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The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™

June 1999, No. 2

Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!

Table of Contents

Announcements: AOL Chat Group and Q & A Links/Archives Q & A: To Fling or Not to Fling Shrink Rap: The Stress Doc Takes a Needed Incubation Vacation Main Essay: Readers Respond to Teens' Plight Re: Being Sexual Reader's Submission: You Know When You're Old and Jewish Grammar Rules

News Flash: Alas, only for AOL members, stop by my online "Shrink Rap and Group Chat," Tuesdays, 9-10:45pm EST:Washington LIVE 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 other.

Special Announcement: For all cyberspace travelers, there's the new Ask the Stress Doc Q & A -- Love and Relationships  ...Check it out; send in your Qs.

Also, Ask the Stress Doc Work Stress Q & A  Also, check the Doc's Work Stress Q & A archive.

To Fling or Not to Fling?

Q. I am sexually attracted to a man at work and am married. I have acted on this, but need advice.

A. I'll presume that you want my opinion on whether you should continue this workplace dalliance. Alas, sexual attraction in the workplace is readily combustible and often hard to resist or effciently extinguish once the fires start raging. Based on my work over the years as a therapist and consultant, let me highlight a few givens: 1) these trysts, especially when prolonged, rarely stay, neat, sweet and discrete, 2) the married partner, despite assurances to the contrary, rarely leaves his or her spouse (for a variety of reasons, from the psychological to the financial), 3) guilt eventually becomes a disruptive third party making the rendezvous increasingly conflicted; neither lover is absolutely immune, whether married or single, and 4) the married member is often acting out his or her anger toward the spouse with an affair; usually it's better to confront the problems in your marriage, decide if you can or cannot make the marriage work and start over, sadder and wiser, in your marriage or on your own (if it's meant to be with your paramour, it will be).

Two examples come to mind. The first, a year long affair between a working-class bank teller and a bank executive. The teller had left her and his kids because of his emotional neglect. The two separated but did not divorce. The executive continued to live with his wife. This relationship provided the teller a little tenderness which had been lacking much of her life. Eventually, missing the connection with his children, some improved communication with her husband, and having healed some childhood and marital wounds with the affair, the teller and her husband reunited. The affair ended without significant problem.

On the other hand, is a cautionary cybertale of two married couples. Our protagonists are a man and a woman, both in their 40s, both unhappy in their respective marriages. They meet on the Internet and soon progress to real life trysts during the man's business travels. The woman's husband eventually senses a problem. He acknowledges that his insensitive and selfish ways have catalyzed his wife's wandering. When he starts showing her more attentiveness and caring, the wife feels obligated to try to work things out with her husband. She fairly abruptly breaks off the extramarital liaison. How di I know? Because the father of the man calls in a most anxious state. His son is near suicidal; the father pleads for me to intervene.

So...have I provided sufficient advice? Just remember...Practice Safe Stress!

Shrink Rap: Well the brain strain definitely hit this past weekend. Actually, it had been building over the last few months: an increasingly paced mental treadmill of writing articles, answering email, workshops, out of state consultations (the travel was a relief, the regret was playing catch upon return), online chat groups, a few therapy clients…Stress Doc heal thyself!

So why do I allow this runaway stress? Ah, once a depressive Type A trying to erase a core sense of not being good enough...When you are egoal-driven, the bar of success, fantasized achievement or glory always gets raised just a little bit higher than your grasp. So these periodic micro burnouts help keep the grandiosity in check. The process becomes a retreat providing quiet reflection, humility, perspective and, even, biochemical readjustment. Sometimes I learn to scale back on the self-imposed demands and expectations. Mark, remember "The Basic Law of Safe Stress": Do know your limits and don't limit your "No"s!

So for father's day weekend I Amtraked up to the family haven in Queens, NYC. Upon my evening arrival, mom, bless her heart, made a chicken sandwich with her cranberry and fruit mold special on real rye bread. Yum! Only topped by Sunday evening's homemade chicken soup with a potato knish. Talk about returning to one's cultural and culinary roots. Regression in the service of a weary and hungry ego!

After about ten hours of sleep, and a garlic bagel, lox and low-fat cream cheese with tomato slices Saturday breakfast, I was definitely ready for a little tennis with my old man. Considering he's had a fairly traumatic year, a significant stroke and several mini strokes, that he can still move at all on a tennis court is pretty mind boggling and inspiring. Most impressive was how this classic aggressive, impatient Type A ex-salesman has begun to accept his condition. The mini-strokes finally made him realize he can't do heavy lifting, must rest between even moderately strenuous activities and (the biggest challenge) he has to avoid stressful encounters with people.

