As a young teenager, I jumped on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BtVS) uber-fan bandwagon. The show’s 1997-2003 run roughly coincided with my preteen stage and into my high school years.
As a nerdy and fairly socially awkward kid, Buffy and the Scoobies felt like family. For one TV hour a week, for 7 years, I would eat popcorn and lose myself in the show.
As cheesy as it may sound, in those crucial emotional developmental years, Joss Whedon & co. taught me a lot about life and love through the allegories of vampires and monsters in Buffyverse.
Despite the show’s sometimes ridiculous 1990s fashion statements and particularly cheesy special effects in the earlier seasons, overall it holds up fairly well even a decade later. Here’s some of the enduring lessons about love and dating we learned from The Duchess of Buffonia:
Things will inevitably change after you have sex with someone
After Buffy and Angel have sex on the night of her 17th birthday, he changes. We’re not just talking about some minor commitment phobia and run of the mill jerk behavior. Angel carried a mystical curse that if he ever experienced “true happiness”, he would once again lose his soul and revert into being Angelus. It would seem making love to Buffy qualified as true happiness because Angelus goes on a murderous rampage and starts screwing with everyone Buffy holds dear.
While it’s a highly fictionalized story, the message is clear – your relationships will inevitably changes once sexual intimacy becomes part of the equation. Sometimes this change can be for the better, but sometimes it’s for the worst. Once you’ve shared emotional and physical intimacy with someone, the illusion that person can be stripped bare.
Everyone has demons and there is no such thing as “normal”
Riley, Buffy’s college boyfriend (seasons 4 & 5), starts off as a your typical, Iowa corn-fed, all-American boy who works as teaching assistant at UC Sunnydale. Riley appears to be the picture of mental health and stability. He is wholesome and cheery. He is the stark antithesis of Buffy’s previous boyfriend, Angel. Riley leads a double life, as a member The Initiative, a paramilitary organization that hunts, catches, and researches demons.
When he enters her life, Riley represents Buffy’s chance at having a “normal” relationship. However, after The Initiative disbands, Riley suffers from paranoia and withdrawal symptoms from the performance enhancing drugs he’d been given. His behavior becomes increasingly erratic. Eventually, he starts letting vampires feed from him in a twisted effort to try to understand Buffy better.
Many fans intensely disliked Riley as a character, but he represents a good point. No one is perfect; everyone has struggles and dark aspects to themselves. Riley’s relationship with Buffy is actually not really all that normal, they still go demon hunting on date nights.
But then again, normal is relative and probably doesn’t really exist. Buffy has her own issues too, not least of all dealing with her seemingly fatal but undeniable attraction to certain vampires.
All relationships are unique and everyone has some kind of baggage. Do what works for you and your partner in relationships. Address problems head on when they arise. There are no cookie-cutter answers out there.
Pining over your ex isn’t healthy
When adorable high school sweethearts Oz and Willow break up in season 4, Willow is left devastated. Oz leaves town after cheating on her with a fellow werewolf and losing control over his own wolf abilities.
Despite her blossoming relationship with Tara, Willow continues to pine for Oz and holds out hope that they may reunite. In doing so, Willow holds herself back from truly experiencing how great her relationship with Tara could be. Willow also does Tara a disservice by making her feel like a stand-in.
Eventually, when Oz does return to Sunnydale, Willow chooses Tara over him but not without causing lots of angst in the process. Ultimately, Willow is only able to heal a lot of her emotional trauma by letting people into her life, letting go of the past and moving on.
In season 5 of Angel, the spinoff show’s titular broody vampire with a soul and Spike aka blondie bear (now also a vampire with a soul) head to Rome in search of Buffy. Both vamps love her and can’t let go of their past individual relationships with The Slayer.
Andrew informs Angel and Spike that while Buffy cares for them both, she’s moved on. She is dating someone new and trying to live her life. Spike and Angel feel dejected and go back to LA. Both allow themselves to be tortured by the absence of Buffy in their lives and suffer from a profound inability to let it go.
Both of these situations (and countless others in the series) illustrate that holding on the past keeps you from enjoying what is right in front of you in the present.
Lies will eventually catch up with you
Telling the truth in relationships isn’t always easy. It could start with smaller and seemingly innocuous lies (or omissions of truth), like Anya and Xander’s inability to be honest with each other about what drives them each crazy.
Eventually lies can become larger and all consuming in a relationship, such as when Willow used magic on Tara to erase memories of their fights.
Or sometimes in Buffyverse (and life) entire relationships can become based on lies, like Spike’s robotic sex toy, Buffybot. The robot’s primary function which is just a cheap knock off of the real thing and based on Spike’s inability to admit his true feelings for Buffy.
In short when we’re less than honest with our partners and ourselves, our relationships will suffer and all parties involved will be impacted. It’s better to be as honest as you can be, talk to your partner about what’s going on and where you’re at.
Like the best mom in the universe, Joyce Summers (probably) always said, honesty is the best policy.
Do you have a favorite life message that was cloaked in demons and vampire lore on the show? What did Buffyverse teach you about life and love?
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