Chances are, if you have watched the trailer for the second season of Downton Abbey eight times, you may be: A. an anglophile (who wouldn’t mind being a servant if it meant you could have that accent); B. an interior designer (for whom the show’s décor produces more rapture than its plotlines); or C. undergoing a heartbreak. Do I need to confess here that I am neither an anglophile nor an interior designer?
Before entering the late Edwardian halls of Downton Abbey, where I found unexpected solace for my solitude, I hadn’t realized just how unhelpful our times were to heartbreak, in particular how much less drawn male heartbreak is than its female counterpart. Where I had sought counsel online, the messages were shallow and feminine. (Get a makeover! Have some sister time!) In magazines and books, a consumerist view of loss dominated. My buyer’s remorse, as it were, would pass, soon to be replaced with a new version—as if love were an iPhone and not a singular person I had begun to imagine at the end of all stories. In the meantime, one friend suggested a time-tested catharsis for romance gone awry: “tweeting” through the seven stages of grief.
More and more, it seemed that, given its introspective rigor, the experience of heartbreak suffered from a modern aversion to deep reflection.
Right before my Downton discovery, I found myself in an empty theater, waiting for a movie about heartbreak to begin. A woman entered and chose a seat one row behind me. After a few minutes, she called out, “Are you here alone?”
I turned, unsure whether she was addressing me or the voices in her head. “Oh, mm-hm,” I nodded.
“You’re not waiting for anyone?” Please, I thought, ask me another question to confirm my singleness.
“No,” I smiled.
“Wow.” Sensing my bafflement, she explained, “It’s just that I couldn’t drag my husband to this movie.”
“Oh no?” I asked, wondering what she was implying. “Maybe if you threw in dinner?” I joked.
“No way. I mean, this is sort of a chick flick. Well, not sort of.”
When the lights dimmed, I tried to focus on the film, but her comment lodged in my mind. Since when had facing love’s questions, if they were faced at all, become the exclusive domain of women?
It wasn’t long after my theater incident that I stopped calling friends, writing emails, communicating much at all. I sank into a murk that was at least as companionably quiet as it was dark. Out of this retreat from the world came the world of Downton.