Absolute morality of my husband:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I have a secret. I don’t want to have a secret but my husband, although a completely reasonable man in all other respects, is adamant in his stance towards alcohol- he is a recovering alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in 14 years, and to him, alcohol is an evil that nearly destroyed his life. He is tolerant of people in social situations because he doesn’t think he has a right to impose his beliefs on them. But as far as I go- I am a reflection of who he is and if I drink, this is a reflection on him and a violation of his deepest creed.

So I am a secret drinker. When I say secret drinker, I don’t mean that I have bottles hidden around the house. In fact, I never drink at home. I consider drinking to be an occasional social pleasure, to be moderately indulged in with the company of other responsible adults who are relaxing and enjoying life. If I go to a friend’s birthday party, I see nothing wrong with toasting her along with everyone else. If I have dinner with my mom and we both have a glass of wine, I’m not careening down the road to ruin.

But my husband has zero tolerance, so I hide it from him. And I have to keep everyone I know in on the secret.

Drinking has never been a part of our life together, so I don’t miss it at home. But it puts me in a position where I have to keep up a front, make sure no pictures are ever posted of me at parties, etc, etc… I have tried talking about the issue with my husband and he says he sees my point, but he just couldn’t live with it and he knows that.

Literally everything else is fine in my marriage. We share thoughts, household chores…our sex life is fine. This secret is like a little pebble in my shoe that is an annoying constant presence.

got any ideas?

Betty

Dear Betty,

Overall this is a moot point- as unimportant as alcohol is to you, you could just as easily have a soda with your friends. This is really not about alcohol but about control.

To gain back a feeling of equality in this matter, understand that the human brain is so good at denial that if you tell him the truth in a diplomatic way, he most likely will just ignore your forays. Just tell him. “I know we disagree about social alcohol and I agree never to have any at home or to keep it at home out of respect for you but I don’t want to lie to you. Occasionally I have a drink while out with my friends. It is my right and we can agree to disagree on this point. I will not bring it up again and I would appreciate you not to be a bully about this.”

He is not going to leave you over this and if he did it would be indicative of a much larger problem and in that case, good riddance. One couple I know did indeed divorce after the husband turned born again and adopted an intractable morality and nothing the wife did was righteous enough for God (or his liking.) Absolutism often doesn’t differ much from narcissism, but I don’t sense this in your husband’s case.

Don’t keep up a front, just be yourself- but I don’t recommend flaunting it.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: If this issue is about control, it’s about the control Betty’s husband is exerting. Her desire to have an occasional social drink as an adult is completely normal and healthy and soda is hardly as relaxing or convivial as a glass of wine. Soda is also not good for your bones, if you want to pick nits- it leeches calcium.

Here’s the real problem I see- every lie builds a wall between partners. It’s not a healthy practice for anyone in a relationship, especially when it concerns an important issue. One nearly always ends up getting found out- and then the lie is as big, or a bigger, betrayal than the act itself.

Dr. Brilliant’s idea is great for getting the truth out…IF your husband reads his lines as planned in the script you’ve prepared. However, people tend to be annoyingly uncooperative in real life. You may have to do more than count on his being in a coma of denial. You may have to explain yourself and it may get messy.

Here’s what I recommend. First, give Dr. Brilliant’s suggestion a try. But in case your husband starts asking questions, have another speech prepared: “Honey, I love you with all my heart, but you are one half of this relationship, not the dictator of a small country. I’d like to have a respected third party mediator called in so that we can get a better balance into this marriage.”

If this backfires, then Dr. Brilliant is right- there’s a bigger problem here than drinking, and it may not be solvable.

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Alcoholism is not a disease:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

My dad is an alcoholic, sober for 23 years now. His sister was also an alcoholic, still drinking; I realize that it is something that runs in the family.
I can’t say that I have a drinking problem, but I do know that if I am not careful, I will start drinking too much. So I am very careful and don’t let it become a habit, I don’t drink alone, nor do I binge drink on the times I indulge socially.
I think that my consciousness about the problem in my family makes me aware enough that I can control myself.

However, I have a brother who is definitely on his way to becoming a problem drinker. His daily cocktail hour starts at dinner and continues through the evening. His wife says he never gets “drunk” per say. But the cautious voice in me senses a potential problem.

