The Runner

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Happy “Gilmore Girls” revival day everyone! “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” is finally up and ready for streaming on Netflix, and I don’t know about you, but I’m going to take my time watching it. It’s something that deserves to be savored.

All of this recent obsessing about the show I religiously watched in 6th grade has got me thinking. Everyone has their favorite GG character and although I believe Lorelei is my true spirit animal, my favorite character on the show will always be Jess Mariano.

Jess was Luke’s “troubled” nephew who came to live with him in the second season. He was dark and snarky. He was secretly smart and liked obscure autobiographies and hippie bands. He stole the baseball team’s baseballs once! Despite his faults, Jess was intriguing. He was cool and he made Rory fall in love with him.

And that is how he ruined my life.

OK, I’ll explain.

Jess is a perfectly imperfect character. From the moment we meet him we know there is much more to him than the Bender-like kid who steals a beer from Lorelei’s fridge. In fact, Jess never really does any criminal activity while in Stars Hollow. He’s more of an attitude than anything else. A misunderstood dude who’s looking for someone to notice him and break through his hard exterior. His is the classic “bad boy” narrative and it’s unfortunately my favorite narrative.

When I was younger I often related to Rory. She was smart and fun but also safe and practical. She loved reading and wanted to be a journalist. She was shy in school and although she was driven she also doubted her own abilities. I didn’t realize until recently, though, that the Rory of the past is really me now.

Lately in my adult life I feel more misunderstood and naive than I ever was as a teenager. I’ve recently felt like I’m not cool enough; that I don’t have the wherewithal to play with the Jess of the world. I have boughts of anxiety and that feverish disapproving of my parents in my head.

My constant struggle with being the moral, upright good girl that did everything right—going to school, getting a good job, trying to do the right thing—makes me susceptible to Jess-type boys. And we need to refer to them as boys here as they are not yet grown into fully realized men. I tend to fall for the Jess. The boys that are broken. Because I want to help them and grown with them like Rory tried doing with Jess.

I’d argue for “Team Jess” because he was Rory’s intellectual match in every way. He was much smarter than he ever led on. I fall for those guys—the ones who don’t let their friends see how observant they are; the ones who are independent and do everything on their own; the ones who are so sweet when the two of you are alone that it’s almost sick; the ones who hold your hand in public because they want everyone to see the two of you together.

The problem, however, with those guys is that they run. From everything. They’re so great. They make you feel things you didn’t think you’d ever be capable of feeling and then they disappear. They disappear and somehow you always feel like it’s your fault. You feel like you did something that made them bolt.

And what makes them so unforgettable is the mystery they leave behind. Rory drove herself crazy trying to figure Jess out in those early years of the show. And when they did finally get together she was happy. And she never saw his disappearance coming. He left Stars Hollow and her without even saying a word. Not even a token goodbye. Ah, ghosting. The ultimate runner move.

When runners don’t say goodbye it leaves you trying to write the rest of their story. What’s going on inside their head? What makes them so damaged that they can’t connect to me? Why couldn’t he tell me what was really bothering him? Jess didn’t know how to deal with his problems. He was confused about his dad. He didn’t graduate from high school. He didn’t feel like he belonged anywhere.

He certainly didn’t feel like he belonged in Rory’s world, which is, in my experience, why a guy runs. Rather than admitting that you scare him, he’d rather run and not look back. They’d rather not have you at all than have to tell you about their family issues and their lack of high school diplomas because they think you’ll judge them. He’s afraid you’re just too good for him and that problem on its own is far too big and scary to deal with.

So they run.

My world is severely mutilated because of a Jess that ran from me. I can’t stop myself from wanting the idea of him. Because on some level, perfectly imperfect is the most attractive thing in the universe. Wanting to save somebody who is damaged and afraid to admit it just makes the Rory in me come out and that caring nature is hard to put away, even when you’re the one who is constantly being hurt by it.

It took Jess a while to stop running. In season 4 of the show he returned to declare his love for Rory and asked her to runaway with him. Another example of his immaturity toward adult relationships. Rory turned him down, but my guess is that she probably wanted to be with him. Believe that he would never run again. I would have gone with Jess. I have no shame in admitting it, either.

Jess returned in season 6 two separate times, serving as a much different force in Rory’s life. He appears first to tell her he’s written a book and couldn’t have done it without her; a sign of his maturing over time. However, he runs again after meeting Logan, who he disapproves of for Rory. And he’s right. Logan was just another kind of runner who Rory was desperately attracted to and trying to save.

The last time we see Jess in the series he’s invited Rory to a release party for his book at the publishing house he started with some buddies. Now Rory can see that Jess did become something. He did eventually stop running and became somebody he was happy with. But by that time Rory was so far down the Logan rabbit hole that she turned him down one final time. Because us Rory girls tend to make horrible choices in who we fall for.

I’m most excited for the revival to see who Jess has become since then. What became of the Stars Hollow bad boy who ran away from the one person who cared about him the most?

And that challenges the question that is always on my mind: What happens to the runners? The boys that hold your heart in their hands and then drop it because they’re convinced they can’t handle caring for it. I have such strong, blind faith in the runner. Even when I know he’ll never be able to love me like I love him.

I just need to know that runners grown up to be good.

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