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YMMV / For Better or for Worse

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  • 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."
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    • "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).
    • The way both Michael and Elizabeth’s adult lives go unintentionally gives the message "It’s fine to go to university and do a little traveling, but the right way to be an adult is to stay in your hometown, marry your childhood/high school sweetheart and have kids by your mid twenties. Any other option is the wrong one."
  • 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 (which Anthony had agreed to), 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. It’s also rather telling on the official website that Anthony gets a full backstory and she doesn’t-so we never see things fully from her perspective.
    • 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?
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    • 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. 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).
  • Archive Binge: 31 regular collection books, 4 treasuries, 2 Sunday strip collection books, 6 retrospective books, 5 ‘little books’, 2 gift books, and 4 (out of a planned 9) library books.
  • Catharsis Factor: The Kortney arc has one for April supporters. Kortney threatened her when April busted the former for being on chatrooms during work hours. April then gets snarky when her mother refuses to believe her at first, and says that Kortney has become an achiever at doing nothing. The arc ends with April helping Moira gather evidence that Kortney is a thief and a liar, having used stolen checks and letters to forge donations and purchases. While April is saddened on seeing her mother upset, she also looks relieved that Moira finally took charge of the situation.
  • 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 him and Liz 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. The writer and the audience were of completely different minds regarding what kind of life was most rewarding and fitting for Elizabeth.
  • 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, 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 Dark Horse: 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. 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.
  • Fair for Its Day: One way to tell Society Marches On is to see some things that got Johnston mail of praise and hatemail for including. These days, an author would be considered old-fashioned for playing them straight.
  • "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 feeling upset by it. The sexist undertones don't help much.
  • 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."
    • The fireman with the morose expression, declaring "Some things just aren't worth dying for," in his Inner Monologue became on the Something Awful forums.
  • 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.
  • Mis-blamed: 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.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Howard crossed this when he tried to rape Elizabeth.
  • 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.
    • The part in the Christmas Angel TV special when Mike and John think that Elizabeth drowned in the river.
    • Candace's aunt being held up and then concussed by two robbers.
  • 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.
  • "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: While the strip has gone downhill, it's hard to appreciate just why the strip became a staple in newspaper comics:
    • The characters aged in real time. Most other Dom Com strips had kids Not Allowed to Grow Up and parents who seemed perpetually in their 30s-40s. Even today this is fairly unique, however other comics such as Funky Winkerbean have also adopted this.
    • It touched upon issues such as infidelity, homophobia, sexual assault, child abuse, deformities, the treatment of First Nations peoples, cancer, death, strokes, and ableism. Most newspaper comics simply did not talk about that stuff - oftentimes it was kept for A Very Special Episode.
    • John and Elly actually fought with each other. And neither was truly in the right all the time. There were some cases in which it was obvious that one was right and one wasn't, but early on, they showed Elly overreacting to things or John being inconsiderate.
    • Johnston in one early strip actually depicted a doctor wearing a yamaka - it's hard to appreciate just how risky this was, since she received hatemail for pushing an agenda in comics.
  • 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 many; 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.
    • Lawrence's coming out storyline has him telling his parents which goes far worse than you'd expect for two major supporting characters: Connie refuses to accept it and tells Greg to "talk some sense into him". Instead Greg throws his step son out into the cold telling him to go live "where people like you live. " Laurence's response is absolutely heartbreaking.
    Lawrence: My name is Lawrence Porier and I live here!
    • Thankfully, it resolves later on, with both Connie and Greg accepting Lawrence's homosexuality.
    • Be honest, every time someone went through a breakup in a relationship.
    • Grandpa Jim slowly succumbing to health conditions related to old age, including memory-loss and random heart strokes.
    • Mr. B's death. Unlike Farley's, April had to experience every last second of her bunny's passing.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: When Michael and Deanne discover they have an unexpected pregnancy and are seriously concerned about that development with their financial situation, Elly is ecstatic about it in a I Want Grandkids fit of selfishness without seemingly caring about what they feel about it. The whole scene feels like Michael and Deanne are going talk it over seriously and call Elly with the concluding panel of her face shattering at being told they decided to have an abortion. Instead of that bombshell, the pregnancy just goes through, resulting in Meredith.
    • A few months before the Grand Finale, Elizabeth and Francie run into Therese at a mall. The way it’s set up, you’d think that it would be a great opportunity to have Therese bond with her daughter or tell Elizabeth her side of the story about her relationship with Anthony, perhaps giving Elizabeth second thoughts about the wedding. But it’s just a last ditch effort to get the readers to hate her, rejecting her child in a moment of Narm and barely speaking to Liz.
  • Unintentionally Sympathetic
    • Thérèse: in addition to everything that happened in the strip (Thérèse ends up married to a man who expects her to give up her career to live in his small hometown and raise children she did not want, while he remains obviously in love with another woman), the background material reveals that Thérèse's father wanted a "male heir", and Thérèse basically agreed to marry Anthony under paternal pressure, while hoping that she could persuade her dad that she herself was the right candidate to take over the family business. Why Johnston thought this would make readers hate Thérèse is not entirely clear.
    • April. Her family eventually starts treating her like The Un-Favourite, 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, becoming a vet. 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.
    • John more or less disappearing into his hobbies is frequently portrayed as irresponsible, but by that point Elly had long stopped listening to him and had pretty much gone insane (the author does not seemed to have noticed this). Staying the hell away from her is a perfectly reasonable reaction.
  • Values Dissonance: Lynn Johnson's self-described pro-nuclear family views as a "child of the 50s" started rearing their ugly head more and more as the strip neared its conclusion, and when her views clashed with those of many fans, things got ugly. This stung especially hard for the people who first started reading the comic when it was running fresh and groundbreaking storylines with progressive attitudes on topics like homosexuality and the disabled, so everyone settling for domestic bliss came across like a slap in the face. Ultimately, the comic is a good example of what happens when a Long Runner starts out progressive, only to have the surrounding culture start changing faster than the comic does. Some examples:
    • April is portrayed as a "difficult" teenager for things like wanting to wear fashionable clothing that her mother disapproves of and preferring to spend time with her friends rather than babysitting her brother's children.
    • Elizabeth moves in with her university boyfriend but for some reason insists on separate bedrooms, despite the fact that cohabiting and the implied premarital sex has been seen as normal for decades.
    • On her website, Lynn Johnston defended her choice to have Elizabeth get together with Anthony, claiming that Liz's other beaus were unsuitable because her family didn't know them well.
    • April's friend Becky is gossiped about because she's "roadside". There's a slight nod to the idea that maybe a fifteen-year-old girl who has sex with someone older might have been manipulated into it. Otherwise, it's implied that "good girls don't" and Slut-Shaming is A-OK.
    • The infamous Attempted Rape. Johnston apparently viewed it simply as a way for Anthony to come to Elizabeth's rescue, and was surprised that readers were concerned with trivia like whether Elizabeth was all right, or if her attacker was caught and punished.
  • The Woobie:
    • John's cousin Fiona was one for years. Her backstory tells us that her father was abusive and told her to steal and lie, before he left the family and Fiona ended up in foster care. Fiona developed a gambling addiction as an adult, and she couldn't attract men unless they were shady somehow. And it was only after she found a job at a pool hall after staying for a while with the Pattersons, that she could get a relatively good life as an adult.
    • Same with Candace, according to her backstory.
    • Lawrence sometimes comes off as feeling neglected, even before his coming-out story.


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