THE QUESTION ABOUT BEING WITH SOMEONE WHO’S NOT READY (A Review Of ‘Happiest Season’)

THE QUESTION ABOUT BEING WITH SOMEONE WHO’S NOT READY (A Review Of ‘Happiest Season’)

There is a moment in this Christmas movie – after the debacle of her girlfriend, Harper, denying her sexuality in front of her family – when Kristen Stewart’s lesbian character’s best friend tells her in reassurance: “Just because Harper isn’t ready … doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you.”

And for most of the film, you find yourself constantly wondering if that is enough; if love is enough to keep you in a relationship where your partner is determined to keep you hidden sometimes seemingly at the cost of your relationship – especially when you are already out of the closet.

Happiest Season is a Hulu original which stars Kristen Stewart as Abby and Mackenzie Davis as Harper, a couple whose lives of shared domestic bliss in Pittsburgh are disrupted after Harper spontaneously invites Abby home to spend the Christmas holiday with her family: father (Victor Garber), mother (Mary Steenburgen), nasty striver sister (Alison Brie), and needy middle sister (Mary Holland). Abby, who’s yet to meet her girlfriend’s family, takes this step toward intimacy as a sign of seriousness. She decides that she’s not just going to propose; she’s going to ask Harper’s father for his blessing – news which doesn’t go over very well with her gay best friend, John (played by Schitt’s Creek’s Dan Levy) as he snarks in response, “Way to stick it to the patriarchy. Really well done.”

Dan Levy’s John and Kristen Stewart’s Abby

The problem with this plan however is: Not only does Harper’s family not know of Abby’s existence as Harper’s girlfriend, but they don’t even know that Harper is a lesbian. In fact, Abby is headed to the Caldwell home under the pretext that she is Harper’s orphaned roommate and friend.

Abby, of course, doesn’t like this, but for the sake of the woman she loves, who insists she’s almost ready to come out, she plays along. It’s a farcical set-up that allows for all sorts of misunderstandings, from furtive bed-hopping in a packed house to awkward encounters with exes who also happen to be home for the holidays.

But despite all the cozy trappings, there’s a cruelty to what’s being asked of Abby that the movie doesn’t shy away from. She finds herself hovering on the outskirts of the celebration as Harper slips easily back into a past life Abby’s never been made privy to. While Abby is shunted aside to a spot in the basement, Harper’s off smiling in photos with her campaigning father and going out for catch-up drinks with her old friends. Abby is forced to sit and endure the passive homophobia of Harper’s parents as they shake their heads over the “lifestyle” of Harper’s former classmate, Riley (Aubrey Plaza), who unbeknownst to them was also Harper’s high school girlfriend.

While Happiest Season doesn’t pretend that Harper would have an easy time telling her parents the truth about herself, it also doesn’t suggest that Abby has an obligation to wait until her girlfriend is ready. And so, when in a fit of jealous pettiness, her sister, Sloane, outs Harper to a gathering of family and friends, it is very shattering to watch as Harper takes the easy way out by denying and calling her sister a liar. This is a lesbian love story, but at this point, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the film will end with Abby driving off into the snowy night with a middle finger extended at everyone.

And she seems to be exactly there, when her friend, John, who had crashed the party, takes her out for a walk and she admits to him that she doesn’t think Harper loves her as much as she thought she did. After John tries to assure her that “Harper not coming out has nothing to do with you”, and she questions this, John proceeds into one of the most touching monologues of the film. After establishing that Abby’s coming out to her parents ended with her family loving and supporting her, he says, “That’s amazing. My dad kicked me out of the house and didn’t talk to me for 13 years after I told him. Everybody’s story is different. There’s your version and my version and everything in between. But the one thing that all of those stories have in common is that moment right before you say those words, when your heart is racing and you don’t know what’s coming next. That moment’s really terrifying. And then, once you say those words, you can’t unsay them. A chapter has ended and a new one’s begun, and you have to be ready for that. You can’t do it for anyone else. Just because Harper isn’t ready, it doesn’t mean she never will be. And it doesn’t mean she doesn’t love you.”

And to this, Abby says, “I want to be with someone who is ready.”

As someone who has been around the dating block, I found this scene very relatable. I found Abby’s pain very relatable. By the time I started dating the guy who would be one of the greatest loves of my life, I wasn’t out to my family. But I had made the journey to complete self acceptance, and when I found out that my boyfriend had already come out to his family and was living a life that was devoid of any expectations from his parents as regards marriage and children, I think I fell more in love with him. There was a deep happiness I felt when we talked about the future and it was filled with conversations about trying to make a life together as a couple. This was a refreshing change from the last relationship I had which ended because he was ready to settle down with a wife. The fact that I could ever be in a relationship where possibilities of happily-ever-after – with a man – was being considered set a bar that I would not consider lowering for any other relationships afterward.

