Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Love and Marriage

Writer Gay Talese is celebrating his fiftieth wedding anniversary by writing a book about his marriage. Among the pearls of wisdom he will include is this: "marriage is not a love story."

Coming from the self-professed poster boy for infidelity-- see his book Thy Neighbor's Wife-- this is somewhat suspect. It is nonetheless true.

Spending your life with someone is not at all the same thing as living out a love story. Besides, as a professor once said, all of the great love stories in Western literature end badly.

Another professor once claimed-- more or less correctly-- that all of Shakespeare's great comedies end at the altar while most of the great tragedies begin with a wedding.

This might merely reflect on the bard's life, but then again, it may contain a larger truth.

I would not want to suggest that Shakespeare believed that all marriages end badly. It would be more accurate to say that when you try to make a marriage into a great story, then it will most likely not end happily.

Monday, April 28, 2008

How Does It Feel? 3

If he can't live without her, then he probably won't be living with her either.

The more he protests, the more he calls, the more he misses her, the more he obsesses about her... the more she will understand that he is desperate, not desiring.

She will know that desperation never involves another person, except perhaps as prop or foil.

When a man clings to a woman-- or vice versa-- because without her he will not have a social existence, she will normally reject him.

When a man has no friends beyond his significant other, this is a warning signal. No one person can be the totality of another person's social life. If she is his only human contact, her friends will threaten-- not his love-- but his social being.

Any time that he feels that he risks losing her, he will do what it takes to hold on. He will drag her on to an emotional roller coaster. Alternately, he will be petulant and loving, jealous and ecstatic, angry and vindictive. No one will ever be able to accuse of him of not expressing his true feelings.

Psychodrama is the last refuge of those who are desperately to hold on. The unfortunate part is that too many therapists feed this error. Don't most therapists believe that human life is just another drama?

The troubling part is that therapists encourage people to engage in these psychodramas.
They feel that expressions of raw emotion are therapeutic. If two people are not desperate to begin with, the enhanced histrionics will make eventually make them so.

Love survives only if it is socialized and domesticated. The time and energy people put into psychodrama takes them away from the real work of creating an organized life together.

If,in your relationship, you have to choose between drama and routines, choose routines.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Say What?

Remember Harrison Ford, aka Indiana Jones, Han Solo, Jack Ryan, and Dr. Richard Kimble. Well, he's back in the news with a gesture that is more than passing strange.

You probably know that a new Indiana Jones movie is opening in about a month. To market the movie without appearing to market the movie Ford chose to make a grand gesture to support the environment: he got his chest waxed, on national television. He reasoned, if you dare call it that, that this would raise awareness about the pain of deforestation in the Amazon.

How much more love for the environment can any man show than to undergo the agony of waxing? How much more of a sacrifice can any man make than to give up his chest hair? I'm sure the rain-forest feels better already!

The most important point is the interpretation. How are we to grasp the meaning of Harrison Ford's gesture? In three parts, it means:

1. That Ford does not have any self-respect.

2. That nothing is going on between his ears.

3. That a shortage of dignity and intelligence does not prevent a person from becoming a mega-star. In fact, it qualifies him or her to be a celebrity.

Friday, April 25, 2008

How Does It Feel? 2

Here's a thought experiment. Say that a man falls in love with a woman and she falls in love with him. His friends warn him about the relationship; they think that he has fallen too hard, too fast; they do not see the two of them together for the long term. They might even try to dissuade him from running off and marrying her this weekend.

He answers that he sees something in her that they do not see. (Hopefully, this is true.) And that the heart cannot be denied. Repressing his true feelings will likely give him cancer.

Do not presume that these are young people. It often happens today that a sexagenarian widower, recently returned to the dating scene after a three decade hiatus, gets swept up in a grand love affair with someone no one likes or approves of. Think Paul McCartney, for example.

Back to my original question: Who is right, your heart or your friends? While there is no such thing as absolute certainty here, if I had to risk a guess, I would vote for your friends.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

How Does It Feel?

Therapy is supposed to help you to get in touch with your feelings. Were you jealous of your father? Did you lust after your sister? Therapy will show you how to find out.

Strangely enough, the culture of therapy has convinced us that we need an expert to tell us what we really feel

Therapy does not limit itself to past feelings. It will also tell us what we really feel about the people in our lives. Does she love him because he reminds her of her father or because he has a great personality? Does he love her because of her curve appeal or because of who she is as a person?

But then, are they really in love? Perhaps they are in lust. Do they desire each other or are they desperate. When you crave his or her touch, does it mean that you really, really want it or that you are desperate for attention?

These distinctions are not self-evident. It is almost a commonplace to say that true love feels like an obsession, even a mania. Are you that sure that you can tell the difference?

