We lied about each other’s dreams
We lived without each other thinking what anyone would do
Without me and you
It’s like I told you,
Only the lonely can play …
The Motels, Only the Lonely
There is a reason why most people marry in the company of their loved ones: friends and family. It’s really not just a game for two. Marriage is a hard road, and though we may walk “the loneliest mile” of it in darkness, with each other alone, we need the presence of others who love us to help us through the rest.
I don’t know if either Don Draper or Betty Draper Francis ever knew this. I think each of them is an inherently lonely person, one who felt an instant thrill of recognition when he or she met the other. I don’t think it has ever occurred to either to ask another person for real help in the ongoing fight that is each of their relationships with love.
This, it seems to me, is why Betty married Henry Francis. He separated himself from the crowd at her husband’s Derby Day party, asking to touch the part of her that ached. She was surprised, but she let him. He wanted her, and she was intrigued by this man who seemed to see — and later, remember — her distress.
It’s also why Don proposed to the practical, perpetually sunny Megan. Here is a young woman who knows not only just when to offer help, but what kind her charges need: a song, a cuddle, a napkin against a swell of milkshake. She is as comfortable with emotion as her fiance is afraid of it.
But marriage is not about whom you marry; it’s about who you are. Don’s choice of Megan can not lead him to happiness any more than Betty’s did. We can’t change who we are by choosing with whom we mate.
When I think about the end of Season 4 of Mad Men, the image that lingers for me is not any of the sunnier images from Tomorrowland: Don offering Megan the engagement ring; his cannonball into the pool; their kiss in the office, after Don called Faye to (belatedly) break things off.
It’s the scene of Betty and Don, together in what used to be their kitchen, sipping booze out of a single cup, talking about making things over and breaking things apart. Not necessarily in that order; not that it matters.
For them, this will always be a game for two.