Like (seemingly) everyone else on the planet, I tuned in on Tuesday for the much-anticipated Rocky Horror episode of Glee. I enjoyed it immensely. I laughed and guffawed with the rest of them.
I realize that, like everything on television, the show is problematic. Its characters are caricatures of themselves, especially with respect to race and disability. Still, I watch it and can’t believe that I get to see a musical television show, complete with queer characters and actors, every week.
There was much to love and much to dislike about Tuesday’s episode, but one piece stuck out to me particularly. Near the end of the episode, a resigned Mr. Schu apologizes to Emma for trying to seduce her and notes that her dentist boyfriend, Carl, is helping her “get better” from her obsessive-compulsive disorder. And this struck me as wrong, because it’s not fair for anyone with a mental illness or their partners to expect a romantic relationship to “cure” them.
I realize this is part of the plot, and that the point of Glee is not to dig into the intricacies of its characters’ mental workings. Still, the implication here is that Emma is unable to find her own solution, that she is flawed alone and that she needs a partner to make her happy. This supposition takes away her agency (and the agency of the rest of us who have dealt with any type of mental illness) and puts a whole lot of pressure on her partner. It’s not fair or realistic.
In reality, mental illness isn’t something that can be solved by the right romantic partner. It is certainly helpful to have support as you work on managing a disorder. It is certainly harmful to be in a relationship that doesn’t support this. However, mental illness cannot be solved by a relationship. Most processes of treatment are long, drawn-out and ongoing, and involve many elements, including therapy, medication, lifestyle changes and holistic care.
If it were up to me, Emma would struggle with her OCD on her own, and her relationship with Carl would be a source of support throughout the process. I’d like Emma, and nobody else, to be in the driver’s seat of her treatment and her wholeness.