Elizabeth Wurtzel, poster girl for the therapy culture, is getting married. We all wish her all the best… we seriously do.
Like her or not, she’s an excellent writer. For me, that counts a lot. Besides, when someone has suffered so much by following the ministrations of the therapy culture-- and has shared far too much of-- she does deserve a happy ending.
Wurtzel has accumulated a considerable amount of wisdom living a therapeutically correct life. Most therapists would not cop to promoting it, but she has been in full touch with her feelings; she has expressed them openly and honestly; she has overcome shame, decorum and civility; she has downed God knows how much psychotropic medication.
The wisdom she earned is hers to do with as she pleases.
One wishes that it had taken her a bit less time to figure it all out, but, as the saying goes, better late than never.
Now, she has written a swan song to therapeutically correct singlehood for The New York Times.
Looking back, with some regret, but no anger, she writes:
I would love to say that I don’t know why I never got around to this [to marriage] until now, but that would be a big fat lie. I never got married because who would want to? I was the worst girlfriend ever. And yes, I am the crazy ex-girlfriend you hear about. I had no regard for time of day or time of year or time at all. Perhaps I just had no regard. It’s not like I called boyfriends at 2 a.m. because something was wrong: I did it because I liked to talk in the dark when there was nothing good to watch on TV anymore.
I also called when something was wrong, and something was always wrong, because I could work my way into serious bother about something said in passing between the appetizer and the entree the night before, and that would turn into obsessive thoughts and long, intense conversations that would stretch across business hours and interrupt meetings all the next day. I needed — always absolutely needed — to get things resolved when it was not at all convenient. I called so repeatedly that I was impossible to ignore.
When technology enabled me to be demanding in many formats, my long voice mail messages became longer text messages and the longest emails. I was often hysterically upset or ragingly angry about nothing at all, and entire relationships became about failed communication and no more. I would swallow half a bottle of tranquilizers over a misunderstanding. And I would do this on New Year’s Eve.
I did this to everybody: I held rooms full of people hostage to my foul moods. I was an emotional wreck, and I did not know how not to be. I made men I loved scared of me.
A perfectly independent and autonomous individual, Wurtzel showed no regard for other people, for their time, for their space, for their sensitivities. The therapy culture does not put it quite that way but it touts the virtues of open, honest and shameless self-expression and promotes self-actualization ahead of tact and consideration. If you take its nostrums seriously you act as Wurtzel used to act.
Wurtzel’s relationships contained far more drama than most bad relationships, but she was using them as material for her books and articles. Boring and tedious bad relationships don’t sell. Nevertheless, she was hardly alone.
Ours is not merely an era of bad relationships, but it’s an era of obsessing about bad relationships.
She notes, sagely:
If television, movies, novels, songs, blogs and all other available media are to be believed, my behavior was not unusual and my love life not untypical. Our culture is animated by bad relationships and the conversations women have about them while drinking vodka cocktails flavored with lychee and pomegranate. The brainpower necessary to solve the troubles in Iraq and Palestine is instead deployed in the tender analysis of destructive dating behavior. It does not matter that it is obvious we are wasting our time.
It is well worth underscoring. Wurtzel explains that getting married is easy. Nearly everyone does it. So, why do we have generations of people who are obsessed with bad relationships, who spend far too much of their time and brain power deconstructing their failed relationships, and who imagine that knowing why it went wrong will teach them how to get it right?
For my part I would say that these people have overdosed on therapy. What else do most people do in therapy but deconstruct failed relationships. Which is one of the things that’s wrong with therapy.
Presumably, therapists know how the mind works. Thus they ignore reality and hone in on feelings. It may not be true in all cases, but it happens far too often.
And yet, what do most people talk about in therapy? Do they talk about the marketplace? Do they talk about managing businesses? Do they talk about career management? Do they talk about whether to buy or sell real estate?
I suspect that good therapists, therapists who have considerable experience know enough to discuss these topics. Most therapists, I believe, spend most of their session time discussing feelings and relationships.
It’s a serious mistake.
If you spend all your time talking about relationships and if your therapist believes in constructing narratives, you will need a constant flow of material to make your sessions interesting. You might not make a career out of writing about them, but the obsessive interest in self, the intense focus on what is going on inside, the need to produce more dramatic material will produce, if you follow it to its logical terminus, Elizabeth Wurtzel’s previous life.
Wurtzel explains that her problem was her own bad behavior and the bad choices she was making:
I cried profuse tears when my relationships failed, which was all the time. I wanted to love and be loved, but I behaved badly, and I had terrible taste. All the people who say they want to be married, but are not, are doing the same thing. All the statistics about how hard it is to find someone to love in this world — in this world of seven billion — do not account for the choices we make. We are the sum of our decisions: It’s not that luck has nothing to do with it, but rather, there is no such thing.