Last night marked the end of a golden era: Broad City's Ilana and Lincoln — a model for openly casual relationships on cable television — broke up after years of dating.
In the episode, Lincoln (Hannibal Burress), who has been openly seeing another woman, decides that he'd rather be monogamous with the other woman than continue to see Ilana, who had always been vocal about her preference for non-monogamy. He explains to Ilana:
"Listen, Ilana, I love you, but I want to be in a relationship and you want to do other stuff, which is fine. That's cool, but we want different things. So, I've got to move on."
When it hits Ilana that Lincoln doesn't want to see her anymore, she reacts as many do in a stressful situation: by fleeing. It isn't until after she leaves Lincoln that she finds herself in a complete emotional tailspin, inappropriately hitting on passersby and having an ill-advised quickie in a restaurant bathroom. Eventually, she has a full-on public meltdown on the sidewalk. In other words, her casual relationship breakup truly fucks her up.
In a climate of rampant Tinder hookups, polyamory and non-relationships, little is said about what happens when these relationships dissolve. But as Ilana learns, it's not as simple as intuitively knowing that these types of relationships have an expiration date.
Broad City taps into the underlying ugly truth of every liberated, super chill non-relationship: no matter what the title is, the breakup will probably still suck.
There's no "casual" kind of breakup: During the run of the series, Ilana and Lincoln's special relationship had been described by Ilana as "open sex friends, "poly," "purely physical," "a modern day Will and Jada" and "a fuck buddy situation." Here at Mic, we dubbed this kind of non-conforming, non-exclusive pairing of sex and intimacy as a dating partnership — a natural progression for marriage-averse, label-phobic singles who want to get laid, but also want to cuddle.
When Lincoln dumps Ilana and tells her he doesn't want to be friends because "I don't think we're just friends," Ilana declines discussing it any further. She takes the backpack of their shared stuff — books and a cock ring, naturally — and sprints away, but not without first making a fart noise back at Lincoln.
As the day unfolds, Ilana's faux-chillness soon devolves into a mess of tears, emotional outbursts and misguided flirtations.
It's a reality Broad City explores with Ilana and Lincoln's breakup, and it's one I had to navigate myself when my dating partner and I ended things last year. After two years of light-hearted sleepovers, adventurous weekend trips, and tactfully avoiding the DTR convo, my dating partner and I both came to the same conclusion: we wanted to pursue something else.
During our breakup talk, much like Ilana, I felt compelled to be gracious and cavalier about the whole thing, when in reality I felt like crying, diving into my bed for a month and leaving behind nothing but a trail of Doritos dust. Despite not having a hope for a long-term future with my dating partner, I was still losing a long-established companion.
"The world is full of breakups between people that were never actually a thing to begin with," Amy Turner, who's had her fair share of non-relationships, wrote for HelloGiggles. "Of course since nothing was ever properly official, we are expected to be all completely chill about our pseudo-relationships, but before you know it, you find yourself crying into your pillow."
As Turner explained, people can catch the feels regardless of the type of relationship that they're in. Setting limitations on the relationship — no exclusivity, no introductions to Mom, no Netflix passwords swaps — doesn't pre-empt loneliness or heartbreak.
In a smart reversal of typical gender stereotypes, Ilana thought the "arrangement was perfect just as it is," whereas Lincoln had been looking for something that would eventually turn out to be monogamous. It's these types of wildly different expectations that can leave people in labelless relationships blindsided by breakups.
"He wants to be monogamous with her and he should," Ilana says in the episode. "He deserves whatever he wants. He doesn't even want to be friends. You know, he never really did. I just never heard it."
Which is an incredibly important point Broad City is making about nebulous relationships: we can go into casual relationships with all of the elevated consciousness we pride ourselves on in 2016, but sometimes we don't end up on the same page. A casual beginning by no means guarantees a casual ending.
You can still mourn a fuck buddy: It's extremely common for an open or casual relationship to end the way Ilana's and Lincoln's did. According to sex researcher Zhana Vrangalova, at least 60% of college students report having some kind of "friends with benefits" relationship at some point and rarely do they end in longterm relationships. In fact, in a 2009 study from the Archives of Sexual Behavior, 65% of participants named developing feelings as a major risk of casual relationships — when, in fact, only 9.8% of these relationships led to something more romantic.
"I think it's actually almost harder to get over these kinds of [casual relationship breakups]. Because at least when you are in a 'real' relationship and things don't work out — there's usually a reason. You probably talked about it. You probably had a long break up full of crying or yelling or whatever," one Redditor wrote on a forum about non-relationship breakups. "I think it's just a different kind of mourning."
When I told friends of my split from my dating partner, they all sang variations of the same "That's too bad, but it had to end at some point" theme. No great support system amassed around me and nobody checked in weeks later to see how I was doing. Writer Elan Carson, who ended a dating partner relationship last year, told Mic of a similar experience: "I absolutely had to recover quickly. Everyone was expecting me to."
The truth is, there's no real rubric for these types of breakups, which is why it's refreshing to see the always forward-thinking Broad City look head-on at what happens when our open-poly-sex friends leave us. Even if we know we aren't at all interested in having a relationship, it doesn't make a split with a fuck buddy, a dating partner or a friend with benefits any easier.
Just like with any breakup, when we find ourselves in the middle of a split from a casual relationship, we still need a good cry, a comforting hug and a best friend to distract us with some juicy dick deets from their latest hookup. If anybody understands that, it's Ilana Wexler.