Our first love hits us hard. The intensity of the emotion, the hunger for their body, the agony when it ends. Feeling like you will never find something that compares.
Sally Rooney’s Normal People has been devoured by readers since its publication in 2018 and now the new BBC adaptation has reignited that hunger in audiences all over. Starring Daisy Edgar-Jones as Marianne and Paul Mescal as Connell, Normal People follows the turbulent on-off relationship of the two young people from Sligo through their adolescence in the slow-paced rural west of Ireland and through candle-lit dinner parties and literature seminars at Trinity College Dublin. Marianne and Connell come and go from each other’s lives, seeing each other with different partners, and sitting empathetic in the background while the other gets on with their life.
There’s a lot to say of Normal People (neck chain, just saying) but I think what it teaches us the most about relationships is sometimes loving someone is accepting that you have to let them live without you.
A lot of romantic fiction gets it wrong. It’s desperate. You chase that love. You borderline stalk. You hold on with all your might until the toxicity becomes an ocean of poison increasing ever wider between you and that person. Normal People doesn’t celebrate indifference but it celebrates individualism and pursuing your own path even if that means leaving your loved one to pursue a different one. It seems to believe in if it’s meant to be, they’ll come back to you. And maybe they will. But maybe love is also accepting the fact that they don’t have to. That person exists in the world beyond you and sometimes your love for them is respecting that their personal journey might not align with yours.
There’s a purity to the love between Marianne and Connell:
It doesn’t feel like this with other people.
The ferocity of those sex scenes is frankly dangerous during a lockdown. The intensity of emotion. The empathy between them like the nearest thing to agape you’ll probably ever see on screen. The serenity of falling asleep together in completely separate countries with the webcam playing between you. Marianne and Connell are a palpable reminder that the most intense loves might not be the ones that stay around. And that’s okay.
They also remind us that love can help us heal. Let’s not pretend that romantic love can solve all the issues in the world. Romantic love is not a substitution for therapy, but it can empower us to help ourselves and seek professional help. Marianne’s issues with her family or Connell’s issues with mental health are bolstered by their ardent and frankly goals (yes, I just said that) support of each other. They give each other the space to make their own mistakes but return to pick up the pieces without judgement when it’s needed.
Normal People displays for audience the kind of love you might only ever experience once in your life. Or the kind that some people never experience. It’s a blessing, it’s a curse, it’s a torture. It’s a painful, complicated, messy outpouring of human potential and vulnerability. It’s exquisite and it’s mind-blowingly relatable. It’s normal.