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What Netflix’s "You" teaches us about the pursuit of the Dream Girl

Last month Netflix released the third season of the show many of us hate to love--You. Like all seasons of You, Season 3 was also difficult to watch. As if Joe’s creepiness, the toxic relationship dynamics, and the nonchalant murders weren’t enough, it remains an unnerving show, and yet it has been devoured on Netflix. So much so that it passed Squid Games in its first week of release...a show with more than 142 million people as of last week, according to TV Guide.

Yet it occurred to me my obsession with the show wasn’t so much about knowing what would happen next, but witnessing Joe’s obsession with finding “the one.” Something many of us can relate to, though Joe certainly takes it to an extreme. (For those astrologically minded, I'm posting this during the Venus-Pluto conjunction in Capricorn.);)

For Joe, love has to be transcendental and all encompassing--a perfect “dream girl” in every sense of the word. His obsessive behavior is driven by his desire for someone who will take away his pain. Through a psychological lens this could be seen as attachment or relational trauma and certainly a control response to his fear of abandonment. To him not having love means death and a survival fear, the way a newborn or child would feel. However, from a depth psychology perspective Joe seems to be enacting an extreme version of what depth psychologist C.G. Jung would call it an “anima complex.” And it is everywhere, not just with Joe.

Jung created this theory--a very heteronormative and gender-specific theory I might add--to explain extreme attraction. His idea suggested our unconscious internal image of the opposite gender, usually based on our opposite gendered parent, created the basis of whom we were to fall in love with. This unconscious image then becomes projected externally onto others in an idealizing--and often obsessive--way.

Joe’s distance from these women makes it possible for them to remain a fantasy and hold all of his projections of perfection. He doesn’t see these women nor their humanness, he sees only what he may receive from them as illusions of his ideal lover...though really it is an ideal mother he craves.


“So long as the anima is unconscious she is always projected, for everything unconscious is projected. The first bearer of the soul image is the mother; later is it borne by those who arouse the man’s feelings, whether in a positive or negative sense.”-Jung

The other aspect of this theory is the pressure for women to play the ideal goddess and perfect anima figure. They must lift men up, be perfect and therefore worthy of love. We can’t be too human, no stretch marks or emotions. Love does her best for a bit to play this part...she gives her husband a blow job when he gets home, makes him food, tries to play the part. This is the solution for heterosexuals women: play the part or lose the projections. We either play the ideal or we wait for them to love the ideal before we can be human. The entire season we witness Joe’s search for the perfect partner, even when “Love” is standing right in front of him. (I won’t get into their relationship toxicity of course, but the name is uncanny.)

How could Joe, or us, move from dreaming about a lover created out of fantasy to grounding love into real life? How do we befriend this inner figure to keep it from taking over our outer romantic life? When we lose this romantic projection it can feel like a loss of soul, of life itself. To love the humanness and sometimes boredom of relationships rather than needing them to be transcendental. To reclaim love rather than romance as something to strive for, that the day-to-day moments of life with another can be transcendental.

Most of all to get closer to soul, our trauma and our unmet needs so that they don’t take over our entire being. Joe’s unconscious is what destroys his life and others, the parts he doesn’t know in himself become where the healing needs to begin. Joe craves his own soul, he craves himself and instead projects it outward onto women. He uses them for his own comfort and connection. He doesn’t see them, only an idealized version of them he can cling to for comfort. Instead of leaning more into his own healing that could allow actual connection with others to create healthy relationships and heal more of the pain of his abandonment. Rather than continually cycling through false ideas of falling in love. Ultimately Joe is seeking his own soul, himself. A part that continues to remain hidden to him so long as he thinks it resides outside of himself in another.

A preferred ending I would have liked, would have been for Joe to wake up to his own delusion. I had some hope when he said he was doing some work around this mother with the one shot of him in bed reading. I wanted him to his desire for a soul connection to inform his inner work and actually look at his trauma. For how much this show irks me, I cried at the last episode out of joy. At the end of episode 10, Marienne tells Love to listen to that voice, her true love. the part that knows Joe is bad for her and dangerous.

I took this as Marienne speaking to Love's soul perhaps animus. I love the idea that we all have two loves, an inner soul--genderless--and an outer human partner. A partner for our soul, not necessarily a soul mate, someone we can heal with...take back the illusions of perfect, to find love in humanness that may not always feel romantic, but actually is love.

Season 4 for You is already a done deal given its most recent success, my hope is that Joe can uncover this anima projection and the ways it prevents him from getting the human connection he desires. That his obsessions only further alienate him from himself and others and perhaps in this way find the love he so desperately seeks.

“A man is committed to a woman only when he can inwardly affirm that he binds himself to her as an individual and that he will be with her even when he is no longer “in love,” even when he and she are no longer afire with passion and he no longer sees in her his ideal of perfection or the reflection of his soul.”-Robert Johnson


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