Anyway, here’s my question- how come people from the same family, who have similar dispositions and probably similar genetics, can react so differently to alcohol?
My dad can’t touch it; my brother probably shouldn’t but is a functioning drinker; I’m moderate as hell. It raises the question-
is alcoholism really a “disease” that runs in families? Is it inevitable and uncontrollable to anyone who has the wrong body chemistry?
Or is it something that we each either chose to control…or not?

Wendy Wonders

Dear Wendy,

Despite popular culture’s belief, alcoholism is not a disease. It is a complex of genetic predispositions wherein alcohol becomes the obvious solution.

You can’t catch alcoholism from people although substance abusers do like to initiate others into their addictions. Unlike a disease that enters into your body without permission substances have to be introduced into your system by your own behavior. You are always choosing to use when you use; or choosing not to, when you don’t.

You are being vigilant, consciously taking responsibility for your choices. The rest of your family is taking the route of least resistance. However, you should realize- addiction doesn’t always take an obvious form.

In every alcoholic family there is at least one designated driver, the one who carries the responsibility for all the others. Genetically, the designated driver is not any different but their particular addiction is that of obsessive guilt and hyper responsibility. One can be addicted to dysfunctional people or dysfunctional love as much as to a drug. Destructive habits such as cutting, gambling, sex addiction or anorexia are all interchangeable shortcuts as well.

The silly thing about addiction treatment in our country is the prevalent use of medications to treat addictions. Sure, they might work if you stay on them forever- but that isn’t success- it does not change the big picture. One substance is simply substituted for another. All the behaviors that predispose a person to addictions (a shortcut mentality, black&white thinking, heightened sensitivity to emotions, the misconstruing of other’s intent) continue to operate. The twelve step program of Alcoholics Anonymous deals with the bigger picture but, ironically, many people don’t work the steps if they are taking a medical prescription because they think they are cured.
In reality, constant vigilance is the only way to control addiction. You need to address and develop the skills necessary to counteract your genetics tendencies.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: I think that a great metaphor for addiction is the legend of the Vampire- he can only come into your house if you invite him in. Once he has been invited, you can’t keep him out.
Every addiction is a permission given by the person who has it. Everyone has their own reason, their own special explanation as to why it is OK, or how it works to keep them going. And they are right- when you are unbalanced, drugs and addictive behavior can help create an artificial balance that you can live with. The problem comes with the consequences…most addictive behaviors are eventually destructive on either, or all of, these levels- physical, emotional, spiritual, economic and social. The price they ask is too high. The balance is not sustainable.
If addiction occurred for intellectual reasons, an understanding of consequences would be enough to stop any potential addict. However, addiction does not come from our minds, or even our emotions. It comes from a black hole inside that is always aching, empty and hungry. It is like an element that rages unbidden. It is not a rational thing.
It is, and always will be, only a firm decision and commitment to change will ever precipitate the control of addictive behavior. We make bad decisions every day, telling ourselves we will do the right thing tomorrow. But as any food addict can tell you, by the time tomorrow comes, years can have gone by and we don’t just have five pounds to deal with- we have a hundred and fifty.

It’s always easiest to catch an addiction early. If you catch it after it is firmly entrenched, be prepared to have a long battle on your hands. The tentacles reach deep.

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Nudity would be a public service:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I like to watch French and Italian foreign films, despite my difficulty in reading the subtitles, because there is something about the attitude they take towards life that makes me feel better about myself. I’ve been trying to understand why and I realized after watching Pauline at The Beach just what that something is.

These other cultures have so much more acceptance of sexuality than we do in this country. I’ve mentioned that to friends and they laughed and responded with,
“look at all the sex and nudity in American films! What are you talking about?” But the number of boobs and porn scenes is not what I am talking about. It is the way that the people
in the film react to it, and the consequences it has.

Nobody seems to just accept sex as a part of normal human life in this country. They use it to sell things, tantalize potential customers and lure men to their death…but no one has a warm, natural attitude towards it. It is an act steeped in guilt, cosmetic surgery and divorce settlements.

I have never felt comfortable with my own sexuality- I don’t think my parents ever even mentioned it to me. They must have assumed I got my info from other sources. And they were right-
I got it from my misinformed friends and from magazines and movies.

