(Spoilers) Recap of The Ultimatum: Queer Love, Eps. 1&2
My decade’s-long love affair with reality television has perfectly intersected with my later-in-life* queer education as a new reality dating show has reached the airwaves. The Ultimatum: Queer Love is a new reality series on Netflix that brings five sapphic** couples together for an experiment in love and tears to determine whether or not they are ready for marriage.
The show’s concept goes like this: one person in the relationship is ready to get married. The other person, for a variety of reasons, is not. The person ready to say “I do” has given their partner an ultimatum: get engaged, or it’s “deuces.” And to make life more interesting, they decided to play out this ultimatum on a television show with four other couples. Over several weeks, they officially break up, date other people (the other show participants who also just broke up with their partners), live in a “trial marriage” with someone new for three weeks, then go back to their original partners for three weeks just to make sure all of the old resentments are still there. Ultimately, they have to decide if they will get engaged to the person they came with, get engaged to the person they trial married, or leave single.
As the show begins, the couples slow-walk onto a patio, happily holding hands to learn the rules of engagement (pun intended) that will play out on the show. It’s all smiles initially, but the energy quickly shifts as the host, JoAnna Garcia Swisher starts to get into their personal stories. Mal and Yoly share first. This is the couple I’m hoping makes it out alive. However, my spidey senses leave me in doubt:( What we know at this point is Mal’s reluctance to marry hinges on her feeling inadequately prepared to financially take care of Yoly – who also wants to have children quickly due to her age (34). I have the feeling we’re going to spend a lot of time unpacking Mal and Yoly’s dynamic because we quickly learn it’s not just money that’s keeping Mal on the fence; she also doesn’t feel distinguished from any of Yoly’s exes. Mal says Yoly “waters her grass wherever she’s at,” making Mal wonder what’s to keep Yoly from starting to water somewhere else down the line. Also, Mal – who is Black and masculine presenting – shares insecurities about Yoly having dated primarily white women in the past. This comes up when sparks fly between Yoly and Xander, who is white and masculine presenting. A whole lot is going on with Mal and Yoly, which makes them my favorite couple to care about, but it also leaves me frustrated because they seem to be talking past one another.
Now that I mentioned Xander let’s talk about Xander and Vanessa. Vanessa appears fairly uninterested in a future with Xander. They’ve been together for four years, and Xander is profusely in love with Vanessa and ready to get married and have children. However, Vanessa has made it clear that she doesn’t want to get married, saying as much to Xander in their confessional. Vanessa doesn’t want stability; she wants freedom – those were Vanessa’s exact words and Xander commits the classic mistake of believing she can change Vanessa’s mind. Can someone slide Xander a piece of paper with Maya Angelou’s famous sentiment: when a person shows you who they are, believe them? Xander can’t seem to believe what Vanessa is saying right to her face: I don’t want to marry you, boo. I’m in my hot girl era.
Vanessa also emerges our resident reality TV villain, which we get a hint of in the first scene. Vanessa comes out of the gate flirting with Mal before the couples officially break up. Later, as they all start dating each other, Vanessa wedges herself between Lexi and Rae, who came into the show together. Vanessa likes them both, but also may be a little intrigued by the ensuing chaos. During their dates, Lexi and Vanessa hit it off, but a pivotal moment sees Lexi recognizing Vanessa’s penchant for tumult. While Lexi sees Vanessa as exciting, fun, and intriguing, she perceives a lack of seriousness that Vanessa brings to the process. One could argue that breaking up with someone and dating other people five feet away from them is toxic from the start. Still, the participants seem genuinely interested in using the process to resolve their love quandaries. Lexi doesn’t see that in Vanessa, especially after Vanessa confesses she doesn’t think Xander could ever be sexually attracted to anyone but her. Essentially, Vanessa believes she has nothing to worry about and can flirt with whomever she wants, knowing that Xander will be there waiting for her. If only Vanessa had seen how Xander was hugged up with Yoly and rubbing up on sis’s leg. Apparently, Xander is not new to the streets!
I will give Vanessa credit for a humanizing scene with Rae. Vanessa asks Rae to name three things she loves about herself, and Rae seems to have a hard time. Vanessa helps her start until Rae finally names some things she loves about herself. I found my heart string pulling in this moment because I can empathize with the journey to truly loving oneself. Sometimes, we don’t know how much healing we need until someone forces us to think about whether we truly love ourselves. Rae seems to question her value, even asking if she deserves to be with her original partner Lexi. I hope Rae took note of the moment and the need to do some deep work to recognize her worth. Good on Vanessa for offering Rae this awareness.
The Lexi-Rae-Vanessa-Xander-Yoly-Mal of it all doesn’t leave much room for anyone else to breathe in the first two episodes. And I didn’t even get to the part about Lexi and Mal!
But there are other couples to speak of. Original partners Mildred and Tiff have all the sexual chemistry a dating show on Netflix can handle, which we get to see on full display during their late-night sexy romp. But they lack healthy communication and stay on a make-up-to-break-up hamster wheel. Mildred has given Tiff the ultimatum to get engaged, which Tiff has rebuffed pretty concretely. Still, there are lots of tears when they officially break up. Aussie and Sam seem to have a good dynamic, but again, Sam is ready for the ring, and Aussie needs to live with someone for five years before even considering marriage – until she meets Mildred, that is. After two dates with Mildred, Aussie is ready to get married and build a life with someone. This is where The Ultimatum: Queer Love gets a little fanciful. It feels like a temporary rush of adrenaline has Aussie caught up, but are those feelings going to last? Dun, dun, dun…
I went through so many emotions watching the first two episodes of The Ultimatum: Queer Love. I initially felt guilty for watching what seemed like an impending train wreck. Then I started seeing the humanity in all the couples and how individual insecurities kept them from being honest with one another. The first two episodes highlighted many of the core issues all humans struggle with: feelings of not being enough, lack of emotional safety, lack of self-love, and lack of self-confidence to love another person.
At the end of episode two, the participants face “The Choice,” where they have to pick which person they will enter into a trial marriage with. In my favorite book on the subject, All About Love, bell hooks talks about love as a choice – not just a feeling we fall into, but a choice we make to enter into a reciprocal relationship of support. I see love as a daily practice – starting with self-love and emanating out into partnership love. After the first two episodes of The Ultimatum: Queer Love, the rush of connecting with someone new has awakened feelings of lovingness. But the greater challenge is not just falling in love but committing to the practice of love every day.
Or so I’ve heard. Let’s see what happens in episodes 3 & 4.
*P.S. The phrase “later-in-life,” referring to people discovering their queerness in adulthood, makes me feel geriatric:( But I can’t think of anything else that makes the point.
**P.P.S. The gender identity and orientation of the cast members aren’t made clear in the episodes; however, other articles I’ve read indicate there may be some variance. So I use the term sapphic to connote women and gender-expansive persons in relationships with one another.