The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™
MAY 03, Sec. I
Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
In the Phoenix we trust!
Table of Contents
Training Kit & Book; AOL Chat
Shrink Rap: A Cruise, "The Blues"
and that Mid-life Muse
Main Essay: Customer Service: A
The Florist, Funny, I Don't Remember..., The Army of the Lord, The
Truth About Men
Heads Up: Women's Day, April 15th Edition,
NASW Conference, Army Corps of
Engineers, Celebrity Cruise Lines Feedback
1. Training/Marketing Kit: Want to
strengthen your ability to lead or market a stress workshop or any kind of speaking/training
program? Consider the Stress Doc Training/Marketing Kit, which includes both "how to" manual
and articles and the opportunity for phone coaching. For more info:
Stress Doc Book:
From Stress Brakes and Shrink Rap to Safe Stress and Cool Moon Cats:
The Wit and Wisdom of the Stress Doc, Stress Doc Enterprises, 1995
A 90 page
compilation of my former syndicated radio essays, pioneering songs in the field of psychologically
humorous rap music - "Shrink Rap" Productions - a creative visualization poem and other
humorous lyrics/poems. "Stress Brake" radio essays are short (300 words), fast-paced and
witty, covering such topics as stress, burnout, anger and conflict resolution, time management,
creativity, men's and women's issues, romantic relationships, codependency, etc. (They make
excellent fillers for newsletters.)
Price: $20 (which covers priority postage and
Make check payable to: Mark Gorkin
Send check to:
Stress Doc Enterprises
1616 18th Street, NW #312
3. Chat Group:
Stop by my AOL/Digital City Shrink Rap (TM) and Group Chat
DC Support Chat, Tuesdays, 9:30-11pm EST DC
Support Chat. It's a dynamic, lively, at times witty and always warm, thoughtful and supportive
problem-solving group. We raise questions and share our ideas, hopes and experiences with each
The Stress Doc playfully and poignantly reflects on luxury cruise life and the
aftermath -- a return to reality. Challenging career and relationship issues await at home
port. Has the Doc discovered a "seriously funny" land based life jacket?
A Cruise, "The Blues" and
that Mid-life Muse:
Dreaming, Dreading and Designing "The Big Picture"
it is transition time, hopefully, a season for rebirth. I need it. The golden glow from
my excellent Caribbean venture as a speaker on Celebrity Cruise Lines is steadily fading. And
spring presentation season this year doesn't get into high gear until May. I've likely been
struggling with speaker withdrawal. The six-day cruise offered four "Celebrity Enrichment"
programs -- each well received. This past month only one gig, unless we count the lunchtime
series on April 14th at the IRS when six folks showed. Bad timing.
Clearly, some of my
malaise reflects the return to shore bound reality. These liners are more than just hotels at
sea. Cruising feels like primal regression: you are immersed in a floating womb.
There's food, food and more food, even a midnight spread. Breakfast and lunch buffets that
could probably feed several war torn Iraqi towns. And heaven forbid you should even experience
a pang of hunger before dinner. Not a problem with 4-6 PM pizza by the pool. (My guilt
buster was brisk walking around a portion of the upper deck outdoor jogging track after breakfast --
14 times to a mile -- and doing my threefold workout -- treadmill, Nautilus and stretching -- in the
health club before dinner.)
And speaking of dinner, they must have brought in waiters trained
by Jewish mothers. Our waiter appeared insulted if you didn't accept his offer for seconds on
everything, especially deserts. Really, how can you have Baked Alaska and Tiramisu? I
mean the guy even begged one woman to allow him to cut up her steak. The service definitely
encouraged the coming out of your inner prince and princess. You couldn't take two steps from
the buffet line before an attendant appears, practically snatching the tray out of your hands to
deliver you and your repast to a table.
