As Valentine’s Day approaches, I am enthralled again by the many ways people love, lust and languish in their sexual lives. This holiday is not just for the newly fallen-in-love or just engaged. No, it is celebrated by older, younger, married, living together, living apart, heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and polyamorous lovers. As a sex therapist who hears many stories of desire, conquest, and loss, I never tire of contemplating the various ways in which people create relationships or systems to get their needs met. As someone who loves the arts, I immerse myself in the imaginations of artists to discover many truths that could help me in my work as a sex and couples therapist. I decided to review some of the peak experiences I’ve had at the movies these past couple of months to reveal some aspects of sexuality that play out among couples at the different stages of loving.
I spent some time watching the first two films of Richard Linklater’s trio titled “Before Sunrise” and “ Before Sunset” (made nine years apart with the same actors) before I watched his latest installment, “Before Midnight”. The brief outline of the story, (without offering too many spoilers) revolve around the meeting of a French girl and American boy on a train who decide to spend one day together before parting. The second film has them meeting nine years later after they have matured, created new partnerships and they continue their initial spark for discussing all that is beautiful, messed up and hopeful in life. In this most recent film the characters Jesse and Celine are married and are on vacation with their young children in Greece. Unlike the first stages of lust and love, we see a couple ripened over time so that the membrane of young infatuation is torn open to view their longings, fears and frustrations expressed in a variety of conversations not only with one another but with others.
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Midnight
When couples have been together for years, there are the fears that one is not enough for the other along with the sense that their lives might not be as full as they had originally imagined. Especially for couples who are raising children, the lure of spontaneous sex seems a far-off memory and the routines upon which children need to depend, bog down the erotic escapes once treasured by the very same couple.
How can one create novel experiences, discuss new desires and needs when there’s barely time to catch up about who’s cooking dinner. I counsel couples to dig in and do the work of erotic discovery while creating play time to explore new and old games, talk about their feelings around their work, getting older, new and old dreams they have yet to achieve and take a break from discussing who emptied the dishwasher last, what the kids will do on their vacation from school, etc. The focus in Before Midnight is on the ever streaming dialogue, like a stream-of-conscious poem pondering long term love’s challenges and the ever present Look out for my next blog which will look at another film.