The X-Files Guide to Relationships

(This post originally ran on July 12, 2012, but we are bumping it up in honor of The X-Files’ 20th birthday. Tell us about your favorite X-Files episode in the comments!)

Surprise! (Or not?) To me, FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are the ultimate, endgame OTP (and if they’re not yours, I don’t know what’s wrong with you). Even if the Smulder relationship isn’t explicit in the series, everything about their chemistry is too hot to ignore anyway: wistful gazes, obliviousness to/denial of their mutual attraction, their emotional dependency and comfort, and the constant companionship.

Sure, the plot of the X-Files is riveting and fascinating in its sci-fi goodness, but let’s be honest: most of us have watched, and frequently re-watch, the X-Files for the tension, the incredible amount of sexy (shoulder pads included), and the sparks that fly off Mulder and Scully whenever they so much as lock eyes.

Like any good pairing, I can credit Smulder for instilling in my brain all sorts of notions about ideal relationships, seduction, and love. It’s only fair I share with you the wisdom I’ve gleaned from nine sexual tension-filled seasons. Voila!

EYE CONTACT IS EVERYTHING
“I do not gaze at Scully.” Right Mulder, you tell yourself that.

Admittedly, Mulder and Scully aren’t the most expressive of folks, and they spend more than half the series in denial, unwilling to admit to themselves the possibility of attraction. Whenever they lock eyes, though, you can feel the frustration, yearning and longing for each other just pouring from their eyeballs, oh those tender little fawns.

They can try to hide it and they may think they’re safe as long as they don’t say anything, but the eyes are the windows to the soul, my friends. Although not an actual form of sex, eye sex still counts, especially because it fuels my second point.

LETS GET PHYSICAL, PHYSICAL
There’s little romantic physical interaction between our lovely duo, but the few times they touch, we cherish those precious instances like stingy misers. Every time Mulder stands just a wee bit too close to Scully (all the while gazing at her like she’s the last drop of water left in the desert), or in those very deliberate, yet restrained and calculated moments where they touch hands, the heart lurches and the tummy goes all aflutter.

I don’t know about you, but off the top of my head I can rattle off a list of my favorite moments of physical intimacy between the pair: Mulder hooking a finger through Scully’s necklace to swing her back around; that one time in the Antarctic, when Mulder felt he needed to pull the back of Scully’s shirt down so he could palm her neck; or that moment when it looked like Mulder was going to kiss Scully while she was asleep during a stakeout, but it was really just him waking her up. You get the drift.

WHO NEEDS INSTANT GRATIFICATION?
The thing about being a bystander to Smulder is that we wait (and wait, and wait), which can be frustrating at times, but it’s what works for them. Both Mulder and Scully are very cautious and guarded individuals, so the stalling allows them to independently come to terms with their emotions, prepare themselves to embark on something that’s a bit unsettling and a little out of their depth, and just really get to know one another.

In the end, it’s so worth it. If you’re going to commit, you might as well really explore your feelings to ensure that the object of your affections isn’t a complete nightmare, right? And when you’ve been following along for so many seasons, you can’t help but squeal and scream a little in glee when that kiss finally happens. It’s all in the build up, people!

“ROLES” ARE MERELY A SUGGESTION
One is an emotionally closed off medical doctor who insists on the scientific method and rationalizing. The other is warm, gut instinct type, slightly unpredictable and notorious for searching for phenomenon beyond our physical world, however new age. Guess which character is which gender?

The best thing about Mulder and Scully – both together and apart – and what makes them so memorable, is that they don’t follow gendered roles in their separate lives or interactions with each other. What’s even better is that this “departure” isn’t highlighted or stressed, which would cheapen everything, really. Our agents are very much the product of their environments and are two intelligent people whose fields and specifications are different, but complimentary. Together, they’re just Mulder and Scully.

And if you haven’t already noticed, Mulder has a tendency to run (or at least scream) for Scully whenever things get real. Scully’s record of finishing – and winning! – fights outnumbers Mulder’s sometimes poorly executed flailing, so there’s that.

MUTUAL RESPECT = MUTUAL CARE
I’m tired of portrayals of these “ideal relationships” where one person is super possessive, with a penchant for stalking, and has a tendency to infantilize their partner, while the other happily accepts this sort of behavior because it’s some romantic expression of “love and care.” NOPE.

