Love Lessons From Mad Men

Has Don Draper finally learned something about love?

by Litsa Dremousis

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/.

Tags Mad Men

Commentarium (24 Comments)

Mar 21 12 - 12:35am
cough cough

I have never wanted to have sex with anyone on that show. Anyone halfway attractive smokes way too much to be sexy. Sure, they look polished and coiffed, but you know they smell like an ashtray.

Mar 21 12 - 1:20am
Litsa

The feeling is probably mutual: they would not like the scent of your tempeh.

Mar 21 12 - 4:13am
oklund

Guess I'm calling the mortician too, because nobody on that show comes remotely close to the caring, considerate, open, doesn't-take-himself-too-seriously man that I love.

Mar 21 12 - 7:29am
Liz

oklund, we're talking "banging" - not caring, considering, opening, taking oneself not-seriously.

Mar 21 12 - 11:11am
Litsa

Liz, *exactly*. I didn't say anyone wants to stroll the beach at sunset w/ the characters. I said the cast is eminently fuckable. Thank you for being able to make that distinction. The rest of you, stop trying to emo the hell out of "Mad Men". That's not how the show works.

Mar 21 12 - 2:59pm
oklund

well, okay. It can be on those terms. I just don't have a grey area there: either someone is awesome, and hence fuckable, or else it's porn, where they don't need to have any personality. But hey, each their own and that.

Mar 21 12 - 3:23pm
Litsa

Oklund, this sounds facetious but it's not, I think that's a compelling breakdown. Glad you explicated. Cheers!

Mar 21 12 - 10:36pm
cough cough

I have no idea what tempeh smells like, but I know for a fact that cigarettes make people stink. Especially Luckys, which is what everyone was smoking until they lost the account. I love the show, but I wouldn't want to bang any of them.

Mar 22 12 - 12:21pm
Litsa

Oh, I totally agree that Luckys smell disgusting. For the record, I've smoked exactly six cigarettes in my life: four when I was 18 and two when I was 29 and very drunk at a cast party. I've kissed three smokers and they were each over 20 years ago. So it's not like I'm Virginia Fucking Slims over here. Smoking kills and I've always been thrilled when a loved one quits. The reason I'm playfully needling you guys on this one is b/c nearly actress, actor or model of note has been a smoker at some point. Models, whether runway, editorial or Victoria's Secret don't even try to hide it. As someone who interviews prominent musicians of all genres frequently and who has many musician friends and pals of note, I can attest that smoking is as prevalent as it ever was among musicians. (Though, actually, many of the latter have quit in recent years. Which is great.) Many prominent writers are notorious smokers. And porn stars are rarely touted as examples of clean living. This leaves sports and politics as the only fields where fame is a byproduct of success and smoking isn't prevalent. So if smoking rules out a person of note as a crush/fantasty/what-have-you, it rules out most everyone ever touted by the press or fans as fuckable. Unless our entire population beats off solely to images of Mayor Bloomberg or Tim Tebow. That said, I do believe you like "Mad Men" but don't want to bang the cast or the characters they play. And I really appreciate your views, even if we reached different conclusions. Cheers.

Mar 22 12 - 6:26pm
cough cough

I agree with most of the above, however, I used to be an actor, and most of my friends still are. A very small percentage are active smokers, less than half used to smoke (usually in their acting school days) and the majority have never been smokers. But I also live in LA. I remember a lot more people smoking, generally, when I lived in NY. But that might be because I was a smoker then too, and we were all huddled together outside of buildings in the cold.
PS. I'd rather scout out my own fuckable people than have the media tell me what I should like anyway.

Mar 21 12 - 8:55am
andrea

Who died of cancer? Bert's still alive, and his brother killed himself. Who am I forgetting?

Mar 21 12 - 9:03am
andrea

Anna! I forgot about her.

Mar 21 12 - 2:33pm
grandma_boner

I'm ready for the toe-tag too. The cast dresses like my grandparent and I have never once fantasized about grandma way back when.

Litsa, get off your high horse. It's ok if we like different things.

Mar 21 12 - 3:26pm
Litsa

Grandma_boner, I totally get "It's ok if we like different things." One of my best friends loves "Dancing with the Stars" b/c she finds fun, escapist and harmless. I love people for who they are, not what they like. But criticizing "Mad Men" b/c the characters smoke makes as much sense as saying, "I don't like the zoo--it has animals." Anyway, thanks for weighing in.

Mar 21 12 - 10:44pm
@Litsa

Where did anyone say that the use of smoking made the show a bad show? Lots of people are turned off by smoking. If the person had said "I wouldn't want to bang any of the characters because I can't stand the sight of a man in a suit" would you see that as a criticism of the show? When we're talking about bangability, it's all about personal preference. Lots of people find smoking gross and smokers to be un-bangable. And just because somebody doesn't want to jump one of the characters doesn't mean they're not a fan of the show.

Mar 22 12 - 12:25pm
Litsa

Cough Cough asked a similar question up-thread and I just answered it there. If you're curious, take a peek. Either ways, cheers.

Mar 21 12 - 4:16pm
Teddy Shackleford

Don Draper is a Golden God. He embodies everything men from our current generation lack, not the least of which is style. Men today have become shells of a broken ideal. Don Draper allows us to escape and remember a time when men ejaculated fire and ate nails. Good read.

Mar 21 12 - 4:54pm
Litsa

Teddy, as a lady, I'm not nostalgic for that time. But I completely agree w/ you re men and style. Don Draper never wore Dockers--or at the other end of the spectrum--an ironic Fonzie t-shirt.

Mar 22 12 - 6:35pm
Charlie

Litsa, if I may say so, part of the charm is a lack of style. Draper wouldn't ever buy a suit this year that was noticeably different from one last year. The business suit stabilized about 100 years ago. Tall men wear single-breasted suits; short men wear double-breasted suits. All else is marginal.

Mar 21 12 - 6:18pm
Charlie

Why don't we all get off of cable tv?

Mar 21 12 - 10:29pm
Moran

Great analysis of Don Draper--you nailed it, even though you can't nail him.

Mar 22 12 - 12:22pm
Litsa

Nicely done.

Mar 26 12 - 4:49am
IrishB

About to watch the premiere later today...... as a near to 100% heterosexual man as is possible I admit to having a man crush on Jon Hamm....... but I have to say that it was more after seeing how really really funny he is in real life than the Don Draper character he plays on TV..... sometimes seeing the person in real life behind the front works and sometimes it doesn't (like liking Nada Surf so much more when I found out how funny the band members are in real life) - Brian

Mar 26 12 - 7:20pm
Litsa

Brian, for all of your views here, you are my new favorite Internet stranger. Best to you, my wholly secure, funny new pal w/ excellent musical taste. (I tangentially know the Nada Surf guys, too: they're hilarious.) Thanks for weighing in.