The Big Bang Theory’s Healthy Sexual Adjuration
The heart of The Big Bang Theory is showing cute wannabe actress Penny in contrast to her neighbors and super nerds Leonard and Sheldon. The men (I use the term loosely) are genius scientists, working at Cal Tech with close friends Raj and Howard. Initially the show focused on Leonard and Sheldon and how their lives contrasted with Penny’s, but as the program matured, Raj and Howard became integral to the storylines. So much so that by Season 3, “The Vengeance Formulation” began with Howard finishing a third date with Penny’s co-worker Bernadette and concluded focused on their relationship.
At best Howard is nice but lonely, at worst he’s lustful and inappropriate. The writers use Howard’s cringy behavior for humor but never excuse his self-centered creepiness. So, by episode nine, although “The Vengeance Formulation’s” title refers to something Sheldon does, it is Howard’s storyline that adds to the show’s mythology while creating a milestone in the character’s arc.
The Uncomfortable Truth Transmogrification
As the episode opens with the end of Howard and Bernadette’s date, Bernadette confronts him about where their relationship is going. Unable to commit, Howard agrees that he will call her when he figures it out. But a week goes by and Howard isn’t sure. Finally, at home in the bathtub, Howard envisions Katee Sackhoff (yes, they got the real actress from Battlestar Galactica!). Howard begins talking to (imaginary) Katee, thanking her for joining him, to which she sarcastically responds, “Always nice to be part of your masturbatory fantasies.” She goes on to chastise him for not being with the real, live Bernadette. Howard objects that Bernadette isn’t Katee. Ms. Sackhoff reminds him she’s not real but Bernadette is and she is crazy about him.
Howard may be lonely but he’s far from alone. Over forty-million Americans struggle with sexual addiction and pornography. And the American church is just as bad (if not worse) with 68% of men watching porn. But “struggling” and “addicted” are different.
As someone who has struggled with lust and inappropriate images and knows many others (primarily men) with the same struggles, this isn’t an easy matter to discuss, and it doesn’t have a simple solution. As C.S. Lewis says, our sexual nature is much more difficult to control than any other nature in our bodies.[i]
A Complex Correction Correlation
A half-hour show must tie up a storyline quickly so when Howard decided to go big and propose to Bernadette, it’s humorous but not an exact map for our real lives. And yet, from what the fans know of Howard, this was a big step and showed growth.
Rightfully, Bernadette thought Howard was insane for his overcompensation so after a little time Howard dialed it back by singing an apology parodying The Four Tops’ song “Bernadette.” Do yourself a favor and watch it here. Bernadette didn’t think this exploit was weird - instead she gushed it was the most romantic thing anyone had ever done for her.
I can’t promise you’ll find a soulmate (especially since some people don’t need to date or get married) or if you do, I can’t give the assurance that singing an apology at a Cheesecake Factory will change the mind of your loved one. But I can unequivocally promise from personal knowledge, scientific research, friend’s experiences, and common sense, that developing relationships with real people, in person (even if that’s eventual) will always be healthier for us than fantasies of someone or something that doesn’t exist.
Like Howard I struggled with similar temptations while I dated my wife. Although she was deeply hurt, she supported me and encouraged me to talk with accountability partners and sign up with XXXChurch, If you’re like me and need support, look for a church in your area that offers help (in-person can initially be hard but it ultimately can help you build community, tailor-made support, and confirm you’re not alone in the struggle), possibly through Celebrate Recovery. There are also other great online resources like Fight the New Drug, Faithful and True, and SAA Recovery. When we model Howard’s courage in developing romantic relationships with a real person, our souls can be infused with legitimate satisfaction. The result is a big bang (not just in theory)!
[i] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, HarperCollins, San Francisco, 1952, 2001, pp. 97-99.