There are many things in Fleabag that don’t resonante. Her sprawling central London family home and garden; her one-bedroom apartment, (presumably) paid for with earnings from her themed cafe; her sibling; her perfectly proportioned frame for flattering jumpsuits. I also don’t really get what’s so fascinating about guinea pigs.
There are a few things in Fleabag that resonate so perilously close to my Brexit-thrashed soul that I have to keep pressing pause on iPlayer because I’m crying so extravagantly I’m literally choking and can no longer hear the dialogue, nor see the subtitles.
Here’s the first one: I have had, in the last couple of years, two rounds of CBT, both of which I have completed earlier than the standard six weeks prescribed at the beginning of the treatment. I learned that the quickest route out of my anxiety was through the completion of empty flow charts and questionnaires, memorising the ‘correct’ responses that I knew my counsellor wanted to hear. After only a couple of sessions, I was regularly getting the answers right. I was good at therapy. Fleabag was good at therapy, too. We were smashing it!
The second thing: something that was explored during series 2 was the following question: where does love go when the person is no longer in your life? Whether that be through death or any kind of breakup, it’s something I have been thinking about a lot over the last couple of weeks.
Fleabag’s relationship with the (‘sexy’) priest seemed to me a double-edged sword. On the one hand, his sexual restraint was exactly what she needed. Here was a single man who had great chat, was acceptably eccentric, enjoyed M&S gin-in-a-can and genuinely seemed like he wanted to get to know her as a person and not a pseudonym. Soon we could see her dick-swinging bravado worn down to reveal a deeply vulnerable woman who was – like many of us – overwhelmed with the choices and challenges presented by modern life. She was finally letting us know that it was okay to admit to needing someone and asking for help, without the self-referential asides and audacious one-liners.
His continued insistence that they weren’t going to sleep together, and whether or not this was manipulative or just something a sexy priest would do, given that, SPOILER ALERT, they totally did bone, is explored here by the New Statesman’s Anna Leszkiewicz. She puts it much better than I can because she’s a professional, so give it a read.
I’ve always been a great believer in romantic love. I’m lucky to have family members and friends who model healthy relationships and show me what I have to look forward to if I keep working at it. But unlike my CBT courses, I’m actually pretty crap at it. It’s not something I can revise, or look up the answer to on the internet. I’m ultimately not going to be rewarded by saying the right things or giving up my evenings and weekends, because there’s another person involved with an agenda of their own, one which I have no control over. It’s taken me a long time to work that out, and accepting it is an ongoing process. Perhaps that’s my privilege showing, or maybe it’s too many Disney movies.
When the priest gives his reading at the wedding, he talks about how love is basically a shit-show unless you can share it with others. Love doesn’t exist in isolation – you need to have that connection with another person in order for it to be. That doesn’t mean they have to feel the same way about you; very much like pain, we feel it in different ways, to varying degrees. You’ll never truly know another person’s experience of it when the singular word ‘love’ is a catch-all term.
Phoebe Waller-Bridge has turned a one-woman fringe play about grief into an extroardinary series that, due to its willingness to rip open the ribcages of women up and down the country and give our still-beating hearts a good old squeeze for 27 minutes every Monday, I won’t be forgetting in a hurry. Since I’m the only person in my house who pays it, I don’t say this often, but Fleabag’s mind-soothing benefits are well worth the annual TV licence fee. And at £25 an episode, it’s actually a lot cheaper than therapy.
(Also, Claire delivers the best line of dialogue in the history of television: ‘I look like a pencil.’)
The full series of Fleabag is available on iPlayer.