Of course, we're not just talking oral overload, but
aural as well. From a poolside Calypso-Reggae band colorfully clad in island shirts at lunch
to contemporary and pop performers in the various lounges. There's a talented piano man by the
proverbial bar taking requests throughout the day and evening. Oh yes, and at night, you have
the Century singers and dancers doing their best to capture a little Broadway, a little Vegas, a
little '60s. (And after performing a workshop "Shrink Rap" ™, a participant roped me into
doing raps for an on ship guest talent show. As I said, it was difficult escaping the music or
the absurdity. Have no fear American Idol!)
If you do, somehow, find yourself out of
earshot and are having musical withdrawal, you can always wander into the casino. No sensory
deprivation there with its jangling slots and psychedelic lights. And speaking of lights, on a
Caribbean cruise all you need is some sun and a chaise lounge for constant stimulation -- from
dripping sweat to dreamy sultriness. And when the lights went out, sleeping at night was
blissful; preverbal memories (or fantasies) while being gently rocked and swayed to sleep by the
ship's and Mother Nature's natural seafaring rhythms.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Like I said, just about everything is geared to evoke a totally sensuous, womb-like state.
(Of course, some have the equivalent of morning sickness. One convenient rationale for the
continuous feeding is that eating supposedly reduces the likelihood of seasickness. Yeah right!
Fortunately, after brief first night queasiness, I quickly got my sea legs.)
cruise scene is not hard to take…but not for twenty-four hours a day, especially if you are out at
sea for several days before getting into an island port. While others questioned interrupting
Eden-on-the-seas escapism with work, call me Type A (certainly better than calling me Ishmael. ;-)
Preparing and delivering on board programs added some structure, if not determinism, to all that
irresistible freedom. Maybe my New Yorker genes are still stronger than my laid back, Big Easy
N'Awlins ways from the '70s and '80s. (And my quip for moving to DC in the '90s: If NYC
and New Orleans had a baby it would look like Washington, DC. Though, naturally, I can't vouch
for its legitimacy!)
Actually, if you want tranquil without feeling tranquilized, then at
sunrise or sunset head to one of the ships higher decks. Grab hold of a railing and simply
look, north south, east and west. For 360 degrees there is only a never-ending, as far as the
eye can seescape of water, horizon and sky. Oh yes, there's also the mesmerizing white foamy
wake as the ship plows through this expanse of sun shimmering royal blue and gold or through the
moon and star cast, darkly mysterious, if not foreboding, horizontal purple majesty.
Suddenly, the all too human cacophony, hedonistic indulgence and over the top absurdity fades away.
One is face to face with an eerily still "big picture" -- the vastness of earth, the smallness of
homo sapiens and, even, of seemingly massive cruise ships. I'm part of nature's canvas,
billions of years in creation, connected to a higher power. Simultaneously, I feel humbled.
And there's also an existential emptiness within head and heart that mirrors this seemingly
infinite, ineffable and solitary seascape.
Of course, this is just surface; out of sight is
an incredible panoply of sea life. Actually, this contrast truly hit home snorkeling off of
St. Croix, Virgin Islands three years ago. Watching the Discovery channel just can't create
the same reality, as when a fish the size of a moving mailbox glides by while you instinctively gulp
and intuitively grasp that if this monster shifted direction by three feet, you could be a lunchtime
Still, I can't deny the parallels between my "Tale of Two Cities" existence back
home: limelight intensity, sights and sounds and connections while performing on stage,
including the performance anxiety upon diving into the unpredictable array of audience creatures; in
contrast, feeling alone, lacking needed pressure and somewhat adrift when off. The intensity
and anxiety seems to help keep some of the existential demons at bay.
The Winter of
Some of the disconnect is related to the breakup of a long distance, electronic
affair. An intense relationship that, in the end, despite thousands of phone hours, was more
elusive hope than substance, more virtual than verifiable, more "romantasy" than reality.
Also, since returning north a dozen years ago, mostly business contacts and a men's group have
replaced a once strong circle of friends. Why? One rationale: DC
doesn't have the same collection of readily available artistic N'Awlins "oddballs and outcasts" with
whom I felt at home.
