YMMV / For Better or for Worse


  • Accidental Aesop: It happens a lot:
    • Sympathetic women in the strip are generally expected to get married and be housewives (with a few exceptions — even many background characters are married off in the supporting materials), which is explained in-universe as a thankless, difficult, aggravating job. So it can be taken as "a woman's duty is to become a Housewife even if you hate it".
    • "Children are horrible monsters — you have to take care of them and instead of spending any amount of time on yourself or your interests, you're constantly breaking up fights and lose your sense of identity at the same time."
    • "Men are pigs who slack off at home and rarely have anything supportive to say, but you have to marry one in order to have a family (see Aesop #1)".
    • "Stealing another woman's husband away is perfectly fine, so long as you think she's a shrew who makes him miserable."
    • Mira Sobinski constantly gets away with her overbearing behavior (save for once when Mike stands up to her), implying that "grace under fire" is an ideal — that rocking the boat and complaining to someone's face is too difficult or horrible, so instead you should let them do or say whatever they want... and then complain about them behind their back (as nearly every character does this regarding her).
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: The author's viewpoint is that Thérèse is a cold, calculating shrew with severe and unreasonable jealousy problems who, despite Anthony's being a loving and supportive spouse, distanced herself from him and their child, cheated on him, and cruelly divorced him. But it's possible to make a solid case that Anthony was manipulative and overbearing, pushing Thérèse towards things she didn't want (a house in the suburbs, a baby, giving up her career to become a housewife) and being a whiny little bitch when she insisted on doing what she'd planned to do, such as go back to work after Francoise was born. There's textual evidence to support the thesis that Thérèse's "distance" was postpartum depression which Anthony did nothing about. Additionally, Anthony was emotionally unfaithful to Thérèse from the get-go, pining after his ex-girlfriend Liz for his entire marriage. Anthony and Liz's wedding occurs at the end of the strip's run and would seem to justify Therese's jealousy.
    • Word of God is that childless career women are cold, selfish, self-centered wastes of space and that the only women who matter are full-time wives and mothers. The character of Connie (Lawrence's mother) was originally created to show this, but the author soon saw her in a sympathetic way and abandoned her plan - only to revive it with evil, evil Thérèse. Thérèse may also be evil because she is French-Canadian and attractive.
    • Similarly, Anthony is seen by other characters as steadfast, loyal, and unfailingly devoted to Elizabeth. Since he maintained that loyalty and devotion to Elizabeth throughout his engagement and marriage to Therese, those traits aren't quite as admirable as they sound.
    • Is Elly Patterson a long-suffering mother who never receives due praise for holding her home and family together, or does she deliberately make things more difficult for herself because she has a martyr complex? Are her children completely uncontrollable brats, or is she too self-absorbed and caught up in self-pity to tend to their emotional needs? Is she the Only Sane Woman and a true gift to her community? Or is she a complete Control Freak, a pillar of negativity and hatred imposing her twisted vision of what's 'good, true and right' on everyone around her? Did she raise her family well, or cause them to turn out as nasty and self-centered as she?
    • April Patterson: bratty teen, or remarkably well-behaved girl whose biggest sin is being too young to move out when her parents want to retire? Also, some blame her for Farley's death by drowning when she fell into the flooded creek. Others blame her parents for being almost criminally negligent, leaving a four-year-old unattended while they chatted with friends about their recent vacation. One could call her the Only Sane Girl because she was the only one who seemed to think that Anthony and Liz were being unfaithful.
    • Is Michael a delicate genius, or a spoiled brat who uses his work as an excuse to avoid any contact with his children? Is he in love with his friend Weed? Did Deanna make a mistake with her contraceptives, or did she do it deliberately to keep Michael from going on a trip?
    • Did Thérèse actually cheat on Anthony, or did Anthony lie to John for sympathy from the Pattersons and further vilify Thérèse?