Of course, after tennis, he seemed headed for a confrontation with a fellow senior whose car was partially blocking an entranceway to the parking area behind the building. With his perceptual field mildly impaired, dad wasn't sure he could clear the other car. When the guy impatiently told him, "You got plenty of room," testy words were exchanged. My father even mentioned his visual impairment. This other character snaps back with a sneer, "Well maybe you shouldn't be driving." Oh, oh…here comes the blowup. (This reflexive assumption was also based on my roots.) In years past, dad would have jumped out of the car and been in the guy's face. Now he mumbled, "You asshole," negotiated the squeeze and drove on. I agreed: "The guy wasn't worth one degree of raised blood pressure."

Then I went from family drama to dramatic musical, with a stop in between at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nothing like gazing at Cezanne's and Van Gogh's (especially while having time over the weekend to read about the latter) to ebb and flow between the serene and the passionate. More psychic rejuvenation! (One of these days I'm going to get back into painting. I just loved applying oils on a virginal canvas. I still like applying those oils; just haven't found many virgins…No, I'm just being a smart mouth ;-)

Oh yes, the musical. My folks convinced me the Broadway show to see was the bawdy revival of "Cabaret." And despite knowing the performance was "sold out," I trekked from W. 81st through Central Park, on a glorious cool blue sky summer day, to the theatre on 54th between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. Started an "if someone doesn't show, ha, ha, fat chance" ticket line in the lobby. Well the muses were with me. A woman on a senior center theatre excursion had an extra ticket. The price was HIGH, but we quickly negotiated a 40% discount. Incredulously, I was literally front row; two feet from the stage. Boy did I enjoy the view when the Kit Kat Girls, dressed in alluring, 30s, Berlin cabaret costumes started flirting with front row patrons. (Where were those oils when I needed them, damn.) So this brief incubation vacation stimulated all kinds of hormones and juices.

And, hopefully, this will be a double-barreled wellspring rejuvenation process. Work will take me to the wilds of Wyoming this week. Well first to the Weather Service Office in Cheyenne. Then, with 3 days between the next consulting gig, I'll explore the Wind River Mountain Range and Shoshone National Forest. (A few hundred miles southeast of the Grand Tetons.) Who says urban and wilderness are inextricably opposed? Both worlds will be helping me…Practice Safe Stress!

In response to emails from female adolescents asking whether they should have sex with their boyfriends, in the JUN, No. 1 newsletter, I shared my "if you have to ask you should probably wait" approach. I also asked readers for their thoughts on the subject, and several were up for the existential challenge. And here are the thought-provoking and heartfelt responses. Enjoy!

