The bedroom can seem to contain the heart of a marriage. In the 2012 Judd Apatow movie This Is 40, the epicenter of marital tension is the bedroom of the onscreen couple, played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. Pete and Debbie are as comely as their Los Angeles home, but the couple flirt with divorce fantasies more than with each other. Debbie mourns a loss of mystery; Pete craves independence. Of a kind, anyway. He’ll shed his boxers so that Debbie can weigh in on the progress of a hemorrhoid, but he also has a habit of sneaking off to hang with his buddies, an act his wife likens to infidelity. A scene in bed captures the riddle at the heart of this marriage—a parry, essentially, between forms of intimacy. Wander too far in search of privacy, and you nullify romance; get too close, and the same occurs. The couple lie under the sheets, Debbie on her laptop and Pete passing gas. “This is why we never have sex,” she says with desperation in her voice, as he grins. “You’re gross.”
The years-old scene felt fresh when I stumbled upon it some months ago, as a somewhat freshly minted divorcée. On an Apatow kick (triggered by the breakup movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall), I watched Pete and Debbie with a sense of foreboding. They may live in a mansion, but their quandary looked familiar, as it might to anyone who’s ever felt the pressures of so-called couple-form love. In the case of my partner and me, circumstances dictated the terms of our physical space. As fresh college graduates in Chicago, we lived in a rambly three-bedroom that cost half of what we would pay down the line in New York for a one-bedroom. In the latter, denser city, our relationship felt forced into uncomfortable proximity, of the literal and figurative kind. His lackadaisical nature, a mild feature in our Chicago home (even an asset, for the way it balanced me out), now disturbed my peace. A mislaid item—abandoned socks, say—could seem like a conscious insult, a gesture against collaboration.