"Hope Springs" and "How the French Invented Love"

"Who in here is not having sex?"

Kay [referring to her non-existent sex life with her husband]: He is everything. But I'm... I'm really lonely. And to be with someone, when you're not really with him can... it's... I think I might be less lonely... alone. (From the movie "Hope Springs")

Early on in "How the French Invented Love," Marilyn Yalom cites a poll of older French and American adults, who are asked whether "true love can exist without a radiant sex life." Some 83% of Americans said it could. Only 34% of French respondents said so. (Excerpt from Pamela Druckerman's review of  "How the French Invented Love")

While watching the recently released Meryl Streep movie about a middle-aged couple who go to an intensive week long marriage counseling session in a small town in Maine because they've grown apart and are sleeping in separate bedrooms, I felt like an anthropologist "fly on the wall" observing the audience's reaction to every day life in the United States. When the Parisians chuckled at the sight of Streep's character, Kay, preparing what appeared to be exactly the same strip of bacon and egg day after day for her husband, played by Tommy Lee Jones, I could feel them thinking that Kay and Arnold's marriage would have been better if they started their day with croissants and coffee. From the thoughtful silences that accompanied Kay and Arnold's emotional discussions with therapist Dr. Feld, brilliantly portrayed by Steve Carrell, it was obvious that there are marriages on both sides of the Atlantic that are devoid of intimacy and passion. But it's only after Kay and Arnold, huddled on opposite ends of the couch in Dr. Feld's office, reveal that they haven't had sex in the missionary or any other position for more than five years that I noticed some of the French people shaking their heads in stunned disbelief.

Grateful that Stéphane and I watched "Hope Springs" together but wishing that I would have had the opportunity to see it with a French friend with whom I could analyse the cultural differences, I was thankful to receive a tweet from BostonZest calling my attention to Pamela Druckermann's book review of "How the French Invented Love" in the Wall Street Journal because the second paragraph perfectly explains why the Parisians were shocked: In France, Ms. Yalom concludes, sexual desire isn't optional. "A Frenchman or woman without desire is considered defective, like someone missing the sense of taste or smell," she explains. And where we Americans expect adults to control their urges, the French treat passion as "an irresistible fate against which it is useless to rebel."

Walking home from the cinema, Stéphane and I both said that we mistakenly thought that "Hope Springs" would be a light-hearted comedy. It's not. It's a touching true-to-life portrayal of how people can grow apart and unintentionally hurt the ones they love. It's also a reminder that good marriages require work, lots of it. The article about "How the French Invented Love" adds an interesting new dimension to the film, one that I look forward to discussing with Stéphane when we're together in Venice this weekend. Thanks to a transportation strike, he's currently stuck in a plane sitting on the runway at Paris Orly Airport. Ahh, the French. You've gotta love them!



Comments

  1. Love your post! And loved the movie!! Lots of wisdom in it...
    Sorry, got to run, I have a lunch date with my beloved husband of 28 years :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so happy that you saw this movie, Heidi. While walking home, Stephane and I both said that we thought that you and your husband of 28 years would enjoy it! Now we just need to get together and discuss it over a glass of wine! I would love to hear your thoughts on how Kay and Arnold's marriage compare with those in Switzerland. We'll have to talk about it the next time that we're together.

      Enjoy your lunch date with your husband!

      Delete
  2. "an irresistible fate against which is it useless to rebel"--so that's why the French have so many affairs, AND seemingly don't fret about them too much--it's useless. I believer I simplify and border on the stereotype there, but maybe not--what do you think?

    Of course, we make an industry of this topic in America, and we start it young--sex is love in America first and foremost, televisions supports that, so it must be true.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do you mean the French stereotype, Joseph? I think that you're the ultimate romantic searching for love with a capital "L". But then I could be completely wrong. What do you think?

      You make an interesting point about equating sex with love when we're young but then what happens to us as we age if 83% of Americans say that true love can exist without a radiant sex life?

      Delete
  3. When I tell my Parisiennes about some of the US norms and traditions in a marriage, they think I'm making it up! Viva le Secret Garden!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would love to talk with your Parisiennes some day. It would be interesting to know if any of them saw "Hope Springs"!

      Delete
  4. Great post. I love comparing the differences between American and French relationships. It's undeniable that there is a huge difference (not making one better than the other). All I can say is that I have had way more kisses and cuddles in my French ones...again, not preferring one over the other. ; )

    Side note: MK, did you really take that photo? It's absolutely gorgeous. What a great shot! You're becoming such a fantastic photographer!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The differences (and similarities) between cultures have always fascinated me. That's one of the many reasons why I enjoy reading your blog so much! It provides me with insights into the French way of life that I wouldn't otherwise have since I'm married to a Swiss man...and they're a completely different breed than the French!

      Yes, I really did take that photo! ;) I even recycled it from a previous post.

      Delete
  5. I love the way you occasionally go off on a tangent from your usual signature style! A very interesting post (as usual). GM x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I find that I really need to go off tangent from time to time because otherwise I start to feel as if I'm doing the same old same old.

      Delete
  6. If that film makes it to Boussac I shall go and see it. I adore Tommy Lee Jones.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tommy Lee Jones hasn't ever been a favorite of mine but he's excellent in this role. The plot really stretched all of the actors' capabilities.

      Delete
  7. Well I have not see. The film but I will have to go and see it now.

    I don't pretend to be any expert on relationships. Different cultural or not. What I do know is that after two failed marriages and disastrous affairs I have finally been with the same man for 25 tears and the ONLY. Thing we ever had in common was passion. So it is all a mystery to me. But I don't analyse it.

    Actually the secret from my point of view seems to be, a man who cuts your hair, polishes your shoes and goes to the Market three times a week and doesn't mind me going off to Paris whenever I want !

    Love Denise xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ooh Denise I think you've got yourself a good'un there - keep hold of him, luv! GM x

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular Posts