From: Yggraine

Hey Mark! Glad to hear from you again, guess it's only been a month, but it felt like 4 weeks to me!!! :) LOL So much has been going on, thought you might be interested...also wanted to give you some feedback for the lovelorn. Let's start with that: My thoughts mirror your's in most ways, re: possible deadly consequences of unfettered sexual activity these days; sex opens Pandora's box of emotions in women very easily and frequently, from my perceptions not as frequently for males, but also I think you guys have been trained to hide the feelings or retreat from or deny the feelings when they do raise their hairy heads, that my perception may be totally off, and your emotions get involved just as easily as mine do....ANYWAY, back to topic: feelings of self-doubt, loneliness, rejection, and family of origin issues all tend to pop right out of that box quicker that you can say "LOVEHATESEX!" and vulnerable folks (male, female, young, old, makes no difference) can find themselves sucked into a whirlwind of an intense relationship, get married, and find out they have nothing in common but the flesh...Then there's the divorce and the kids, (if there are offspring) are the ones who really bear the brunt of mom and dad's unbridled lust...I have a friend who got married after only knowing his bride for 10 days! 15 very unhappy years later, they're looking at the divorce process. Why? "We really didn't know each other. Had nothing in common, couldn't talk over conflicts, even the sexual attraction quit after a few years." SO, my advice to my clients (adolescents and their parents) has always been: Wait and see...if it's really love, waiting for the sex only makes it better in the end." Adults: "How closely connected to your groin is your heart? If the answer is pretty close, then you're risking a broken heart just for the satisfaction of some pretty turned on nerve endings!" Try connecting heart to brain before heart to groin, and a true and lasting relationship may be the result, or it may not...Instead, the result may be a parting of the ways, with less pain for anybody... RE: is it ever possible to have sex without getting the emotions involved? Personally, I can answer yes, to that one, simply because, after surviving incest for 10 years, promiscuity for another 5, monogamy for 15, divorce, and celibacy, there does exist within my self, the capability of disengaging heart from groin. Unfortunately, I also understand the reasons for this and the unhealthy aspect of it....so don't get involved sexually now, like i would have in my youth. Instead, I'm hoping that someday I may be able to engage heart and soul with someone I love and re-discover what it really means "to make love." OK, there's my thoughts on the topic of love and sex for this month, probably more than you wanted to know... If you recall my brief letters to you in the past couple months, I quit my job as Internal Program Coordinator for a child placement agency after (once again) working for 50+ hours a week for rotten pay, in a critical, demanding and often hostile environment, to figure out how I could manage to make enough money to live on without killing myself. April was a pretty rough month, no income and only outgo...tried to work a couple relatively brainless jobs, and was told i couldn't do x fast enough, or y good enough....Spent most of May looking for a place to live for myself and 16 year old son (house I rented was being sold, and wanted to find cheaper place, anyway). Finally found residence, and have been concentrating on the vocational piece for the last three weeks. Got registered with local Voc-Rehab office to check out possibility of re-training, career assessment, and/or the necessity of utilizing physical aids to do the work (like voice-operated keyboard, cane, wheelchair, glasses, etc) due to the physical problems I have that continue to worsen with age....The last two weeks have been positive and fruitful, and I continue to be hit upside the head with creative ideas for income generation that the Web promises...so, I am able to think there might be some light at the end of this tunnel, if I can just hold out long enough not to give in to the first agency that says, "Yes! We'd love you to work for us! Of course, it will entail: being on call 24/7, or working 55 hours a week, or taking paperwork home with you on the weekends..." Which is why I ended up working full-time the last two times I went through something like this process in the past...(My pattern, since I graduated from DU and got divorced, has been to work myself to death, often carrying two full-time jobs, or one incredibley demanding job, for about 2 to 2 1/2 years until I wind up with pneumonia for 3-4 months, then quitting...) SO, I really want to stick to my guns this time and not fall for the lure of "a stable income..."AND, if I keep following my creative instinct down this variety of new paths, I think I will actually be able to carry it off this time. Your trials and tribs, with successful results in the long run, have helped to keep me thinking and feeling positive. :) SO, thanks for the new article, keep them coming, and maybe someday you'll see me online with a site for PTSD survivors...or driving a taxi from DIA to the 'burbs three times a week? LOL Lark MD

From: CeeJClarke

I have an opinion on the sex thing too....much to say there but I will sum it up by saying that I agree 1000% with you on the "if you've stopped to ask the question then you're probably better off waiting"....I think this sounds better than "...you're probably not ready" Suffice it to say that I was one of the "looking for love in all the wrong places trying to find something to fill the space that daddy left when he left" girls. I did an ok job of getting through it but probably suffered more heartache than I should have.

From: maxbroadway@hotmail.com

Mark, it was good to see your “sermon” cautioning the wary (young?) women about embarking on premature sexual adventures. I heartily endorse your wisdom. I would add a few points.

Casual sex may be possible – and is certainly the norm projected via the Hollywood type media – but for those of us living in the REAL world … I doubt it.

Igniting the sexual fires before making a more objective assessment of the soundness or otherwise of a relationship (and you give some excellent indications of the means to doing this) can be a precursor to embarking on an unsatisfactory long-term relationship (marriage?) having come to believe that, “This is the one,” because strong romantic feelings are generated. (I sometimes wonder to what degree the divorce statistics attest to the folly of confusing romantic love with real commitment to a genuine relationship based on more solid grounds. The emotion of being in love is extremely powerful – capable of making the sky seem more blue, the world a friendlier place, and your stature several feet taller. However, it does not last. Like all powerful emotional states (grief, anger, etc), it changes over time, and will fade once tempered by reality and time.) Does the couple share important values, and do they have a common “sense of direction” in important areas like career paths, family aspirations, lifestyle, etc? It is extremely difficult to be objective once the hormones become rampant, and good sex does not a good relationship mean! This is to say nothing of the potential harm to any children born to such relationships. The advice to seek external and objective counsel is especially apt at this point.

Sex is a very intimate affair – and tends to become confused with another kind of intimacy – intimacy of spirit. One of the paradoxes of sex is that it’s a physical act that attempts to transcend the ultimate isolation of the human spirit by our physical being. I think we all have a longing to “merge” with someone else: to know and be known. During sex, we can sometimes believe we are achieving this – but release brings us back to the reality of our isolation (especially when his release doesn’t coincide with hers!) If even one of the partners makes this confusion, (and the arenas of foreplay and afterglow are prime time for a feeling of spiritual intimacy that does not sustain the test of time,) then casual sex becomes a guarantee of hurt and damage. True intimacy of spirit CAN be serendipitous, but is more likely to result from a more committed process of spending time, going through the valleys as well as the peaks, and working through the issues.

