Two whirlwind love stories, 100 years apart. At first glance, it’s hard to imagine that these couples — one from the TLC hit reality TV show 90 Day Fiancé, and the other from the classic novel The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald — would have anything remotely in common. But beyond Big Ed and Great Gatsby both having girlfriends named after flowers, Rose and Daisy, there lies several similarities that are too compelling to ignore. Defined by deception, idealization, and above all the American Dream, these relationships show us that love in the roaring ‘20s is alive and well in 2020 too.
Reinventing Themselves Through a New Name
Both Big Ed and Gatsby jazz-up their identities by giving themselves new names. Big Ed decides that going by just plain “Edward” isn’t doing any favors for him and decides that adding “Big” and shortening “Edward” would better suit him professionally and personally. Gatsby has the same realization, and goes from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby, a much cooler-sounding version of his original name. Though seemingly superficial, Big Ed and Gatsby’s self-given names function as new personas that play a significant role in putting their stories into motion, affecting how they present themselves to the world, and therefore how they carry out their relationships with Rose and Daisy.
For Gatsby it stems from his lifelong mission to renounce the legacy of his parents, “shiftless and unsuccessful farm people” who were well below the ranks of the social elite. By shedding his family name, Gatsby is also shedding an identity of which he has no pride. He runs on the belief that he can shape his future in a way that overwrites his lot in life in favor of self-made success and high class. Changing his name brings him a step closer towards accomplishing that.
Like Gatsby, Big Ed’s new name gives him the ability to reshape his identity by changing people’s perception of him. Given that he is 4’11” (when he’s “not in heels”) and far from being considered “Big” by most standards, the irony of his name highlights his sense of humor and willingness to make fun of himself. By owning up to his short stature, Big Ed also removes the opportunity for people to ridicule him to his face, because he has already acknowledged the most potentially laughable part of himself and preemptively turned it into a punchline. Simultaneously he compensates for his short stature by bringing more attention to his larger than life, self-described “huge personality,” which he says makes him feel tall.
The “American Dream”
Big Ed and Gatsby’s relationships with Rose and Daisy are equally driven by the pursuit and preservation of the American Dream, while love takes the backseat. The idea of striving for a better life and the possibility for anyone to become anything are not only cornerstones of the American Dream, but also of both these relationships.
Big Ed uses the allure of the American Dream to fuel Rose’s affection for him, promising her a new life and spoiling her with his American dollars. His acts of love are more than just love: they’re also a result of him taking advantage of his position as a well-to-do American in order to build himself a relationship. By exercising this privilege, Big Ed is perpetuating the American Dream. Both he and Rose buy into its influence, and it moves their relationship forward. Even before they meet in person, Rose decides to brush off all the red flags Big Ed exhibits, making it obvious that her desire to achieve a better life in America outweighs her self-respect and her intolerance of Big Ed. She outright admits her ulterior motives from the beginning, but she never acknowledges the extent of her frustration and tolerance until the Tell All episode during which she states, “I dealt with all of it, despite how ugly his personality can be, in back or in front of camera, I dealt with it. Because I loved him so much, but what did he end up doing? He’s such a liar.” Even if their relationship is one of genuine love, the love is overshadowed by exploitation, as is also the case with Daisy and Gatsby.
Gatsby’s goal of winning back Daisy, and Daisy’s reluctance to leave her husband for Gatsby is heavily influenced by their obsessions with upholding the standards of wealth and elitism dictated by 1920s New York society. Gatsby’s love for Daisy, while undeniable, is especially intensified by Daisy’s relationship to the American Dream: Daisy is born into and is married into the elitist world of “old money” to which Gatsby strives to belong. Gatsby, whose social standing is credited instead to “new money,” unfortunately cannot not live up to the prestige of Daisy’s “old money” high life in East Egg. When Daisy gets a glimpse of West Egg, she reacts “appalled by its raw vigour that chafed under the cold euphemisms and by the too obtrusive fate that herded its inhabitants along a short-cut from nothing to nothing. She saw something awful in the very simplicity she failed to understand.” Daisy’s sentiments reflect the rigidity of “old money” elitism and her inflexible allegiance to it, which holds her back from wholeheartedly loving Gatsby and choosing a life with him. To overcome this, Gatsby does everything in his power with everything in his bank account to prove that he can be more than enough for her.