  • Anvilicious: Frequent, and not at all subtle, especially in the later years. How much of it can be justified by Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped is a matter for considerable debate among the readership. One big one featured the developmentally-disabled Shannon literally standing on a table during lunch hour to lecture everyone on how to treat the disabled with respect. This was, of course perhaps something that needed to be said (it was prefaced with a kid going "coo-coo! coo-coo!" at the Special Ed lunch table).
  • Creator's Pet: Anthony — one of the most universally-despised Pets out there (particularly on TV Tropes). Numerous characters (especially Elizabeth's parents, who relentlessly ship them together, along with Liz's friends) extol his praises, barely anybody says anything bad about him, and even Johnston's own Anthology Collections explain how wonderful he and men like him are. She explains that it's those "skinny nerdy kids" like Anthony that turn into the "best catches", and that she's gone to her class reunions and noticed this same thing! Essentially, Anthony Caine is what Lynn imagines the "Perfect Husband" to be — a dull, unadventurous, gawky, unambitious man.
    • The fanbase, however, was taken with different attributes — his ugly moustache, his nerdy appearance, his boring and unambitious career (the accountant for a car shop that turned into a small chain), and a large degree of whininess and emotional dependency, as well as his unfaithfulness to his wife. Keep in mind that Liz's other love interests were handsome, passionate, ambitious career men with fascinating positions and lifestyles — Liz dropped her own adventurous, unique life for "domestic bliss" with Captain Boring. Keep in mind also that a large part of the strip's fanbase was by this point identifying with the young post-college Elizabeth, which is why this particular trope stung so much. They and Lynn were on completely different tracks of where they thought things should go, and Lynn's personal fantasy life was simply not to be.
  • Designated Villain: Thérèse is fairly notable, though it's implied she was always a cold, unemotional woman. Her portrayal as somebody who didn't want to have children makes her villainous in the strip's point-of-view, as was her (justified) jealousy at the attention Anthony had for Elizabeth. Then she got depressed, then finally did something villainous (cheated on Anthony).
    • If you ever read the "supplementary materials" on the official website... it's actually worse (no pun intended). Anthony and Thérèse's fathers basically set them up and force them together. At one point, Anthony's father tells him that "Thérèse isn't the kind of woman you just mess around with - you don't do something with her unless you're willing to back it up" (i.e. marriage). The incident that prompts this sterling parental dictate? Anthony and Thérèse both go to the same music festival (each as part of a group of friends!) meet up by chance, and spend some of the weekend hanging out and renewing their childhood acquaintance through their fathers working together. It's very clear that nothing more intimate happened than dancing together (in public) and sitting side-by-side talking (again, in public with witnesses). Later on, when their relationship has "progressed" to an occasional public dinner (and nothing more) they're both pretty much ambushed by their fathers and told they have to marry to avoid scandal (note: according to Anthony's "behind the scenes letters" they haven't done anything scandalous... by Edwardian standards). It's pretty clear that Thérèse's father wants a male heir to take over the business, and Thérèse is going along with it because she wants to make her father happy, and that she hopes to change his mind about her being the best candidate. Anthony is going along with it... um, as far as I could tell, because he has nothing better to do.
  • Die for Our Ship: Fans want Anthony to die for the various ships of Elizabeth/Interesting Life, Elizabeth/Freedom, Elizabeth/Independence, Elizabeth/Anyone But Anthony... well, honestly, they just want Anthony to die.
  • Ensemble Darkhorse: April, Candace, and some one-shot background characters. The Comics Curmudgeon has picked up on a few odd-looking weirdos in background scenes and pointed them out.
  • Esoteric Happy Ending: Elizabeth marrying Anthony after being Strangled by the Red String. Arguably, the "new-runs" make it worse by driving home the notion that she's in for the same Self-Inflicted Hell her mother goes through.
  • "Funny Aneurysm" Moment: Among other references, in one arc, John (based on the artist's husband) gets a mid-life crisis car that the Author Avatar Elly remarks is like the "other woman". Flash forward years later, and we find out Johnston's real life husband had been cheating on her...