Finally, ask what kind of relationship you want. Do you want simply to use one another for sexual release in the context of a short-term temporary relationship? Are you prepared for someone else to use you in this fashion? Or are you in search of something deeper and more lasting? Ask the hard questions of yourself and your potential partner. If you both are looking for the long haul, then sex can wait for a time while you assess whether the relationship really has the basis to go the distance.


The Stress Doc Ezine The Higher Power of Humor Section...

The second section will consist primarily of material -- humor and otherwise -- that filters down from cyberspace. The first is from a cyberpal on those endearing signs of aging. The second is from a N'Awlins buddy. Her list really captures my neurotic roots. ;-)

You Know Your Old When From: Miss Pastel

* You start complaining that 'They're building car seats too darn low!'

* Your ears perk up when a LAXATIVE COMMERCIAL comes on TV.

* You call the place you keep leftovers the 'ICEBOX'.

* No matter where you sit, no matter where you are, there's always a draft on YOU!

* You complain that the cleaners have started to shrink your clothes.

* You wonder why everyone else is starting to MUMBLE.

* Lawn care has become a pretty BIG part of your life.

* Your underwear starts creeping up on you... AND YOU ENJOY IT!h

* You start videotaping DAYTIME game shows.

* When you do the HOKEY POKEY and you 'put your left hip out' ...IT STAYS OUT!

* One of the throw pillows on your bed is a HOT WATER BOTTLE.

* You think of a 'quickie' as napping at a traffic light.

* You sit down to breakfast and hear 'Snap, Crackle, and Pop'... and you haven't even poured milk on your cereal yet.

* You get up to change the TV channel and decide as long as you're up, you might as well go to bed.

Jewish Grammar Rules From: cberlin@wave.tcs.tulane.edu

Phrase statements as questions. Instead of telling Ida she looks gorgeous, ask her, ...."How stunning do you have to look?"

2. Instead of answering questions definitely, answer with another question. When someone asks how you feel, answer, "How should I feel?"

3. Whenever possible, end questions with "or what?" This allows the other person to interject another question: "Has she grown up, or what?"; "Can you remember when she was just a baby, or what?" (About now, a spontaneous rendition of "Sunrise, Sunset" should be expected.)

4. Begin questions with "What?" Example: "What, my cooking is not good enough for you?"

5. Drop last word in sentence (which is typically a direct or indirect object): "What, do you want to get killed going alone? Harry will go with" (drop "you").

6. Move subject to end of sentences: "Is SHE getting heavy, that Esther?"

7. Use "that" as a modifier to infer contempt: "Is Esther still dating that Norman fellow?"

8. Use "lovely" to describe actions taken by someone else that the listener should have done too: "We got a lovely note from the Goldman's for hosting the Seder." (Translation: "What, you didn't eat and drink too, at my Seder?...You slob, you didn't send a Thank You note.")

Vocabulary ~~~~~~~~~ Just as the Eskimos have 27 words for snow, Jews have 31 words for neurotic. Only those fluent in Hebonics will sense when to call someone mashugana, ts'mished, furdrehet, hot nisht ein kaup, or vaist nisht vus vus ehr reht..... Here are a few words to get you started.

1. "Sch--", as a prefix to anything, suggests disapproval: "Cadillac schmadillac, you're suddenly too good for the Lincoln?"

2. Learning to pronounce "sch" properly is the first step in speaking Hebonics like a real Jew. Nothing makes us giggle harder than the sound of Gentiles say, "It's not raining, just spritzing." It's the same "ssshhh" sound as the prompt to be quiet.

3. Schmuck--Most commonly used as "jerk", but can also be used as a "sucker," as in , "Why am I always the schmuck who gets left with the check?"

4. Schmoe--See schmuck.

5. Schmata--Rag (ugly dress), as in, "Why does she wear those schmatas, that Esther?"

6. Schmaltz--Literally means chicken fat, but when used in conversation it's sappy or corny. "The movie was OK, but why such a schmaltzy ending?"

So Seek the Higher Power of Humor: May the Farce Be with You!

And, of course...Practice Safe Stress!

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, the Stress Doc, a psychotherapist and nationally recognized speaker, trainer, consultant and author, is also known as AOL's and the internet's "Online Psychohumorist" ™. Check out his USA Today Online "Hot Site" website - www.stressdoc.com  and his page on AOL/Online Psych, Keyword: Stress Doc

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