What Makes Amy Run?

How is a little girl destined to live her life when her father gives her this reason for leaving her Mom: “Monogamy isn’t realistic … What if that’s the only doll you’ll ever get to play with your whole life? You wouldn’t want just one doll, would you? That’s why Mom and I are getting divorced.” That’s Trainwreck. And, with a father like that, a father you love with all your heart, how can a girl trust love? That’s what makes Amy commitment-phobic. 

Amy Schumer’s pulled off a delightful rom-com in the film Trainwreck, with a lot of meaty psychological truth for a psychoanalyst like me to comment on. I don’t think, as some reviewers do, that Schumer and Apatow erred in not sticking with a full-on raunchier film of “just a sexual girl.”  It’s really much more interesting to see the underpinnings of what commitment phobia is about. And Trainwreck gives us hope that this phobia can change.

Changing a phobia means understanding what makes a phobic run. Amy (Amy Schumer) avoids love because she’s terrified of any kind of closeness (she can’t even spoon or spend the night). The reasons she’s terrified need to be carefully sorted out. If I had Amy in my office, I’d be looking for the roots of her phobia. Here’s how I’d understand them:

Amy’s History & Her Phobia

History is always a place to begin, even though the historical roots of a phobia are different for each person. For Amy, there’s the way her dad announced the divorce. There’s also her sister, Kim’s (Brie Larson), words: “Dad fucked every one of my teachers.”  Yet, we don’t know until the film unfolds what the effects of Amy’s history actually are. It’s these effects that interfere with her admitting she wants anything more than sex.

What’s In Amy’s Phobia?

Amy avoids anything that could lead to feelings of love. She doesn’t “sleepover.”  Doesn’t spoon.  Won’t cuddle. It’s panic for Amy when Aaron (Bill Hader), the sports physician she’s interviewing for an article (and oh no! likes), wants her to spend the night. It’s worse when he wraps his arms around her and kisses her gently. She panics: “If I stay here, can we just stay in a realistic position?” That means no touching. She puts a pillow between them. It’s not Aaron she’s afraid of, though. What Amy’s really afraid of is something else.

Where’s The Deal-Breaker?

“What if I forget to flush the toilet and there’s a real motherfucker of a tampon in there? That’s a deal-breaker, you know.” Fear of rejection will make a girl run every time. And, uncommitted sex is the way Amy runs. Believing she’s “just a sexual girl” saves her from knowing she wants love as much as anyone else. She’s rude and critical of her married sister. This keeps her walls up. Better to do the rejecting. There’s nothing to lose if you don’t care.

No, She Doesn’t Need Love

There’s a running dialog inside Amy that criticizes her feelings. Tries fervently to talk her out of them. When she falls for Aaron, the voice gets very loud: “No you didn’t, are you crazy?  You’re the girl that just likes sex remember? That’s who you are. Not someone who falls in love.” Feelings of love are dangerous. Look what happened to her mom. Love makes Amy hyperventilate.

Convinced She’ll Be Left

Believing love will last is impossible. When her dad gave Amy the analogy of the doll, she wasn’t too young to understand something but not the real story.  What happened is this: Amy identified with the doll. She was convinced she’s not enough. Otherwise, her dad would have stayed, wouldn’t he? Now, she doesn’t trust Aaron to stick around, especially with her imperfections. Her runaway voice tells her: “maybe there’s better sex somewhere else.”

Something’s “Wrong With Her”

Amy’s so sure she’s unlovable she gives Aaron a list of reasons not to want her.  She’s so sure he agrees that she pushes him away. After the fight, she’s even more convinced he doesn’t want her and pretends not to care: “That’s fine. It’s done. It’s OK. We don’t need to talk.” To top it off, she gets cruel and rejecting to prove he’s not for her. Later, she finally owns up to Kim: “I act like what you have is wrong and stupid. It’s just because I don’t think I can have it.”

Trust Is Not Easy For Amy

If I had Amy on my analytic couch, this is what I’d help her work out: 1. She isn’t the doll that’s not enough. 2. The voice that tries to talk her out of love isn’t the friend she thinks it is. 3. Aaron’s not her dad. 4. Monogamy isn’t unrealistic when you have a man you can trust.

Trainwreck has a fairytale ending for Amy and Aaron. In the real world, with someone as frightened and phobic as Amy, there will be challenges ahead as she and Aaron learn to love each other. Amy’s fears of being left will inevitably emerge from time to time. The key is to talk to Aaron – to be honest about her fears. That goes both ways. When it does, there’s a chance (as Billy Joel sings): “That won’t happen with us. It’s always been a matter of trust.” With the help of love and/or therapy, you don’t have to repeat the past.

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Dr. Sandra E. Cohen

I’m Dr. Sandra Cohen, a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in Beverly Hills, CA. I work with creatives in therapy, story/character development, and entertainment consulting. If you are a writer, actor, or director and want help with a character – or a chance to do some of your own personal work - call at 310.273.4827 or email me at to schedule a confidential discussion to explore working together.