And so, every time I got sexually acquainted with deeply closeted men or men battling with internalised homophobia or that unfortunate human being who flinched whenever I so much as threw a hand over his shoulders in public, I just knew there’d be no way I’d be with someone who was that unready.

Happiest Season may be a Christmas rom-com, but it explores the question of if you’d ever be with someone who isn’t as ready as you are. Granted, as queer Nigerians, we live in a society that has normalized the secrecy of gay relationships, where lying about the true nature of who your lover is to your family and straight friends, and not correcting those who think that your breakup WhatsApp update is about someone of the opposite sex who dumped you (been there) has become second nature to us.

But there are the little big things: like their reaction to your invitation for them to join you in a gay WhatsApp group or go with you to an LGBT function, or their stance on queer lives mattering in Nigeria, or how fast they delete the heart emoji you post as a comment on their Facebook picture, or what they say to you about your self-expression in public.

If you are someone who has done the work to get to self acceptance, could you ever be with someone who isn’t just that ready?

Written by Pink Panther

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  1. Colossus
    November 28, 08:16 Reply

    Ok, I need to watch this movie, didn’t even know it was out already. Beautifully written piece as always

  2. Xhris
    November 28, 08:19 Reply

    Hmmm…
    *deep breath *

  3. Pete
    November 28, 12:31 Reply

    I can but not forever.

  4. DanteZ
    November 28, 13:22 Reply

    I believe coming out as gay is dependent on the individual state of mind and it has nothing to do with being ready or not in love with his or her partner, coming out takes alot of fear breaking grounds it’s beyond saying the words “hey mum I’m gay” it’s more than that , psychologically you have to be prepared for the worse case scenario cause if you are not there’s likely chance of brain damage , I say this with much experience from friends , I know of a guy he is late now (God bless his soul) he was so dependent on his mum (not financially but emotionally) which was lovely , he loved her to the Moon when his mum came visiting his partner outed him out to his mum thinking he was doing him a favour but at the sight of his mum refusal and disgust and disappointment in her eyes , something broke within him the next thing I heard was he was battling schizophrenic episodes and was in and out of the mental hospital before his demise, it would be so selfish of one to force his partner to come out to his family.

  5. Black Dynasty
    November 28, 14:14 Reply

    Hmm before i came out to family or got to a point of self acceptance, i still wouldn’t have dated someone who was going down the marriage to a woman route. It wasn’t an option as the relationship was dead on arrival as far as I’m concerned….no future.

    To answer the question, i wouldn’t date someone who hasn’t fully accepted himself and is comfortable in his skin. I don’t need him to be out to family but he needs to know what he wants for himself and for us as well, none of that “let’s see how it goes” nonsense; there should be a purpose.

    I’ve learnt the hard way that love alone is not enough because like a house, love is the cement that holds the aligned bricks (shared values and goals) in place to build the house (relationship/marriage). It must however stand on a solid foundation (both of your individual qualities which will include self acceptance).

    • Leon
      November 30, 20:46 Reply

      Couldn’t agree more with you Black!

  6. Mikey😘
    December 01, 11:05 Reply

    I don’t know why I always end up with guys suffering from internalized homophobia, it’s becoming exhausting, I’ve broken up with two with a broken heart just because I couldn’t bear their IH. How can you love me when you don’t love yourself……..

  7. Dunder
    December 05, 01:38 Reply

    For me, the issue is taking your partner to a family event as intimate as the holidays without ironing out the issues and defining exactly who you are, what your relationship is and where you plan for it to head. Unless you are taking her there to throw her under the bus as the demon that converted and is confusing you to be “a gay”, maintain your social distance till the holidays are over.

    I think it is very confusing and insulting to lie to your folks about a partner being an orphan so she can experience the most disconnected holiday season of her life. That level of team work in deception hurts relationships. They won’t love her more for coming to their house on Jesus’s birthday to deceive them. If you are still doing the hard work of coming into your truth or telling it to others, I don’t think you should expose the person who shares her true life with you to the trauma that is the cost of your cosmetic identity.

    Instead of the lies, let each person face their side for the holidays. Spend Thanksgiving with each other and the friends that have become family and then spend Christmas apart, at family gatherings/ your different hometowns. You may not want to take your partner to the houses of separate family members- when you finally come out of the closet, it would be to signal the start of a cold war between those who kept your secret and your family that is dealing with what they wrongfully think is the shock of their lives.

    Abby made the mistake of not shutting down the invitation to be an unpaid actor and her babe was slightly foolish for asking her to come along in the first place. Now, these poor girls would be keeping malice till Easter and would break up by July 4th.

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