It feels like we’re living through a boom time for LGBTQIA+ stories onscreen, with queer romance abounding on shows like A League Of Their Own, the Queer As Folk reboot, Heartstopper, and so many more that I actually can’t list them all off the top of my head for once (gasp!). Still, all that radiant and life-affirming joy reflected back at me through my TV screen can occasionally make me feel as though I’m… doing “being gay” wrong? I mean, am I supposed to be flirting with hot queer people on a beach at sunset all the time? Because I really only do that once a year, max.
I should have guessed that Never Have I Ever would make me feel better. The Netflix teen comedy—which stars Maitreyi Ramakrishnan as Devi, an irrepressibly hotheaded high school girl trying to navigate the world of crushes, friends, strict parents, and some very real grief—has already established itself as one of the most charming and authentic teen shows out there. But its third season, which premiered earlier this month, takes it to a whole new level.
Previous seasons of Never Have I Ever had already acquainted us with Fabiola (Lee Rodriguez), a science whiz and robotics star who (at first) struggles with how to tell the people in her life that she’s gay. Watching Fab relax into her first relationship with her girlfriend, Eve, was as sweet as it was soothing, especially when she wrestled with queer predicaments that felt dead-on even to this ageing millennial queer, like how to explain to Eve’s cool friends that she doesn’t know anything about lesbian pop culture.
It was great to see Fab happy with Eve, but the new season’s twists and turns are arguably even more representative of a phenomenon that many people of all genders and sexualities will be able to relate to: that feeling when you’re just not that into them, no matter how much you may want to be. Season three sees Fab kiss—and eventually date—Aneesa, a classmate who was initially introduced as a foil for Devi and ended up dating Devi’s crush Ben. When Aneesa feels under-appreciated by Ben, she turns to Fab, someone who actually is paying attention to the things that matter to Aneesa, like soccer. (Basically, listen to the Tegan & Sara song “Boyfriend” and you’ll understand everything you need to about this love triangle.)
I loved seeing Fab and Aneesa as a couple, but what I loved even more—as weird as it may sound—was their break-up. After doing their best to recapture the initial spark that led to their bathroom make-out, it becomes clear that the two just aren’t working. “Fab, do you think we’re just friends?” asks Aneesa after another kiss, and it becomes clear that the answer is yes. (And that Fab has a crush on a slammin’ hottie named Addison, but that’s a whole other story.) “I really, really wanted us to fit,” Fab tells Aneesa with evident sadness. But it’s not a depressing moment; they’re choosing to still be friends, just without contorting themselves to try to make a romantic relationship happen when the magic is no longer there.
There’s nothing inherently queer about not wanting to date someone, but—to be frank—when your straight friends feel empowered to set you up with any queer person they know based solely on the notion that you share a sexuality, you become practiced at sussing out whether or not there’s a vibe. Sometimes there is, sometimes there isn’t, but one of the most helpful things I’ve learned over the years (yes, I am a queer elder) is that not getting along with someone romantically doesn’t have to mean failure; some of my closest friends are people I initially saw in a romantic context, and now I can’t even imagine them that way.
The love story of Fabiola and Aneesa is a brief one and not the flashiest or most show-stopping queer romance you’ll see on TV right now, but that’s exactly what makes it so important. I don’t know how the LGBTQIA+ community will ever know when we’ve made it (whatever that means) in terms of pop-culture representation, but I know that goal starts with showcasing queer stories that aren’t dramatic and high stakes. It starts with letting queer people on TV relate to one another naturally, rather than hitting the familiar narrative notes a straight audience might expect. More of this, please!
This article was originally published on British Vogue