I am going to make you want something that you may or may not have already known that you wanted. I am going to make you realize that the real love story at the heart of Gilmore Girls took place between two tightly-wound, highly-strung, overachieving rivals-turned-roommates who wore matching ties and skirts and engaged in sexually charged fencing sessions. The mutual respect, admiration, and trust that sprang up between Rory Gilmore and Paris Gellar was hard-fought and slowly earned; theirs was a friendship forged and refined slowly over the years. They grew into the shape of one another. Put aside your dreams of Jess, that human sneeze; let Logan sail away on his yacht of indifference into the sunset: Rory/Paris are endgame.
First, we must dispose of any obstacles: namely, the boyfriends. This will not be difficult. We begin with Rory.
Dean – Perfectly nice, as a first boyfriend. The exact kind of floppy-haired friendly grocer’s assistant you’d like to have your first kiss with. And he was lovely, for a time, until he got married and cheated on his wife with Rory, then blamed her for it and turned into a dragon made of jealousy wearing an obvious bowl-cut wig. This is why you must never revisit your first boyfriend. He belongs safely ensconced in the honeysuckle-draped gazebo of your high-school heart. You stay there, Dean. You stay in the past, where you belong, shelving apples.
Jess – Worthless. Worse than worthless. At the time, of course, we did not yet know that loving a man who enjoys Kerouac novels was morally wrong — the science wasn’t quite there yet — but we already knew that Jess’ busy wall-leaning schedule wasn’t leading anywhere good. I will not go so far as to accuse him of wearing leather bracelets, but he seems exactly the type of man who would do so, given half the chance at an 18+ concert. “Oh, I’m too consumed by my own inner pain to arrive to events on time.” “I invented record stores; guess how many cigarettes I can fit into my mouth.” “I love you so much I moved to California without telling you.” “How can you expect me to plan a date, I’m too full of smoldering emotions to know what day of the week it is.” He wrote a book called The Subsect. I will listen to nothing good about this jean-jacket-festooned wastrel. Begone, you gel-smeared, sneering fop. You are no Ryan Atwood. You have no heart of gold underneath those ill-fitting wifebeaters. Take your baby-boy-Pink act on the road. Your powers will not work here.
Logan – If you can think of a reason why Logan deserves more than a sentence, I’m perfectly willing to hear it.
Now for Paris. This will be even easier.
Jamie – A nice boy from D.C. Wears a lot of sweaters.
Asher Flemming – The oldest man in the world. I don’t care if he is Michael York, he is ten thousand years old and he dies from being so old. I will not see Paris married to the Cryptkeeper for dusty eternity. Anyhow, he’s dead, so we don’t have to worry about him.
Motherfucking Doyle – MOTHERFUCKING DOYLE. The only thing that Paris’ boyfriends have in common is that they are all deeply and congenitally unworthy of her. Doyle is the human version of a male anglerfish, a seriously stunted (this is not a height joke, I am referring to the state of his soul) parasitic creature that cannot survive on its own and must glom onto a healthy female in order to cheat death.
He was great on Buffy, though.
[Grandly sweeps aside a sea of unworthy male chaff] Fantastic. Now let the real work begin.
(An aside: I briefly entertained the idea of writing about Rory/Lane, but such a thing is impossible. To begin with, they are both too shy and reticent by half; as a couple they would only watch Netflix together and never have sex. More importantly, Lane is impossibly straight. There is not an ounce of gay in there. And I looked. Ditto Lorelai and Sookie. They’re just heterosexual to the core. Interestingly, I could very much see Emily taking a late-in-life lesbian turn, if anything were to happen to Richard [God forbid, but still]. End aside.)
The first time Rory and Paris meet, it’s…fraught. There’s a lot at stake. Who’s the smartest, who’s got the shiniest trophy, who’s getting attention from Tristan (which, make no mistake, is never about Tristan the person as much as it is about what Tristan represents: acceptance, popularity, safety), who’s getting into Harvard. Rory and Paris are the only two people on Gilmore Girls who share the same goals. They want the same things, but in different ways. When Paris wants something, she wants it so badly her entire body vibrates. As long as she sees Rory as someone who’s standing in the way of what she wants, instead of everything she’s ever wanted, she hates her. Until she doesn’t.
