No spoilers but watch Season 3 right now anyway.
Sex is a lot now. It’s aggressive porn and it’s mainstream TV. It’s a 5am blow job request via dating app. It’s so casual that actual dates are a bigger cultural deal than allowing a human being naked in your bed. Present-day sex carries with it the expectation that, consensually speaking, we should all be cool with doing whatever and whoever and if anything about that sounds scary there’s something wrong, or at least very prudish, about you.
Then summer 2019 showed up and so did Stranger Things Season 3 and Mike and Eleven reminded me of a time before boys stuck their tongues in my mouth. This season of television is a life phase worth revisiting. Zombies and all.
We love Mike and Eleven because they’re falling in love when things were easy, when they were simple. When saying, “I wish I was still with you,” 30 seconds after a boy rides his bike home from your house wasn’t a horrifyingly needy thing to say that would punish you by making sure you never heard from him again. Mike and Eleven are sweet, comforting teenage romance and if you’re a member of Dick Pic Nation they’re going to make you very happy.
They’re kissing. Literally just kissing and holding hands and fighting monsters. Kid stuff. They’re making me think about a time when I looked forward to kissing boys. A really simple time when that’s all there was to it and there was a kind of safety in exploring the way I felt about a person because sexual pressure wouldn’t even enter my mind for years to come. And at 37, after years of mediocre dating app sex I’ve gotta tell you I don’t think I want to let a man close to me until he makes me look forward to kissing—literally just kissing—the way they do on Stranger Things.
I miss the not-sex parts of dating. I miss entering a room and seeing someone I like, who feels the same about me. I miss looking forward to seeing a person, I miss actually missing someone. And while I’m single and really do have all of the early stage relationship stuff to still look forward to, a sci-fi period piece on Netflix recently reiterated to me that I won’t settle for anything less than the electric, consuming attraction I felt for members of the opposite sex before I was old enough to vote.
Mike and Eleven crave each other without sex, but also without caution. I miss the honesty and emotion of dating without caution. Eleven’s not worried about telling Mike how much she likes him because she’ll “scare him away,” (the kid has seen actual scary shit anyway), and Mike is scared to tell Eleven he loves her not because he assumes she’ll become too needy and attached to him but instead because…wait for it…he’s 14.
I hate assigning the word “innocent” to pre-sex dating, because there’s no guilt that should be assigned to post-sex dating. Maybe simple and playful are better words to describe the time in my life when the highlight of my evening was holding someone’s hand. When getting a letter from a boy from summer camp was everything. When the ultimate sign that a boy liked you was he gave you his baseball hat. I don’t want to feel so distant from those feelings just because I’m getting older and everyone talks about eating ass now.
It really boils down to fun. I wish dating was still fun. I wish there was an element of it I looked forward to, I wish I didn’t have to approach it like it might explode into a fireball in front of me at any given moment. Dating as an adult is punishing. It’s a lot of effort and disappointment and longing that never seem to be proven wrong. At least not for me and the women I connect with. At least not yet.
I’m grateful to Stranger Things for reminding me what it was like when boys and dating were fun. I know we all still have that inside us somewhere. The Duffer Brother’s certainly do. And I don’t want to watch something like this show and think that the fun and sweetness of teenage romance are about as likely as the Upside Down being real. I don’t want to be that beaten down, that void of magic. But I will tell you this, if it’s going to take the presence of a Mind Flayer to connect me back to the fun I used to have in dating, bring on that asshole, too.