Embarrassingly enough, I am an adult woman who has always aggressively related to Devi Vishwakumar—the, err, quirky teen at the heart of Mindy Kaling’s Netflix hit Never Have I Ever, which launched its third season on Friday. Devi, you’ll recall, has treated audience members to such hits as almost hooking up with resident It Boy Paxton Hall-Yoshida, but bolting the moment he reveals his intimidating abs. She is routinely caught in chaotic situations of her own making—much of this, we learn over time through flashbacks, stems from the trauma of her father’s sudden death from a heart attack in her freshman year. The rest of it I can only assume stems from being a hormonal teen.
In any case, while some friends have informed me the young adult comedy is simply too cringe to be watchable, I’ve actually always embraced the cringe and savored the charming if not anxiety-inducing realness the show serves. Despite how Devi is steadily maturing over the course of the show, season 3 continues to deliver that simultaneously delightful and god-awful realness, particularly through Devi and Paxton’s short-lived second attempt at a relationship.
At the end of season 2, after initially expressing that he only wants to privately date Devi (who, you’ll recall, very publicly cheated on him at the beginning of the season), Paxton has a change of heart and the two rekindle their romance for all the school to see at the winter formal. The season ends panning on the couple kissing and dancing the night away, and by the first episode of season 3, “Daxton” is fully on. Considering how much build-up there was for this relationship, I was pretty surprised when the ship sunk by the end of the third episode—don’t get me wrong, I never pegged Daxton for being end-game. But I thought it would go the length of season 3 before Devi inevitably slipped down the classic Mindy Kaling enemies-to-lovers pipeline and made her way back to Ben.
Yet, the more I processed the episode 3 break-up, the more sense it made. As a twenty-something adult, I am not proud of the extensive analysis of teen romance to which I am about to subject all of you, but here goes: It’s just impossible to date someone you idealize or see yourself as “lucky” to be with. Devi and Paxton’s relationship has grown a lot over the course of the show—over time and many a fuck-up, Paxton eventually proves himself to be so much more than the prototypical, empty-headed, hot, popular guy. Yet, while Devi accepts this version of Paxton, she can’t accept that there’s a version of herself that’s worthy of him. No matter how much Paxton reassures her, she remains constantly paranoid that he’s cheating on her, and everyone at their school is laughing at the supposed asymmetry of their hotness. (This, of course, is comical in real life—have you seen Maitreyi Ramakrishnan?? Paxton is lucky.)
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Eventually, on the heels of a Valentine’s Day paintball game gone woefully wrong, Paxton tearfully tells Devi, “I really like you, Devi. But I don’t think we can have a real relationship until you like yourself.” I, myself, have heard something akin to these words before, albeit in a much less kind way. And while human relationships are complex, and different people are better-equipped to care for partners with anxious attachment styles or self-esteem struggles, the conclusion of the relationship makes sense. Seeing someone as “too good” for you is pretty much a recipe for an unhealthy relationship. When you see yourself as perennially “lucky” to be with your partner, you’re primed to ignore red flags, stay in a relationship that isn’t working, and probably struggle to get to know your partner as a real person, let alone be vulnerable with them. Yes, these are my takeaways from a sitcom about high schoolers. I already said I’m not proud of it, so let’s move on.
By the end of the season, Devi clearly realizes and accepts all the aforementioned reasons her romantic relationship with Paxton didn’t work. For most of the season, she enjoys a surprisingly mature relationship with a senior from another school who’s somehow as hot as Paxton and as smart as Ben, and also shares her culture. By the season finale, she’s happily single, close friends with Paxton, and on the brink of rekindling things with Ben. At graduation, she tells Paxton he “got [her] through the death of [her] dad.” When he asks how, she responds: “By being a dream.” As much as the two may have liked each other, the foundation of their relationship was always a fantasy; it was a relationship Devi had imagined in her head since elementary school, and naturally, it didn’t work in reality. Her eventual acceptance of this is a pretty big step for a fictional 17-year-old.
There’s nothing more tempting than having a relationship in your head without the messiness of reality. It’s not just plucky sitcom teens—the inclination to daydream and fantasize rather than actually be vulnerable and navigate the unbearable rawness of real human emotion and real dating is something a lot of adults (ahem, yours truly) have to work on. May we all someday have as much success as Ms. Devi Vishwakumar…
Daxton, of course, is just one of many fraught, unsuccessful, and fundamentally relatable relationships in season 3—Devi’s mother Nalini embarks on a friendship with another single mom, Rhyah, only to eventually realize Rhyah is just one of those toxically positive people who sees others as pet projects to be trained and fixed. Aneesa, still in a relationship with Ben at the beginning of the season, learns the hard way about how insufferably shitty it is to date someone who might like you, but very obviously loves someone else. There’s a difference!!
All of this is to say that season 3 continues to serve Never Have I Ever’s trademark realness in fresh and unexpected ways. And if you’re an adult who uncomfortably relates to the trials and tribulations of angsty on-screen teen romance, you are, unfortunately, not alone.