Of Movies and Marriage

Kevin and I went to see Hope Springs last week with some friends, and I have Thoughts. They are mildly spoilery thoughts, so if this is a movie that you are hoping to go see, I guess maybe don’t read this? Except I think it’s pretty obvious from the trailers that the movie is about marriage counseling and intimacy issues. It is less obvious that the movie isn’t very funny – I think most of the funny parts are in the trailer (Carol? With the corgies?). Right, so: Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones as suburban empty nesters in their 60s, go for a week of intensive couples therapy at the hands of Steve Carell. The couple’s relationship has reached a level of brokenness that was both heartbreaking and, I think, common. They followed a routine carved from years of practice, slept in different rooms, share perfunctory words out of habit, rarely actually touched one another. The characters were a bit stereotypical in their roles – Kay wanted Arnold to notice she was desperately unhappy without her saying it outright, and Arnold was grumpy and taciturn and immune to subtext.

The thing about the movie, though, was that it was very easy to relate. I mean, I felt like I could fill in the entire blank space of their lives and relationship before the movie started. How they were so young and in love, and how they got married and played a bit of house – Arnold taking his briefcase to work, Kay tidying up and making dinner and oh here comes a baby! And they loved the children, but oh sometimes Kay just wishes no one else would ask her for anything today, or must some always be touching her at all times, really? And then Kay and Arnold forget to focus on each other for a few years, and it becomes a few more and suddenly BAM! The kids are gone, they are in their 60s, and they don’t even know each other anymore. And it’s been years since they were intimate – Arnold stopped asking a while back because Kay was so consumed by the kids, and Kay doesn’t know how to ask because that wasn’t how it ever worked before, and everything is just a mess. They are so deep in their ruts that it’s impossible to climb out, even though they can both see the way a million times a day.

So the movie picks up there, basically, with these two people who have shared their lives but don’t know how to start talking to each other again. And you basically go to therapy with them. It is painful and awkward and terrible, as Steve Carell deadpans questions about intimacy and sex and communication. And the whole time, as the viewer, I’m sitting there relating. I think it’s impossible not to – I was painfully aware that my husband was also relating, and that the two other couples we were with were, too. We are all sitting there, inevitably thinking about our own marriages. Either how we hope they will never get like this, oh we are safe because we talk, we touch! Or about how they might be headed that way or there already, in small ways.

Kevin and I had a really tough first year of marriage. I think a lot of people do – you think you know what you’re doing, but it’s different and harder in a thousand tiny ways. We lived together, albeit with many roommates, for over a year before we got married, so I think we both thought there wouldn’t be much of an adjustment. We had our finances melded for a long time before as well, we’d had the big discussions about kids, money, religion, even housekeeping styles. We were in agreement on all of it! No problems!

The big thing we didn’t know how to do was communicate when things were shitty. Like, say, when you just moved across the country in the middle of winter to a barren desert where you don’t know anyone, and you both just finished school, and started your first real jobs, and bought your first house, and it’s just so empty. And you are supposed to fill it with warmth, somehow, but you aren’t feeling real warm at the moment. (Answer: buy some cats, and relax, dudes.)

We figured it out (thanks, Squish!) but it took a lot of time, and it got to where we weren’t barely talking to each other first. And boy, starting up again? That is the hardest thing either of us has ever done, bar none. Harder than this whole baby thing, that is for damn sure. And so watching this movie, we are both sitting there, feeling that difficulty just wash over us again, but from the other side. I think I’d forgotten how hard it was, bridging the distance we let develop between us in just a few short months. Now, a week later, it is mostly unfathomable again – no way did that ever happen, we enjoy each other way too much, it’s ridiculous. But, it did. And this movie – oof, it brought it right back. We talked about it on the way home, a really good conversation about how that can happen generally, how it happened to us, and what we will do if it ever happens again. I’m glad we watched it, watched it together.

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6 Responses to Of Movies and Marriage

  1. Hillary says:

    I want to go see this movie now.

    I wrote a post kind of about this in February (?), right around the time Mike and I were coming up on 10 years together (6 married). We had a rough patch this year; I blame the dog, which ended up being a good decision, but was a real strain on our routines. Anyway, the point of all this blather is that marriage is very hard. I think it’s the hardest thing. It just doesn’t make any logical sense. You tie yourself to this person for life, and that takes work, but oh! you’re supposed to be in love and love isn’t work. Except it totally is, just no one really teaches you how to do it. Realizing that love is work might be the realization that has made me feel most like an adult.

  2. Michelle says:

    This makes me want to see this movie now.

    I think it’s common for marriages to go through a “rough” period like that (I think it’s common, because so many people have told me they’ve been there)- but you’re not supposed to have a “rough” spot, so no one talks about it openly. For us, the addition of the kid is what threw our relationship for a loop. I wrote about it a few months ago, but basically, the 6 months after the kid was born were the most difficult in our 13 years together, for many reasons. We basically just forgot how to relate to each other and it took a long time to figure out how to get back there.

  3. K says:

    It is that–the being lonely yet still being married and having no kids at home–which keeps me plugging away and working dutifully on being happily married (not that every day is) (I mean, come on).

    I live in fear of Ezra and Iris leaving and T and just kind of..staring at one another. I don’t want to lose sight of why we came together in the first place and I don’t want suddenly stop liking him all that much.

    I don’t want to be complacent.

  4. HereWeGoAJen says:

    I hadn’t even heard of this movie (I uh, live in a bubble of my house and twitter, haven’t seen movies in the theater in years, and when I watch TV, it’s without commercials) but now I think I want to rent it.

    Matt and I have been together fifteen years now. And we are mostly good. Like I assume most everyone is mostly good. The hardest time we’ve had together was right after Elizabeth was born. Which makes me a little terrified of what is coming in the next three weeks. We’ve already discussed how we remember it being awful and we are going to remember this time that it isn’t each other’s fault that it is awful. (Even though it was totally his fault last time, right? RIGHT?)

  5. Gaby says:

    This is already my fear, and we’ve only been married five years. We have two young sons (2 and 5 months), and it’s all kids, all the time. Which means it’s never couple time. And I’ve realized lately that I don’t laugh like I used to, and I don’t know if it’s just because I’m tired (because WHEW BOY am I tired!), or if I’m unhappy. And if I’m unhappy, what is making me unhappy? And do I need to get happy all by myself, or does my husband need to be a part of the happy-Gaby-making process? Ugh. Marriage is really hard.

    Well…thanks for letting me air my issues. I’ll send you my therapy payment at a later date.

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