Jewish World Review April 23, 2002 / 12 Iyar, 5762

Karen Lehrman

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Dreams turned to nightmares: Now that men are seeing relationship shrinks womyn regret it! | Men are finally going to therapy. For years women have prayed to read this sentence. They've bargained away Prada boots, tennis bracelets, and furnishing the dining room to get their boyfriends or husbands to see a therapist. Just get him to talk about his anger, his selfishness, his self-aggrandizement, they've believed, and all will be right with the relationship.

Well, I'm sure many women have seen positive results from this experiment. Others, however, report that they're living their worst nightmare: therapy is making their men worse.

Many men, apparently, are so enjoying their newfound ability to find and articulate their feelings that they haven't yet figured out when it's inappropriate to do so. They now want to talk about their new feelings all the time. And not just with their wives and girlfriends. As soon as some men get asked a half-way intimate question-from their boss, the Fed Ex man, a judge--the floodgates open. And they get annoyed when everyone isn't as keenly focused on their response as their therapist.

For reasons that are not difficult to comprehend, many of these men are single. First or second dates have become prime territory for a newly shrunk man to divulge his innermost self-observations. And women, unfortunately, are good listeners. So thrilled are we to finally be around a man who's "working" on himself that we ignore the fact that his "evolution" has become his sole concern.

Verbal boundaries used to be a female problem. My male friends would meet women at bars who would answer questions like "How was your day?" with an in-depth update of each of their neuroses. First dates often involved long descriptions of parental neglect; incidences of rape, incest, or anything that involved animals were usually reserved for the second.

But now women report meeting men-smart, successful men-who divulge their inner children's hurts and needs within the first 15 minutes. A friend of mine recently dated a man who laid out all of his psychotic behaviors on the second date so she couldn't get angry with him down the road. One man told his blind date what his therapist thinks of her-the pre-date phone conversation had already been therapeutically deconstructed.

Apparently, this new game called self-disclosure fits in rather nicely with men's natural tendencies toward self-absorption. One man who was feeling the need for economic belt-tightening told me that he now looks forward to dates not for the sex but for the free therapy.

A bigger problem may be the meta-date: when both parties have been through extensive therapy and start analyzing not just themselves, but each other and how well the "relationship" is going even though they've known each other for less than 72 hours.

Emotional spewing is not just an issue of courtships or relationships, of course. The other morning at the gym an overweight man who was supposed to be doing sit-ups was instead describing to his trainer in excruciating detail his depression during college. We all have friends who apparently never learned that the appropriate response to "How are you?" is "Fine. And you?"

But unfortunately this is happening to courtship just as it was getting out of post-feminist rehab. After lurching from one extreme to the other, both men and women finally seem to be settling into the fact that dating is dating and relationships are relationships and having sex during the former will most certainly screw up the latter. Now it's heavy conversations that are gratuitously heightening expectations.

Clearly, therapy has been a great thing for many women, helping them deal, for instance, with a variety of masochistic behaviors. And it certainly can be great for men, helping them understand that arrogance, self-centeredness, and an inability to deal with independent women are not signs of a strong, confident man. And therapy has surely helped an inordinate number of people get out of dysfunctional relationships.

But confusing intimacy with therapy darkens precisely the moments that need to be playful and carefree. Go ahead, reveal your soul. Then shut up and kiss me.

JWR contributor Karen Lehrman is a social and cultural critic and author of The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex, & Power in the Real World (Doubleday). Comment by clicking here.


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© 2002, Karen Lehrman