Warning: this article includes spoilers for the Netflix series Sex/Life.
The allure of Hollywood is that it transports us to an alternate reality. A place that reflects our own human experiences but with a little more drama and glamor — a more attractive mirror to the self.
The series “Sex/Life” on Netflix is a prime example of Hollywood’s take on family, marriage, and pining over the past. Overall, it nails a lot of the experiences of marriage and divorce, just dressed up.
Along with the typical themes of monogamy and identity after children, Sex/Life dives into the realities of parenting and dating post-divorce.
But should the lessons from the show be used as a roadmap for navigating your own marriage or divorce?
Here are my thoughts on what the show gets right and what should be left behind.
What Sex/Life Gets Right
The Dangers of Dishonesty
The meat of Sex/Life centers around a hidden past – namely, the profoundly passionate relationship that our protagonist, Billie, had before her marriage. She never discloses this relationship to her husband, Cooper, and once he finds out that she still pines for her ex, Brad, it sets off a chain of events that ultimately results in their divorce.
So did they divorce because Billie never told Cooper about Brad?
As with most divorce, the demise of the relationship can’t be reduced to one event. But the general lack of communication is a major red flag. As Billie and Cooper navigate their divorce, it becomes more apparent that much was left to discuss throughout their marriage.
While Sex/Life doesn’t overtly identify it, it’s a classic cautionary tale against keeping secrets from your spouse and how even one omission can set the stage for a dishonest relationship.
Pre and Post-Divorce Fragility
One of the show’s merits is that it doesn’t gloss over the realities of the emotions experienced before, during, and after divorce. We even get an entire episode dedicated to the day of the divorce and Billie’s coping with her failed marriage.
As she signs the divorce papers, she reflects, “Suddenly, eight years of marriage is reduced to property, settlements, and schedules. All those moments that we treasured together, who will get them?”
We also see Billie navigate parenting as a divorcee and the conversations it forces with her children, who are too young to understand the gravity of the situation.
And then there’s Cooper, who in the aftermath of the divorce, goes off the rails (to put it lightly). Cooper’s wild night out and subsequent car wreck might be Hollywood’s dramatic interpretation of a “boys gone wild” divorce party, but the emotions are still accurate.
Overall, the show nails the raw emotions sparked by divorce. Just maybe leave the ill-advised coping strategies to the actors.
Co-Parenting & Dating Post-Divorce
While the parenting angle is virtually absent from Season 1 (seriously, Olga deserves a raise), we get a deeper glimpse into Billie and Cooper’s attempts at balancing parenting and separation in Season 2.
We watch Billie struggle to maintain a new relationship and be realistic with her partner about what it means to be a mother and a girlfriend. When she finally introduces this other side of herself to her new boyfriend, it doesn’t work out, confirming that single-parenting and dating take work and an emotionally intelligent partner to meet you halfway.
On the co-parenting front, Billie and Cooper experience a lot of the typical back-and-forth, including how and when it’s appropriate to introduce new partners to your children, and how to physically be present for your kids when you feel like you can hardly show up for yourself. They may arrive at a resolution a little quicker than the typical couple, but on the whole, it’s a solid reflection of the difficulties associated with parenting together but separately.
What Sex/Life Gets Wrong
Acting on Impulses
I’d be the first to admit that it would make for a pretty boring show if none of the characters acted impulsively. Having said that, do not – I repeat, do not – apply even half of these plot lines to your real life.
Ducking out on your spouse for an entire evening to visit an ex-boyfriend in the city? Bad.
Showing up to your spouse’s ex’s private residence to talk about your relationship? Just no.
Going on a cocaine-fueled post-divorce bender? Probably shouldn’t.
I’ll admit it makes for good drama, but in the real world, being highly reactive is a great way to set your life on fire. If you’re feeling deep unhappiness or dissatisfaction, it will save you a lot of time and heartache to have the tough conversations with your spouse first.
The Concept of “One Big Love”
It’s a familiar Hollywood trope that we all know and love. It’s also a little dangerous. Season 2 ends on a happy note with Billie marrying Brad (and oh hey, there’s a baby on the way!)
With this ending, it seems that every reckless choice that Billie made was for the greater good, the pursuit of her one true love, Brad.
Look, marriage isn’t always going to be easy. And there are a lot of good reasons to get a divorce. But getting swept up in daydreams of leaving your spouse for a past flame (who is married with a baby by the time we get through Season 2) should probably be kept to just that — a daydream — in the absence of any constructive dialogue with your significant other.
I congratulate those that have found their “one big love.” And maybe Billie is right when she says, “When you choose who you spend your life with, you’re also choosing who you want to be in the world. But you can’t make that choice until you know who you are…” implying that she didn’t fully understand her identity when she married Cooper. But in the real world, blowing up your life for the concept of your one true love is less likely to end in Billie’s happily ever after.
Sex/Life is a fun (and spicy) account of the realities of marriage, divorce, and pining for what was. While it may take a dramatic and, at times, unrealistic Hollywood spin on relationships, it does a good job of walking the viewer through the human experience attached to, well, sex and life.
In the end, there are valuable lessons to be gleaned: always come to your relationships from a place of honesty, know when to respect yourself and walk away, and of course, do not drive a sports car at high speed after going on a drug and alcohol-fueled binge.