Because Mulder and Scully are first introduced to each other professionally, this shapes the way they approach and get to know one another – courteously and respectfully, with the whole friendship, lust, and love developing afterwards. As much as they disagree on just about everything, they respect each other and their personal and professional opinions and abilities. Mulder doesn’t gaslight Scully when she’s having doubts (not that Scully would stand for that), and Scully in turn respects that Mulder’s brilliance can take unconventional turns.

INTELLIGENCE IS SEXY
When you are an intelligent and articulate person, it doesn’t matter if you’re lacking in the looks department (not that either of our agents are suffering in that regard). Intelligence just enhances your person with even more charisma and charm. Mulder is definitely a quirky individual who can be an immature jerkwad, but it’s undeniable that he’s brilliant. Likewise, Scully immediately catches Mulder’s attention and respect when he sees her rise to meet his challenges. She may be the very far left brain to Mulder’s right, but she is,  without a doubt, one of the most intelligent people Mulder has met. Oh, did you know that she’s also a medical doctor?

WITTY REPARTEES = THE ESSENCE OF SEXUAL TENSION
Intelligence is an asset, but being articulate is just the icing on the cake. We’ve all met people so brilliant it’s scary, but when they talk it’s like an Ikea manual. They’re still undeniably smart (and cute), but a bit frustrating to work with at times. It’s safe to assume that one of the many things Mulder loves about Scully is her ability and willingness to verbally spar with him: it’s like catnip to his ever inquisitive mind. For the couple who would take nine years to take it to the physical level in their relationship, their courtship consists almost solely of words; this is where they find  comfort, satisfaction, and solace in one other. It’s also Smulder’s mastery of words that has led to some of the most memorable, squee-worthy moments in their courtship as they flirted, probed, and teased all the while in denial about the state of their attraction.

So really, good looks and shirtlessness can only take you so far in a relationship. When you’re in a situation where the odds – imagined or not – might be working against you, keeping you from going forth and consummating, and being with the love of your life, what are you going to rely on? A cute nose that wiggles when you talk and big blue eyes might be a good start for some (Dana Scully), but it can’t hurt for the rest of us to follow some of the above guidelines.

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26 Responses to The X-Files Guide to Relationships

  1. Tanya says:

    I think you should add one other item: A guide to a successful relationship is being able to indulge in baked goods. In Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, when Mulder eats one sweet potato pie after another, I was like, YEAH MAN! But I don’t remember if Scully likes pie.

  2. Moxie says:

    Praise The High Holy Grimace for this post, amen. Do you remember Triangle? Where they go back in time and Jack and Rose rip your whole stupid heart out because love. And Arcadia is picture perfect magic wonderland. And Garry Shandling disguised as Fox Mulder. AND LUKE WILSON’S RIDICULOUS TEETH. AND. AND. AND. Can you feel my feels all the way across the internet because I am going to explode. I am going to explode and my laptop is going to suck up all my particles and I am going to turn into Tron because I can’t be on this earth anymore because this OTP is too beautiful.

    Goodbye.

    • Lois Lois says:

      TRIANGLE WAS THE BESTEST AND GREATEST EPISODE EVER. Everything about that episode was just perfect because nothing proves that you’re OTP than finding each other, even when you’ve moved back to Alternate Universes or different time parallels.

      All of Season 6 was just basically ridiculous shipping and crazy fanfic fodder for everyone out there. Our hearts couldn’t handle it.

      Also, Luke Wilson’s teeth. Mulder is RIDICULOUS.

  3. OH GAWD YES! The witty banter and mutual respect of Smulder shaped my ideas about what love ought to be (and I found my very own Mulder, um, minus the alien obsession). The amazing typical-gender-reversal (and everything else about Smulder) also informs the way I write romance. They really are my first OTP and my love shows no bounds.

    • Lois Lois says:

      As a nerdy kid who didn’t hit her stride until college, most of my childhood “crushes” were on fictional men who were super good with their words. Mulder was EXACTLY THAT.

      What I love most about their gender-reversal is that it’s not a huge production and so reversed that they fall into a stereotype in it of itself. They truly are one of the best OTPs out there. Sigh!

  4. Tassja says:

    Guise guise guiiiise remember that episode where they were eating a whole bunch of food (seafood maybe?) and Mulder wipes some sauce off the side of Scully’s mouth? It still gives me shivers.
    These two really are the ULTIMATE OTP.

    • Tanya says:

      Oh man, is there a food/X-Files montage or list? I feel like food was always somehow super key on the show.

