I love The West Wing. I’d gladly name a daughter Ainsley if I could find a man who would let me. (Ainsley means “Anne’s lea,” which is a great reference for this St. Anne loving lady. Ainsley Claire, tell me that isn’t a lovely name. And it lets me name a daughter after St. Anne and St. Clare; it’s a win.) I love the character development and the camaraderie between the show’s characters. One of my favorite things about the show is the relationship between Josh Lyman and Donna Moss.
Josh knows that Donna is almost always the most competent
woman person in the room. (Except when Margaret or Abbey are in the room; those women get it done.) He knows her strengths and her weaknesses, and he knows how to use them-for better or worse. He doesn’t always take her seriously, but he always respects and values her opinions when it matters. When the chips are down, Josh is there for Donna. He’s not a perpetual white knight or a saint in a stained glass window. He makes fun of every guy she even considers dating. He teases her about all sorts of things. He mocks the fact that she’s from Wisconsin. When he’s angry with her, he makes sure that she knows it, and he is not fair to her or kind. Basically, he’s a normal angry person.
There is a point in the show where Josh feels that Donna has broken his trust. Now, he made some mistakes that led to this situation, but angry people are seldom reasonable. He chooses to overlook how he may have contributed to the situation. However, he does look at how much he misses Donna. He is honest about how valuable she was to him. But he’s hurt, and he feels betrayed. So he pushes her away. That’s not ideal or desirable, but it is realistic.
Josh doesn’t always understand his assistant/friend/life support, and I think that’s part of the beauty of the relationship. Donna is a little bit crazy, and that’s why I both like her and relate to her. Josh doesn’t expect to understand Donna all the time-or even much of the time, and after a certain point, she doesn’t expect that of him either. That’s real life, after all. Your partner doesn’t always understand you, and they’re likely to tease you once they know you well.
Similarly, Donna understands Josh better than he understands himself. (To be fair, I’m not really sure that he understands himself at all. Let’s look at how long it took him to realize that he was interested in Donna if we need evidence.) She knows what he needs and how to help him succeed. She continues trying to help him even when he rejects her help. And if he pushes her away, she finds other ways or other people to help him in her stead.
There’s something I find really appealing about this relationship. (And it’s not just the Vaseline-screen romance of a fictional story.) I love the give and take, the banter of this relationship. These are two flawed human beings who are trying their best to do the right thing with their lives. In the context of the various stages of their relationship, that means that they’re trying to do what is best for one another as much as possible.
It doesn’t always work out, and at times, they don’t treat each other in the best way. But for the most part, they respect one another, and they want what’s best for the other. Yes, Josh can be selfish. Donna can be petty when she’s irked. They’re human; the show makes that remarkably clear to the viewer. But it’s a realistic relationship.
When I look at the fictional relationships I enjoy from modern television, I see realistic relationships. Josh and Donna are flawed humans who try to do their best. They’re fun. They’re witty. They’re real. And I love it.
But more than that, I want it. I want that relationship.
Except…I really want to be Donna with Josh’s job. I really do. But that’s a different post.