The last time I obsessed over a boy, there was no Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. There were only telephones and all you could do was stare at them. I thought staring at the phone would make it ring. We all did. Now, the options for stalking and obsessing are endless. I’m not sure how anyone does their homework or gets a job when it’s so easy to spend your time tracking and following a crush. When you’re in the throes of an obsession, it must seem logical to spend the whole day checking the list of who liked your crush’s Instagram post or to scramble around Facebook looking up his last five exes to see if they look better in a bikini than you do. When Rachel Bloom and I began working on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, we regaled each other for hours with stories of the unwise things we had done for love, especially the loves that had rejected us. It was the ones who got away (or in the case of my husband, tried to get away and failed) who were particularly compelling. We both had vivid memories of all the ex-boyfriend scheming we had done and the lies we had told ourselves to justify those schemes. Those memories formed much of the basis for our show. In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rebecca Bunch (played by Rachel) takes this kind of obsessive behavior to an extreme, but the truth is, we have never found her actions to be all that exaggerated. We’ve all done seriously dumb things for love, haven’t we? When we pitched the show, we were amazed when every meeting turned into a confessional. People were eager to tell us the shocking, silly, outrageous things they had done during various courtships. One executive described in detail a tattoo of a tiger on her back, gotten to commemorate her freedom after a terrible breakup. In all these stories, people talked about feeling out of control. When you are in love and especially when you are spurned by love, your body is coursing with powerful chemicals, ones that control your behavior in ways you know are not rational. We all know that, on some level, love makes you at least a little crazy.
Our lead character, Rebecca, has no rational reason for being so drawn to her obsession, Josh Chan. Sure, he’s kind and handsome, but it’s a deeper, more irrational urge calling out from her to him —the hope that her childhood wounds will be fixed by who she imagines him to be (hence the boy band song where she envisions him singing that he will solve all her childhood traumas.) Rebecca’s infatuation is exacerbated by her many unresolved psychological issues — depression, anxiety, obsessive tendencies — that make her particularly susceptible to getting on the love roller coaster. On some level, Rebecca knows that Josh Chan is not really worthy of her focussed attention. That’s part of what makes her obsession so relatable. How many times have you looked back on someone you would have leapt off a cliff for and thought, Really? What was I thinking? Our culture is always telling us how critically important love is — in songs, books, movies, TV shows — it’s always presented and marketed as our ultimate happy ending. Women, especially, are taught to see life as a story that ends with romantic completion — a kiss, a wedding, a happily ever after. But love is not an answer or a cure-all for anyone and especially not for Rebecca. No man will ever “fix” her. As one of our characters tells her, “It’s not the guys!” Josh Chan is not a solution. He’s an object, an oasis, a totem. On some level, Rebecca knows this. And still, she struggles to let go. At some point we all, just like Rebecca, have to look past the easy solutions offered by fairy tales and love songs. We have to do the tough work of figuring out what makes us happy, who we are, how to be a good person, and how to be useful in the world. That work is hard to do. It’s tempting, and maybe somehow comforting, to sit by the phone — or nowadays, the screen — and hope for someone to come along and sweep us away into a fantasy where love makes our problems disappear.
Aline Brosh McKenna is the executive producer and co-creator of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. She is also a screenwriter whose credits include The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses, and Morning Glory.