But there's more. Until recently, the paucity of Post-9/11
speaking and training work and concomitant diminished income evoked those ancient, still gnawing
cockroach-like inner voices (you know, ones immune to extinction) berating me for not being more
productive, not earning more money…not being "successful" (like my six-income figure brother).
Not to mention credit card debt to stay "afloat." (I wish a pun was intended.) Perceived
unworthiness may breed solitariness.
And hovering in the shadows is the Holy Grail quest to
get published…"The Endless Manuscript." A new editor must be found to give a final proof in
order for me to self-publish. And the enthusiastic Acquisitions Editor from the midsize
publishing house lost the first round with house decision makers: "Too many stress books out
But perhaps most troubling is that my life may be imitating my art. Am I
experiencing that self-created Bjorn Bored Syndrome? The syndrome is named for the late '70s -
early '80s Swedish tennis great, Bjorn Borg. Despite a stellar career, for example, five
back-to-back French and Wimbledon titles, Borg suddenly burnt out on the circuit. Perhaps it
was the mind-body numbing from endless hours of practice. Maybe the novelty and thrill of
winning titles was waning. My Bjorn Bored formula: "When Mastery times
Monotony provides an index of Misery!"
Even securing a prestigious contract
providing management coaching and team building services for an office high up the National
Institutes of Health (NIH) food chain doesn't truly rev up my motivational motor. I've walked
this consulting/coaching talk many times before, under significantly more difficult circumstances.
At present, the intensity and challenge is lacking. Of course, I'm pleased that the Office
Director really appreciates my counsel and that he's getting very positive feedback from staff.
(And I am very thankful for some steady income.)
I don't even feel excited or driven to
write. I'm surprised this much has flowed from my pen this late afternoon. It's not just
the up in the air status of the book. There's little sense of something new or compelling to
express. My best writing comes from the heart and is birthed by angst or some hypomanic state
(or both). Currently the writer's mind appears fallow.
Alas, there is no engaging woman
on the psychic and libidinal radar screen for intimate connection and inspiration or, even, mutual
distraction. There's still unfinished grief from recent aborted relationships. Most
critical, though, is understanding how my loneliness, how a sometimes too unstructured life and how
the biochemical war between the sexes, sparking those hormonal highs and lows, drive unrealistic
expectations and impatient fantasies of instant intimacy and magical love. With these issues
so close to home, head and heart a writing project anxiously awaits, a project I periodically
approach...then some large, still somewhat vague sadness wells up and I back away.
may also be artistic: I want to stretch as a writer, placing my relationship sturm und
drang in a short story frame. Exploring a new writing style and format feels a bit dicey.
(All of my relationship issues confined to a short story...Talk about another fantasy.) Still,
perhaps it's time to walk my Stress Doc talk, to try breaking out of the Bjorn Bored Box and
"Confront the Intimate FOE: Fear of Exposure." In my head I know the drill: shake
up the life puzzle; grapple with the angst, start designing and assembling new pieces. Now
test out the product or process. Engage with the feedback, generate a learning curve and nurse
any ego wounds. Then start all over...until it finally feels right. But the vision,
alas, must come from the heart and soul.
Finally, just turning fifty-five, I suspect age
needs to be thrown into the psychic mix. An artist friend seems to have done a fairly
extensive social survey of folks in the mid-life to preretirement crisis range. Her
conclusion: after turning fifty it definitely becomes harder meeting a compatible partner.
Even for men. Is it because we post-'50s know ourselves better? Have we become more
picky? Or do we prefer being somewhat unhappy alone rather than miserable together?
(What do you think dear reader? Email and I'll post your answers.)
The Spring of
Well, maybe there's both self-doubt and a glimmer of hope. In my current
mental state -- parts feeble, parts febrile -- trying to escape the boredom box, I've stumbled into
a deep, dark Alice In Wonderland-like hole. My ego and confidence inflating and shrinking
through the bipolar free fall. Then, just as the hole seems devoid of light and life, a
spark…illuminating, perhaps, "the pass in the impasse." Capturing my attention is a
Washington Post Book World review of, Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s
and 1960s. And I grab the book and open it and, blessedly, it becomes a parachute slowing
a rapidly cycling downward spiral.
