever really over. It's just over there." In other words, the past always shapes the present. So where does that leave Don, who lies to nearly everyone about something important, but whose gifts for creative surprise and unexpected compassion define him to the same degree? As with everything surrounding Mr. Draper, the mystery ratchets up the excitement. But excitement and marriage generally go together as well as nylons and… well, nothing.

Nerve Dating is where Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks would date online if they weren't already married.

Litsa Dremousis' work appears in The Believer, Esquire, Huffington Post, Jezebel, McSweeney's, MSN Music, The A.V. Club, on NPR, and in sundry other venues. She is completing her first novel. On Twitter: @LitsaDremousis. She archives her previously published work at http://theslipperyfish.blogspot.com/.