    • It also makes you think about how much John talked up Anthony to Liz and hinted that she should get with him when Anthony was still married to Thérèse... and then it turns out that the inspiration for John was cheating on his wife.
    • A more meta one: the title of the strip is taken from a traditional wedding vow: "...for better or for worse, until death do you part." It didn't quite turn out that way between Johnston and her husband.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: The strips where Elly dreams John cheating on her and happily leaving her for another woman. Even her personal notes in the "new-run" strips comment on how uncomfortable that is ("Let's just move on, shall we?!").
  • Heartwarming in Hindsight: Teen Lawrence says that he's never going to get married because he's gay. Although he never does get married within the strip time, homosexual marriage was legalized in Canada in 2005.
  • Informed Wrongness: Elly's self-absorption, both parents' inability to think of April as anything but the naive baby of the family, and just occasionally the reality of the strip itself all conspired to make sure April was always wrong; if it couldn't make her wrong on factual counts, then it would make sure she was at least a wicked child for insisting upon the facts instead of blindly rolling over and taking the blame.
    • Again, Thérèse. She's treated as a harpy for telling Anthony to cut up his sandwich or wear different clothes. Yet when he makes her have a baby she doesn't want and move to a place she hates, she's also a harpy for upset by it. The sexist undertones don't help much.
  • Misaimed Fandom: Thérèse, Anthony's wife, is described as being jealous to the point of paranoia regarding Anthony's contact with Liz. Unfortunately, since the comic actually shows her as being right to be jealous (and Anthony was hated by a lot of fans anyways), a lot of the readers had sympathy for her and not her husband. Even when the comic ended, despite numerous attempts by the strip to make her more and more nasty, most still felt she was unfairly persecuted.
  • Memetic Mutation: The "Gap-Toothed Starey 'Hoooo!' Guy", an unnamed student that gawked at April after her boyfriend apparently told him they'd done the deed. The Comics Curmudgeon happily pointed him out.
    • Also, "roadside", coming from a bad attempt by Johnston to create teenage euphemisms for sex.
    • And "foob" itself. The term was used in the strip by April, who explained to John that it was "a cross between a fool and a boob."
  • Mis-blamed / Scapegoat Creator: Lynn actually wanted to retire after ending the story; but a lot of newspapers didn't want to lose a slot in the funny pages, and so convinced her to do a few "new strips" in the middle of some older ones.
  • Never Live It Down: Anthony's actions immediately after rescuing Elizabeth from a violent assault by the man who's been stalking her for some time. Instead of then taking Elizabeth to the police to report her attempted rape, he first announces that "he's never had anything to fight for until now" (this, from a man with a wife and brand-new daughter), then takes her to a park and proceeds to go on a whiny diatribe about how horrible his married life has become ("I'm not a homewrecker!" "I have no home!"). From the context, this is mostly because his wife refuses to be a stereotypical stay-at-home mom. And all of it is explicitly an effort to guilt-trip the newly-vulnerable Elizabeth into waiting for him. Apparently Johnston designed the entire assault plotline simply as a means to give Anthony an old-fashioned Big Damn Heroes moment, complete with Standard Hero Reward, and until the inevitable backlash erupted had no idea that she was instead turning him into a Jerkass of the highest order. Not surprisingly, when the Anthony/Elizabeth relationship strips were later collected on the website, these particular scenes were quietly omitted.
    • Michael abandoning his family during the apartment fire in favor of saving his laptop. While Easily Forgiven for this in-strip, a big chunk of the Fandom saw this as his Moral Event Horizon. At least they were safely out of the house at the time.
  • Nightmare Fuel: For a while, the digital versions of the strips as seen on the site were actually animated GIFs, with the only animation being the characters' eyes blinking every so often. It was... unsettling. One theory is that a young relative showed her how to do it, and she happily went along with their idea.
