Why Are Women Of Every Relationship Status Finding 'Normal People' So Painful To Watch?
*This article contains major spoilers for Normal People*
It's Tuesday morning and I'm *still* thinking about Marianne and Connell. What is wrong with me?!
Anyone who dedicated six hours of their lives to watching Normal People this weekend, will almost definitely be battling with an emotional hangover right now.
For me personally, having caught major feelings for the show from the very moment Marianne (Daisy Edgar Jones) told Connell (Paul Mescal) she liked him in front of the photo copier, I was bereft by the end of the series.
Bereft, obsessed and unable to stop thinking about it. And I certainly wasn't alone. Everywhere I looked, viewers were having an emotional crisis over Normal People.
In fact, some were so emotionally affected, they actually haven't managed to get through it. Not because it isn't utterly brilliant and completely addictive, but because it's just too raw.
For my friend Katie, this happened around episode three. Connell had just asked Rachel to the debs, and nope, she could not continue - she had hit an emotional wall. Absolutely not.
But what is it about Sally Rooney's TV adaptation that made it so triggering to watch? And why has it affected us so much? Is it because the intensity of that first love heartbreak is just *too* raw to revisit?
First love trauma is painful enough at the time, and of course it fades, buried under time, lessons learned and new relationships. But when you're 17, the pain is oh-so-real - especially if, like in Marianne and Connell's case, you weave in and out of each other's lives for some time.
It's alarming to watch so many scarily familiar moments play out before our very eyes (and at such a vulnerable time, I might add).
But is there more to it? From love, to separation, moving away from home or feeling that lack of belonging, the show seems to be a check list of every emotion we ever felt in our younger years.
In a bid to find out what it is about Normal People that seems to affect us so much, I chatted to dating and relationships expert, Sarah Louise Ryan.
She said: "Normal People covers so much ground that many viewers will be able to find one aspect or another so relatable.
"Be it love, separation, loss, a sense of otherness or lack of belonging. At some point in our lives we have all felt one or more of these vulnerabilities and so it's tough to watch as it throws us back to a love that once was."
For Katie, it was like someone had forced her to watch one of the most mortifying moments of her teenage years.
"I remember when my first boyfriend broke up with me right before prom and asked someone else to go with him. Naturally, I thought she was cooler and prettier. I didn't actually realise the trauma of it until I watched Connell do that to Marianne," Katie tells me.
"I wish I'd kind of handled it like Marianne, too. But I didn't, and for some reason I've been thinking about that a lot."
One person on Twitter had a similar issue, tweeting: "Having to stop Normal People two episodes in cos it is too f***ing painful to watch... Connell also reminds me of my ex. It's a no from me".
While another said: "Watched Normal People against my better judgement and hurt my own feelings, never again. Next time there's a great show on about intimacy & loss & the defining power of first love you lot can drop me out. Don't even want to know about it."
watched Normal People against my better judgement and hurt my own feelings. never again. next time there's a great show on about intimacy & loss & the defining power of first love you lot can drop me out.don't even want to know about it. if you need me i'll be watching robot wars
- beth mccoll (@imteddybless) May 3, 2020
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Having to stop Normal People two episodes in cos it is too fucking painful to watch... Connell also reminds me of my ex. It's a no from me. :new_moon_with_face:
- Lauren Brown (@lb90xx) May 4, 2020
Of course, what Connell did to Marianne was cruel, but it's not just his actions that sting our souls.
The deep miscommunication between the pair is also heart-wrenching. When Connell and Marianne break up during university - over a misunderstanding no less - the gulf between what could have been (the pair living together for the summer) compared to what ended up happening (them splitting up and Marianne ending up with - *shudder* - Jamie) was just unbearable.
Then there's the teenage lingo we haven't thought about for over a decade ('I've got a free house this weekend') and the throwback songs that remind us of those OG Skins years. Combined, they pull on heart strings we didn't even know we had.
Seriously, someone pour us a drink.
But it's not just painful for those who can relate to Marianne and Connell's exasperating situation. While many viewers said it was difficult to revisit memories of intense teenage romances, others found it a tough watch because it triggered a longing for those years.
"It made me pine for my youth, and the magic of first love, in a way that was so intense and, at times, painful. Despite my happy marriage, I found myself yearning for the passion and intensity of first love and feeling genuinely sad that I will never have that feeling again," my friend Claire told me.
As one viewer wrote on Twitter: "An episode and a half in to Normal People, and it somehow makes me miss the unending, torrid tidal wave of angst that is being a teenager. I wish I could feel anything as acutely as I could the crush I had on anyone when I was 16."
An episode and a half in to Normal People, and it somehow makes me miss the unending, torrid tidal wave of angst that is being a teenager. I wish I could feel anything as acutely as I could the crush I had on anyone when I was 16.
- Poppy McKenzie Smith (@GTOpoppy) May 3, 2020
Even when Marianne and Connell are in other relationships, the love and commitment they have towards each other is overwhelming to watch. And despite their obvious problems and life (read: New York) getting in the way, many viewers have been feeling pangs of deep envy over the unwavering commitment they have to one another later in the series.
Despite understanding the meaning behind *that* ending, I personally found it deeply upsetting. And while many viewers have debated the conclusion to Marianne and Connell's romance, their unconditional love for each other certainly cannot be questioned.
"As a single woman, Normal People affected me on two levels. There was the undertone of jealousy that I hadn't found that level of intimacy with someone, but then, stronger, the familiarity and pain of teenage romance, being completely emotionally dependant on somebody and ultimately being let down by them, again and again," my colleague Jo tells me.
A quick look on Twitter and many viewers are reporting the same feelings. One person said they were "so jealous" of the couple's intense love, while another explained they couldn't stand watching because they were so envious of the relationship.
Others joked they were simply jealous of Marianne because of Connell - who, along with his chain has attracted *quite* the fan base since the show aired.
View this post on InstagramWe stan Connell's chain, the light in these dark times. Thirsty for more? :sweat_drops:
A post shared by Connell Waldron's Chain (@connellschain) on
Sarah explains Normal People can be triggering for people of all relationship statuses - especially in the current climate.
"During this time we are currently taking stock on everything around us including our relationships," she says.
"Many who are single as well as those who are experiencing feelings of loneliness are feeling nostalgic to times when they were most happy or felt a strong sense of belonging, perhaps romantically, so watching this show can bring people back to different romantic relationships from the past.
"It can even highlight the good, the bad and the ugly for those couples who are together where things feel a little tricky as they are cooped up within four walls together."
When I finished Normal People, I immediately wanted to watch again - I just couldn't face that that was 'it'.
But with my emotional hangover still going strong, watching it over felt as unappealing as downing a shot of vodka the morning after a big night out.
For now, the prospect of reading the book is proving to be the perfect middle ground - and since it's currently sold out on Amazon, waiting for it to arrive has been the emotional break I needed.
You can watch Normal People on BBC iPlayer now.
Featured Image Credit: BBC