Girl Talk: I Dated The Real Don Draper

In honor of the season four premiere of “Mad Men” on Sunday, July 25th at 10/9 Central on AMC, this weekend The Frisky is re-posting a few of our favorite “Mad Men”-inspired essays.

There’s no question that I find Don Draper sexy. If I lived in “Mad Men” land for a day, I would totally screw him on his Sterling Cooper-purchased desk. In real life? Not so much. At least not anymore.

What makes Don Draper so drool-worthy on screen does not translate in real life. Actually, certain things do translate — tall, dark and handsome is still tall, dark, and handsome in the real world. But that aloof, secretive, and calculating personality that seduces his onscreen paramours and the show’s viewers? Total bitch to actually live with. Don Draper is written as an extremely complicated and deeply flawed man who does some awful things, like cheating repeatedly on his wife Betty and using information he gleans from her therapist to manipulate her. But the reasons and motivations behind his douchebaggery are slowly being revealed with each new episode. As with any TV show or movie, we itch to know what possesses someone to do the things he does, and we expect that writers as glorious as the ones behind “Mad Men” will eventually lead us to a deep understanding of who Don Draper is and how he will evolve into a better man. In real life, such life-changing revelations don’t always come.

I dated a Don Draper type for years. There were superficial similarities, like that they both worked in similar industries (just decades apart) and had a knack for always being “on.” Guys like Don Draper are great at their jobs for a multitude of reasons, but one of them is that they present themselves as calm, collected, and unmoved by the opinions and emotions of others. In a business situation this comes across as professional, confident, and reassuring to the client that the task at hand will be accomplished flawlessly. In a real-life romantic relationship, the refusal or inability to “turn it off” can be frustrating and painful for the other person involved. At the same time, being one of the few who is able to get past the facade feels powerful. When you’re in love, having that power only makes you feel even more special.

There are reasons why Don’s wall is so high and impenetrable. Knowing those reasons — or at least some of them — makes viewers sympathetic to him. There’s an abused boy beneath that tough exterior! A man with secrets so big, he has to hide behind a wall all of the time. Betty Draper may not know Don’s secrets, but they do share a bond he doesn’t have with other people. The women he cheats with? They don’t know him at all and they don’t have the ability or even the interest in seeing something deeper like Betty does. They’re not threatening to his persona, but she is. These are, of course, just excuses for his bad behavior that should never fly in real life. My ex had his own reasons for presenting a facade, for not letting anyone get too close, for acting like an ass; some he shared, some I figured out, but all made me want to stay with him.

I don’t know if my Draper-esque ex cheated — though I suspect he did — but I do think he broke up with me because I was a threat. I saw something deeper that was fragile but wonderful, and I wanted more of it. It was enough to make me overlook the utter douchebaggery of his outward persona. Similarly, Don Draper gives viewers plenty to love and root for, like his support of Peggy Olson, his disinterest in Pete Campbell’s brown-nosing, his delivery of that Kodak pitch in the first season, and that punch he landed on Jimmy Barrett’s jaw. Like Tony Soprano before him, the behavior that would be massively unacceptable in real life is sometimes dwarfed by his acts of kindness, loyalty, and strength.

That’s why I (and I think lots of other women) mostly love — and sometimes hate — Don Draper. In the coming season — which starts August 16 — I’m sure we’ll see more cracks in Don Draper’s facade, and it should be compelling and exciting to watch. But in real life, with a real Don Draper, I could only do so much. I made as many cracks as I could, but they repaired themselves and I wasn’t able to get close enough to try again. In retrospect, thank God. That’s why I’ll give my attention to Don Draper once a week, from the comfort of my couch, but never again in real life.

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