In the movie, “Hope Springs”, Meryl Streep plays a compliant, 30 years married woman who is longing to inject some romantic spirit into her life with her somewhat clueless curmudgeon of a husband, Tommy Lee Jones. While the movie probably doesn’t hold too much interest for the under 30 viewers, it probably hits closer to home with the middle-aged and older. I know how stereotypical it is for young people to be grossed out by the thought of their parents, or parents’ generation in general, being interested in romance, especially the physical side of it. That I have never had any difficulty realizing that romance can be rekindled among people who have been married many years, certainly long enough to have long since found themselves in a rut romantically, as well as not finding it surprising that older, even elderly, people could rediscover romance and sexual interest with an appropriate partner, is at least partly due to the fact that I grew up in Bradenton, Florida and that my dad was a minister. Bradenton always had a large group of retired citizens and, particularly, I remember Braden Castle, where small frame homes with minimum upkeep, set close together, divided only by carports, were filled with retired couples, mostly moving in from up north. These couples became close friends with each other and, as time passed, one person in each couple was eventually left widowed.
As these singles adjusted to their new lives, it was not unusual for romantic interest to spring up between a widow or widower. I well remember going with my dad to tie the knot for couples who were trying marriage yet again, after the death of their previous spouses. I remember how obvious it was that the bride and groom were in love, flirted with each other and were teased by their friends much the same as what I observed at the more typical weddings that Dad performed, where young people were getting married, with all the hope of a wonderful marital future. The friends of the widowed groom did the usual male to male teasing with sexual innuendo. Meanwhile the bride blushed and giggled as she and her friends talked about her truseau and as they teased her about what would happen on her wedding night. It was rather obvious to me that romance could be alive and well at any age. I’m never surprised that singles of any age could fall in love and I’m never surprised to encounter couples who’ve been married for decades, yet still have powerful romantic and sexual interest in each other. This was obviously true of my parents, from my youngest memories all the way through to the day Dad died.
I’ve worked with couples who have been married for many years, who long assumed that the romance and physical lovemaking were gone from the marriage, yet were able, rather like Kay and Arnold in the movie, to reignite their romantic interest in each other. An added plus to the time spent rediscovering the zest in their relationship was that, along the way, they got to know each other better than they ever had known each other, in various ways. While intimacy is frequently used with reference to physical intimacy, it is perhaps best understood as the degree to which you share yourself with another person, how fully you let yourself be known,rather than withholding or hiding, from the other person, significant parts of who you are, what you think, how you feel and what you want.
Fittingly,”Hope Springs” is a romantic comedy. I’ve long found that a key ingredient in budding romance, and certainly in re-creating romance, is a good sense of humor for each partner. You need to be able to not take yourself too seriously and to be able to extend to your partner the same generous acceptance. And it is infinitely better to be able to find humor in your partner’s oddities rather than gnashing your teeth about them.
It’s an interesting world.