“Grey’s Anatomy” makes my marriage work

Before I met my husband, my only doctor "friends" were on TV. Now the show gives me insight into his life in the ER

Topics: Saved By Pop Culture, Life stories,

"Grey's Anatomy" makes my marriage workEllen Pompeo and Patrick Dempsey in "Grey's Anatomy"

I didn’t set out to marry a doctor. If you’d asked during my Match.com days, I would have told you I didn’t even like doctors. They’re bossy, skeptical, self-important and weirdly nervous about feelings. They’re always sure they know more about your body than you do — and they’re only sometimes right. Also, they have bad taste in shoes.

When I moved to Seattle in my late 20s, I told myself I was ready to look for a mate, a viable life partner. I then proceeded to fall for an illegal Canadian alien, a 22-year-old, a married man, a more-or-less married man, and a guy who lived in Kansas. A woman I’d met at a neighborhood cafe hypothesized over coffee that doctors make “the best mates,” but I had my doubts.

The only physicians in my life were the one at the women’s clinic and the ones on “Grey’s Anatomy,” which I’d taken to watching on DVD in obsessive late-night marathons around the time I turned 30. Like any other writer (and, at the time, filmmaker) I was intrigued by the interpersonal dynamics and the minutiae — why did surgeons look down on everyone else? Why were doctors so lackadaisical about condom use? Why didn’t they ever lock the supply closet when they went there to have sex? Taking my cue from the surgical residents themselves, I’d stay up into the wee hours. But instead of trying to chase down the best surgeries, I was trying to chase away my loneliness, my heartache, my worry that I’d never get married and have a baby.

Wary as I was of actual doctors, I lusted after the fictional physicians of Seattle Grace Hospital the way a barista lusts after the perfect espresso pull or a Pacific Northwest cat lusts after just-caught salmon. I loved perfect-haired Dr. McDreamy as much as the next person, but honestly — male, female, resident, attending — it didn’t matter. If they could stay up all night having crazy sex and then perform successful heart or brain surgery on a toddler the next morning, I wanted them. Sure, they were bossy — but to each other, not to me — and they talked about their feelings quite a bit. Even when they announced they didn’t want to talk about their feelings, they sat together silently, clearly processing their feelings, which was almost as good. They were smart, sexy, a little wild and a lot sassy — who cared what their shoes looked like?

That said, they didn’t strike me as “the best mates.” They were always at work, always thinking about work, and always wanting to work. Plus, they didn’t have the best track record, fidelity-wise.

The show’s debut coincided with my move into one of Seattle’s federally subsidized low-income artist-housing units. Most of the men I met in my job as a part-time filmmaking instructor and at social functions in our building wore Utilikilts or had Asperger’s syndrome or claimed to be “born polyamorous” — or often all three. I wanted to branch out but didn’t want to necessarily have to go out. God bless the Internet. I could spend my evenings at home in my favorite leggings with my “Grey’s Anatomy” “friends” while my online profile did all the loathsome small talk and weeded out the least suitable suitors.

Given my paltry income, lack of health insurance, tendency to need therapy, and love of all things Anthropologie, I probably should have been dreaming about marrying a real-life McDreamy, but it didn’t occur to me — certainly not consciously. Trader Joe’s Three Buck Chuck wine suited me fine, and I enjoyed making art from junk I found on the street or purchased for 69 cents at Goodwill. Being “Mrs. Dr. Somebody” was not on my radar.

When I met the man who would become my husband, I didn’t know he was a doctor. His profile was brief and vague and revealed only that he had an advanced degree and had attended a Montessori preschool. From one of his pictures in hiking boots and cargo shorts on some sort of large hill, I guessed he might be a high school science teacher — the kind with a fondness for slightly-too-long nature walks and an endearing overappreciation of the life cycle of the fruit fly.

Had I known he was a doctor, there’s a chance I wouldn’t have ever agreed to go out with him. I’d met up for drinks and snacks with a doctor once, only to discover that I would be drinking and snacking solo because the doctor ate (and drank) on an every-other-day schedule ever since he’d read a study in which rats who were fed this way lived longer.

The Montessori guy took me out for a picnic dinner — of which we both partook — and at some point between the BLTs and homemade lavender shortbread I coaxed out of him the fact that he was an academic emergency medicine doctor. “Like in ‘Grey’s Anatomy’!” I chirped, displaying my vast knowledge of the American medical establishment. He was quick to inform me it’s “not like that at all.”

Of course not! A real neurosurgeon would need a nap between the crazy sex and the brain surgery.

Then it dawned on me that this guy might be my own personal Dr. McDreamy. It didn’t matter what a teaching hospital is like on television — this guy could be my own personal portal. The longer we dated, the more I would learn about the interpersonal dynamics and the minutiae.

I’d always thought my feelings of distaste for doctors was mutual. They always seem stubbornly wary of my stubborn wariness — as if by declining their samples of Prozac and asking for a recommendation for an acupuncturist, I’m calling into question the foundation of their livelihood. Which I only sort of am. But this doctor wanted to keep seeing me — over and over.

Even though he’s bossy and weirdly nervous about feelings and argues with me when I claim to have a symptom of something (You don’t have a migraine, just a tension headache… You’re not getting a cold — you’re probably just tired… You’re not PMSing — you’re just insane), I fell in love. Three years (and one baby) later, I still know almost nothing about what it’s like to be a doctor. It turns out that working in the E.R. all day is as exhausting as it looks on TV, and the last thing you want to do when you come home is to talk about it — especially about how you feel about it. Is it really that hard to tell someone they have cancer? Is it really that gross to disimpact someone’s bowel? These questions do not need to be asked. But there is a distance between my doctor husband and me — a distance created by the psychological difficulty of telling someone they’re rapidly dying, the terror of pulling a knife out of someone’s skull, the profound sadness of the heroin addicts, the entrenched alcoholics, the inexorable march of time. I want to know about these things, what it feels like to be immersed in them every day, but I’ve learned to hold my tongue — not because it’s the “right” thing to do but because peppering my husband with questions gets me nowhere good. When he comes home from what’s obviously been a hard day, I now offer him a drink and suggest — not unkindly — he go to bed early. I then don my favorite leggings and curl up on the couch to watch some other Seattle doctors provide a portal into my husband’s life. And sometimes the next morning over a cup of strong coffee he tells me what’s on his mind — unasked. The best kind of mate.

Wilson Diehl has an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Iowa and teaches writing at Hugo House in Seattle. You can read more of her work at www.NotQuiteWhatIExpected.net.

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>