Samantha Lee’s latest queer love story Sleep With Me, came into my life at the perfect time ––by which I mean the loneliest, most cheerless, deplorable, lamentable, gut-wrenching time.
It was when I decided, by virtue of my Taurus sun, my MBTI type, or simply the general state of The World, that my romantic entanglements were best served casual and cursory. I was better off on my own anyway, and this setup allowed me to have my cake and eat it, too.
I habitually sought the company of others in the most depraved method known to man (aka dating apps); wearing gym shorts and running shoes during our meet-ups so when I’d get home the next morning, no one would suspect it was a walk of shame. Then we’d never talk again, as if intimacy was a grave, unspeakable sin we unwisely committed.
So when I watched the first half of Lee’s six-part series — the meet-cute, the first late-night mami date, the first brush of the lips — I told a friend it felt like a fairytale. This, of course, says more about me than the series itself. I couldn’t imagine a reality where things fell so easily into place, my mind racing after every episode, thinking, What’s the catch?
To be clear, Harry (Janine Gutierrez) and Luna (Lovi Poe) are not perfect. Sleep With Me follows these two characters as they try to juggle their own needs with that of the other, a relationship made more complex by Harry’s paraplegia and Luna’s sleep disorder. They also both carry twinges and tics from yesteryear’s lovers, coaxing them into hyper-independence and chronic solitude. They are available in that they’re both out of relationships, but unavailable in that they both struggle to let people in.
This is the main antagonist of Sleep With Me. In a press preview, writer and director Lee said the show is her meditation on why some people find it so challenging to give and accept love. What makes it so good, then, is that the characters persist. They feel lonely but are never alone, always finding solace in those around them, whether it be a sibling or an overenthusiastic convenience store worker. Love is constant and communal; not a spark but a light that leaks through closed shutters.
Too often our definitions of love are actually devoid of it. As children, we think it’s about getting everything we want.
It makes sense that the show was born during quarantine, a time of near-universal reckoning with old beliefs about how we interact with each other. We were slapped in the face with the fact that we can’t survive without other people. I’m reminded of a quote from W. Norris Clarke’s Person and Being: “To be an authentic person, in a word, is to be a lover, to live a life of interpersonal self-giving and receiving. ‘Person’ is essentially a ‘we’ term. ‘Person’ exists in its fullness only in the plural.”
Still, it remains a near-impossible task to completely unlearn seeing love and care as transactional. It is by capitalism’s design, after all, that we view them and every other aspect of our lives through the lens of commodity. The language with which we talk about love is proof of this: we must earn it, be worthy of it. We treat it like a finite resource, hesitant to give away lest we run out of it.
As social psychologist Erich Fromm writes in Art of Loving, our entire culture is anchored on the idea of a mutually favorable exchange. Everything becomes an investment that must bring maximum profit.
So we fear uncertainty when that is love’s defining characteristic. We refuse help when it is offered because we don’t want to be chained by obligation. We let our fear of unreciprocated vulnerability govern all our relationships, prompting us to dispose of others before they do the same to us. We meet people via the same mechanisms we use to buy face masks and cat food. We make sure we, as partners, are well-functioning and have all the shiny new features. Five stars, will order again.
During Sleep With Me’s excruciating breakup scene, Luna admits she’s afraid of messing everything up. “Why don’t you give yourself a chance to be happy?” Harry asks. We understand Luna’s trepidation. What Harry poses is too risky of an investment; the probability of loss is simply too large. We have been conditioned to run away from this.
It is no wonder that, like Harry and Luna, so many of us struggle with giving and receiving something so integral to our existence. Too often our definitions of love are actually devoid of it. As children, we think it’s about getting everything we want, “whether it’s a hug or a trip to Disneyland,” as American author bell hooks wrote. As adults, we think it’s an intimate relationship that “provides a sanctuary from the world of facades, a sacred space where we can be ourselves,” as John Wellwood puts it. I argue that we demand for more than this walled-off sanctuary — a love that is abundant, that doesn’t occur in isolation. A love that understands we are all deeply interconnected and thinks we’re all the better for it.
It is community, in the end, that brings Harry and Luna back together. Family and friends hold their hands through the pain and guide them through the terrifying uncertainty of vulnerability. They tell Luna it’s okay to be scared and to mess up; they tell Harry it’s okay to let other people be there for her. The show’s closing shot is just the two of them, but it took a deeply interconnected village to make it happen.
I struggled to write this essay because I felt I was in no position to believe in the value of letting people in; that Sleep With Me, as good as it was, remains a work of fiction. I was adamant that I only know of love through its absence, deeming myself no sufficient giver or worthy recipient.
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But then I remembered my best friends, both knee-deep in reviewing for boards, staying up until I safely got home from another one of my ill-advised, late-night excursions. I remember buying Jollibee after class only to come home to more Jollibee, because apparently my mom heard me muttering my cravings while studying at 4 a.m. I remember friends offering to call because they can always tell when I’m upset. I remember doing the same for them; I remember that feeling of wanting to drop everything to make sure they’re all right, how it made me feel whole to love so instinctually.
And it’s true what Fromm wrote, that our capitalist society is inherently incompatible with the principle of love, but God, it makes me so happy seeing us trudge on anyway.