I Love You, Now Die, the docuseries about Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy, left writer Alicia Lutes with a handful of hard-hitting questions about suicide and mental health.
Warning: this article contains graphic details some may find triggering.
I don’t know what’s harder: to watch I Love You, Now Die or to write about it. I cried the majority of the time doing both, to be frank. My empathic little heart heavy with feelings, tossed about in a sea of conflicting emotions.
The tragic story of the relationship between Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy has no winners, regardless of conviction. My heart breaks and feels disgust – and so many other seemingly conflicting emotions – when I think about the story at the heart of the HBO docuseries. I Love You, Now Die is a complicated tale of mental illness, interpersonal relationships, being a teen in the digital era, and how much we owe and are responsible for one another and how our actions play therein.
On 13 July 2014, 18-year-old Conrad Roy III died by suicide. He’d been in a relationship with 17-year-old Michelle Carter for a little over two years after meeting holiday in Florida. Despite the length of time they were dating, the couple only met in person a handful of times instead preferring to communicate digitally using text messages to chat.
Three years after Roy’s death, Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for persuading her boyfriend via text messages to die by suicide. She appealed the decision but her conviction was upheld in February 2019 by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
Three days ago Carter filed an appeal against her conviction with the United States Supreme Court.
When Carter and Roy met, they were kindred spirits searching for someone to see them, the confusing mess in their heads and all. Watching their mostly text-based relationship play out on the screen, there are sentiments and impulses in their darker thoughts to which almost anyone alive who’s been a teen can relate. It feels sadly honest, and makes you wish they both had better support systems to reach out to instead of just one another.
Both felt isolated from their families and peers, be it through social anxiety and domestic troubles at home (in Roy’s case), or a desperate desire to feel connected with other girls like Carter – because being a teen girl is the worst. Erin Lee Carr, the creator of the docuseries, does a masterful job of complicating the story in a way that makes you look at how every person, thing, and situation might have played a part or sparked a messed-up impulse.
Attention, depression, and dysfunction were at the heart of Carter and Roy’s impulses, as was death: Roy’s desire to die was a central part of their relationship, his hurt a lightning rod for constant connection and codependent communication. I also have, perhaps, too much empathy for Carter and how much she was also clearly hurting, struggling with feeling like she didn’t have those relationships you see in TV and movies - the things that define our cultural understanding of interpersonal relationships - as well as her bisexuality.
But I am also filled with disgust and a real, visceral anger, at not only the part she played in egging Roy on, but how selfish her reasons seemed to be for it.
Carter manipulated the situation to try and make other people her friends via the sympathy and pity she knew she’d receive. She tried to gain attention and affection all while knowing she egged this boy on when he was having serious doubts. It made me mad in the same way the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why did. Suicide is serious. Life is serious. And death is permanent. I know because I’ve considered it and come out the other side, knowing clearly what I really needed was to ask the right people for help.
Trigger warning right off the top: at the end of October 2018, I was fairly convinced I needed to die. This is a thought that, unfortunately, floods my brain when things are particularly bad from time to time, bringing a wave of other negative impulses and thoughts with it. My hormones – an intense, and intensely unique, cocktail of neurochemicals swirling through all of us at different levels, particularly volatile during one’s teenage years – often force a hand my logical brain knows isn’t worth pursuing. And yet, my brain goes there anyway, particularly when times feel desperate or tough.
I know that now, as a woman of 33, and was lucky when I was 12 that friends I mentioned my feelings to promptly reached out to the proper authorities. It breaks my heart when I think about the degree to which Roy didn’t have that. Hurt people hurt people.
There are so many questions to ask both ourselves and the culture that I Love You, Now Die masterfully lays bare. Can you talk to someone you love about suicide in a frank and open manner? What role does sexism play in our social and cultural perceptions of mental health? Why does our society still insist on boys denying the existence of their feelings and emotions?
It is exceedingly hard to talk and write about, both as someone who has had suicidal ideation, and writes about television and culture for a living. When they all intersect, chaos and confusion often erupt because we don’t have a good way of talking about these things. A lack of interpersonal connection – or even just the sense of it – can make people feel and say and do impulsive, erratic things.
It becomes like a drug you’re constantly in search of, but the hits never feel like they’re hitting, for one reason or another.
Roy certainly had a tempestuous relationship with the male members of his family and neither of them really had the capacity to understand or express what they were feeling. They didn’t have the tools, and the world around them didn’t help much either. So the two turned to each other in a familiarly toxic relationship tango. Only this one went extremely far.
And, relatively speaking, we don’t know jack about our neurochemicals, our brains, or the evolution of human biology and how nature and nurture affect people’s behaviors, thoughts, and actions relative to the times. Add antidepressants to a more teenaged version of that mix and, well: your mileage may vary. It’s not a binary system or concretely knowable thing, because it’s ultimately all so nuanced and dependent upon the person and their particulars.
So what does this mean for us, or the people connected to the story in I Love You, Now Die?
Michelle Carter has some time in jail to think about it, but it’s worth investigating our own impulses and behaviors. It’s worth talking to one another in new, more vulnerable ways about our feelings and mental health. It’s about trying to find new ways to build bridges in places where we’ve long assumed there could only be valleys.
We all have to examine what we say and do, and how we can take responsibility for ourselves as our understanding of mental health evolves in 2019 and beyond. But it’s a necessary evolution: Technology has changed things, the American mental health crisis has changed things. So now we have to change, too.
I Love You, Now Die part one aired on HBO on 9 July, and part two airs 11 July 8pm ET. A UK date is yet to be confirmed.
For confidential support call the Samaritans in the UK on 08457 90 90 90 or visit a local Samaritans branch.
For support and resources within the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text 741-741 for the Crisis Text Line. If you feel in danger of acting on your ideations, call 911 immediately.