Palm Springs
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Credit: Hulu

Palm Springs, loss, comfort, and choosing the unknown

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Jul 27, 2020

Spoilers to follow for Palm Springs.

Every single day is ultimately the same, but the feelings shift. Some days are better than others, happy even. But one overwhelming feeling is this: we are trapped here. We accept this, but it's not what we wanted.

We can stay in the safety and comfort of the expected, or we can go. Going seems, and honestly is, impossible. When leaving is so incredibly difficult, why bother?

This is the plot of Palm Springs, now streaming on Hulu. It is a wonderful, warm, ridiculous romantic comedy wrapped around a time-loop twist. For a lot of us, it's the plot of our actual lives — this is what it's like to leave a marriage.

Nyles (Andy Samberg) and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) are stuck in a time loop. Every day they wake up repeating November 9, the day of Sarah's sister's wedding. It doesn't matter if they manage to stay awake all night, step in front of a semi-truck, or fall in love and have sex. Inevitably, they always end up in the same spot. As Nyles explains to Sarah, they have no choice but to "suffer existence." Pain is real and terrible, but you can't actually die. There is no ending in sight. "You just have to find peace," he says.

And for a while, they do. They embrace the chaos, the meaninglessness. For Nyles, this has been going on for countless days and he's fine with it. But for Sarah, waking up every morning in the same bed — one that isn't hers, but that of her sister's fiance — is so painful this very existence is unsustainable.

There is a point that comes toward the end of a marriage. You know you aren't happy. The sadness over this loss-in-the-making is so powerful it manifests as numbness, but an oppressive, heavy kind of numb you feel in your shoulders. Because you love this other person, and they love you. And you resign yourself to exist forever in this comfortable, safe, numb unhappiness. Because it's not great, but it's become your normal. So you "suffer existence," finding peace, and sometimes even finding moments of joy.

But the pain is real, and it always returns.

Credit: Hulu

"Are you scared to leave?"

"No, I just don't want to leave."

Sarah needs to leave, with or without him. For her, this is untenable, unsustainable. Nyles would stay with Sarah, looping for eternity — not necessarily happy, but safe. With her.

There can be a false comfort in the familiarity of a long-term relationship. A long-passed mutual sense of active, joyful love given way to mutual tolerance and passive acceptance is its own time loop, every day the same but not. Because every day it goes on, the gravity of the situation becomes heavier, the numbness gaining volume with resentment, sadness, and a futile wish for things to change.

Nyles' cheating girlfriend Misty actually explains it way better than I have in hundreds of words: "I don't like you, but I don't think we should break up."

In the end, there's only one way to actually change things. And it's both the most obvious solution and utterly unimaginable.

"Come on. Let's see if we blow up and die."

For Sarah, it's learning all of quantum physics and figuring out how to literally break through the universe. For me, it was saying "I want a divorce." Honestly, the concept of becoming a physics genius seemed far more plausible. Easier. Because how do you leave the only life you know? What if it's worse outside of this bubble? What if the pain is worse without this person than it is with them?

But there comes a moment where you wake up and know this is the last time you can wake up this way. If either of you has a chance for true happiness, you have to go. And it's terrifying, and it's devastating, and you don't know what's on the other side, or if you can literally survive this.

But sometimes you need your world to explode in order to move forward. It's scary and it seems impossible. But there is a big part of you that knows one thing to be true: you can't stay here. This isn't working.

So you choose to blow it all up and see what happens next.

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