The Comfort of Boy Meets World
I have craved safety since I was a little kid. I was always reaching for my mom’s hand and turning on lights in shadowy rooms. From a young age I sought out warmth and predictability to feel at ease. Which is why the concept of TGIF was such a welcome addition to my life. TGIF was a block of TV programing on Friday nights that ran from 1989-2000. I caught the tail end of it as a kid growing up in the late 1990s.
TGIF did many things for me. It gave me permission to stay indoors on what I considered to be the scariest night of the week. Friday nights in middle school were testing grounds for envelope pushing. I’d get back to school on Monday and hear about the co-ed parties, the beers that were snuck, the groping. I was terrified, not jealous, to hear about my classmates advancements. Instead I chose to experience “typical teen behavior” from the safety of my living room, in the capable hands of TV’s finest sitcom writers.
I loved TGIF because it gave me structure. I could follow week to week with certainty. Even when things got dicey as they cut to commercial, the structure dictated that everything would be neatly tied up by the 30-minute mark. I clung to this stability because, in my real life, things did not go that way.
[Boy Meets World, original airdate: September 23, 1993. Summary: An average boy, Corey Matthews, navigates the world with his best friend Shawn and his soulmate Topanga. Along the way he learns life lessons from his older brother, Eric, his parents, Amy and Alan, and his principal, Mr. Feeney. Boy Meets World stars Ben Savage, Rider Strong, Danielle Fishel.]
Of all the TGIF shows, Boy Meets World is the one I loved most. Corey was a perfectly average kid, but the world he lived in was extraordinary. For example, his parents, Alan and Amy Matthews, loved each other with open affection. They went on date nights often. They’d interlock casually with Amy facing forward and Alan, standing behind her, lacing his arms through hers. Whenever they had to relay a moral to Corey they’d say, “Oh Corey,” with this half-grin on their face like “how did we get this lucky?” I wanted to know too. How did this family win the lottery? And why couldn’t I live with them.
My parents fought regularly. We lived in a ranch house that, unlike the Matthews’ Cape, did not have an upstairs to escape to. My bedroom and my parent’s bedroom shared a wall. When I laid my head down at night, they lay on the other side of the wall, engaged in a constant muffled bickering I grew to know well. When they fought I would imagine ways I could put their attention onto me, anything to distract them from the resentment they felt for each other.
Though it was only ever a fantasy, there was a time when I thought breaking my arm would cause relief. I figured my parents needed something serious like a child breaking a bone, to put aside their differences and unite. Even then I knew it would only be a temporary fix, but for a time it soothed me. And once, during a particularly explosive argument in the kitchen, I ran from my room and stood between my mom and dad, screaming “I’m here and I can’t take it anymore. I need to talk to someone.” The next week I saw a therapist for the first time. I was 15.
Corey’s therapist was Mr. George Feeney. Only, he didn’t call him his therapist or even his mentor, but that’s what he was. Occupational-wise, Mr. Feeney was a teacher and a principal at Corey, Shawn, Topanga and Eric’s school. All of their schools, from elementary to university. He was also the Matthews’ neighbor. And he was incredibly generous with his advice. In some episodes, every member of the Matthews’ household would get a side-yard session with Mr. Feeney. He would provide a perspective that they had not thought about, and though he could be stern, he was never judgmental. He carried the confidence of someone who lived for a 100 years and knew that everything was going to turn out alright in the end.
I never knew if things were going to be ok with my parents. It didn’t seem like they should stay together, and yet the idea that they wouldn’t be a unit disturbed me. Even when I was 22 and at home on break from college and my mom said, “I found an apartment. I’m moving my things out,” I didn’t understand. I knew things were bad but I never imagined it ending. My half hour was over and things were still messy. Things had spiraled so far out of control that even in the hands of the Boy Meets World writers, I didn’t think there could ever be a resolution.
During my senior year of college, throughout the dissolution of my parent’s marriage, I found sanctuary in my dorm room watching Boy Meets World reruns on my laptop in the dark. The year before I downloaded all 7 seasons to my computer and would watch them when I was feeling particularly down. For a show that is so obviously filmed on a set and pumped with canned audience sound effects, I could get lost in the characters and storylines I’d watched a million times.
While I was growing up, Corey and Topanga got married and had a baby. They weren’t ever splitting up; they were sandbox soulmates. Shawn got caught up from time to time and battled his own broken past, but he always had a surrogate family with the Matthews. And no matter what, everyone could and did fall back on Mr. Feeney for guidance on what to do next. Everyone remained as a unit throughout college. And even in the series finale, the writing hints at them all ending up in New York. And why wouldn’t they stay together? They had never not lived in the same town.
In real life, people move and lose touch and it’s tough to maintain those solid bonds. You have to learn to trust people you have not known your entire life. But lots of people find this necessary to grow as an individual. And I get it; it’s what I did when I moved from Connecticut to Chicago when I was 22. That doesn’t mean I don’t crave the comfort of a world where the people who know you best never leave you. To live a life where somehow you and all your friends and family have chosen the same path and you’re all fulfilled. A place where you all come together at the end of each day and check in with each other to make sure everything’s ok. And if it’s not ok, it’s not over.
Things in my life will never be as clean as what appears on Boy Meets World, but things are ok. A year and a half ago my mom remarried a great guy, so perfect for her it’s kind of eerie. I have a solid relationship with both parents but we still shy away from talking about the complicated matters. And in that way we are very much like the cast of Boy Meets World. Maybe it was wrong of me to assume the Matthews were perfect. Maybe they struggled to speak their painful truths just like everyone else I know. Maybe they understood their role in this world was to suck it up, and put on a feel-good show for kids growing up in chaos. That’s the gift they gave to me and for that I am eternally thankful.
Ali Kelley is a writer living in Chicago. She gets into ‘90s pop culture and teen angst on her blog Sleepoverz and performs her stories at reading series around town.