By Lori Tucker-Sullivan
With its stunning cast, ornate costuming, and romantic peek into imagined Regency society, Bridgerton seemed like the perfect series to binge while my twenty-something daughter was home for the holidays. We both loved Scandal, the juicy political thriller by Bridgerton producer Shonda Rhimes, and had our interest piqued by the beautifully diverse cast and unique approach to period drama.
Four episodes in, I renamed it “The Great British Porn-Off,” after multiple sex scenes went beyond anything I had previously seen on television, certainly anything I watched with my daughter. “What should we watch tonight?” I asked, knowing the answer. And though we understood embarrassment awaited, we rushed through dinner, opting to have dessert (literal and figurative) while huddled under blankets at either end of the sofa. From that spot, I saw her texting friends, guessing it went something like, “OMG, I can’t believe I’m watching Bridgerton with my mother.”
Should I have waited and watched this show alone, I wondered by episode six? I considered suggesting alternatives, and thereby sparing us the discomfort. None of this was new to her, I had to grudgingly admit, which begged the question: Which of us was the most embarrassed?
I shouldn’t have worried. I see now that the show offered a perfectly wonderful, if unusual, bonding opportunity that I’m glad we had.
We were never a family of TV viewers. But when my husband died in 2010, television was a way for Maggie and me to overcome our sadness and grief. On Tuesday nights we shared ice cream and Glee, a program her father had forbidden, thinking it too mature for his thirteen-year-old. Having fallen in love with season one, I guiltily overrode his decision when season two began. It had been a long two-years of cancer diagnoses and frightening outcomes. I trusted we would find comfort in showtunes and teenage love stories.
My late husband often worried that, once we began watching television each night, it was all we would do. He preferred to read or be active rather than tune in to situation comedies. But television was exactly what we needed. We craved exterior reasons to cry, and what better way than by watching Rachel belt out What I Did for Love? It felt good to be occupied by someone else’s challenges and heartbreaks. We talked about their feelings, and, by association, our own.
Then her schedule got busy in high school and the TV went off. I soothed myself with rom-coms and, when Maggie did watch, it was marathons of sweeping sagas like Harry Potter or Narnia.
It’s no surprise then that, amidst the pandemic, both of us found something to love in Bridgerton, which is, essentially, a sweeping rom-com saga with sex. Like Bridgerton’s Daphne, I married young, a fate my daughter has already avoided. Maggie—working for a tech startup and ensconced in a cool apartment—has happily delayed marriage or family. She is of her feminist generation in that way, finding fulfillment through challenging work first, then perhaps through family if she decides. I consider our generational shifts and see how much has changed even in the past twenty years.
And just because I was married didn’t mean I was informed. A hundred years after Daphne Bridgerton’s delayed enlightenment, I also learned very little about sex from my mother. Instead I relied on pamphlets discreetly left on my bed, or misinformation from friends who had no better idea than I.
Like Lady Bridgerton, my mother simply refused to talk with me about sex. The sexual revolution of the 1960s came too late for mom, and most likely wouldn’t have changed much if it came sooner. Coming of age in the mid-70s, I was trapped in the revolution’s in-between: old enough to watch on the nightly news, yet too young to participate. At nineteen, I finally drove myself to a gynecological visit, returning with birth control that my mother wouldn’t acknowledge. Though we had an otherwise very good relationship, talk of sex was uncomfortable and thus, avoided.
Maggie and I, however, had discussions about sex. They supplemented what she learned in the comprehensive sex education program, Our Whole Lives, that she attended through our church. Having seen the parent version, I know she’s informed and educated on even the most scandalous activities in Bridgerton. She went away to college, including a semester in Europe. She’s cultivated long-term relationships, endured break-ups, and spent most of the pandemic living with her boyfriend. She’s unlike me at that age in so many ways. I’m glad for my relationship with my own mother, but happier that my relationship with my daughter is so different.
How much was influenced by our experiences with loss and grief is hard to say. I know it brought us closer, made us more forgiving, even more honest.
By the last episode, we were sharing jokes. I fanned myself as though overheated; she threw a pillow at me. From opposite ends of the sofa, we both giggled when the gorgeous Duke of Hastings offered Daphne a sexual how-to. “Like that happens,” she snorted. “Really!” I agreed. I texted my middle-aged friend, “OMG, I can’t believe I’m watching Bridgerton with my daughter.”
Sharing Bridgerton now is easier than it would’ve been when my daughter was a teen, even during our time of grief. Then, I’d insist we find an alternative, quickly switching channels. Viewing it recently, though, became a sort of rite of passage for us both. A rite I perhaps missed as a teen but found during this unusual period.
As we did after my husband’s death, we once again spent longer periods of time together, talked, and recognized our new grief caused by the global pandemic. The show helped me consider my own experiences as a daughter and a mother.
But more importantly, to know my daughter, and our relationship, in a new light; to see her as a smart, capable, independent adult. To understand that her father and I provided her with information and the emotional intelligence needed to make her way in the world of today: sometimes romantic, often confusing and heartbreaking, occasionally breath-takingly blissful (much like Regency London).
Someday, like Lady Bridgerton, I may see my daughter married off. And when I do, I will know that she will be able to readily handle all aspects of that arrangement—even the embarrassing ones.
Lori Tucker-Sullivan is a writer and writing instructor in Detroit, and the author of the forthcoming book I Can’t Remember If I Cried: Rock Widows on Life, Love and Legacy. When not helping her adult children navigate the world, she writes about music, grief and family history.
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