You’ve been ‘Gilmored’: Love, Lorelai and Plato

Feb. 21, 2024, 12:23 a.m.

Olena Bogdan considers lessons from the iconic television show, “Gilmore Girls” with a first installment dedicated to lessons on love. Bogdan analyzes Lorelai Gilmore’s relationships, with some insights from Plato’s philosophy.

This article contains spoilers for “Gilmore Girls.”

I learned about “Gilmore Girls” while scrolling on Instagram one evening. It was a short scene from the first season where Rory Gilmore — the protagonist — recounts her first kiss in an excited tone to Lane, her best friend. I later looked up the scene and transcribed the conversation below. 

Rory: Oh my God, He kissed me.

[Lane’s mother, Mrs. Kim, a deeply religious and strict woman, comes up to the girls.]

Mrs. Kim: Who kissed you?

Lane: The Lord, Mama.

Mrs. Kim: Oh, OK then. 

It was funny and frivolous, which was exactly what I needed at that time. Amid stressful Ph.D. applications, the show became a welcome retreat from reality, a place where laughter and lightness reigned supreme. Maybe that’s why I watched the entire show — seven seasons — within a month.

While I “objectively” recommend you watch the show, as a short summary, it is a delightful tale of a mother-daughter duo, Lorelai and Rory, who navigate life’s challenges in a quirky small town named Stars Hollow.

I liked this show for several reasons, but I was motivated to focus on it in this column because Gilmore Girls is more than laughs and drama — it subtly and thought-provokingly delves into substantial philosophical queries.

Without any intention of sounding cliché, I want to start this series with a conversation about love — it feels timely a few days after the most commercially successful celebration of love, Saint Valentine’s Day.

Love is somewhat sidelined in Western philosophical tradition. Nevertheless, many renowned philosophers offered insights relevant to life and Gilmore Girls.

In “The Symposium,” Greek philosopher Plato writes about three different forms of love: eros (romantic love), philia (brotherly or platonic love), and agape (God’s divine love or unconditional love), which all comprise “love” in Greek. Plato introduces a hierarchy between these three states, where agape is the most noble and mystic form.

I don’t consider them mutually exclusive. A great relationship to me is built on romantic attraction and friendship.

“Gilmore Girls,” especially through Lorelai’s romantic escapades, is a fascinating canvas to ponder love’s true essence. And, surprisingly, a living incarnation of Plato’s love triptych.

Let me start with episode 21 from the first season, “Love, Daisies and Troubadours.” Lorelai’s beau, Max Medina, proposes to her with 1,000 yellow daisies — a color that I associate more with friendship than love. While a grand romantic gesture, it didn’t last — Lorelai breaks off the engagement later in the series. 

Why? She isn’t in love with Max, even though she really cares about him. 

As Plato would reason, their bond is between philia and eros but far from agape. Lorelai even confesses she “would love” to be in love with him. But can we really choose to love, or even who we love?

Many of us have likely encountered situations where we genuinely wanted to like or love a nice person, but simply couldn’t. A Danish proverb says, “Two beings in love always meet,” an idea suggesting that we are destined for love, echoing the myth of soulmates described by Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium. 

There is another man in Lorelai’s life who can help us talk about love — Christopher. Christopher is Lorelai’s first love and Rory’s father, and some defend him as the embodiment of Lorelai’s true love. And, maybe he was, but only when they were teenagers.

Once Lorelai gives birth to Rory, Christopher leaves them. While they remain close, they haven’t really shared the crucial, difficult moments that transformed Lorelai and made her into a mature and self-sufficient woman. He was a great flirt and a good friend in good times. But he was absent in the moments of struggle when Lorelai needed him the most.

In “Forgiveness and Stuff” (Season 1, Episode 10), when Lorelai’s father, Richard, has a health scare, Christopher doesn’t come to her side. A sharp contrast to the steadfast support offered by Luke Danes, a local cafe owner and another essential character in Lorelai’s life.

The enduring dilemma between Luke and Christopher offers an excellent study of the complexities of attitudes towards love, especially self-love. Despite being a compelling character, Lorelai’s actions also reflect a behavior of “bad faith” (“mauvaise foi” in French), a concept where one deceives oneself to avoid facing uncomfortable truths.

With Max Medina, she feels that something isn’t right and still goes on with the wedding planning. Rather than confronting the issue or Max directly about her doubts, Lorelai chooses to escape, disappearing from town for an episode, evading the responsibility of accepting her feelings. Later in the series, her marriage with Christopher leaves the same taste of inauthenticity.

Despite Lorelai’s portrayal as an independent and self-sufficient woman, these choices reveal a more complex undercurrent. They suggest a struggle with self-love and an inclination to sacrifice her needs and wants, possibly due to a fear of loneliness or the reality of her situation. But you can’t truly love someone else without first loving yourself, no matter how cheesy it may sound.

In contrast to her previous relationships, Lorelai’s connection with Luke is an instance where she genuinely heeds her feelings and opts for her own happiness. Unlike Christopher, who loved the idea of Lorelai without truly knowing her or her needs, Luke’s love for Lorelai is evident in his consistent presence and deep understanding.

It is neither love at first sight nor a choice, but rather a combination of the two. Luke and Lorelai’s journey mirrors the transformational nature of love, seamlessly transitioning from eros to agape. Without falling into the trap of mysticism, I see this relationship as profound and all-encompassing, and I hope everybody experiences this kind of love in their lives. Watching seven seasons of Gilmore Girls may be a great start to understanding what to look for. 

Olena Bogdan is a predoctoral research fellow in finance at Stanford GSB. If you have questions or ideas for an article, please contact her at [email protected]

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