As a sucker for goofballs and grand gestures, I’ve been rooting for Kate and Toby’s relationship from the start. I’ve been a massive fan of Toby’s gigantic wit and gigantic, if somewhat defective, heart since we met him at that support group all those weeks ago. In fact, that only thing I don’t like about Toby is the curlicue nestled atop his bald spot, but let’s not get into the foibles of male aging.
Throughout season 1 of This Is Us, Toby has brought a spark into Kate’s life. Like a puppy who hasn’t been properly house trained, his relentless enthusiasm has forced Kate to budge from her “set in her ways” ways. She’s allowed drops of vulnerability to pierce her rough exterior, and he’s occasionally been serious enough to have a real conversation. Overall, Kate and Toby have taken significant steps towards long-term coupledom.
Watching last week’s episode of This Is Us, however, I experienced the first real pangs of apprehension for the viability of this pair’s future. At last, the show broached the subject of how Toby and Kate can fix their struggling relationship. Alas, I fear Kate and Toby’s measures to strengthen their relationship is equivalent to putting a bandaid on a broken arm, and here’s why.
Ever since their hasty engagement following Toby’s heart surgery, the couple’s been experiencing a tumultuous patch of miscommunication and gestures gone awry. From Toby’s incredibly awkward drumming to Kate’s decision to leave Toby in New York, I kept waiting for someone to bring up the obvious: there’s trouble in paradise.
Finally, the conversation reared its head after Kate sent Toby packing from her wooded retreat, Yes! I thought. Communication time.
They’ve been through this communication clean-up circuit before. Usually, Toby will be earnest (and somewhat irritating), Kate will be snappy, Toby will retreat with raised eyebrows, Kate will apologize and say she wasn’t popular growing up, rinse and retreat.
So, once again, they decide to strengthen their relationship through talking. And how does one save an engagement in the show This Is Us? Easy: by playing a game that middle schoolers play under the covers during a sleepover.
Truth be told, I was cringing while watching Kate and Toby fling important questions at each other while shopping for flamboyant suits. They’ve already gotten engaged, and Kate is just now getting around to asking whether Toby wants kids? She’s just now learning the details of his mental health struggles following his first marriage?
For a minute there, the show seemed to be suggesting that playing a game of 20 Questions while shopping was an adequate means of preparing for marriage.
That’s why I was so relieved when Toby — quite wisely — took his foot off the acceleration pedal towards the aisle. Although I will say: timing, dude! Why not wait until after the show to say he wanted to hold off on getting married?
Kate and Toby’s relationship is moving from honeymoon land to the time when real work, sacrifice, and soul-searching must be done. But the real “getting to know you” process, the important lead-up to marriage, doesn’t happen with random questions. It happens through accumulated dates and days on the couch, petty arguments and grand gestures, figuring out which perfume makes him sneeze and her favorite Sunday morning routines. It happens through time.
To everyone’s relief, Toby acknowledged that he and Kate have not reached the level of intimacy necessary to have a life together that doesn’t resemble a small fishing boat in the middle of the Atlantic.
While they have the chemistry for a great relationship, they haven’t yet achieved the familiarity for a great marriage. And only time will tell if they do.