When Grey’s Anatomy took a break after the mid-season finale, Amelia Shepherd did too, despite her recent marriage to Owen Hunt. She left a note, though — they always leave notes — and this one said, “Don’t make this all your fault. I know you. That’s what you do. But please, please don’t do that.” It sounds cryptic, and we haven’t yet seen Owen’s full reaction to the fact that his new wife may have left him.
As viewers, it’s our job to dissect the minutiae of Owen and Amelia’s evolution as a couple for insights on the future of their happiness together. Sure, they’re smart fancy doctors surfing a sleek wave of success and good looks, but hey, their relationship isn’t so different from … literally any relationship. Especially if you’ve lived through Hard Times. Here are five common but important realities that define their relationship, and what it all means for their future.
#1 They Both Bring Baggage
Owen is an overworked ex-military medic with a history of PTSD and letting bad relationships go too far (see: Cristina and Owen.) Amelia is a former addict who has weathered the loss of family, a fiance and a baby with tragic birth defects. They’re survivors. The series offers two ways to read their potential: better together because they understand one another’s struggles, or never gonna happen because they’re emotionally damaged tortured souls. As Owen said, they’re both “a risk” and they both offer “something.” Amelia in particular had to be talked off the cliff by Meredith on her wedding day, largely due to fear of emotional commitment given her past. Maybe this is a pro, and loss and an ability to transcend the truly awful will be what ultimately keeps them together, but for now, the Dear John-style note Amelia left is making it appear that emotional baggage may be driving the two apart instead.
#2 This Isn’t Their First Rodeo
Not only do they share a general history of loss, both characters have specifically negative pasts when it comes to children. The topic was covered in-depth during a pregnancy scare earlier this season. Owen wants to have a family, and Cristina’s decision to abort her pregnancy with him was a deciding factor in the demise of their relationship. But Amelia’s been pregnant before, and recently opened up to those close to her about her “Unicorn Baby,” a child conceived under the influence of heavy drug use and born without a brain. He lived for 43 minutes. It’s not so difficult to see why a future of children might be a trigger topic for these two, is it? Differences regarding family may be the most concrete problem their relationship faces. Finding a solution where neither Owen nor Amelia needs to let go of their family expectations may be possible, but they’re both still in the healing stages of past traumas involving pregnancy, and where recovery will leave them emotionally is yet to be seen.
#3 The Relationship Is Possibly Based on Wanting to ‘Show Them’
Owen and Amelia’s relationship sometimes feels like two broken people acting like they think people should act in order to appear outwardly stable. They bumbled through the motions of dating and developing feelings through an on-again off-again type of relationship that involved more drama and tears than it did giggles and grins. They know they’re messy — Owen said “Let’s screw some things up” when they most recently reunited. But friends and family don’t always know how to react to “messy.” The pair has received criticism for blending romance and professional life from their coworkers at Grey-Sloan Memorial, and Amelia’s parents doubted her ability to be in a legitimate relationship so deeply that they didn’t show up to the wedding. What the haters may not be aware of is that spite is as strong a fuel for relationships as love, and Owen and Amelia’s doubts from the inside and outside have caused them to double down on their commitment towards each other. The upshot is that if it works, they’ll never run out of adversity. However, a problem remains: a relationship built on an “I’ll show them!” mentality may not be sustainable, especially when the person you’re trying to prove something to is yourself.
#4 They’re Surrounded by Doctor Love Wannabes
Oh, the most classic of Grey’s Anatomy conflicts: work versus personal life. Owen and Amelia’s relationship takes place in possibly the most lovelorn hospital in the world, populated by beautiful doctors who fall in love and summed up by Derek Sheppard’s own admission that “it’s not love if it doesn’t destroy you.” In this environment, it’s easy to be carried away by the desire for sweeping romantic love that fits social expectations. It’s easy to rush things — Owen and Amelia went from declaring formal couple-dom to moving into Owen’s house to getting married and talking about children quicker than Cristina Yang can perform an appendectomy. Working at Grey-Sloan Memorial simply means buying into true love and cupid and “following your heart.” Under the influence of that type of drug, and the fact that Owen and Amelia are still independently searching for personal identity after trauma, they may need to put extra effort into understanding their marriage and relationship as a stand-alone drama outside of the hospital.
#5 And the Big One: They’re on a TV Show
Okay, so maybe not all of us can use this one as a cop-out when we’re fighting with the S/O again about crumbs in the sheets. But it’s worth noting that while Grey’s has repeatedly used marriage as a plot device, there’s little correlation between a formal union and a successful relationship. A marriage may be a stand-alone event rather than an indicator of greatness to come. Think Meredith and Derek’s iconic post-it wedding, Alex and Izzie stealing a wedding, Burke leaving Cristina at the altar and Avery and April eloping. The role of weddings as a vehicle for drama rather than proof of commitment is by design, according to TVLine’s interview with producer Shonda Rhimes, who stated, “Weddings do not define my characters. I thought we all learned that when Meredith nailed a post-it to the wall.” Embrace her borderline sharp responses throughout the interview, because after 13 seasons of showcasing a romantic buffet of couples, flings, relationships, hookups and crushes, the seemingly random ability of a marriage on Grey’s to flourish or flounder continues to shock us, kind of like … in real life? Shonda’s shown she’s more interested in the independent growth of characters, single or not, than the growth of a relationship and a marriage. Much as some viewers would like to see Owen and Amelia settle down now that they’ve tied the knot, if it requires that their marriage overshadow their individuality, then that’s not an accurate expectation of marriage on Grey’s Anatomy
Given Owen and Amelia’s collective commitment issues and backgrounds, staying together will be a difficult decision. Or rather, a series of difficult decisions, because as we’ve seen, they grow through bursts and lulls. Maybe the question of “can the marriage be saved?” is misleading, because if we take after Shonda Rhimes and focus on Owen and Amelia as independent entities rather than halves of a whole, there are clear signs that this is par for the course for these two. Misjudgements, false hope, second guessing and soaring optimism against all odds define both of them. In fact, well-meaning self-sabotage may be the greatest trait they share.
Maybe a better question is, can Owen and Amelia’s marriage save them? By staying together, could Owen and Amelia face their private discomforts with commitment and unconditional love and in fact evolve as individuals? Viewed in this light, Grey’s Anatomy should absolutely invest in Owen and Amelia’s marriage. Not as an investment in romance and true love and the marriage itself, but in the potential growth of Owen and Amelia as separate, unique characters. If Grey’s chooses to rise to the occasion, and I hope it does, keeping this marriage intact can show Amelia and Owen that not only are they worthy of love from each other, they are worthy of love from themselves.