This holy passage leads me back, once again, to that
expansive mindscape, both seemingly infinite and empty. But now, inspired by these "seriously
funny" iconoclasts, the book has morphed into a life jacket and oxygen mask allowing me to view my
existential surroundings without feeling as if I'm going under. Reading is slowly breathing
life into a seemingly exhausted imagination.
Yes, hype still springs eternal. For
several years people catching my "Shrink Rap" performances would temper praise with familiar advice:
"But don't quit your day job." My customary refrain: "It's too late!" Now,
however, people are saying, "You should be playing the Catskills." (Hey, it's a start.)
I can't say when this transformation of psychohumorist to fledgling standup comedian exactly
happened. Maybe it's an evolution. Six months ago, maybe a year, I began to consciously
play with all the artistic elements -- pacing, intonation, volume, nonverbal gestures; knowing that
nearly every word was potentially a dab of color and I could decide how to lay it on the canvas.
And now I'm truly bantering with the audience right from the start. For example, the first few
folks in a room become our "Stress Poster People."
It isn't just clever lines; the delivery,
my whole essence contributes to the laughter and a more playfully provocative and electric
connection. The DC Improv says they will market me with their corporate training
("Motivational Humor") division. Big surprise...for months they've been saying that their site
will be up and running in two weeks. Rites of passage never are easy.
Of course, I'm
treading on dangerous water. Is audience laughter and high speaker ratings a substitute for
love, for acceptance, for self-worth, for my "higher power" source? Okay, my narcissistic side
cannot be denied, but there's more. There's also a skillset, a confidence, an outrageous side
that's been growing for many years. And I want to display (and, yes, show off) my talents, a
charisma, this maturing persona, and these thoughtfully clever lines on a variety of stages.
So I'm anticipating Spring Training and, especially, Opening Day. The land based 2003 Stress
Doc season begins in earnest next week. Believe me, there are still plenty of trials and
tribulations ahead. And when I don't sufficiently connect with an audience or the audience
doesn't get me, we're talking pain and ego-deflation. For example, in a recent presentation to
a 120 mental health professionals, a number were uncomfortable with my Stress Doc presentation.
Perhaps there were too many standard deviations from an acceptable or familiar professional persona.
For me, for a couple of days, the post-mortem was more postpartum.
So once again Freud was on
to something. He claimed the mature individual has the capacity to work and love fully or, at
least, meaningfully. (And I'm sure he would add rebounding from disappointment and psychic
injury in a timely manner.) Challenges on both career and home battlefronts lie ahead.
But this essay has opened up a window to my brain and soul. Until I'm in a real ball game --
whether as a dynamic speaker or a more relaxed suitor -- if I can at least passionately express
myself in words then I'm not a "paper tiger." I can begin to shape this trying transition.
Hey Stress Doc, listen to your own hard-earned and exploratory-based wisdom: "I don't know
where I'm going…I just think I know how to get there." Surely words to help all of us
wrestling with mid-life dreams or mid-career identities generate new possibilities and realities and
to…Practice Safe Stress!
The Stress Doc presents both engaging concepts and key interventions from a
psychotherapy perspective for shedding fresh and strategic light on the familiar yet vital topic of
Analyzing Customer Service: A Psychotherapist's Perspective
While contemplating an
approach to this article a question started crystallizing: Might a philosophy and skillset
developed over thirty years as a psychotherapist (Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker) shed
some fresh light and insight on the ever challenging subject of customer service? Of course,
in the psychotherapy realm the customer is usually called a "client."
