“I hate those guys that walked out of here. I hate them. I’m the only one that’s coming back, and I’m getting all the blame.”
After her boyfriend leaves, Paula (Marsha Mason) has to deal with the Elliot (Richard Dreyfuss), the man who now sublets the apartment. While trying to find a job and raising her daughter, Lucy (Quinn Cummings), Paula wonders about the suitability of all three occupying the same living space.
She’s been dumped twice and abandoned twice by douchebags. To some degree, Paula’s selection of boyfriends is to blame here, but to another, getting dumped and ditched is a traumatic experience.
Typically associated with children, separation anxiety can affect adults who either had poor relationships with their parents or like Paula, developed unhealthy beliefs about relationships as an adult. Elliot seems like a different kind of man than the ones she’s dated before, so when things heat up between them, Paula has the upper hand. It’s not until Elliot gets an out-of-state job offer that Paula realizes this guy might leave her and Lucy too.
In her 30s, Paula worries about the effect her relationships have on her daughter as much as herself. Finding a guy was a lot harder when you were older in the 70s because they didn’t have dating apps.
Without development of full-blown Separation Anxiety Disorder, Paula’s distress at the thought of Elliot leaving is a symptom of the diagnosis. She uses the patterns she is familiar with – she falls in love and then the guy she’s in love bolts – to anticipate what will happen this time.
The truth is that Paula’s behavior is normal; most people notice patterns in their lives and use those patterns to anticipate the next step. This is done to prevent anxiety, but becomes pathological when someone experiences abnormal patterns. For Paula, getting left is a pattern, but this doesn’t happen to everyone.
For all of us, judging the person we’re with by all the people that came before them is unfair not just to our partners, but to ourselves. Everyone is a little different; every relationship is a little different; and every mistake is a learning opportunity.