• Mary A. Dempsey

Asymmetric Relationships: 45 Years

Updated: Oct 1, 2018

The British film 45 Years, as with too many quiet dramas from Europe, slipped in and out of our local theater too fast. More than two years since its release, I finally watched it on Netflix and was surprised to find that it focused on a theme that weaves through the book I’m writing with journalist Marti Benedetti.

It is an issue that underpins many romances involving widows and widowers, the notion of unequal love.

In this unsettling film, Kate and Geoff Mercer (played by the remarkable Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) are days away from their 45th wedding anniversary when news arrives that shakes their relationship. The body of Tom’s long-ago girlfriend, who fell to her death during a hiking trip in the Swiss Alps half a century ago, has been located.

Tom’s agitated reaction and other once-hidden details lead Charlotte to a slow revelation: This woman was the love of Tom’s life. What does that mean for Charlotte? The shock has both members of this long, wistful marriage raggedly recalibrating their positions.

When Marti and I began writing Death Did Us Part: Finding Love After Loss, our book focused on widows and widowers who seek a new chance at romance, we became aware that asymmetry in love could be the elephant in the room in many of these new relationships. Widows and widowers relish the idea of companionship, happy sex and many of the other joys that marked their previous relationships. But one thing they usually are not searching for is the love of their life.

Most already found that person in their previous life chapter.

“This is the one thing that had stopped me from dating at first. I’d already had this great love and I didn’t think you can have that again,” said one widow we interviewed. Her husband had died in his 50s.

“If you meet someone new, won’t it be a comeuppance, a shock, when they come to realize this?” she added.

This asymmetry is one of the many things that we believe make widows and widowers different from others out in the dating arena.

In 45 Years, the truth slowly unravels for the Mercers, upsetting their peaceful life and forcing each to confront the implications. That it happens so late in their connection is the wrenching twist.

Of course, there will always be exceptions to the “unequal love” formula. As one widow told us: “Who knows, maybe you can end up with two loves of your life. Or maybe three.”

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