Netflix’s ‘Sex/Life’ wants us to pity a woman with a perfect life who misses her toxic ex. It’s hard.

Netflix’s ‘Sex/Life’ wants us to pity a woman with a perfect life who misses her toxic ex. It’s hard.

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Netflix’s soapy new drama “Sex/Life,” which premieres Friday amid America’s (supposedly) post-pandemic summer, is equal parts amusing and enraging. In it, suburban housewife Billie Connelly (Sarah Shahi) is feeling trapped and revisiting her choice to leave her past as a sexually open single girl behind for a more traditional life as a rich man’s wife.

The Covid-19 pandemic, after all, laid bare just how tenuous modern life has become, and its impact on women’s lives — from our presence in the workplace to the impossible pressure of motherhood — was devastating.

Although divorce rates reportedly dropped over the past year, anecdotal evidence suggests it wasn’t because everybody fell more in love with their partners.

Never mind “having it all” — can I even have, like, a vaguely fulfilling life?

Then there are those of us who spent the past year unpartnered, who either forswore dating altogether or took our chances (hopefully, mostly) in that brave new world of Zoom cocktails and the sort of prolonged courtships that would have exasperated even Jane Austen.

As the latter — I spent the pandemic with just me, myself and my two cats — being single and childless during the pandemic was definitely no picnic. The 18 months have been a crucible in which I’ve cooked in my own mental juices and re-examined all of the choices I’ve made in my life and why I made them — and found all of my answers sorely lacking.

Never mind “having it all” — can I even have, like, a vaguely fulfilling life?

But whether you were solo, partnered or otherwise engaged, the pandemic created an opportunity for all of us to mentally revisit our pasts and consider whether we’d make those same choices going forward. So there’s some reason to sympathize with Billie in her little lockdown, albeit one of her own making, albeit the kind most of us would dream of having.

Then there are the reasons not to: Billie reached the summit of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. She traded her wild nights in New York City with her BFF Sasha (Margaret Odette) for chic napping gowns and a luxurious home in Connecticut with a perfectly loving beefcake of a husband, Cooper (Mike Vogel), whose investment banking career makes ethics and innovation profitable. However, our Ivy League-educated heroine is not just any Betty Friedan cliché; when she starts journaling about what she misses most about her previous life, it’s her sex-god ex, Brad (Adam Demos), and his monster appendage rather than her abandoned Ph.D. program.

The question for Billie and Cooper — and for all of us — is whether we can recalibrate our brains and bodies in the aftermath of personal and societal upheaval to respond to feelings of love and safety instead of finding comfort in chaos.

When Cooper stumbles upon her journal, however, his competitive instincts kick in — and Billie realizes she may be able to modify Cooper’s behavior by what she writes, birthing a kind of “subliminal spousal bibliotherapy.”

But of course, things quickly spiral out of Billie’s control, bringing her past into acute tension with her present.

While part of me sneers at the embarrassment of riches Billie’s life offers, it’s also true that the past year has made clear just how important my interpersonal relationships are compared to practically anything else.

While not everyone will relate to the particulars of our heroine’s conundrum — missing sex with a toxic ex while living an otherwise perfect life with someone you love — lots of us do have a toxic-but-hot ex who had an inexplicable hold on us, and we question whether or not we can be satisfied with someone who feels safe, especially if we were raised to feel at home in chaos.

Billie’s belief that she yearns for Brad and his erratic, “bad boy” ways has more to do with well-worn neural pathways that light up when boundaries are crossed than him being somehow “more real” than poor, schmucky Cooper.

Like Cooper, many of us also struggle with the foolishness of comparing ourselves to our lovers’ exes or with toxic partners who explicitly make those comparisons — which can also be a well-worn neural pathway.

And even more of us are questioning monogamy itself as a relationship model, as the popularity of therapist Esther Perel‘s books and podcasts attest.

Plus, there’s a reason why the pumps have been primed for a Hot [Everyone] Summer (and it’s not just because it makes such good copy). We’re all reeling from the trauma of watching hundreds of thousands of people die from a virus — of course we want to get laid! The French don’t refer to orgasms as les petits morts for nothing.

The question for Billie and Cooper — and for all of us — is whether we can recalibrate our brains and bodies in the aftermath of personal and societal upheaval to respond to feelings of love and safety instead of finding comfort in chaos. In the meantime, though, we should probably learn from Billie’s mistakes and be honest with our partners about our so-called slutty pasts (the good ones won’t care, and it’s best to find out if someone’s a terrible partner early), password-protect our computers, go to therapy and read a few books on attachment theory before making any rash decisions about commitment, one way or the other.

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