In the psychiatric lexicon, a child experiences separation anxiety when he first goes off to school. He cries because he misses his mother. He cries because he finds himself in unfamiliar circumstances, with strange new people in a strange new place.
Most children get over their separation anxiety with little difficulty.
So, one is surprised to read about a 51 year old man who nearly had a nervous breakdown when his wife went off on a two week cruise with her best friend.
Elizabeth Bernstein describes his emotional meltdown:
Last week, when his wife left home for a two-week cruise with her best friend, Robert Sollars stocked up on hamburger meat and peanut butter, then settled into a weekend of football on cable TV. And he cried.
Mr. Sollars, 51 years old, who owns a workplace-security consulting firm in Mesa, Ariz., hates being away from his wife—even when she is just going to work, as an intensive-care nurse on the night shift at a local hospital. When she is away for a longer stretch, Mr. Sollars feels nauseated and finds it hard to concentrate.
As his wife packed for vacation, he hovered anxiously. She eventually snapped, and they argued for hours, he says. That night, after she'd gone to the airport, Mr. Sollars couldn't sleep. Among his thoughts: She will have a car accident. She will get sick or hurt. She will find someone else. "I firmly believe that my worry is based in fantasy land," Mr. Sollars says. "But I am still deathly afraid of losing the woman I love."
One is tempted to tell him to stop acting like a child. One is tempted to tell him to suck it up. One has trouble understanding why he would share his emotional vulnerability with the world entire.
If he wants to make a complete fool of himself over his wife’s two week absence, at least he should have enough self-respect to keep it to himself.
What happened to his manly pride?
Psychologists explain it by referring to the man’s experience of separation anxiety in his childhood.
I am not convinced. Most people learn to put away the toys of childhood when they become adults. This man is 51….
Bernstein offers another explanation. Thanks to modern communications we are all so hyperconnected that we have forgotten how to deal with disconnection.
Perhaps there is some truth to the point, though I find it difficult to blame the iPhone for everything that is wrong in the culture.
What really needs explaining is this man’s willingness to expose his weakness and vulnerability to the world. He did not even ask to hide behind the veil of anonymity.
If he chose to display it all in public that must mean that he was, in some way, proud of his reaction. He has apparently embraced the therapy culture, and has learned that it’s good mental hygiene to get in touch with your feelings and to display them, shamelessly, in public.
We should be asking whether his pride in his emotional incontinence is one of the reasons why he does not even try to maintain a stiff upper lip.
Like it or not, Sollars is in touch with his feelings and is giving them full expression. Isn’t that what the therapy culture prescribes?
So far, so good.
But then, Bernstein observes the following about Mr. Sollars:
His separation anxiety worsened a few years ago. He has diabetes and lost his eyesight; his wife had knee surgery and a procedure to correct a throat stricture. Now, Mr. Sollars is troubled by thoughts of becoming a burden to her. To distract himself while she is away, he plans to work on a book he is writing about preventing workplace violence.
I am puzzled by the fact that a man who has lost his eyesight was planning, in Bernstein’s first paragraph, on spending the weekend watching football on cable TV. I accept that he might be dictating, instead of literally writing his book, but still, his health issues surely have something to do with his not wanting to be left home alone.
Then again, if he is blind or if his vision is impaired, then he should hire a live-in caretaker. The man owns a consulting firm; he can probably afford it.
Somehow he has learned to avoid practical solutions in favor of childish emotional outbursts.