Love And Marriage? Or … Lovers And Marriage?

Marriage Bared, José Reyes Guillén, 2007.

I almost abandoned The Lovers at the AMC Loews Cinema when I learned I had to choose a designated seat. I stared at the offerings on the screen the ticket-seller swiveled at me. How would I know, I asked him, if the seat I chose was not behind the woman with big hair, or next to the guy smacking down a tub of popcorn, or in front of the ladies offering continuous commentary on the action? He looked at me blankly.

Choose! I had to choose! Is nothing left to chance? To his relief, I chose Seat B3 and headed up the escalator. I told the friendly girl who looked like she would have preferred any option to ripping tickets on a sunny afternoon in New York City, that if I’d known this was a seat-assignment theatre I wouldn’t have come here and I was never coming back.

All Seats Reserved! FernandodeSousa
Melbourne, CreativeCommons.

With that I entered Theatre Number Four with my ticket marked Seat B3 and settled into Seat C7. The Sultanette has never been a fan of taking orders. Good news is the seat was a cushy leather affair with electronic adjustments. I buzzed into reclining position and settled in for the ride.

As it turned out, the AMC venue offered the perfect foreplay to The Lovers because it is all about choices – the ones we make, the ones we avoid making, and especially the ones we think we’re making.

Out of Tune, Allen Lai, CreativeCommons.

Mary and Michael, played with comedic precision by Debra Winger and Tracy Letts, are long-married. Long past the resentment stage, the disappointment stage, the passion stage – too indifferent even to be bored with each other – they are tethered to the baggage of a remote past. In a reference to the piano parked in the living room that he once played back in the day, Michael says, “It’s way too heavy or it would be long gone.”

Instead of playing the piano, Michael has cultivated a pot belly. Mary’s neck is showing crepey signs of withdrawal from youth. Their house in Anywhere, California is decorated with framed memories, neatly grouped on vast blank walls. Every morning they dash around each other, separately slurping coffee before rushing off to work in cubicles. Michael stares at graphs on a computer and Mary sorts out stats for meetings in a glass-walled conference room, dressed for success but bored to death.

The Stolen Kiss, Jean-Honoré Fragonard c.1780, Hermitage.

Sound like fun? Or even familiar? Don’t abandon The Lovers yet because Michael and Mary are both involved in juicy illicit affairs with legitimate hotties. Michael does pliés with a supple ballet instructor, Susan, (Melora Walters). Mary tumbles with Robert (Aidan Gillen) a writer of impish charm. Can anyone blame them? (Well the New York Times did but that was just another of the paper’s retrograde cultural rants dressed up to look politically correct.)

When Mary and Michael aren’t indulging their libidos, they are concocting the intricate lattice of lies required to keep from getting caught – excuses that seem unnecessary since they both prefer to avoid each other’s company at all costs. This is brilliantly portrayed in a scene when fate brings them together for an evening.

TV Stattic & No Signal, Liz Sullivan, Creative Commons.

To his surprise and horror, Michael arrives home early to find Mary on the couch, staring at the TV with a glass of wine. After an awkward exchange – both searching for excuses to cover up for the lies they had originally made to see their lovers that night – Mary half-heartedly invites Michael to join her for a glass of wine. Their awkward attempt at mingling resembles kids on a first date. Except these two have spent a lifetime together.

No spoilers here, I promise! To see the provocative resolution you’ll have to go to the movie which The Sultanette highly recommends. For now let’s just say that director/writer Azazel Jacobs doesn’t let you take sides. None of the four lovers are bad or callous. They’re just lonely people with big, needy hearts. The lines between passion and a shared past, love and loyalty, promise and predictability are not neatly drawn. The affairs are more than sex. The marriage is more than routine.

Three Lovers, Géricault c.1820.

“Let’s do something normal,” Michael tells Susan one night, and next scene they are cuddling at a movie. When Robert and Mary playfully seduce one another, the sexual frisson is delicious. When feelings between Michael and Mary begin to stir, it’s more than a desperate attempt to make things right again. The comfort of normalcy, the delight of sensuality, the pulse of consistency – don’t we crave it all?

The beauty of The Lovers is that as in life, the choices aren’t always clear-cut. Sometimes you just have to sign up for Seat B3 and settle into Seat C7. When I left the movie, the friendly ticket-ripper said, “Have a nice day.”