    • Grandpa Jim's And I Must Scream after his second stroke. Imagine being perfectly fine mentally, but completely unable to communicate this with anyone, and watching them gleefully interpret all your attempts at telling them how you feel however they please... "Boxcar!" indeed.
    • The latest of the e-cards that Lynn makes available on site is a Quicktime animation of Farley sneaking into the bathroom, drinking out of the toilet and licking the camera lens; the caption is "I was thinking of you and decided to give you a big, wet kiss."
    • Lynn's latest attempt to cash in is a series of golf-club covers that have Farley's face on them. The problem is that it looks as if someone had decapitated him, shrunken his head and put it on a stake as a warning to all other sheepdogs.
  • Rooting for the Empire: 90% of the fandom was hoping that Elizabeth would end up with one of her Wrong Guy First candidates, rather than the inevitable blandness that is Anthony.
  • Seasonal Rot: The later years of the strip are mostly regarded as lower in quality. At one point, this was the most-popular strip in North America, and has several famously-touching strips and story arcs, such as the protracted death of Elly's mother, Lawrence's coming-out story, Grandpa Jim's problems, and more. And the earlier strips were seen as an "I feel your pain" call from Lynn to scores of unfortunate, put-upon housewives. It probably had 90% good years to bad ones. And yet, the strip's online reputation is largely-based around complaining about the last couple of years.
    • Never Live It Down / Bile Fascination: Almost all of the tropes on this page and a good chunk of the main page are about said later years. The earlier strips weren't actually that bad.
  • Snark Bait: Especially in its later years. Johnston has later called a section of the readership "The Snarkers", and pointed out that they legitimately hurt her and robbed her of some of her love for her work. However, she points out that readers in the old days were just as cruel and vulgar as the "Internet Trolls" of today — they just had to go through the effort of writing letters to get their vulgarity across. Now, it's instant.
  • Strangled by the Red String: Elizabeth and Anthony. It was bad enough that Elizabeth dumped two other boyfriends with whom she had better chemistry, all for Anthony. It was worse that Anthony was still married when they got together for good. It was even worse when Anthony's ex-wife was villainized as a horrible woman for daring to avert Stay in the Kitchen and suspecting that Anthony was cheating on her (even though he was, and even though he promised he'd be a House Husband when he convinced Thérèse to get pregnant, then went back on his word). What probably puts it in this trope the most is how everyone talked up this pairing, from Elizabeth's parents to their mutual friends to the author, with the only person with reservations being The Unfavorite of Elizabeth's family. And don't even mention the "going after" if you want to avoid a Flame War.
  • Strawman Has a Point: Johnston spent quite a few strips setting up Thérèse's unreasonable jealousy and shrewishness. Then spent five times as many strips unintentionally proving every one of Thérèse's rationales as spot-on.
    • Thérèse and Anthony again, though it goes both ways a little. Thérèse is portrayed as horrendous for not staying home with her daughter, but going back to work after maternity leave, which is what Anthony agreed to, not to mention she is making more money than he is, and would be the better provider in a one-income family. Even worse, Thérèse is rightly portrayed as wrong for cheating on Anthony, but Anthony cheated too, if not outright physically. He specifically asked Elizabeth to "wait for him" (right after the Attempted Rape, no less — classy), which is not that much different. Thérèse was also portrayed as being unreasonably paranoid and suspicious of his constant contact and pining for Elizabeth, when his behavior towards Liz as his marriage fell apart proves that her paranoia was in fact correct. He then sits around waiting for Thérèse to cheat on him so he looks like the good one, instead of being an adult and admitting to her that their marriage isn't working. Though this last is Truth in Television - it's a massive step that most people would be reluctant to take.
    • Also, while John is supposed to an somewhat-thoughtless, snarky, conflict-causing MAN, several times he actually comes off as far more rational than Elly. For instance, his attempts to ensure he has life insurance so his family will be taken care of if anything unexpected happens to him is hampered by Elly trying to derail the discussion by sobbing melodramatically and wildly accusing him of trying to scare her.
