Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

I have been waiting to see Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, with all their middle-age glory, in a state of postcoital bliss for months now.

I was not disappointed to see the eternal adolescent Jake, played by Alec Baldwin, seducing his former wife, Jane, played by Meryl Streep.

Days before the unexpected sexual encounter, Jane has had a girl talk with her friends and has been admonished to find a sexual partner before the “vagina just closes up and has to be opened with a vaginoplasty.” Her friends are concerned that she seems to have lost her libido.

Loss of libido has been blamed on menopause by almost every woman I have met who has lost her interest in sex in midlife. Many of these women have either had lifelong low sexual interest or have just given up on romance and sex, and either way are no longer willing to put creative energy into life in the bedroom. Of course there are other important issues that have an impact on change in libido. These include unresolved issues in the relationship, the physical changes that affect sexual function in both men and women that just don’t get addressed, emotional and physical illness of either partner, or lack of a partner.

Streep’s character, Jane, was left by Jake 10 years before the film starts, and after the life-draining 40s had taken its toll on their marriage. This was the decade where Jane had to parent adolescent children, manage a home, and continue to pursue her professional and creative passion. This left little time for Jake, a predictable male character with charming narcissism, who always needed to be number one and taken care of. It’s clear that Jake has never had the capacity to be present, or to contribute to the kind of family life that was important to Jane.

In the film, directed by Nancy Meyers, it is by “moving way out of my comfort zone” — with a brief affair with her former husband, who is now unhappily married to someone in the wrong stage of life — that Jane learns all she needed to know, in order to move with certainty into the glorious person she has become. She learns that she loves hot sex, and that she can be not just the reliable one, but the fun girl she was in her 20s, before demands of life grabbed her by the throat and choked the joy out of her.

In a wonderful denouement, Jane recognizes that Jake was a great man for a certain period of her life. She remembers why she loved him for that time, and finds herself now able to accept him with all his flaws while acknowledging her own part in their failed marriage. But most of all, she understands that for a woman in her life stage, he is just the wrong kind of man. Great sex is still possible, but great sex alone won’t be enough.

The hot sex with her ex-husband is the fuel for Jane’s separation from victimhood, for the recognition that she has grown into a person who no longer wants the kind of life he needed and needs, and for the reaffirmation of her still vibrant libido.

This change in Jane allows her to welcome the interest of a new man in her life: an architect who has translated her personal vision — an addition to her home that she has dreamed about for a decade — into more than she thought possible.

By the time we meet her, Jane has been in therapy for almost a decade to deal with issues of abandonment and anger. If psychotherapy were as nuanced and entertaining as this movie, it would not take a decade for the work to be done in the treatment of life’s ordinary transitions and pain: It isn’t all that complicated, after all.

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  • Lombardi Chris January 7, 2010 at 4:49 pm

    Rache and I saw this last night – and it was EVEN better than I expected! The number of involuntary guffaws, from the brilliantly timed Sturges-style comic bits! Steve Martin combining his leading-man and goofy personae! Baldwin clueing us all into his jerk character with a single, porny gesture, while Streep rules them all! Wow. Glad I chose it over that Clooney thing in the theatre…

  • Shaun December 31, 2009 at 11:53 am

    I just tried to post a comment, and I got an error message–“You are posting comments too quickly. Slow down.” That bummed me! Now, I don’t want to rewrite what I had said. Anyway…it was good.

  • jennifer December 29, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Love this, Dr. Pat. Thank you.