Twenty-eight-year-old Margot (played by Michelle Williams) has been married to husband Lou (played by Seth Rogan) for five years. Their relationship is long past the intense and exciting getting-to-know-you stage. That initial electricity has softened into the intimacy of familiarity, where all kinds of behavior—speaking in baby talk, using the toilet in front of one another, affectionately threatening torture techniques—are allowed.
As anyone in a long-term relationship knows, that kind of intimacy can feel like a warm and comforting blanket, and it can also feel like a suffocating straightjacket. Into the reliability of companionship comes the unsettling realization that one’s partner will not always meet one’s needs. Margot craves conversation while Lou savors not having to make conversation. Margot craves reassurance that Lou desires her, and Lou is astonished that his wife needs such reassurance. Margot hints at wanting a baby, and Lou notes he’ll be willing to talk about that years from now.
This is the crux of deepening relationship, the time when two people learn that they’re actually different from each other, and that that’s okay. That that’s actually good. That the idea of two people being halves of the same whole can actually be an unhelpful framework for understanding relationship. The uncomfortable emotional space that feels like inertia and even boredom often becomes the fertile ground where new growth occurs.
But into this phase of relationship stagnancy comes a handsome and interesting neighbor, Daniel (played by Luke Kirby). The film depicts how Margot wrestles with her attraction to him, and how she flounders in understanding what her relationship with her husband is or could be. By the end of the film, Margot achieves, I think, some measure of emotional growth, but perhaps at a price she regrets paying.
As a minister, I watch a film like this and think about what advice I would give to Margot or someone like her. I noticed Margot’s isolation. If she has any friends or personal interests (or even family!), we don’t get to see them. The good advice she receives from a group of woman goes largely ignored. She seems to define herself solely in relationship to the men in her life, and that’s a big part of what gets her into trouble.
And you know what? The time to tell an attractive stranger that you are married is five minutes after you meet him or her, not a couple of hours later. Margot’s early failure to mention her husband indicated to me how willing she was to forget…him. To forget his needs, his hopes, his role in her life.
I don’t believe in “soul mates” or “that one perfect person.” Life is abundant with possibilities of love and pleasure; the world is filled with attractive strangers. Ultimately, we stay in relationships because we choose to. As a family member once shared with me, “There are many times that I thought about leaving my relationship, and I’m glad I didn’t.”