There's a reason why gay couples don't understand the movie "Hope Springs."
"Here we see supposedly hilarious scenes of Meryl afraid to touch Tommy, of Tommy getting uncomfortable with communication. The whole thing made me wince," my friend said. "In the theater I actually turned to my husband and asked him, 'what's wrong with straight people?'"
What intrigued them both, together for twenty years now, is the fact that straight couples could really have trouble touching each other after they had been married for so many years.
My very intelligent and sexy friend asked me in a very serious voice, "Is this movie suggesting that holding each other should elicit gales of laughter from the audience? Is this supposed to be funny?"
He looks to me, the expert, with three books on relationships, a private practice with couples for almost twenty years and a Ph.D. Is this story realistic or just another Hollywood construction?
I am suddenly kind of confused as well. It is true many long term couples grow so distant and physically disconnected that intervention is sometimes the only way to find each other again. Long term neglect of the sexual part of a relationship can build a wall between partners that feels overwhelming to climb over and when couples don't have the communication skills, or choose to ignore the conflict, the distance can grow wider every day. After years of distancing, even married couples can find themselves strangers — not just to intimacy but to any form of togetherness.
At first, connecting emotionally might seem like a way to revive sexuality for many couples. Yet this can be an uncompromising view of relationships. Being shut down sexually until all of the resentment in the relationship is worked through sounds like an insurmountable obstacle for most of us.
It can mean making love probably goes to the bottom of the list underneath an endless list of frustrations, hurts and never to be forgotten wounds from the past. Yes, I agree, some people need to feel emotionally connected in order to have sex but what about those who like to have sex to feel emotionally connected?
My friend's point is it shouldn't be funny that it's so hard to touch each other after years of being in a partnership. It shouldn't be so difficult to find each other across an emotional distance created only by avoiding each other.
I realized in that moment what my gay male friend had to teach me as a straight woman. He has a different view of relationships. He doesn't see his marriage as a stand-off when it comes to sex and intimacy. He doesn't use sex as a way to broker an emotional deal. Somehow his emotional and his sexual life are connected in the ways that matter — they are there for pleasure, for an expression of his feelings and to show love.
The cliché about being married and sexless doesn't apply to him. That's not to say it doesn't happen in gay marriages, just like in straight marriages. But sex for him is not about manipulating or keeping score.
He really didn't think the movie was funny. I reserve judgment until I see the film. But I am signing up today to learn everything I can from my gay guy friend — all about love and sex and marriage. I have hope.
Tammy Nelson is a sex and relationship expert, an international speaker, a licensed psychotherapist and author of "Getting the Sex You Want; Shed Your Inhibitions and Reach New Heights of Passion Together" and the upcoming “The New Monogamy; Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity.” Find her at www.drtammynelson.com