When they finally meet outside of Chilton, Paris softens the slightest bit and shares part of her ambitions with Rory. Throughout the course of the entire series, Paris retreats into iciness and melts down into frustration plenty of times. She blows up and she freezes people out, but she never softens, she never gets quiet, she never openly displays her vulnerability and her fear and let down her hair and eat Chinese food on an old couch the way she does with Rory.
By the thirteenth episode of the first season, they’re going to Bangles concerts together. They still fight like they’re in Highlander together, but it only takes thirteen episodes’ worth of knowing Rory for Paris to finally flash a smile and say, “You know what? I think this is the best night I’ve ever had.”
It’s my completely unsubstantiated belief that the reason Jess was so popular among the rest of Rory’s boyfriends is because at the very least, he challenged her and drew her out of herself. Left to her own devices, Rory (while lovely in the way that an enchanted sleeping princess is lovely) can get a little overly sweet, a little precious, a little (whispers) boring.
Paris: [Rory and Paris are running inside to get out of the pouring rain] Out of the way! Move, move, move!
Girl in the dorm: Is it raining?
Paris: No, it’s National Baptism Day. Tie your tubes, idiot!
Paris is never boring; Rory with Paris is never boring. Their chemistry is intense, and even as their relationship shifts from friendly rivals to permanent roommates, it never flags. The aforementioned sexually charged fencing scene is a perfect example.
This fight is nominally about a boy, but…just look at the two of them. Watching them hurt and forgive and betray and restore one another throughout their time at Chilton is one of the most hard-earned redemptive arcs on any show I’ve ever seen. Nobody can hurt Paris like Rory can when she’s not in her corner.
And yet, despite professing not to understand her in the slightest, Rory eternally tries to mend their friendship. She never gives up on Paris; never dismisses her as “crazy” or difficult or unlikeable or unattractive; never walks away. At one of her lowest points — publicly falling apart after learning she hasn’t gotten into Harvard — it’s Rory who picks Paris up, it’s Rory who looks out for her public image, it’s Rory who helps her find a way to bear with what she thought was unbearable.
They play Romeo and Juliet opposite one another. They play Romeo and Juliet. I would watch an entire episode dedicated to Rory and Paris arguing with one another. Nobody fights like the two of them do. It’s hot and intense and bewildering and full of wanting things and fraught and tense and the two of them belong to each other in a way that hurts my chest. Remember how Anne and Gilbert in Anne of Green Gables started out as enemies and ended up in love? And how competing with each other academically was still just as important to both of them as that love? Rory and Paris are the Anne and Gilbert of Stars Hollow.
You want a partner for Rory who gives her an edge? You want someone who pushes her, who makes her laugh, who will never go easy on her, who convinces her to go to Florida at the last minute, someone who will grab her when they kiss and not let go until she wakes up and kisses back? I give you Paris.
You want Paris to be able to calm down and sit still for five minutes, to smooth out her prickling insecurities long enough to have a real, human conversation, to relax the muscles in her jaw, to feel lovely and loved and like she doesn’t have to fight the entire world every second of the day? I give you Rory.
Their first kiss — which took place under less-than-ideal circumstances, in a bid for attention during spring break — was nevertheless the start of something good.
Paris: As a kisser, how was I?
Rory: [incredulous] Oh, man!
Paris: Well, I always wanted to know. You can’t really ask a guy that because it’s a sign of low self-esteem which I read in a magazine is really not sexy. So, be honest. How was I when I kissed you? Was I too stiff? Too forceful? Do I need to relax my lips a little, maybe open my mouth a little more? Make it more inviting?
Rory should never be kissed in public like that (just like Rory should never be proposed to in front of her grandparents, COME ON, Logan), but Paris is asking exactly the right questions. Try again. You’re already inviting plenty. Try again. When you find the right circumstance, and the right kiss, you’re going to melt each other.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.