Now I do bring a
nontraditional practice perspective as a therapist. My foundational training and subsequent
experience encouraged an active, directive and educative professional role, whether as therapist or,
with an expanding career path, as a management consultant. No just sitting back and rubbing
the chin and saying, "Hmmm." (Though asking probing questions to better understand a person's
needs, pain, vital history, desires and resources still remains a critical tool.) Perhaps most
important, I've come to understand that therapy or coaching is most successful when the learning
process is relationship-focused and also stimulates cognitive-behavioral awareness and
skill-building. And communication is often the key; the service provider needs to convey
empathy and understanding. At the same time, a real, mutual back-and-forth that allows
for difference, disagreement, even, some conflict (which still feels safe for the client) often
becomes a catalyst for that customer service foundation -- a sense of trust. Genuine
engagement also facilitates:
a) a sense of connection and healthy dependence; with trust a
client shares an array of emotions and is able to lean on a service provider's judgment and
b) which enables the letting go of unrealistic or, even, self-defeating expectations
and fantasies while supporting calculated "out of the box" risk-taking,
c) often generating
unconventional planning and purposeful problem-solving; remember, optimal difference and the process
of resolving conflict often spurs novel and effective thinking and action, thereby
individuals and systems -- whether couples or families, departments or organizations -- experience a
sense of competence while achieving healthier, more productive and rewarding goals.
Dance of Flexibility and Firmness
Clearly, responsiveness to feedback and being flexible
are vital for providing good service. At the same time, being able to affirm the uncommon
quality of your product and service, even in the face of doubt and skepticism, may also determine
whether you gain and win over a new client.
Let me give an example of "flexible persistence."
A few years back, NIH (National Institutes of Health) was interviewing several training vendors to
provide a half-day seminar for 150 attendees in an auditorium setting. The panel of
interviewers was skeptical when I proposed a very interactive program (including a small group
discussion/drawing exercise) with these numbers in a confined setting. I carefully listened to
their objections, acknowledged their concerns and the importance of this high profile campus-wide
event. I was also amenable to adding content they deemed essential. However, I
steadfastly maintained a commitment to my interactive design and process. Despite my
step-by-step clarification, the client group still was having difficulty embracing their collective
mind around the concept. Nonetheless, the session closed on my confident note: I would
deliver a highly successful program.
Upon leaving the interview room, I wondered if my stance
had negated a chance for the contract. But, a month later, I was informed that the panel
appreciated my specificity, clarity and confidence, especially in light of their skepticism and
challenge. Much like an anxious client, by leaning on the knowledge and experience of a
therapist or coach, they were able to move forward into unfamiliar territory. (Of course,
client or customer caution may also reflect having been burned by a previous service provider.
When it comes to a client's history as a service consumer, you may need to explore before you can
reassure.) And their trust was rewarded with a program that garnered this testimonial from a
I must confess that I was skeptical about whether the interactive
exercises would be appropriate for such a large and diverse group (about 150), but you pulled it
off. You got their trust and I was surprised how enthusiastically they got down on the floor to bare
their souls in the drawing exercises. We got great feedback from the audience.
Keys for "Therapeutically Engaging" Customer Service
Here are key therapeutic techniques
and communication and relationship building strategies. Consider their potential as parallel
tools for cultivating effective and efficient customer service.
1. Start Where
the Client Is. Understanding what the client is asking for or "where they are coming from" is
critical. Too often, even skilled counselors can lose sight of this starting point axiom.
Sensing that a client's presenting problem with a boss or a "bossy spouse" has its roots in an
entangled family tree, the therapist begins to dig prematurely for the deeper stuff. The
expert knows this is the path of real insight and personality transformation, not just superficial
behavioral change. (Never mind that the latter is what most clients want, at least initially.)
Big surprise. The client feels discounted and not understood, and even more vulnerable or
angered by such a confusing process.
The moral: make sure the person you are trying to
engage truly believes you understand his presenting problem or request and feels like he has some
input in and control of the service delivery -- problem-definition and problem-solving -- process
before selling the client on bigger and better ideas and solutions.
