The Lorelai Paradox
By Bryan Caplan
Last night my wife and I finished the final episode of the final season of Gilmore Girls. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a dramedy about a free-spirited single mom, Lorelai, and her studious daughter, Rory. Since they’re only sixteen years apart in age, they’re more like best friends than mother and daughter.
If you care about quality writing as much as I do, it’s hard not to like this show. It’s full of scenes I wish I’d written myself. But here’s my all-time favorite – a scene I’m determined to work into Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids.
Background: Lorelai is invited to career day at the local high school to talk about her job as the manager of an inn. Yet the conversation quickly turns to the topic of single motherhood:
LORELAI: …[A]s some of you know, I
run the Independence Inn. Sounds simple, running an inn. Well, the
sentence is simple, the job is not. Like most jobs, mine involves many
other people, people it is my job to hire, to train, and to inspire
because when you have good employees it makes you look good. Oh,
questions already – are questions okay?
DEBBIE [the teacher]: They’re encouraged.
GIRL 1: You’re Rory Gilmore’s mom, aren’t you?
LORELAI: Yes I am, and proud of it.
GIRL 1: Oh.
LORELAI: Oh, is that it?
Well, I hope all your questions are that easy. Okay, now, why is it
necessary to inspire employees? Why can’t you just train ’em and let
’em do their jobs? Well. . .yes?
GIRL 2: Didn’t you get pregnant when you were sixteen?
LORELAI: Um, sixteen. . .it
was around that age. Sixteen, that sounds right. Okay. Different people
working for you will have different needs. . .yeah?
BOY: Well, what about school?
LORELAI: School? I’m sorry.
BOY: Did you drop out when you got pregnant with Rory?
LORELAI: No, technically, I
didn’t drop out. I, uh, I kept going as long as I could while I got
pregnant, which I would recommend to any girl. Not the getting pregnant
part, obviously. Um, although, uh, if that happens, um, you know. . .
it shouldn’t. I mean, it could but you should try to avoid it. . . um,
anyway, uh, I got my GED, yeah.
DEBBIE: Lorelai, why don’t we move this along?
LORELAI: Yes, oh, moving it along, moving it along. Okay, okay, okay. Boy, I should’ve been more organized here.
GIRL 1: Well, are you sorry you got pregnant?
LORELAI: No, it brought me
Rory, but timing is everything. I mean, I could’ve. . .sixteen, you
guys are sixteen, right . . .and hey, is that clock right?
GIRL 3: What do you mean by timing?
GIRL 1: Yeah, if you had waited and had a baby with another man at a different time. . .
GIRL 4: It wouldn’t have been Rory, right?
LORELAI: Hey, you know what’s fun to talk about? Late checkout.
GIRL 2: But it was good you got pregnant when you did because you got Rory.
[From http://www.twiztv.com/cgi-bin/transcript.cgi?episode=http://dmca.free.fr/scripts/gilmore-girls/season3/gilmoregirls-304.htm with caution: a reader reported a virus script from viewing the page.]
This scene captures a lot of Lorelai’s ambivalence about being a single mom. On the one hand, it gave her the daughter she adores. On the other hand, she feels like she made a big mistake. I suspect that the author of the scene wants us to feel her ambivalence, not resolve it.
But that’s a cop-out. The students’ questions aren’t naive; they’re right on target. Lorelai loves Rory above all things. If Lorelai had waited to get pregnant, Rory wouldn’t exist. There simply was no better route to Lorelai’s preferred destination, because the only way to drastically rewrite her own life history would be to erase the existence of her favorite person in the world.
On the surface, this is just a scene about psychology. Lorelai, like most women in her situation, has deep feelings of ambivalence about her youthful choices. But if you take the students’ arguments seriously, the scene is profoundly philosophical. Its lesson: Despite any feelings of ambivalence, Lorelai and her real-world analogues have nothing to regret – and no need to make apologies to the world.