Cory and Topanga’s Delirious Love: A Boy Meets World Retrospective

Boy Meets World - Cory and Topanga Publicity Still

On a recent day off, I found myself surfing Hulu, looking for something to binge-watch. My strong desire to indulge in a bit – or a lot – of nostalgia won out over all and I excitedly flipped on and watched a string of episodes from Boy Meets World, focusing primarily on seasons six and seven. Oh, what a feeling it was to see all my old “friends” again onscreen: the dashing Shawn Hunter, the goofy Eric Matthews, and, of course, the perennially lovable Cory Matthews and Topanga Lawrence.

Boy Meets World - Cory and Topanga's first kiss

Cory and Topanga share their first kiss.

For as long as I can remember, I saw the pair as the ultimate model of everlasting true love. They’d been through thick and thin and always came out the other side together. I was certain that they would go the distance. Yes, for just about the entirety of the 90’s, you could say that Cory and Topanga were my “OTP 4ever.” Now, this was all fine and good for my 90’s self. I was right around 10 years old when the series ended with the tearjerker two part-er “Brave New World.” The impending tidal wave of puberty had yet to arrive and I was still young, innocent, and incredibly naïve. Upon watching the show again nearly two decades later, however, I began to realize just how differently I think today.

Granted, I’m an adult now, with a heck of a lot more life experience than I had at ten years old. This, coupled with a certain amount of admitted cynicism, got me thinking: Was it simply a case of nostalgia turned sour? Are things bound to just never be as good as one remembers? Or, were they always this way and only now, with a mature mindset, was I able to recognize it? I didn’t want the memory of my “OTP” to be marred forever. Surely, I was just overthinking things. As I continued to watch with a more attuned critical eye, though, I began to see the cracks in an all too familiar façade.

Boy Meets World - Cory and Topanga Wedding

Cory and Topanga get married.

Cory and Topanga’s relationship, although sweet from the start, did not age well. In fact, it only grew increasingly toxic through the years and beyond. As much as I wanted to love them – and even as much as I wanted to love the oddly timed and heavy-handed nostalgia goldmine of Girl Meets World – in all good conscience, I just could not. I thought back to all of the times that watching Boy Meets World gave a young me hope for the future and my then not nearly fully formed view of the world. At best, I possessed an idealistic notion of the concept of love. At worst, however, it was a distorted mess of societally constructed tropes promoting outdated ideals of toxic monogamy, fragile masculinity, and a warped sense of the meaning of loyalty and devotion.

Let’s dive a little deeper.

For starters, let’s talk about one of the biggest points of conention in the entirety of Cory and Topanga’s relationship in their college years: she gave up going to Yale to be with him at Penbrook. She took a chance on love and it quickly becomes obvious that this was not the right move. Not only did Topanga essentially give up her dream to live instead as “Mrs. Matthews,” but she was clearly resentful of this decision, taking every inopportune moment to remind her fiancée of this. Sure, back then, this sort of sacrifice seemed ultra romantic; however, looking now at the negative repercussions of Topanga’s decision it seems pretty clear that she felt the sting of regret almost instantly.

Coupled with Cory’s rather intense inferiority complex, even Topanga’s smallest successes come at a price. She always seems to end up having to “dumb down” her personality in order to meet Cory’s chauvinistic expectations. She can’t truly be the strong independent woman who she not only wants to be, but used to be prior to making a lifelong commitment to the bonds of matrimony. And, as a result, she lashes out.

Boy Meets World Cory and Topanga "They're Killing Us"

Cory and Topanga share their wedding planning woes.

For example, in the season 7 episode, “The Provider,” the couple gets into a huge fight – in public no less – during which Topanga calls Cory an imbecile and mocks his inability to successfully perform at the menial job he’d managed to secure for himself. And let’s not forget the classic 2-part episode “Seven The Hard Way” in which Topanga calls Cory a “nimrod,” and insinuates that Cory loves his best friend Shawn more than he does his own wife. Then she constantly harasses Shawn about the toast he gave at their wedding about letting go of Cory and allowing him to start his life together with Topanga, which he is clearly not “upholding.”

From the start of their married life, Cory and Topanga faced a great deal of hardship. They got engaged incredibly young (when Topanga proposed to Cory at their high school graduation) and had no plans for their life together when they returned from their honeymoon in paradise. Ironically enough, for this boy (and his girl) meeting the (real) world, they certainly hadn’t even remotely prepared for it. When Cory’s parents refuse to help them by co-signing a lease on a lovely starter home, and then further refuse to let the couple live with them, Cory becomes infuriated. This is not the first time his anger issues bubbled over into unhealthy territory, but it’s what truly sets the tone for the entirety of their marriage.

In the episode, “The Truth About Honesty” (one of the episodes infamously banned from syndication on ABC), Topanga insists that Cory be completely honest with her about everything. Now, a rational person in a stable relationship would take this as a healthy exercise in trust and open communication. Cory, however, swings far past that notion and into dangerous territory as he uses the opportunity to cruelly pick apart every little thing about her, finally concluding in a tirade about not being able to see her naked body. Backed into a corner (both literally and figuratively as this occurs in an elevator), Topanga ultimately caves and shows him her butt, which Cory then brags about as he bursts into Jack and Rachel’s apartment exclaiming, “I have seen the promised land!” Classy. As Topanga asserts in one episode, Cory’s one real goal here in getting married seems to be doing so in order to finally have sex.

Boy Meets World - Cory Topanga and Shawn

The infamous “undapants” scene

There’s an important takeaway here. Looking back at the way in which Cory and Topanga’s relationship is initially established in middle school, it starts off fairly sweet and innocuous. The two prove that whole “opposites attract” adage and quickly fall for each other. It seems, however, as they get older, habits of jealousy and competitiveness begin to crop up and the pair seems more often at odds with each other than working together towards a common goal. Neither one seems to trust the other all that much. In the episode “Hogs and Kisses” Cory becomes irrationally jealous of Topanga and Shawn for filming a commercial together (this is where the famous “undapants!” line originated). In the episode “Everyone Loves Stuart,” Cory initially believes that Topanga misinterpreted an inappropriate visit by their new professor, Stuart, and later decides to take it upon himself to confront Stuart, resulting in violence.

Of course, characters are not without their flaws. When written for television, these have to often be larger than life in order to keep the interest of the viewer. As a young person, I really enjoyed watching Cory and Topanga’s love story progress from childhood into adulthood. I remember squealing with delight over their wedding episode and crying real tears when they bid Mr. Feeny farewell and went riding off into the sunset. And from a certain standpoint, I can still enjoy it as an adult, albeit with a considerably better understanding of their unfortunate relationship dynamic. Yes, it’s nostalgic and yes it has issues. That said, I don’t necessarily see these things as mutually exclusive. I believe that the show can still be enjoyed, provided there is an understanding that it is simply a work of fiction and can serve as a good example of what not to do in a healthy relationship.