Binge-watching Netflix, or binge-watching anything really, had never sounded appealing.
But that was before I started writing a book and desperately needed something to distract me from my own brain. So… here came Grace and Frankie to my rescue.
It’s the story of two women knocking 70, played by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, whose husbands (who become ex-husbands) not only came out as gay, but reveal they’d been having an affair for years — with each other. The many diverse characters from both families play out their stories as we watch them struggle with everything from substance abuse to how difficult generational differences can become — and the power of family and real friendships to help face all of that with courage and dignity.
Grace is the quintessential perfectionistic pragmatist, who very successfully started her own company, and who always sports designer wear, fake eyelashes and elegance. Frankie is the anxiety-filled-at-times, warm and loving artist who dances and chants, clothed in Birkenstocks and layers of flowing soft comfort. They form an uneasy at times, but deep relationship, as they both grieve and try to get along with their ex’s while adjusting, building a new life, and facing what age can bring.
Since I was binge-watching, I viewed four seasons in about two weeks. It was like watching their lives in fast forward. And what I saw was a program trying to honestly and at times intensely expose the fears that all of us have about aging and getting older.
You began to see signs that Frankie’s memory was beginning to falter. Her denial, her not wanting to be seen as somehow less than or incompetent, and the confusion of others on how to approach her were issues that many know far too well.
And Grace? Well, Grace has always counted on everything about her life looking perfect. She was struggling ferociously (although of course she did her best to hide it) with physical pain and wrinkles that no amount of Botox could completely erase.
Her insistence on perfection and the actual emptiness of much of her life was shown in many scenes. For example, the two women were sneaking around and checking out their old hubbies’ new home, who were now married. Grace couldn’t stand the positioning of an ottoman. It didn’t follow the rules. “Why is it there? No one puts an ottoman in front of a sofa. It belongs in front of a chair.” She then, rather audaciously, picked it up to move it. But then, a wistful look came over her face. “Wait a minute. They had this stupid ottoman in front of the sofa so that they could sit by each other and put their feet up — together. We never did that.”
Her sadness was palpable.
She put the ottoman back.
But here’s Grace’s most poignant scene of them all – the scene where she has assumed that if she were seen, truly seen, that she wouldn’t be loved or accepted.
She’s been dating a younger man and he wants to move forward in their relationship. She starts crying. “You want to see the real me?” And she begins to yank off those eyelashes and hair extensions, swiping at her make-up with a tear-stained sleeve. “Okay, this is me. This is what you’d be looking at. Do you really want this?” All he does is pick her up, and tenderly take her upstairs, as she leans heavily on his shoulder, spent from such raw emotion.
I felt every one of my 64 years as I watched this. I felt the fear so many feel that their aging will take away their value.
If you’re like Grace, no matter what your age, if you struggle with allowing yourself to open up about who you really are, or something in your life that was or is traumatic or painful, or needing to control everything around you to avoid anxiety, you might want to rethink things. You may need to move out of your head and into your heart, where those painful emotions lie.
I’ll be looking forward to Season Five. But I will have to be ready to face my own fears. Maybe Grace will borrow a little of Frankie’s mojo. And, of course, Frankie will have her own hurdles.
We all do. Every day. And they get more complex as we age.
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Note: The quotes aren’t verbatim but my own recollection of each scene. My apologies to the writers. I also haven’t received any compensation from the Netflix program.
You can hear more about aging and many other topics by listening to Dr. Margaret’s new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford. Subscribe to this website and receive her weekly posts as well as her podcasts, plus Dr. Margaret’s eBook, “Seven Commandments of Good Therapy.”