‘The Idea of You’ Is a Groundbreaking Film About Single Moms

Amazon MGM Studios
Amazon MGM Studios

When I saw the trailer for The Idea of You, starring Anne Hathaway as a 40-year-old single mom who falls in love with a musician (okay, pop star, but we’ll take what we can get) months ago, I instantly felt seen: “If I’m not the target audience for this who is, amirite?” I muttered to, probably, the dog.

As a 39-year-old single mom, who has been on a musician kick for years, and has, from time to time (okay, more often than not) dated younger men, there was almost no way this movie wouldn’t get at least something right. I hoped. Portrayals of single moms rarely hit home. Usually, they depict us as sad, struggling, overworked, and just hoping to meet some medium-income, medium-attractive 40-something grown-up frat boy to settle down with. You know, to save us from the utter brutality of our lives, or something.

This week, I streamed the new flick as soon as it dropped on Amazon Prime, and a few minutes in, I knew that this portrayal was striving to offer something different. In one of the first scenes, Hathaway’s character, Solène, celebrates her 40th among friends, and they ask her how she feels about the milestone birthday. Her response is about being grateful for where she is in her life. And why wouldn’t she be? Though she has complicated feelings about the end of her marriage, she’s also thriving in her career as an art dealer. She’s finished with a subpar marriage. She’s mostly done the work of raising her child, who is a junior in high school, and who she calls her “favorite person.” In many ways, her life is just beginning, and even if she never meets a partner, she says she’s fine with that.

While Solène’s friends give her the side-eye (because who could believe a woman could feel content on her own?), I felt that perspective. In fact, it’s the exact conversation I’ve begun having with myself regularly. While loneliness does creep in, especially when my kids are with their father and I’m flipping through channels, like we see Solène doing a few times throughout the film, I slow down and take a second to appreciate where I am. I can’t help but realize that I’m immensely lucky. Divorce might not be a desirable circumstance. Yet, sometimes, it occurs to me that I’m knee-deep in the best part of my life, even without a partner. Perhaps even because I don't have a partner.

A photo including Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine in the film The Idea of You

Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine

Amazon MGM Studios

Over and over in the film, we see Solène choose to be alone. She’s not a victim of her circumstances. I particularly loved the part when she’s introduced to an array of boring, snoozefest men her own age, and she all but yawns her way through looking at pictures of their cats. One is still in love with his ex-wife. The others just aren’t for her. She doesn’t want a lackluster love. If it’s not extraordinary, she doesn't need it. Chyeah. I’m right there with her.

Extraordinary might take the form of an adorable 24-year-old feminist pop star because, Hollywood. But the point still stands: single moms aren’t just emotionally depleted, sad, and searching for stability at any cost. They’re gritty and complex and, sure, sometimes lonely. They’re also very often in the prime of their lives, willing to say no to men who don’t challenge or inspire them. The movie hints that being alone is more than just loneliness. And man, if that perspective is not overdue.

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If you’re thinking that I’ve gotten away from the fact that the film is a love story, you’re right—it is one. Solène meets pop star Hayes Campbell by chance when she takes her daughter to Coachella after her ex characteristically bails (what single mother has not been there?), and they begin a romantic journey that is, at times, lacking. I wanted more of what drew them to one another so that their love felt believable. Still, I got over that minor flaw quickly when I realized that the film isn’t about falling in love with a cute 24-year-old feminist pop star (though that’s absolutely something I’d unquestionably do and no one would be surprised). It’s falling in love with being in the driver’s seat of your own life. It’s about falling in love with single motherhood.

If that sounds like a wildly unrealistic slant, let me assure you, it’s not uncommon. It’s something I feel, and I know other women feel, too. It’s a secret kept far too well, and if it came out, it would end a great number of marriages. The entire institution would be overthrown. But psst psst. It would be worth it.

Solo, I am committed to self-growth. I pour energy into myself and my kids. That’s probably why I exercise seven days a week without fail and make colorful dinners more often than I did at any other point in my life. I am endlessly working on my home, perhaps because it's all mine. (As is the mortgage, but that’s okay.) I do work I love and smile for no reason.

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Being alone means that there is no one to chat to, or take out the trash, or support me when I discipline the kids, yes. But there is no other adult whose slack I need to pick up, no arguments to be had. It means I am less stressed, more stable. My energy doesn’t go places where it isn’t deserved—that goes for both men who perhaps once, I wouldn’t have settled for, as well as friendships I realized didn’t deserve my energy. As a single parent, and a person who has been my own for nearly seven years now, I have done heavy emotional lifting. I no longer have the patience for inauthenticity.

That outlook, however, is a gift. It makes me stronger, more hardworking, and connected to what I want. As my daughter once put it, after the end of a brutal breakup, now, a few years ago: “You’re a lot more capable on your own.” And it’s true. Maybe it's because there’s no one to depend on but myself. Or maybe, single motherhood is actually a lesson in both freedom and determination. It’s not perfect, but there is more joy and more passion at this point in my life than ever before.

A photo including Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine in the film The Idea of You

Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine

Amazon MGM Studios

Society likes to paint single moms as single because no one wants them, or because their struggles are too real, their worries too crushing, their bank accounts too dismal. The truth is that single moms are very often single because they haven’t settled. While it doesn't feel like a choice every day (mainly because it's so clearly the right decision), mostly, it does, and it feels more liberating than lonely. Frankly, it’s refreshing to see a single mom not settling on screen. And in real life, I wish society admired women and mothers who choose solitude over settling.

That experiment in self-discovery, renewed sense of wonder—not necessarily about love, but about life—becomes the lens the audience sees Solène through. It’s a beautiful and energizing transition that happens to so many single moms. After they grieve and grab ahold of their mental health, they begin to realize that they aren't just starting over. Maybe, they’re just starting. There is so much hope in single motherhood, and no one ever talks about that.

It’s not without heartbreak. Mothers’ choices aren’t often easy, and the film displays that, too. Single motherhood isn’t all hotels and private jets—no one thought it was. But it’s also not all bills, and crying, and searching for companionship, either. It’s the feeling that maybe you never had before a day in your life until you got here: What if I’m not done growing, but I’m done searching?

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