Money & Materialism
The influence of the American Dream on these couples’ love stories unfolds itself through their toxic infatuation with materialism.
When Gatsby gives Daisy a tour of his mansion, he proudly shows off his bedroom, “where the dresser was garnished with a toilet set of pure dull gold. Daisy took the brush with delight, and smoothed her hair, whereupon Gatsby sat down and shaded his eyes and began to laugh.” Their shared giddiness highlights their superficiality, because upon Gatsby introducing Daisy to the splendor of his home and possessions, their attraction towards each other heightens. As much as Gatsby does truly love Daisy and want to make her happy, he also loves her reaction to his material wealth because it solidifies the elitism that she represents for his future. Further exploiting Daisy’s materialism, Gatsby shows off his expansive collection of shirts, and judging by Daisy sobbing over the luxurious quality and overwhelming quantity of them, it’s successful in drawing her in.
Big Ed’s recklessness with money for the sake of Rose’s love showcases itself in a similarly materialistic way. He routinely boasts what he can offer her in the form of material wealth, and it is well-received by Rose. After four weeks of dating, Big Ed begins to send Rose care packages filled with gifts and American products every week, spending thousands of dollars on international shipping alone. When Big Ed and Rose finally do meet in person, one of the first things he prioritizes is buying her pajamas. When he takes her shopping, she is so keen on exploiting his wealth that as soon as he takes his wallet out of his pocket, she says “Give me your wallet,” eagerly pulls money out of it and hands it over to the vendor, proudly telling him he can keep the change. Over the course of their relationship, Big Ed not only spends money on plane tickets, hotels, and fancy champagne, but also on all kinds of clothes and shoes, even a grill. Although he does this out of love, in proving to Rose that he has the means to take care of her, he is also reinforcing the fact that he can buy her out of her impoverished life with his all-powerful American money.
Rose & Daisy as Mothers
Rose and Daisy are both mothers, but the needs of their children hardly take center stage, especially relative to their relationships with their men. While they most definitely care about their children’s futures, Rose and Daisy prioritize their roles as wives/girlfriends much more than their roles as mothers, and they treat their children as an afterthought.
Although Daisy only references her daughter Pammy once in the entirety of The Great Gatsby, she does make it clear that she cares about her. Expressing concern about Pammy’s place in society, Daisy comments, “I hope she’ll be a fool. That’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” Daisy acknowledges that despite living in wealth, her daughter is growing up in a society where she is at a disadvantage because the only thing that gives a woman worth is her beauty, not her brains. The most Pammy can do if she wants a promising future is to be pretty. Daisy, having experienced this herself, accepts this as a fact of life and therefore decides there’s not much she can do in terms of her daughter’s upbringing, focusing her energy instead on her own love triangle and keeping up appearances, while leaving Pammy in the nanny’s care.
Daisy’s daughter makes just about as many appearances in The Great Gatsby as Rose’s son Prince does in 90 Day Fiancé. In the same way that Daisy passes her daughter off to a nanny, Rose consistently leaves Prince in the care of her sister, while she galivants around the Philippines with Big Ed, sleeping in hotel beds every night while her son is stuck sleeping on the floor of their half-inside, half-outside apartment. But Rose’s love for her son is unquestionable. The fact that she overstays in her relationship with Big Ed is evidence enough that she cares about giving Prince a better chance at life and a future in America. Regardless, for a couple that has plans to get married, Big Ed and Rose hardly focus on building a family. The most Rose does is teach Prince to address Ed as “Daddy” or “Daddy Ed.” In being so caught up with her relationship with Big Ed, not only does Rose fail to cultivate a relationship between Prince and his future step-father, but she neglects paying attention to his basic needs.
Living Up to Expectations
Big Ed and Gatsby establish expectations for their relationships based on their idealizations of love, and confidently assume that their women will fulfill them. However, neither Rose nor Daisy lives up to these expectations, leaving Big Ed and Gatsby dumbfounded when things don’t go their way.
Big Ed’s expectations are delineated through his presumptions about Rose based on the impoverished conditions of Rose’s life in the Philippines. They first reveal themselves through the comments he makes about Rose’s sexual past. When requesting that Rose take an STD test, he throws around implications about her supposed promiscuity based on her lack of money and his lack of knowledge about her past. But if Big Ed was truly concerned about both of their well-beings, he would have suggested the STD test for himself too, not just Rose.