If you choose a mate on the basis of how well you read your emotional temperature then you are betting your life on your ability to differentiate love and obsession.

Surely, there are differences between love and obsession. Similarly, there are differences between romantic love, friendship, and charity. And we ought to know the difference between desire and desperation. The question is whether you can tell the difference by looking into your heart, or whether there is another way.

I will examine some of these issues in further posts. For now, when someone tells you that you really need to get in touch with your feelings, turn the question around. Ask him or her: When you want to get in touch with your feelings, where do you put your hands?


A correspondent asked me if I had ever written about why I stopped practicing psychoanalysis and started coaching. I did, once, in an article called "That Night at Elaine's", originally published in The Reading Room. I've posted the full text on my website. To read it click on the link below.

That Night At Elaine's

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It's a New Day

Just in case you missed it...

Reports out of the Congo tell us that the capital has been overwhelmed by a wave of penis-snatching. Apparently, sorcerers have been at work shrinking men's penises or making them disappear entirely. Things have gotten so bad that some people tried to lynch the accused sorcerers.

It all brings to mind the first great Western manual of sex therapy, called the Malleus Maleficarum, The Hammer of Evil, a late 15th century book that was the Inquisitor's manual during the witch hunts that enveloped Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. You may or may not know that the accused witches of Europe were also accused of causing male sexual dysfunctions, and that the manual produced by a couple of Dominican monks was supposed, not only to show how to overcome this curse, but how to identify the perpetrators.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Annals of Bad Advice 1

I am happy to inaugurate what I intend to make an ongoing topic on this blog with an exemplary instance of abysmally bad advice. In an article entitled "Chores for Two: Why Men Don't Pitch In," journalist Leslie Bennetts explains how she conducts her marriage. Unfortunately, it sounds more like cultural warfare.

Beginning with the observation that all of her friends find hers to be the most cooperative husband they have ever seen, she offers an explanation for his good behavior: She does not give him a "choice." (I do not want to imagine what anyone would reply to a man who wanted to deprive a woman of her "choice.") By that Bennetts means that she has used threats, intimidation, bribery, yelling, complaining, and withholding "nooky" to beat her husband into submission.

Now she has added public humiliation to the mix. Unbeknownst to her she has presented a situation that resembles the relationship between a dominatrix and a submissive. One can only second the outrage of Dr. Helen Smith, through whose blog I found this article.The real problem is that Leslie Bennetts does not make herself look like a person of character. That is the problem.

Of course, domestic and non-domestic responsibilities should be distributed equitably in a marriage. The question is how to get from here to there. If you are a sentient adult you must know that the answer involves the complex give and take of negotiation... something that is utterly lacking in Bennetts' dramaturgy.

The problem is. You cannot negotiate effectively unless you have good character.

Surely a husband will be more willingly to help a wife who exhibits good character than one who tries to manipulate him by yelling, complaining, threatening, and withholding "nooky." Maybe Bennetts simply lacks character. Maybe she is doing the best she can with what she has. If so, she would have done better by her readers and her marriage had she kept it to herself.


Monday, April 21, 2008

Spitzer Redux

I don't relish beating a dead issue, but the Eliot Spitzer scandal requires more clear thinking than the psycho-pundits have given it.

As soon as the story flashed across the media, these experts were out in force to help us to understand. Why would the Governor of New York do something so reckless, and dare we say, immoral.

Their approach involved something I will call the law of intended consequences. It assumes that if an action leads to certain consequences, then that was the person's hidden intention.

If ES got caught, it was because he really wanted to get caught, really wanted to embarrass his family, and really wanted to destroy his career.

Thus, he was not exercising free will and cannot be taxed with unethical behavior. His repressed infantile fantasies made him do it.

Clearly, ES took a risk. Some might call it a foolish risk. And yet, John Kennedy was not destroyed by his multiple dalliances. People idolize him to this day. And Bill Clinton was not destroyed by his numerous affairs. Graphic descriptions of his kitchen habits elicited waves of support and affection. Clinton left office with high approval ratings. He parlayed it into an extremely lucrative post-presidential career. People have not shunned Bill Clinton; they swoon in his presence. (Until recently, that is.)

Now, if you emulate behavior that has been rewarded, how does that make you self-destructive.

Clearly, something in the Spitzer case was different. Perhaps it was because he prosecuted prostitution rings; perhaps it was because he did not have any friends left. Or, just maybe, he thought he was above the law. After all, who is going to prosecute the prosecutor?

Therapists rarely resist their impulse to diagnose. They have declared that ES was a pathological narcissist and sex addict. After all, he had spent $80,000 on call girls over a period of ten years.

