“Honey, do these pants make me look fat?!”
We’ve all asked it, or some version thereof, of our spouse/partner/significant other. And, of course, we want to hear some version of “no, of course not – they look great on you, my dear!”
But, what if they actually don’t?
And so, the real question is–do we truly want an honest answer? Or do we want our spouse/partner/significant other to tell a little white lie and spare our feelings?
This is the question central to the movie You Hurt My Feelings*, a new film by writer-director Nicole Holofcener starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Tobias Menzies as a perfectly happy couple who share a picture-perfect NYC life. Or are they, and do they? Julia plays Beth, a writer hard at work on a follow-up to her successful memoir. She asks her husband, Don, to read her many drafts and he has nothing but praise for them and for her. But, of course, a movie needs a plot twist, and this one begs the moral question about when and if to tell a loved one what you really think.
I loved this movie, not just because the writing, directing, editing, acting were superb (which they are), not just because, well, Julia is a writer named BETH… lol… and not just because it depicts a certain Manhattan demographic so pitch-perfectly, but because it asks a pretty profound question, examines it in with slice-of-life directness, but still leaves us wondering and causes us to ponder what we would do.
When I was asked for an essay offering “a few pearls of wisdom/anecdotes” of a long-term happy marriage, I had to pause for a moment. Am I really the right person? Do my husband and I belong up on some unlikely pedestal for all to admire? Ha, I laughed to myself, haha, that’s a good one! But, then again, I hedged, we have been together for over 30 years and there’s something to be said for that kind of staying power. Truly, anyone who takes this long and winding commitment road knows that it’s not without its bumps and potholes. That said, it’s in the way we navigate these roadblocks that we find our strengths, figure out how to work together and decide whether we are and can continue to be a happy couple.
Which leads me back to You Hurt My Feelings, a 2023 film which I had the good fortune to see during its premiere screening at the Sundance Film Festival (SFF) this past January. I’ve been an SFF volunteer for the last decade (I actually got my 10-year pin this year), and I just love, love, love it! The excitement and energy are palpable, I’ve met amazing life-long friends, enjoyed parties and swag, and, of course, seen incredible films often with talent on-hand for interesting post-screening Q-and-As. It’s a film-lover’s paradise! And I always go it alone.
Yes, while Stephen and I enjoy watching movies together, he would hate the Sundance traffic, crowds, and lines. My husband has many fine qualities, but patience is simply not one of them. And so, Sundance is my thing. And we’re both fine with that–today.
Fact is, however, at first, this wasn’t a given. Our kids had just grown and flown enough for me to contemplate Sundance. But could I really just take off? On my own? While my poor hubbie went to the office working his insane hours as always? Hmmmm. I definitely sensed a bit of tension, maybe even resentment. But when I asked if he was truly ok with it (i.e., do these pants make me look fat?), he said yes. And so, I made my plans. And the next year, made them again. And so on and so forth until, as the years went on, Stephen started to ask me if I’d made my annual SFF arrangements yet.
Did Stephen honestly mean he was ok with my very first solo SFF plans? Or did he, out of love and generosity, tell me what he knew I wanted to hear? I’ll likely never really know. But I do know I’m glad he said “yes” and that my annual Sundance volunteering stint has become part of the fabric of our lives. Togetherness is a wonderful thing, but so too are personal interests and individual hobbies.
Final thought: I imagine it can get pretty tiring hanging out on a pedestal. I’d rather put that energy into the hard work that is the real brick and mortar of a happy marriage. Cheers to all of us who love, respect, compromise, negotiate, give in, hold out, keep on keeping on 😊!
*You Hurt My Feelings was first screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and was snapped up by A24; I highly recommend!