2. Speak the
Client's Language. Beware dazzling a client with psychobabble. (Of course these days,
technobabble has become public communication enemy # 1.) Especially when dealing with abstract
concepts, provide visuals and hands-on demonstrations. For example, I'll often draw (or
encourage clients to draw) interaction maps to better see and get the web of authority/dependency
relationships or actual patterns (one-way, mutual, etc.) of communication in a nuclear and extended
Naturally, to speak a client's language, you also must look and listen for their body
language, facial gestures, and tone of voice, loudness and emphasis. These cues will help you
gauge interpersonal comfort level, interest and mutual pacing. For example, are you moving too
slow or too fast, providing too much direction or not enough?
3. Allow for "Yes,
Butters." Frequently, service professionals try to meet a person's questions, concerns or
objections with relevant or convincing data. We are trained to be problem solvers.
However, sometimes people raise questions or barriers as a way of testing a relationship or for
establishing a sense of power or equality in the interaction. Providing the client with an
irrefutable, "knockout" answer prematurely will likely only short-circuit a chance for providing
service. Actually, encourage skepticism and doubts. First, handling this challenging
communication in a non-defensive manner is trust building. Second, social psychology research
shows that after allowing a rebuttal to our position people are often more open to persuasion or
some modification in perspective. Again, people don't just argue facts and figures but also
the status and security of the relationship. As I like to say:
If we can allow people
who say, "Yes, but"
Even if they are a pain in the…
Then we can often get them to
4. Develop Four Keys of Active Listening -- Clarifying,
Paraphrasing, Reflecting Feelings and Summarizing.
a. Clarifying. Ask questions
to help a client sharpen his or her thinking on a subject and improve your understanding of the
client's perspective. Many people hold back from asking questions for fear of being perceived
as intrusive or pushy. Exploration often helps a client consider ideas and issues that
heretofore had seemed puzzling or foreboding. And when you accept a client's signal that he or
she wishes to go no further down a "questionable path," you respect his boundaries and allow for
client control. Ironically, allowing others to assert control may eventually loosen a fixed
position, help overcome resistance and/or induce attitude change.
In your words repeat your understanding of the client's message. Conversely, especially when
sharing complex or substantial information, ask the customer to paraphrase what they heard you to
say. Warning: Paraphrasing should not be used robotically or prematurely. The goal
is to affirm that, "Message Sent Is Message Received." This is no small feat as most words
have multiple meanings, and spoken words are always embedded in a verbal and nonverbal context.
c. Reflecting Feelings. Again, don't just try to win an argument or win over folks
with facts. Especially when pained or passionate about an issue, people want to know that they
have been truly heard and that you "get them" on a feeling level.
Before reaching closure, whether one-on-one or in a business meeting, recognize and share your
understanding of key individual points, interpersonal processes and agreed upon future plans.
Don't leave the room without around the table acknowledgment or without mutual recognition of issues
still to be resolved.
To maximize active listening, consider this thoughtful trio:
connect with a person's pain and predicament, purpose and passion
* equalize the relationship as
much as possible; hopefully, you are still the authority and the client, while needing assistance,
is still being engaged as a capable, problem-solving partner
* help other's accept, if not laugh
at, their own mistakes or flaws. Be a "healing humor" role model. By comfortably
acknowledging and playfully sharing your foibles and imperfect humanity, you will definitely put
others at ease, make friends and win followers.
5. Close Thoughtfully. Here are
my four closing questions, especially after an initial meeting:
a. how did the person or group
experience the session?
b. was there anything in my communication style or our interaction with
which the client was uncomfortable?
c. did the client get at least one tangible idea or tool in
our session? And
d. does the client wish to continue? A "yes" here often signals the start
of a working relationship. You now have a foundation for building upon and sustaining solid
client or customer service, for evolving a mutually beneficial client-professional alliance and for
helping all parties…Practice Safe Stress!
