I’m a fan of romantic comedies. So 10 years ago, when I started seeing trailers for the movie “This Is 40,” I knew it would be on my date night list. What I didn’t know was how unforgettable that movie would be, not because I loved it, but because it turned out to be the last movie I saw with my husband before we divorced.
In “This Is 40,” which premiered in December. On December 21, 2012, Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd star as Debbie and Pete, a married couple approaching their 40th birthday as they deal with struggling businesses, have two daughters, and try to rediscover a connection in their marriage. I had been looking forward to seeing the movie for weeks, knowing that my husband and I could use a date night with some comic relief, with some way to focus on someone else’s marital woes. instead of ours.
The film was supposed to be the gold of the night: a romantic comedy about the ups and downs of marriage, the complicated relationships between parents and their children, and the horrors of turning the big 4-0. I was supposed to laugh along with all the other couples in the movie theater, relieved that I still had a few years left before scenarios like mammograms and colonoscopies became my reality.
But the movie was not funny. In fact, at the end of “This Is 40,” I almost hoped the main characters wouldn’t get their happy endings because, as I sat with a husband who wasn’t laughing either, I knew we weren’t going to. to get ours.
Maybe if we hadn’t argued before going to the cinema. Maybe if Debbie and Pete’s characters didn’t spend most of the movie arguing like we did. Maybe if the scene where they “talk to each other the way the therapist told us to talk” didn’t remind me of our own failed attempts at marriage counseling. I might have thought the movie was hilarious like everyone around me if it hadn’t hit so close to home.
I almost laughed when Debbie and Pete go on a road trip, letting loose as they escape the demands of parenting and spend some quality time alone together. They kiss in the hotel pool, get laid, jump into bed, wonder why they’re fighting. Then they hold hands in the car on the ride home, looking at each other lovingly as if they’ve found a secret life reset button.
But when they return to the same problems they had before they left, I saw my own disappointment in theirs. I knew this disappointment because my husband and I did the same thing. I’ve lost count of how many times over the years we’ve run away from our problems, tried to hit a reset button with romantic getaways, decided we were fine, and then returned to the same problems, the same fights, the same unhappiness .
“The happiest period of people’s lives is from their 40s to their 60s,” Debbie tells Pete. “That’s the way it is. We’re in it right now.”
I thought about that. I was 36 years old. He would be at the beginning of that age range in just four years. Would there be enough changes in my life, in my marriage, by then to be that happy?
“We have everything we need now to be completely happy,” says Debbie. “We’ll blink and we’ll be 90.”
Did my husband and I have everything we needed to be completely happy?
“So we choose to be happy,” he concludes. Was it that simple? Could we make a deliberate decision to be happy?
I kept looking at my husband throughout the film to gauge his reactions, to see if the comedy would fall apart because of his bad mood, because of his anger left over from our argument. But I didn’t see so much as a glimpse of a smile. He didn’t look at me, he didn’t hold my hand, he didn’t want to share space with me in that movie theater.
I wondered if he saw the same similarities between us and these fictional characters as I did; if I was taking mental notes about how Debbie and Pete finally fix their marriage and finally find their happiness. I wondered if he cared. I wondered if he was as done as I was.
The movie ended, the theater cleared, and my husband and I left Debbie and Pete behind. And as my gut told me as we sat in front of a movie that couldn’t put our troubles on hold for even a couple of hours, my husband and I didn’t get our happy ending.
A week later, I met with a divorce attorney. Shortly after that we legally separated, and a year later we divorced and went on with our lives in different directions.
Watching “This Is 40” that night wasn’t the romantic date night I was hoping for, but it ended up being a major wake-up call. I didn’t want to blink and be 90 years old and realize that I had spent what was supposed to be the happiest time of my life being unhappy. I didn’t want to wonder why my husband and I had everything we needed to be completely happy, but I still didn’t know how to put everything into the right configuration that would fix us. I didn’t want to keep choosing happiness, deliberately making that choice and still never being able to turn that conscious decision into reality.
“This is 40” was the last quote I shared with my husband before we divorced. For many years, I couldn’t watch it again, passing it by every time it appeared on my TV.
But it’s been 10 years, a decade since the romantic comedy felt more like a tearjerker. Now, every time the movie opens, I watch it. I embrace her for who she was, and I’m grateful for how she pushed me to choose happiness, even though it was a different version of happiness than Debbie and Pete find.
And finally, I can laugh.