Big Ed’s presumptions and expectations don’t end there. He also asks Rose to shave her legs because they look too much like his, and “Leg hair seems kind of less feminine for a woman…It’s gross.” He later gives her a toothbrush, toothpaste, and mouthwash as a “gift,” mansplaining to her what brushing teeth is for as if she is clueless about what dental hygiene is. Big Ed’s patronizing explanation exemplifies his attempts to civilize/Americanize Rose. When Rose fails to live up to his expectations, he believes he has the ability to fix her and takes action on his own, but it doesn’t work, and she later uses it as reason to leave him.
Gatsby’s expectations of Daisy aren’t nearly as superficial, but he’s equally controlling. Gatsby expects and needs Daisy to be the same girl he remembers from the past. But Daisy isn’t and can’t be. After years of marriage, she has instead turned into a product of her husband Tom and his prejudice. Gatsby is thrown for a loop, and assures himself, “I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before.” Gatsby and Daisy’s relationship starts to dissolve as Daisy fails to live up to Gatsby’s idea of her, but he continues to cling onto the fact that he can get the old her back.
Deception/Dishonesty & Secrecy About the Past
As these relationships progress, they simultaneously fall apart, because no one is being one hundred percent authentic. Big Ed and Rose thinking that they can work towards a successful marriage in 90 days without fully knowing each other, is as delusional as Gatsby thinking that he can win back the already-married Daisy while being a huge pretender. It is this deception and secrecy on all sides, especially concerning the past, that plays a key role in the deterioration of their relationships.
Rose and Daisy behave similarly in the way that any mention of their past love hits a nerve. Rose’s reluctance to reveal information about the father of her child mirrors Daisy’s reluctance to admit that she never loved Tom in the past. When Gatsby demands for Daisy renounce her feelings for Tom, she freaks out:
“Oh, you want too much!’ she cried to Gatsby. ‘I love you now — isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past.’ She began to sob helplessly. ‘I did love him once — but I loved you too.”
Daisy’s sentiment “I love you now — isn’t that enough?” says it all. And it reflects Rose’s attitude too, that “Past is past. It never comes back.” For this reason, along with the fear that it could change the way he looks at her, Rose throws a fit whenever Big Ed brings up her past, in a much similar manner as Daisy reacting over Gatsby bringing up her love for Tom. Just before breaking down in tears over Big Ed’s interrogations, Rose lashes out:
“Always past, past, past. My mind is — why you always asking past? For what? For what? It’s the past.”
Hypocritically, Ed and Gatsby seem to be perfectly ok with secrecy and deception, but only when it’s on their end, and it’s convenient for only them. As a result, they end up building the foundation of their relationships on presenting themselves as someone they really aren’t.
For the months leading up to their meeting in person, Big Ed lies about his height to Rose. When she greets him at the airport, she is surprised to discover that he is shorter than he said — even shorter than her — however, Big Ed brushes it off as if it’s not a big deal. He has the same attitude when he leads her on about having children together, even though Rose constantly reiterates that she wants babies. He casually avoids mentioning that he had a vasectomy and it’s not until the weekend during which he is planning to propose that he decides to come clean.
Gatsby too, is surrounded by secrecy and rumors, but never attempts to set them straight when people are whispering. He deceitfully refers to himself as an “Oxford man,” and lets people think he graduated from there, when he in fact attended St. Olaf in Minnesota, then dropped out after two weeks. For the same reason, he doesn’t tell Daisy about his family history, how he doesn’t come from a wealthy family like her, because he’s afraid it will give Daisy a reason to not love him. Big Ed’s motivation for deception is exactly the same: the fear that otherwise their women will leave. Ironically, this motivation backfires.
While we would like to believe that Love Conquers All, these two tales of romance show us that there are much more powerful influences. For Big Ed and Rose, and Gatsby and Daisy, it had everything to do with falling in love with ideas: the idea of the American Dream, the idea of being in love, the idea of a who a person is and represents, the idea of maintaining a certain appearance or societal expectation within the confines of a relationship. These couples are so caught up in the idea of love, that they forget to actually love, and it is the combination of these toxic factors that contributes to the failure of both these strikingly similar relationships. The resemblance between Gatsby and Daisy and Big Ed and Rose is uncanny: whether glorified through fiction or reality tv, love is timeless, and so is toxicity.