Sex Talk 101. Will you pass or fail?

Miss Moneypenny negotiates.

Miss Moneypenny negotiates.

“This is important to me. How can we create a situation that is comfortable for both of us?”

Talking points for your annual employee review? No, this is pillow talk as reported in the May 31 Wall Street Journal piece, “The Question About Sex So Many Men Have Asked” by Elizabeth Bernstein.

S Wheeler Toilet paper, US patent illus,1891.

S Wheeler Toilet paper, US patent illus,1891.

Note the diplomatic use of “we” vs. “you.” (No more accusatory phrases like, “I want you, you dirty sexy beast.”) And no more delirious spontaneity. Jumping your partner on a random Sunday afternoon has been replaced by “sitting down to solve the problem together.” What was once a reckless escape from daily life is now a domestic chore like changing the toilet paper roll.

As for the sex question so many men want to know? A study by the Universities of Toronto and Western Ontario just published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reveals the startling truth: “Women may want more sex than their husbands or partners think.”

Shopping at Agent Provocateur.

Shopping at Agent Provocateur.

Easy to say but how to drag Dagwood away from the football game for a bodice-ripping timeout? Forget parading in front of the tube in your latest confection from Agent Provocateur. The Wall Street Journal report quotes that couples should: “Communicate – not just about when they want to have sex or what they like but also about what signals they use to show their desire.” Does congress put that much effort into the national budget?

And speaking of getting screwed, the article also suggests that you “consider having sex if you’re not in the mood.” Formerly known as “faking an orgasm” research now dubs it “sexual communal strength.” It’s a proven fact that “people in long-term relationships who do this … are better able to maintain their sexual desire over time.” So the more you do it when you don’t want to do it, the more you’ll want to do it!

Punching the Clock, Philly,1942, Marjory Collins, Library of Congress.

Punching the Clock, Philly,1942, Marjory Collins, Library of Congress.

If you can’t fake it ’til you make, consider scheduling sex. Here’s how: “Explain that you find your partner attractive and want to be intimate just not at the moment. And promise to find another time.” (Your Google calendar might be helpful here.)

“It doesn’t sound romantic” the Journal observes. But Amy Muise, a University of Toronto postdoctoral fellow says, “It lets you plan and get psyched about it.” You might think Amy is talking about creating that warm tingling feeling that begins in the loins and fills the body with a sense of urgent anticipation. Not exactly. Dr. Muise prefers to think of the sensation as “pre-negotiating a good time.”

Rendezvous, Konstantin Somov (1869-1939), Oil on canvas, 1918.

Rendezvous, Konstantin Somov (1869-1939), Oil on canvas, 1918.

When did sex go from reckless surrender (the French call it la petite mort) to a dilemma that needs to be examined until all the lust is x-rayed out of it? Speaking of the French, one solution to weathering slumps in the marital mattress touted by those frisky philanderers (men and women alike) is the discrete affair. Like a vacation from a demanding job, when the affair packs up, the adulterer comes home recharged. (“Mon dieu! You are such the insatiable rascal tonight, cheri(e)!)

I know what you’re thinking. What does the Sultanette of a male harem know about keeping the flames fanned with a significant other? May I remind my voyeuristic followers that before curating this mentourage, I spent time in the trenches? Once the explosive passion cooled to a sizzle with One&Only, I settled down to fifteen diligently faithful years of pleasurable but predictable sex. Looking back, if I’d known it would go south, would it have hurt to take a few hot detours along the way?

Sex Experts?

Sex Experts?

I don’t knock going for marriage refresher sessions with a good therapist. But how did getting sexual pleasure evolve into a pass-fail course conferred by academia? For prepubescents, the subject of sex as a body-rocking turn-on is considered pornography. When we’re old enough to enjoy it, wired with guilt and shame, we’re treated to psychobabble from institutions of higher learning to fix it.

Love in the Afternoon, Cooper & Hepburn, 1957.

Love in the Afternoon, Cooper & Hepburn, 1957.

Might there be more effective ways to get a bang for your buck than a university sex study can recommend? How about telling the office you have a family emergency, turning off all electronic devices, and stealing a few hours at the No-Tell Motel with partner, lover, or gardener. If you’re looking for a better idea, get a subscription to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and dive between the spreadsheets.