That age old question--Ben or Noel?

Last week, I started watching the television series Felicity all over again after New York Magazine alerted me to the fact that it is on Netflix streaming in their Nostalgia Fact-Check column in which they rewatch an old show to see how it holds up years after it had gone off the air.

The verdict on Felicity: it mostly holds up especially if you are part of the demographic that went to college before Facebook and G-chat, meaning this old lady. (Facebook was only becoming available as I was graduating from college in 2004.)

While I agree with that assessment thus far–I’m partway through the second season since beginning a week ago, which should speak volumes about the present state of my social life–my point of fascination hasn’t been about whether or not the show is still good entertainment but how much my life over the last ten years has changed the way I relate to the characters and plot, especially the infamous Ben-Felicity-Noel triangle.

The show premiered in 1998 back when I was a junior in an all-girls Orthodox Jewish day school in New York. This meant that I had no practical experience dating or even speaking to boys. (I wasn’t allowed to do either.) Yet despite the absence of boys and fraternizing, dating was discussed but only as it pertained to marriage. They told us to find a man who worked well on paper–kind, responsible, with common interests. They left the part about chemistry out of the equation. Or the chemistry that was emphasized was the friend sort of chemistry, not the rip-your-clothes-off-and-throw-you-onto-the-bed variety. Basically, they were telling us to look for a Noel, not for a Ben.

Back in those days when dating and sex were abstract concepts that I only knew about from television, I was pretty firmly in Camp Noel. Though I, like any other red-blooded American girl gifted with sight, thought Ben (Scott Speedman) was attractive, I couldn’t understand why Felicity would time and again favor a guy who never failed to disappoint her, who had issues with commitment. Ben, my high school teachers would have pointed out, was not marriage material.

When I first started dating in college, their view still dominated my actions. Dating was purely for the purposes of finding a lifelong companion. I was still looking for my Noel in shining armor.

But as I got along in years, I wasn’t dating the safe, good guy type all that often. I frequently found myself with attractive (not that Scott Foley’s Noel wasn’t super hot) and charismatic guy who threw me for a loop with mixed signals (or what I chose to interpret as mixed signals). Yet like Felicity with Ben, this anxiety inducing behavior never deterred me. I pined for these guys. Hard. I was learning that despite being taught to think of men and partnerships in cost-benefit analysis, almost clinical terms, other interests intruded. My teachers neglected to tell me about the strength of sexual attraction and chemistry.

I was flooded with these realizations as I sat down to watch Felicity from the start. Remembering how fervently I supported the Felicity-Noel pairing, I was surprised how I finally understood the appeal of Ben. While still loving Noel for his general adorableness and kindness, I found myself impatiently waiting for the episodes where the relationship between Ben and Felicity developed and was taken to the next level.

I’m not saying that I am solidly on Team Ben this time around–he really was a jerk at times–but my preference is now complicated by actual experience.

Ah life, you bitchy little teacher.

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