Psychologists Say Don Draper's Wedding Proposal is Madness

Psychologists say wedding proposal means trouble for Mad Men's Don Draper.

October 19, 2010, 8:41 PM

Oct. 20, 2010 -- The minute Sally Draper ran into the arms of her father's new French Canadian secretary in a rebellious frenzy over her own mother's madness, fans sensed a new narrative playing out.

Don Draper, the philandering advertising genius on "Mad Men," would find his way into Megan's arms. Don's biggest emotional vulnerability is he never had a mother.

In AMC's season finale, "Tomorrowland," Don (Jon Hamm) hires his beautiful secretary Megan (Jessica Pare) to look after his three children after hard-as-nails ex-wife Betty fires their longtime maid and babysitter, Carla.

The couple, who'd had a quickie in the office, went off to Disneyland, cavorted with the kids in the hotel pool and ended up again in bed, where Don surprisingly proposed marriage.

Megan sang French bedtime songs to the cooing kids, wiped up a spilled strawberry milkshake without any Betty-like reprimand and warmly displayed her best maternal instincts.

Interesting from a Freudian perspective -- that Bobby was drinking milk, not a Coke.

Don fell hard, giving the dark-haired beauty (despite the off teeth) the ring that another mother figure, Anna Draper -- the wife of the real Don Draper -- bequeathed to him.

"I don't know what it is about you, but I feel like myself when I'm with you -- the way I always wanted to feel," he says.

Megan obviously doesn't know that Don stole his identity from a fellow soldier in the Korean War.

Faye Miller, the woman he'd only slept with days before, does. But she, after all, had no knack for kids. She also has a father in the mafia, so who knows if Tony Soprano will show up in the fifth season and seek revenge or reveal Don's secret past.

"Women I have talked to disagree, but I just don't buy the impulsivity of Don Draper, who does so little of that, except when he's drunk," said Brian Davidson, 51, a devoted "Mad Men" fan from Boston. "Maybe he's drunk with love instead of alcohol for a change."

"It's funny," he said. "When Jane Siegel married Roger Sterling, Don told him he was making a fool of himself. I found it interesting that he was quick to scoff at the bubble airhead but not the French Canadian."

Jessica Pare, who didn't know about the plot twist, told New York magazine she thought she was relieved to see that she didn't suffer the fate of poor Mrs. Blankenship, who died face-first on her desk.

"I think one of the things that attract Don to her is that she's not complicated," said Pare, who speaks French and is from Montreal. "She's straightforward. She says when they first sleep together, 'I'm not going to run crying out of here tomorrow.' And she doesn't, and they're able to continue their professional relationship without a hitch."

"When they go to California and he asks her if she thought about this, she says, 'It was the first thing that crossed my mind.' She is pretty earnest. As far as I know, I don't think it's a calculated thing. But again, it could turn out to be something else, because we all know that the writers of this show like to switch things up on you."

Will Don fess up to his past? What do they have to say to each other? Note the language barrier when Megan calls her own mother. Motherhood even comes up in Joanie's subplot. She never did abort Roger Sterling's baby.

Mommy Effect Is Powerful for Men

Psychologists say the mommy effect is powerful and transcends the 1960s backdrop of "Mad Men," but those relationships rarely work out without some kind of therapy.

"He didn't grow up with a lot of love and tenderness," said New York City clinical sexologist Judith Steinhart. "That is what this woman has to offer. It's not maternal. Don't even go there. It's tenderness. Being in the present. Someone soft and accepting of himself and his children. Someone with an open heart."

"He's a whole package," she said of Don's apparent transformation. "He's not just one person, he's encumbered and that includes kids."

But will it work out?

"I don't know," said Steinhart. "None of us do, it's Hollywood."

Meredith Murray, a 40-year-old fan from Roosevelt, N.J., said the saccharine proposal was "so pathetic and painful to watch."

"Don fell in love with the Disneyland Megan," she said. "She was a one-night stand in the office. But Faye is still reality. It was sort of a fairytale he fell in love with. If he hadn't gotten the ring from Anna, would he really have proposed to her?"

"He wouldn't remember his mother, but it felt like (Megan) physically resembled his mother who died in childbirth," she said. "Megan was so different and has the warmth that neither of the other two had."

But, says Murray, "this is going nowhere good."

"She made some comment about, 'I know who you really are,' and she hasn't even worked for him that long. At some point, the tempers will flair, the infidelity will return and we will hear he broke her heart."

Betty, who has had her own issues with motherhood, overwhelmed by her children, turned to Henry Francis, who tries to temper his new wife's anger. "I think deep, dark things are waiting to happen," said Murray.

Sally, who also struggles with both her parents, may be the toughest cookie of all.

"I see her doing the math on Dick and Anna when she saw what was painted on the wall," she said. "I could see her figure out: 1964, who was that? She obviously has shown no love lost for her mother and at some point in the show she will reach the point where she calls her father on his infidelities and untruthfulness."

Don Draper Is Infant-Like in Love

The episode fades to black with Sonny and Cher's 1964 classic, "I Got You Babe," -- which begs the question of Don, so who's the babe now?

Men are "hugely" attracted to women with maternal instincts, according to Judy Kuriansky, a couples counselor and author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Healthy Relationship."

The draw is largely anthropological.

"That was the role of women," she said. "The male of the species would pick the female who could take care of the children that are his progeny. The male, of course, wants to propagate. He picks females who are the strongest, most mothering and comforting of the kids who take his name and genetics."

The psychodynamics are also powerful for men like Don Draper, whose own mother, a whore, died in childbirth. "The male often projects into the child, re-experiencing, 'This is me, being taken care of by an ideal mother.'"

"For a particular group of men who have not had good mothering, this is very powerful," she said. "But the bad news is this works for a few years, but when the infant monkeys get off their feet, the parents are on to something else."

That's the Madonna-whore syndrome and it "pollutes the entire relationship," according to Kuriansky.

The initial attraction -- the "adoration of the mother figure" -- devolves into a perception that the wife is not a sexual creature, she said. "The next issue is how to resolve that. You want the whore in the bedroom and the sweetheart in the kitchen, and both people have to work at it. It can be a long road."

With "Mad Men" creator Matt Weiner's dalliance with psychotherapy -- Betty was treated for her model malaise and Sally's masturbation incident sent her to the shrink -- Don might actually go into counseling.

"I see (Don) as so deeply engrained, although he would say it isn't true," said Kuriansky. "It would be hard to get through his resistance and work through all the feelings about his mother and how she abandoned him."

"He's a little slick and crafty," she said. "I think therapy would be tricky."