“So, does everyone in the movie theater look like me?” I playfully asked the ticket taker. “Um, I’m not sure,” he said, answering carefully.
On September 8, 2017, I saw “Year by the Sea,” a film (now available on Amazon and iTunes) about an older married couple, Joan and Robin. I had seen the film trailer the previous week and noticed the ensemble of terrific actresses in their early-to-mid-sixties. The actresses (Karen Allen, S. Epatha Merkerson [of “Law & Order” fame], and Celia Imrie) are in my age cohort, and this prompted my question to the ticket taker.
The movie is based on the memoir of the same title by Joan Anderson, and tells the story of a woman whose sons are grown and out of the house. Presumably she was an empty nester when her sons were in college, so she would have begun to notice and deal with the changes in her and her husband’s relationship a few years before the time in her life when the movie begins.
Looking good? Or feeling good?
The movie opens on a scene of breakfast preparations in a large suburban kitchen. Everything looks lovely. Joan is lovingly mixing crepe batter and squeezing oranges to make juice for her sons, and we learn that it’s the morning of one son’s wedding.
Robin comes in and hurries the sons along for a racket game, and we see him aggressively lob a shot right at one son. The other son calls him out on it, and we notice a crack in the veneer of perfection.
Later that day, during the cocktail hour after the wedding, a real estate broker friend mentions that Joan’s husband has asked the friend to list their home for sale, which is news to Joan.
The friend says that Robin’s office is closing and that they’ll be moving to Wichita.
Which is also news to Joan.
The weight of expectations
When Joan confronts Robin, he is dismissive and refuses to discuss it with her. She asks him whether she has a choice, and he puts her off again.
That evening as they are turning in for the night, Joan asks Robin why he loves her. He says he loves her because men love their wives—and their mothers. Some version of “this is what I’m supposed to do.” No verve, nothing that is specific to her and their relationship. Not the answer she was looking for! And he assumes she will move with him to Wichita, because that’s what a wife’s supposed to do.
The house sells, and when Robin heads to Wichita. Joan decides to take a break from her marriage. She rents a rustic cottage on Cape Cod, in an attempt to reclaim her life, to break free of the dependency of her marriage.
Real loneliness is not knowing who you are
Without going further into the plot, I’ll say that Joan meets some interesting people along the way who inspire her to move beyond her comfort zone. One of these is a younger fisherman who, when Joan asks him whether he gets lonely out on the water in his boat, says, “No, the real loneliness, Joan, is not knowing who you are.”
This quote and another one, “Vital lives are about action,” to me are the core of the movie, along with the idea of stepping out of dependency. Joan and Robin are together because they’ve raised sons together, but it feels like a bland acceptance of expectations, rather than a choice based on living a conscious life with gusto.
Learning to live a vital life
These quotes, along with moving beyond dependency, embody much of the work of therapy. I work with people on finding the joy in everyday life.
That doesn’t mean that everything has to be perfect or that you’re vaulting from one mountaintop experience to the next, but that you live your ordinary life with a sense of purpose and gusto, and that you know why you do the things that you do, rather than living from impulse to impulse or from a collection of “shoulds.”
The life that you make by working on yourself in therapy is satisfying because you learn who you are, you learn to take action and responsibility for your choices, and you’re not living in dependency. It’s not a quick and painless process, but therapy certainly improves the overall quality of your life.
Move beyond the “shoulds” to reclaim your life!
In fact, when Robin appears again in the movie, we learn that he has been working on himself in therapy, and he’s a much nicer person to be around. No longer arrogant and dismissive. No longer making assumptions about Joan, based on his unquestioned expectations of her and of himself.
If you’d like to move past the loneliness of not knowing who you are, if you’d like to break free from dependency, if you’d like to live a vital life, therapy can help you accomplish these goals.
Sometimes a patient will say, “But isn’t it too late for me? I’m 25.” Or 35, 45, 55, 65, or 75. But the truth of the matter is the title of this post—and the tagline of the movie: “It’s Never Too Late to Reclaim Your Life!”