If this is true, then his does not resemble anyone else's addiction. Given the fee structure of the escort world, $80,000 over ten years averages out to once every few months. How many alcoholics become addicts by overindulging once every few months?

As for the narcissism, he may have known full well that the law applied to him. But he may have been willing to take the risk. It would not be the first time.

Speaking of the calculus of risk a man who engages a sex worker is surely being more discrete than someone who engages a love affair.

The difference between a 22 year old escort and a 22 year old intern is that the former is being paid to be quiet while the latter is guaranteed to share. A mistress is far more threatening to a marriage than an escort.

A final comment was offered by one Dr. Laura. She declared that ES was frequenting prostitutes because his wife was not servicing his needs.

Say what? Here we have a man whose nickname was "Steamroller" and whose table manners inspired a friend to say: "Watching Eliot eat a piece of chicken is like witnessing a public execution."

I don't believe you have to "grow a vagina"-- in Jessica Coen' phrase-- to know that vulgar manners are not the royal road to coitus.

Besides, a recent article suggested that Mrs. Spitzer knew about the escorts and had accepted them. If it did not bother her, why should it bother anyone else?

The therapy culture has taught us that adultery, among other sins, is an intentional action. We need but unveil the hidden intention and the impulse will be mollified. In the time it takes to do that, the therapist will absolve you of your sins because the devil made you do it.

The alternative is to say that ES made an error of judgment. He miscalculated risk and he paid for it dearly. If the choice was his, the mistake was also his. It happens, but usually not so publicly.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

To tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth... maybe

By now we have all seen the video explosion of one Tricia Walsh Smith. (If not, please find link at the end of this post.)

An accomplished playwright in the midst of an ugly divorce TWS decided to reveal the truth about her marriage on Youtube.

Most people know that this was not the smartest move. For the immediate thrill of embarrassing her husband she has covered herself with a special kind of ignominy.

TWS may imagine that she made her husband look like a sexually inadequate porn hound, but she has also made herself look bad in the process. Had she used more reason and less emotion she might have known that her husband's being in possession of condoms, Viagra, and porn might say that he was always ready, but not for her.

She may have gotten some relief and release by laying this all out to the public at large, but the good feelings that accompany such a catharsis are often followed by moments of severe anguish when the person recognizes that she has done serious damage to her reputation, her friendships, and her future romantic prospects.

Given her notoriety TWS is about to discover what it feels like to be radioactive.

But, you might be thinking, in the future she can offer to sign an NDA, that is, a non-disclosure agreement. The trouble with this is that once you descend to the level of NDAs, you have already lost the game. The existence of the agreement means that your trustworthiness is subject to doubt. No sentient individual is going to get involved, on any level, with someone who may or may not be trustworthy.

Who is at fault for this debacle? I am not ready to blame the internet or Youtube. When I ask myself where anyone would have gotten the idea that it is a good thing to let it all hang out, to overcome the sense of shame, and to express all of your deepest and darkest feelings... the answer that immediately comes to mind is: the culture of psychotherapy.

People who have suffered its influence often engage in precisely this kind of let-it-all-hang-out moment, the kind that is guaranteed to ruin any relationship.

So, let hers be a cautionary tale, If you decide to comport yourself as though you were in a courtroom-- by telling the whole truth, nothing but the truth-- then your life is likely to turn into a nasty drama indeed.


Why lie?

I cannot guarantee that this story really happened. Call it apocryphal, if you like.

A student walks into a philosophy final exam and looks up at the blackboard to read the question he is going to answer. That question is: Why?

While he is considering his answer another student walks up to the professor, turns in his bluebook, and walks out of the room.

The professor opens it and instantly judges that the student should receive an A. The bluebook contains two words: Why not?

So, ask yourself this: Why not lie? This might help us to understand the recent incident where a much-admired politician got caught in a whopper of a lie.

Some people lie to gain an advantage. Some tell small lies to avoid offending friends and family. Others lie because they are afraid of the truth. Still others lie because they can get away with it.

Finally, there are people who lie because they are rewarded for it.

In that case, why not lie?

Imagine that you get caught in a lie. Some people are appalled, but others come forth to defend you. They say that it was only a minor distortion, that it was not relevant or germane, that you were in touch with a higher truth, and that those who denounce you have a darker purpose.

And besides, who is to say that lying is not therapeutic. Isn't a liar merely rewriting his or her life story. Isn't that what therapy is all about?

Of course, you might have to own up to your lies. If your supporters have been properly acculturated they will see this as a challenge to their capacity to offer unconditional love.

As you bask in the glow of this impassioned defense, you might say to yourself that lying is not so bad after all. Perhaps fiction is closer to the truth than mere facts. Besides, if lying has brought you fame, fortune, and power... why not lie?

Why not, indeed?