Sex and Sixty

Last week, Muri and I saw the new film, Hope Springs, starring Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones.  In the film, Kay (Streep) and Arnold (Jones) Soames are husband and wife in a marriage that seems to have run its course but continues on inertia.   We are never told the ages of Kay and Arnold, so I’m using the ages of the actors in my title … Streep is 61, Jones is 65.  Their conversation is limited to perfunctory table talk and their affection to rote good-bye kisses as Arnold heads off to work.   They not only sleep in separate beds but separate rooms.  Arnold is a particularly cranky curmudgeon whose home life seems to consist of watching golf on TV, managing every detail of Kay’s life and avoiding any hint of intimacy.   Kay is what we used to call a shrinking violet, giving in with little resistance to her life sentence as cook and housewife.  We’d never know that she longs for more if she didn’t confide in her friend at Coldwater Creek where she works part time.   Oh, yeah … they haven’t had sex in five years.  When she receives a brochure about a renowned marriage therapist, Dr. Bernie Feld (Steve Carrell) in Hope Springs, Maine, she coerces Arnold into going for a week of intensive couples therapy.

When we saw Hope Springs, the audience was 95% gray hairs.  After all, how many Younger Eyes want to see two old farts try to work out marriage issues they can’t relate to, even if the old farts are played by Streep and Jones?  And how many Younger Eyes want to watch the old farts squirm as the therapist, played by Steve Carrell, asks them questions about their sex lives, or see them do their homework, acting out sexual fantasies?  I could almost hear a collective, Eeeewww from the 5% younger viewers.  If this grosses you out, do me a favor.  Write your reaction on an index card and put it in a time capsule to read in, say, 30 years.  See what you think of it then.  And while I’m on the subject of Younger Eyes, I’d like to suggest that critics without at least a trace of gray be disqualified from reviewing movies like Hope Springs or The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel.   How can they comment on the realism of senior characters unless they’ve viewed such a character from the inside of an aging body?   Too often Younger Eyed critics end up sounding stupid or patronizing.   Me?  I liked the film.   In a world of action films and vulgar romantic comedies, it addressed a serious issue for serious adults, and did in a light-hearted way, so that the experience was enjoyable.  Tommy Lee Jones was perfect as the curmudgeon (take it from me, I’m an expert) and Meryl Streep was impishly-delightful.  She is simply a national treasure.

But here’s the gripe (you knew one was coming, didn’t you?).  Arnold and Kay’s marriage is a disaster.  Domineering husband, victim wife, no communication, no affection.  And the best Dr. Feld can do is send Kay and Arnold off to try to have oral sex in a movie theater?  Yeah, I know, Eeeewww.  Live with it.  That seems like putting a new roof on a house when it’s the foundation that’s crumbling … unless you think that sex is the foundation.  If you do a little Googling of How important is sex? you might be led to believe it is the foundation of a long marriage.   After all, sex therapist, Dr. Ruth, says sex is the glue that holds a relationship together  and Dr. Geoff Hackett, former chairman of the British Society for Sexual Medicine, says, All the evidence points to the fact that an active sex life keeps couples together.   Of course, they would say that … it’s their business, for Pete’s sake.  And 82% of television screams sex uber alles.   Sure, sex can be an important component of a good marriage, particularly in the younger years of a marriage when there is no real foundation.   But as a good … and older … friend once told me, sexual issues get less important as you get older … pills like Viagra not withstanding.   That’s because bodies age and twenty-something marital priorities are determined by hormones, while sixty-somethings hopefully use their brains.

I like the more balanced view of Dr. Sarah Stedman on  She says:  As we grow older, our bodies change ‑- but so do our notions about romantic and sexual love. So in their young married years, couples need to recognize the importance of becoming one another’s dearest friend, of building interests together and stimulating each other intellectually, because a couple’s sex life is likely to fizzle out long before their love for one another.  And if that is done successfully, people will realize that life holds few joys more satisfying than the process of growing old with your life partner.

Right on, Dr. Stedman.  What do you think?

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15 Comments on “Sex and Sixty”

  1. I think the great thing about Hope Springs is that Hollywood remembered that there are movie lovers who are not 18-24. I happen to like movies like that. I think most adults recognize that, if we can put aside thoughts of our own parents, we all would like to have happy and active sex lives for as long as we’re physically capable. And hopefully we also recognize that it’s easy for long-term relationships to slide into that status you described. I’ve been really glad to see that, now that my parents are empty-nesters and retired, they seem happier than they were before, when they drove each other crazy half the time.

    As for your slight criticism of the therapy’s realism… it IS just a movie, IC. You’re supposed to laugh at it. 🙂

    • oldereyes Says:

      I have a bit of a hang up about how we make everything about sex. I hear guys with really crappy marriages talking as if sex would fix everything. But IC and I did both laugh.

  2. Allison Says:

    It’s funny that you should write about this movie, because I just went to see it last weekend. I was having a particularly lonely weekend and decided to go see a movie by myself…this one was not the best choice, lol. I love Streep though, and you’re right, she did do a wonderful job in the film. It’s interesting to hear your perspective on the movie, and I have to agree that putting a “new roof” on the house is not going to fix the other major structural damage. Part of me wanted her to rise up and stand up more for herself, but I realize that she really loved her husband, and standing up like that might have upset the balance too much too quickly, leading to the end of the marriage. I honestly left the theater just feeling kind of sad that relationships ever get to that point – I know it probably happens a lot, but it seems so depressing, thinking that you’ve made the marriage work for so long, only to wind up as strangers living in the same house.

    • oldereyes Says:

      It seemed to me that the steps she did take were, for her, “rising up and standing up more for herself.” It’s all relative. I think she’d reached the point that if he didn’t go along, she’d have left. In the end, love can be amazingly fragile or remarkably resilient.

  3. granny1947 Says:

    Hmmmmmm…I reckon sex is still important…however…quality over quantity. 🙂

  4. granny1947 Says:

    p.s. Boy are you going to get a lot of spam mail!!!

  5. oldereyes Says:

    To elaborate on one of my replies above, I didn’t say sex isn’t important. My point was that with all there was to fix in Kay and Arnold’s marriage, starting with sex seemed odd. And while having sex is good, having it as THE foundation of a marriage isn’t good if you want a marriage that lasts into your very senior years.

  6. Was lucky enough to marry my best friend. Sex seems to have fled for him, but as you say, while a great comfort it is not all.

  7. Amy Says:

    I probably should NOT have read this one!

  8. Amy Says:

    I love it that kitty is your picture!

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