In the 1997 Romantic comedy written by James L. Brooks, Helen Hunt plays a waitress, CAROL CONNOLY, a single mother with a chronically ill son.
There is a terrific scene where Carol brings a boyfriend home for (hopefully) some awkward sex on the couch of her shabby apartment. She wants him, he wants her…she hopes for a night of passion, something to make her remember she is a woman, filled with hope and life and love and possibility, and not just a mother or a worker drone. Hope. Hope is the only cure for desperation.
But even though both are willing, everything goes wrong, because her sick child needs her, and as every good parent knows, a child’s needs trump EVERYTHING else. After a humiliating (and painfully funny and real) effort to balance a sex life with Mommy instincts the potential boyfriend gives up and leaves, and she is left alone.
Meanwhile, one of her steady customers at the diner, MELVIN UDALL, is a miserable excuse for a human being, a misanthropic homophobe with obsessive-compulsive disorder…but a wealthy, successful writer. She somehow sees his humanity, and is one of the only people in the world who seems to actually connect with him, mostly over his phobia about germs.
Their tenuous connection creates the entire film (which is terrific, funny, and heartfelt) as these two terribly wounded and imbalanced people carefully circle each other. The expression “how do porcupines mate? Very carefully” comes to mind.
And by the end of the film, Carol and Melvin have the potential to create a healthy relationship. Two imbalanced people in a balanced relationship? Sure. They aren’t equal — but they ARE complementary. They have a chance. If they give honestly and fully of what they have,
On the surface, they seem so totally incompatible that the situation is absurd. But audiences and critics loved it, and I suggest that they loved it because there is an essential truth lurking under the surface.
And it is this: for two people to have a relationship they must be in balance. Note that I didn’t say “equal” — that may well be where we’re heading as a culture, but much of the world isn’t there yet. But if you were to divide people up into say 10 different arenas of life: income, intelligence, emotional stability, fitness, attractiveness, energy, judgement self-love, capacity to love others, joy, spirituality…whatever basic qualities you see in the world, and give them 1–10 points per category, what you’d see is that if you add up the points, you’ll never see a vast mismatch. An APPARENT mismatch, where one person is terrific and the other is miserable S.O.B. would lower points in the “judgement” category, wouldn’t it? The “Self Respect” category? Maybe raise points in the S.O.B.’s “charisma” category?
The future might well be “my level of beauty and power in exchange for yours” but the past, and perhaps the present is usually “His power for Her beauty”. Anyone watching supermodels dating old millionaires has seen this at work clearly, and it is up to your politics and view of humanity to decide who is exploiting whom.
I say let’s give them BOTH credit, shall we? Each has traded what they have for the very best they could get. What is that exchange? If it is not an even-steven equality exchange, is it security for fertility? Luxury and social mobility for Sex? Intelligence for Emotional balance? Whatever you want, but find that balance point, and you’ll understand people more deeply. And the beautiful thing is that unlike “Incel Insanity”, saying this HAS (often) been our past DOES NOT mean it is our future. We can change this. But we have to look at it without guilt, blame, or shame. And ask ourselves how we want relationships to work in the future.
But one thing is certain: there is no cheating. We don’t attract what we want. We attract what we ARE. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you have the power to improve yourself, and it begins with the honesty to admit we need to do it.
Helen Hunt has sanity, nurturance, beauty, emotional stability. Melvin has the financial stability, generated by writing romance novels filled with yearning. Note that he didn’t make his money selling manhole covers or something emotionally neutral: HE UNDERSTANDS THE YEARNING. He is just too damaged to connect with it in his own life.
Can you see the balance? If she had been more financially stable, do you think she’d have been as likely to bond with him? Hardly. And if he had been more emotionally stable, do you think it likely that he’d have found a woman with her positive characteristics, but less need and chaos? Likely, isn’t it?
There is nothing negative about this, unless you choose to see it that way. Each can heal and help the other. And that yearning, that need, that sense of two human beings seeking to “fit” each other’s lives like a pair of jigsaw puzzle pieces, once it “clicks”, IF it “clicks”…is “As Good As It Gets.”
Brilliant title, wasn’t it?
In a very real sense, that’s all there is to love. Equality or complementarity. Two lonely souls who fit. Feeling that together, you are more than you were alone.
Here is how you can test this notion: create a list of the basic human characteristics. Look for people who have been happily married for more than 20 years. And look at that list, giving them each rough scores in the categories. If you do this often enough, tweaking as you go, you’ll start seeing the pattern: stable couples are roughly equivalent, even if their scores in different categories vary wildly (as with Carol and Melvin). You’ll start to glimpse a truth, as well as start understanding your own values and potential and areas you might want to work on.
Its kind of like a see-saw, where the two people have to be roughly equivalent in order to balance. Society can shift the fulcrum, but if it shifts too much, if there is too much of a power imbalance, I suggest the society itself stops functioning, and they’ll be out-competed by a healthier culture. Men and women HAVE to treat each other with a certain irreducible amount of respect and care, or the whole thing falls apart.
See that, and you begin to end the war between loving human beings, and see that we’ve been doing the best we can do with the resources we have. We have new resources now, meaning new opportunities…but we have to understand how we got here to open the door to the future.
Love yourselves, and be kind to each other…