When Don and Betty Draper debuted on Mad Men, season one, their relationship and the whole show began as a bit of a novelty. It infused the cultural dynamics of the 60s into a show that felt refreshing. Don and Betty were the quintessential 60’s couple that people nowadays often look back on fondly. They were the old-fashioned couple, holding hands, in a traditional world, sticking to wholesome values.
The Myth of the 60s
Of course, all of this is a bit of a myth. Don and Betty had major problems in identity, faithfulness, and other complex issues. Mad Men loved to explore the dynamics of the times, and how these dynamics are eerily similar to what is present today. The Don and Betty relationship could be looked at as a rewarding and positive one. This is a distressing thought, considering the situations that occurred with infidelity on both sides (and a lot of it), multiple children, traditional values overturned, and more.
The Betty and Don relationship is one of the TV Show Couples Who Would Never Work In Real Life. This is due to the evolving expectations of gender roles in modern times. During their relationship on the show, Don Draper was a successful businessman. He came home to his family, a home-cooked meal (until things went awry), and the single attention of his wife.
Betty complacently loved him, dealt with his long hours, and generally remained submissive. Until she wasn’t. The relationship worked to the point of the show due to gender roles. It wouldn’t work today because, for the most part, people know better.
Women don’t have to be submissive, nor should they. Men should not be actively cheating and working long hours without giving their wife some attention. The show painted the relationship as cozy and nice, but it was anything but. It was eroded by the time the show started and worse when it ended.
Their eventual divorce was calculated and raw but almost welcomed. It was the culmination of years of abuse. In some ways, the relationship hardly worked in the show. This is, of course, the point. The singular ideas modern people have of 60’s-era marriage is coated through rose-colored glasses. It is a distillation of years of marketing and retaining the positive aspects. Mad Men Acknowledge the broken dynamics of the 60s and played with it for the distress of viewers.