      • Lois Lois says:

        I mean, food is super key to everything, I’d argue. But food definitely factors into their more romantic moments, I guess because it gives them a more casual setting to relax and flirt in.

        Aside from that one time when they were stuck in a tiny bathroom and Scully got goosed by Mulder’s “penlight.”

    • Maria Ann says:

      I think that was Season 2, Red Museum when they are eating ribs – there’s this great pause right after the mouth wipe that’s just the right amount of awkward for them at that point. :)

  5. Lois Lois says:

    I love everyone in this bar – err – thread!

  6. MargieM says:

    You’re using the word Smulder? I never heard of this version… I’m the only one in the, who call the relationship MSR? Or it’s just because I live in Europe? And what is OTP? It’s a bank’s name here, but I’m sure you weren’t mean that.

    Anyway, this is totally right, they are perfect just as they are. Or maybe little bit un-paranoid, but who knows?

    • Lois Lois says:

      I think most fans call it MSR, but I personally refer to them as Smulder because it’s a play on “smoulder” – which is totally what they do when they stare at each other.

      As for “OTP”… Smulder is my One True Pairing, the (relation)ship of all ships, my favorite paramour forevermore.

  7. Michelle says:

    This is absolutely perfect! I am squeeing all the way through this!

  8. megan says:

    I LOVE ALL X-PHILES! It’s so refreshing to read comments like this… especially when I feel the exact same way! Not to mention the fact that it’s 2012 and the most recent comment was made just a few days ago. If this doesn’t speak to the pure awesomeness of these characters, I don’t know what does. <3

  9. Marielle says:

    This was the best site I have ever visited! Everything in this article is what has been sparkling in my body ever since I fell in love with the X-files 3,5 years ago. I’m kinda keeping myself from screeming right now.

    But hey, don’t forget Momento Mori! Scully’s notes for Mulder, and the AMAZING scene at the end of the episode, in the corridor. I’m serious when I say that I’ve been rewinding that scene about a hudred times, if not more… :) <3
    And just last night I watched "Irresistible" – first time Scully dares to show her vulnerability to Mulder… It's just so beautiful when she, a bit "irritated", tells him that "Im FINE Mulder", and then he puts his hand under her chin and slowly lifts up her face, forcing her to look at him, and when she finally looks into his eyes she starts to cry and crawls into his arms… ♥

    Love all your comments, feels like we all should get together for a marathon, just imagine :)
    Love to you all!! :) ♥ ♥

  10. An Old X Phile (I was 11 when I first saw it on the BBC, September 94') says:

    Oh, yes, yes & yes again; I was & am a shipper forever–& in my life right now I have my kinda ‘Mulder’….the object of my affection….but its a tricky one—let’s say there’s a Diana Fowler type mucking things up here….to be vaguely cryptic about the facts! The X-Files was my childhood & just earlier I think, for the first time in years & years, I watched a whole episode, really just for the scene I fondly recall at the end….Series 7, Episode 4, ”Millennium”…..bliss! It was better than I remembered, I mean the whole episode…I’m not a fan of ‘zombies’ you see so I wasn’t that fussed about the story here but Frank Black’s story was good….& then, well it’s just the last 5 minutes or less that do it for me….. & I hope, I do, optimistic hopeless romantic that I am, that maybe, just maybe my ‘Mulder’ will say farewell to ‘Diana Fowler’ (or that one from ‘Fire’ or such like….) & return to me…. & just see where we go from here…. :)

  11. An X-phile back in 1994... says:

    So glad to find your article here. I am a shipper too. Can’t believe after almost 20 years, I am still falling in love with TXF again when I rewatched it on DVD. And every look, every touch, every interesting and loving banters/conversations between Mulder and Scully can send me to shipper’s heaven.

  12. Amy Lou says:

    Love the article! Totally agree with it. I started watching the show in 1996 (I was 10) and I’ve been a huge fan ever since. I’m totally a shipper!

  13. Foxy says:

    Actually, there’s quite a few moments Mulder slips into the specified male gender role of American culture (i.e. the episode where he gawks over the stripper).

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  15. Natasha says:

    I love this post!! Mulder and Scully are the BEST couple ever. I completely agree with the gender reversals – I love that it’s not touted, it’s just the way it is! Scully is one of the reasons I’m pushing myself to do more schooling and follow my dreams!! Mulder and Scully FOREVER <3

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  17. Natália says:

    I just wanna say I love you all. You just… get me.

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