The Muse (Art & Culture)

Real Love: Rachel and Finn versus Cory and Topanga

So, I’m a very recent convert to the television phenomenon that is Glee–I just got caught up thanks to the Oxygen marathon this past weekend,– but that did not stop me from crying as though Omar Epps had looked me in the eyes and said “double or nothing” when Finn drove Rachel to the train station and set her free to pursue her dreams in tonight’s season finale.

Just in case you’re not a Gleek–that’s what they call us, right?–the series follows the members of a high school glee club as they perform musical numbers and live their teenage lives. Pretty much all of the high school archetypes, as well as a decent mix of the often underrepresented student population, are members: athletes, cheerleaders, gay students, a disabled student, the token (yet ultra-talented and underused) black girl, class leaders, and general outcasts. As a couple, Rachel and Finn are a perfect match from every high schooler’s dreams, the originally invisible girl turned well-respected beauty and the star athlete turned singer and sentimental sweetheart.  Against the wishes of their parents and some of their peers, they are engaged to be married.

In the season finale, Rachel and Finn have plans to move to New York to attend school and pursue their careers in entertainment after graduation. However, in true “musical dramedy” –as Glee is often called–fashion, Rachel gets admitted into her school, but Finn does not get accepted to his. Upon learning this news, Rachel makes plans to defer her acceptance for a year in order to work with Finn to strengthen his application so that he can re-apply to his school the next year, but Finn derails these plans when he drives her to the train station instead of to the location where they are scheduled to elope.

When Rachel inquires about the change of plans, Finn tells Rachel that he wants her to go to New York to pursue her dream and that he loves her too much to let her put her life on hold for him. Cue the violins and pass the Kleenex. Of course, Rachel is shocked and devastated, but she ultimately makes her way to New York without Finn, who has decided to enter the military to honor his father, I think. (I wasn’t really paying too much attention to the back story on the military move; The Heat were playing The Pacers). In an emotional goodbye, Finn expresses confidence in her future and says that if they are meant to be, their paths will cross again.

While I was busy tearing up and tweeting about this selfless act of love in the #gleefinale, I remembered another teenage couple that represented the ultimate love and sacrifice during their time: Cory and Topanga. Just in case you’re not an 80s or 90s baby, or if for whatever reason you were deprived during your childhood, Cory and Topanga were the couple-to-emulate on the hit series Boys Meets World.

In a very similar scenario, Topanga is accepted to Yale, while Cory plans to attend college closer to their home in Philadelphia. After agonizing over and debating their potential separation, during which Cory tells Topanga at least once, if not more, that she should go to Yale because even though he doesn’t want to be apart from her, he wants what is best for her,  Topanga decides to forgo the Ivy League and proposes to Cory on graduation day. “Awwwww.” Right? More like, “Nawww.”

If you watched Boy Meets World, you know that, for a teenager, Topanga has a pattern of making out-of-this-world sacrifices for love. She runs away from her parents  and shows up on Cory’s doorstep soaked by the rain after her family moves to Pittsburgh. Her parents then allow her to live with her aunt for the year so that Cory and Topanga can be together. First, what parents would grant their child such a romantic privilege after she disobeys them? Second, did she walk from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia? Why was she so soaked?

Practical questions aside, while many of us loved Cory and Topanga’s love and secretly wondered if we had overlooked our one true love in the sandbox, as I got older and began to watch the reruns, I began to think about the unrealistic, and in some ways, unhealthy,  messages that the intensity of their teenage romance sent to youth. To be honest, even in the 90s a part of me felt that Cory and Topanga were too close for comfort.

I loved the storyline where Cory met the girl at the cabin and he and Topanga briefly broke up because it finally added some tension to their relationship, and the interloper (whatever her name was) was the only other girl that Cory had seriously considered being with since meeting Topanga as a child. Even then, I knew that clingy wasn’t healthy, especially for teenagers…

I also never liked that Topanga gave up Yale to be with Cory. I thought it sent a horrible message to teenage girls in particular about putting relationships ahead of their personal and professional development. I’m a sucker for love just like everyone else, as evidenced by my Glee tears, but I did not agree with Topanga’s decision to sacrifice a major opportunity just to stay with her childhood boyfriend. Blame it on my inner nerd or my inner hustler, but that just wasn’t a wise decision to me. If anything, I thought that Topanga should have gone to Yale and Cory could have enrolled in a community college or state school in Connecticut.

No offense to those of you who chose or choose to thug-it-out in your long distance relationships after leaving for college, or who actually did marry your childhood sweethearts, and therefore, agree with Topanga’s decision–more power to you. However, we all know the risks involved with that, as well as at least one person who learned the hard way after being in a similar situation.

Still, I was shocked and extremely moved to find that the writers of Glee one-upped the Boy Meets World writers when Finn chose not to give Rachel an option and encouraged her to pursue her dreams. He made the mature and selfless decision that was truly indicative of a man in love. Topping anything Cory ever did for Topanga, Finn loved Rachel enough to let her go and to let her thrive, while he attempted to get his own life together. There are a lot of shows that depict women giving something up or letting something go to be with their men (ahem, The Game), but Finn was man enough to let his woman live her life, and I loved that. He valued and trusted their love enough to let them become the best of themselves individually, before joining their lives together. In a world (or media) that often stresses glitz and romance over responsibility and growth, that, to me, represented the makings of the ideal relationship.

With that said, forget Cory and Topanga, I want a love like Rachel and Finn’s.

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