1) I received the inaugural National Association of Social Workers-Metro-DC Chapter Social Work
Entreprneur Award. I informed the audience that this shows that the journey is as important as the
destination. With all the uncertainty, all the financial and emotional peaks and valleys, you have
to truly love what you are doing, or feel compelled to your path, if not bliss. ;-)
As promised here are several responses to the question posed in the MAY03 Newsletter. Here's my
intro followed by my request for responses:
Finally, just turning fifty-five, I suspect age
needs to be thrown into the psychic mix. An artist friend seems to have done a fairly extensive
social survey of folks in the mid-life to preretirement crisis range. Her conclusion: after
turning fifty it definitely becomes harder meeting a compatible partner. Even for men. Is it
because we post-'50s know ourselves better? Have we become more picky? Or do we prefer being
somewhat unhappy alone rather than miserable together? (What do you think dear reader? Email and
I'll post your answers.)
Subj: Response to Bored Box
Yes, meeting a
compatible partner is tough at this age! I'm 58. I'm looking for depth - fun - humor - smart enough
to get out of the rain (and make a living) - unafraid of emotion - turned on to living - genuine.
Baggage is gonna be there but I expect us to deal with it rather than be chained by it. Is that
picky? "He" seems hard to find. Pile all these criteria on top of the disadvantages of
long-distance relationships and one has narrowed the playing field to a few inches.
over-50 group are certainly higher on the EQ (Ed.: Emotional Quotient?) scale now than we were in
previous decades. Yes, some of us know ourselves better. And some have gotten so scared of risk that
it's safer to be alone. Not me. For some strange reason, I keep looking for MORE. I have no
intention of being alone and I have no intention of being miserable. The truth is....I intend to be
happy in whatever relationship I find. If "he" wants to join me, terrific!
Subj: 55 -- but who's counting?
With the big --5--0-- looming large six months from now, I suppose I barely qualify to
respond. Nonetheless, there's no denying that -- surely -- those 50+ know more about themselves
than those who are younger but I don't think that is why it becomes harder to meet someone
compatible as we age. As we get older, we are more inclined to trust our instincts; more inclined
to insist on our preferences; more SURE that we do, in fact, like what we say we like. We're less
inclined to compromise; more insistent that a potential mate meet us where we are; on OUR turf. Of
course, "they're" feeling the same way and the impasse evolves from there.
In my own case, I
was really done. Done chasing; pursuing; longing; aching; whatever. I got to a place (finally and
reluctantly and with MUCH pain and difficulty) where I committed to living the rest of my life alone
with no real expectation of new love. A part of me must have accepted a friend's conclusion wrought
on my life: that in the course of four marriages and four divorces and too many serious -- but
ultimately soured -- relationships, I had been the source of so much pain that perhaps the only
option left for me (that would honor God in his view) would be to live the rest of my life alone.
So I was prepared -- and beginning -- to build a new life perfectly suited to me alone with no
disparaging "input" from any would-be lovers. I thought I would build a life which suited me (and
me alone) and if someone wanted to "give it a go" -- they could move themselves and their stuff
into MY life. And then IF (well -- so far -- it has been WHEN) things go awry (as they are
seemingly wont to do), they could move themselves and their stuff OUT of MY life. This would -- by
the way -- be an absolute revolutionary FIRST for me . . . if (or when) . . . it ever happens.
That was a year ago. Three months ago, I got married -- again -- after a 9-month courtship to a
42-year-old whom I've described in one word to my friends as "kind." I would've been fine "just"
living together but she struggled mightily with this "sex outside of marriage" thing and -- problem
solver that I try so hard NOT to be -- marriage seemed like the only solution to "our" problem. We
also care for her 15-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son from her previous relationships (my kids
are both grown and out on their own).
Essentially, I've poured all my energy and resources
into her life and her dreams and "our" kids and I'm beginning to resent that my projects and my
plans are all on the back burner -- with no real reason to believe I'll have the time or the money
to progress with any of them in the "knowable" future.
