You may be familiar with the 1978 movie Same Time Next Year, starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. In 1951, at a small California inn, George (Alan Alda) and Doris (Ellen Burstyn) have an affair. Instead of writing it off as a one-night stand, the pair decide to meet at the inn every year for a romantic retreat, away from their respective spouses and families. In the decades that follow, both George and Doris face their own personal struggles and hardships, and together they develop a level of love and intimacy that exceeds the ones found in their own marriages.
I don’t remember how I was first introduced to this movie, as it’s not the kind I would usually watch. However, watch it I did, and every once in a while I think about it, and even watch it again. It deals with love, loss, change, personality, attraction, conflict, intimacy, trust, and commitment, looking at all of these things in the context of shifting social mores and political upheaval and the effects of aging on relationships.
There is a subset of patients in my mental health center practice who are stable, have finished with their psychotherapy or groups or other interventions and basically only need to see the doctor and the nurse every so often to make sure that they remain in good health emotionally. This is a medication management program, and it’s mostly a private practice type model. When patients enter this follow up program, they see their nurse once every three months, and the doctor once per year.
Now, I follow this protocol most of the time, as I should for these patients, but I have always had a little twinge of regret when we transition folks over to that model of treatment. Instead of seeing them once a month or quarterly or even twice a year, I see them today and then roughly the same time next year. I wish them well, hope that they don’t have any major problems in between, and assure them that I am always here if they need me in between those yearly appointments. They rarely do.
As seen in the movie, a lot can happen in a year.
They wear different clothes or get their hair styled differently, or they lose fifteen pounds or gain thirty pounds.
They get married or divorced, they have children, they lose children, or they graduate college.
They beat an alcohol problem, or they find that they have metastatic lung cancer.
When my patients and I see each other for those yearly appointments, we assume that all will be well for both of us, and that we will see each other again the same time next year. We assume that things will not change.
A lot can happen in a year.
Things do change.
We all change.
We plan for the future, near and far, and we always assume that next year will come, that we will be here to greet it, that the ones we love will be with us, and the world will still make sense.
Sometimes that happens.
Sometimes it doesn’t.
We will always remember the Charleston Nine.
We will always remember Orlando.
You’ll keep doing what you do.
I’ll keep doing what I do.
With any luck at all, we’ll plan to meet right back here, same time next year.