    • The Kelpfroths, Michael's crabby Ceiling Banger neighbors, also get upset at them for leaving their kids' toys and strollers in the stairwell and a kiddie pool on the common lawn area, where they're 'eyesores'. However, leaving items on the stairwell actually can create a safety hazard, and kiddie pools can be hazardous to the grass. And when Michael resorted to the childish "sitcom" solution of separating the shared foyer in half in duct tape so they can keep their kids things on "their side", the Kelpfroths were portrayed as being even more unreasonable for not liking this idea.
      • In another strip, they're pissed off at the fact the clogged up plumbing requires that their bathroom be torn up. But the clogged plumbing was caused by Michael's family, so they're suffering the inconvenience for their neighbor's inability to keep their kids in line, and yet when they're giving a formal complaint to the landlord, the landlord brushes them off. It isn't until later that their smoking causes the place to burn down, which is their least-sympathetic moment.
    • Jo Weeder's father is depicted as being a heartless, soulless authoritarian because he pointed out that Weed would have to be exceptionally fortunate to make a career of photography. Weed's eventual success, however, manages to prove him wrong — the strip's heroes almost always get their happy endings, reality be damned.
      • Weed's father never actually shows up in the strip. The one time Weed takes Michael home with him (and when Weed's career issues came up) the only person in the house, who enthusiastically greets Weed ("our boy is home!") and is hugged by Weed... is the housekeeper. Michael initially mistakes her for Weed's grandmother. The discussion of photography vs. the family business is held not with Weed's father, but the housekeeper (Please note: unlike the Pattersons, this is a discussion, not an argument. Both sides are calm and reasonable throughout). She points out (reasonably) that Weed's father just wants Weed to be well-settled financially, and doesn't want to hand over his business to strangers when he retires. Weed poignantly replies "I AM a stranger! I'm his son - but he barely knows me!" Unspoken is that the whole reason that Weed's a stranger and reluctant heir is that his father is a genuine workaholic that put his business over his relationship with his son.
    • When the Pattersons are moving into their neighbors' house and selling their old house to Michael's family, April takes issue with the fact that she still lives there, too, and they aren't even taking her into consideration. She's distraught with both offers of staying in the house (wherein she will be Michael's live-in babysitter) or moving into the basement of the neighbors' house. April's friend tells her that she has a pretty sweet deal out of it no matter what, but in all honesty, can you blame April for being distraught, or needing time to get over it? A major decision was made more or less without taking her into consideration.
  • Tear Jerker: Farley's death was this for some; especially since you don't really expect Newspaper Comics to talk about stuff like this. Charles Shultz was so mortified by the idea that he joked "I'm gonna have Snoopy get hit by a truck — and I'll get a whole lot more publicity than you will!"
    • Also, the death of Elly's mother was a very long, drawn-out storyline that involved months of strips about her impending death, and the aftermath. Just a reminder that the strip isn't comprised only of its last couple years.
  • Unintentionally Sympathetic: Thérèse and April. The former because her supposed evil traits are usually read sympathetically by readers, and April because her family eventually starts treating her like The Unfavorite, to the point of selling their own house and forcing her to live in a basement just so their precious Michael can have a big home for his new family.
    • A lot of people felt the only good thing to come out of the end of the comic was the revelation that April moved across the continent and never looked back. Sure, it's implied it was partially due to finding a "country boy", but she still at least got to choose a career and a partner without the constant meddling and pressure of her parents and has a career of her own.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic: Anthony, Elizabeth, Michael, Elly. Notice a pattern?
  • Values Dissonance: Several concepts central to the strip, such as ambition being evil, children being horrible monsters for daring to demand attention and affection — and yet the only real measure of a woman's success, and the eventual uplifting of several characters to Pattersainthood while retaining their many obvious character flaws resulted in massive amounts of Dissonance.


http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/YMMV/ForBetterOrForWorse