There's something known as "the
sailor's curse." The sailor loves sailing more than anything else -- but after a few days alone at
sea -- he can't wait to set foot on dry land again. Ultimately, he arrives at his destination --
happy to be a landlubber for day one and then day two. But, by day three, he's itching to feel the
wind in his face and the tension of the rope in his hands again. I fear I have the same curse when
it comes to relationships. If I'm honest, I'm miserable alone -- functional; able to work -- but
not at all content with my circumstance. And if I'm honest, I'm most often miserable in
relationship -- married or otherwise -- as well.
I only know one thing for sure. If I'm
ever alone again, I won't compromise next time. My dreams and my desires will remain on the front
burner and too bad and so sad if that doesn't work for someone else. Of course, that's what I said
the last time too.
Living without pressure -- without putting it on myself or others --
without allowing others to put it on me. Living without strings, or selling, or charming, or
kidding into compliance, or manipulating through niceness or threatened anger. Standing in the face
of silence, and threats, and expectations, and misunderstandings -- standing and gently saying, "No
thank you, I'll be myself."
Subj: Re: SD News: MAYO3, Sec. I
I couldn't agree more that new challenges need attempting throughout
life, and I don't necessarily buy the myth of the mid-life "Crisis." Sometimes a simple re-visit to
the joys of childhood or teen years can re-kindle a spark. I did it with a horse. Everything about
her purchase held a challenge: from confronting my own fears, re-assessing the 50 yr-old body and
skills, to making a major commitment for the foreseeable future for us both. I've had her for a
little over a month, and we've grown together in too many ways to count. I tell friends of trips to
see my "therapist," Taffy, and say no lie. To be around a horse is to be calm and focused, and the
feedback in love is immeasurable. We try out new games together, as well as exploring desert trails.
As fear subsides, confidence grows for us both as the relationship settles into mutual trust and
comfort. Re-adjusting my own training comes to the fore as dealing with horses is quite different
than with dogs, whom I've had around me all my life. (Predators/prey animals have a distinctly
different approach to life). Every personal contact leaves us both exercized, mentally stimulated,
This will be an ongoing learning experience for years, if I do it right; but
the relationship needs to be fluid and open, guaranteeing continual challenges for both of us. Who
is the person that watches life slide by while never testing their limits? Who doesn't wish for a
companion to share a bit of the trail with? Financial status or the state of world affairs never
come up in our conversations, but songs seem to spring from nowhere. I don't believe its' possible
to have too much of this good thing...
Merci, Mark, for keeping us in your thoughts! Hope you
find the equivalent of a horse in your life!
Dear Stress Doc,
I found it very
interesting as always to read of your experiences on the cruise. The describing of the activities
of the over active waiters, i found amusing. Something one could become so easily used to, this
V.I.P type of service.
Reading further down the page you mentioned becoming fallow....don't
get writers block as so many artistic people do tend to suffer from this, i for one would miss your
very refreshing, stimulating outlook on life's complexities.
As for love, loneliness, it can
be a very gratifying emotion. loneliness on the other hand can help us to look deeper into ourselves
weigh up past mistakes, and i believe give more meaning to achieve a much deeper kind of love. I
believe in this from my own
experiences...two ex- husbands, so i'm saving the best for last.
So love does spring eternal, so doc your love match is out there somewhere, so please don't
become too despondent. Also enjoyed reading page two, you used my favourite word ''EMPATHY''.
With very warm regards,
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a psychotherapist, an
international/cruise speaker (Celebrity Cruise Lines) and syndicated writer, was recently
interviewed on BBC radio. The Doc is now a "Motivational Humorist" for The DC Improv Comedy
Club as well as America Online's "Online Psychohumorist" ™ running his weekly "Shrink Rap and Group
Chat" on AOL/Digital City. See his award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" --
www.stressdoc.com (recently cited as a workplace resource in a National Public Radio feature on "Bad
Bosses"). Mark is also an advisor to The Bright Side --
www.the-bright-side.org -- a
multi-award-winning mental health resource. Email for his monthly newsletter recently
showcased on List-a-Day.com. For more info on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs, email
email@example.com or call 202-232-8662.
(c) Mark Gorkin 2003
Shrink Rap Productions