I wish that just once I could think of sex and have a pleasurable act between consenting adults come to mind. Instead, it always opens up a can of traumatic memories, fears and regrets.

Are we all doomed to sexual dysfunction in our country?

Amy American

Dear Amy,

It isn’t just sexuality that is messed up in the USA- so are our ideas on nudity and body image. As you pointed out, we don’t seem know what it means to be human at all. We learn about our humanity from religion, media, and conversation with friends…and this skews our ability to observe for ourselves. Sexuality starts with body image and clothing for it is what we mostly see. But clothing is a costume from some media picked ideal. If we don’t fit comfortably into jeans we think we are misshapen instead of just average for our ethnic group. I was so disappointed when Sara Silverman commented on her nude scene in Take This Waltz and used this term for herself: misshapen. She just looked human and that was the entire point of this scene. Nothing and no one is perfect.

Too many people have a skewed view of sexuality and what it means to be human. I honestly think if we all went naked for a week it would be a public service. It would teach everyone what normal people look like and it would go a long way towards helping people feel comfortable with themselves and their sexuality.

Are we all doomed to sexual dysfunction in our country? Yep!

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: There’s not much I can add to the comments on body image. I became curious about how body image affects mental health and looked up some statistics on anorexia, a dangerous disorder that is a direct result of body image. Do you know what I discovered? The highest incidence of anorexia is with elite athletes in judged rather than refereed, competitions. Female athletes in aesthetic sports (e.g. gymnastics, ballet, figure skating) were found to be at the highest risk for eating disorders- a full 20% of them suffered from it, compared to an estimated 0.5 to 3.7 percent of women in the general population. When I looked at the statistics on France, I was startled- they had the second highest rate of anorexia in Europe- ranging from 0.46% to 3.2%, and the women there were much thinner than in other European countries, with the exception of Austria.

So perhaps a more culturally relaxed attitude towards sex doesn’t translate to a healthier body image.
Interestingly, the study I read by the London School of Economics and Political Science stated that “anorexia is a socially transmitted disease and appears to be more prevalent in countries such as France where women are thinner than average.” The article concluded : “In the light of this study, government intervention to adjust individual biases in self-image would be justified to curb or at least prevent the spread of a potential epidemic of food disorders. The distorted self-perception of women with food disorders and the importance or the peer effects may prompt governments to take action to influence role models and compensate for social pressure on women driving the trade-off between ideal weight and health.” I think that this unfortunate tendency to strive for unrealistic and unhealthy body types is global, not just an American phenomena. And according to every study I found, the spread of movies and media from the West is changing attitudes in every corner of the world.

Pointing a finger doesn’t help at this point. Perhaps we do need a Naked Day. Anyone want to start a movement?

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I feel dirty initiating sex with my husband:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I have been trying to do little things to spice up my marriage lately- after reading an article in Cosmopolitan about straying husbands, I decided I should make a preemptive strike,
and put more effort into being playful and spontaneous. But I am running unto some problems I hadn’t anticipated, and they all involve my own insecurity.

If I make an effort to initiate sex with my husband and he happens to be doing something like making dinner, he will put me off and say, “can it wait, honey?” The moment he is less than receptive,
it’s like the wind was knocked out of me- I feel so rejected and unwanted. I think to myself, “if a Brazilian supermodel walked in here right now, he sure wouldn’t tell her to wait!” And then I feel ashamed of myself, as if I’ve done something wrong and I should feel…dirty. Or something. It’s hard to explain. But my point is- how can I feel so insecure and vulnerable with a man I’ve been married to for 14 years?

I am going to stop reading Cosmo. It’s messing with my head. Is there something wrong with me?

Diane Dejected

Dear Diane,

You are normal. In fact, what you describe is so common that it was referred to in the movie “Take This Waltz” When he rejects her advance, a wife tells her husband: “You know how hard it is for me to be bold? It takes all I have!”

This phenomena is generated almost entirely from the way sex is dealt with in our culture. Woman are supposed to be perfect, angelic, clean and innocent. At the same time, they are expected to spice it up, be dirty and act exotic or they risk losing their husbands to other woman…and it will be their own fault.

Meanwhile, somewhere in their psyche they are hearing “you will burn in hell for these lustful thoughts.” This is why books such as Fifty Shades of Gray are so instantly, insanely popular with woman. They address the unspoken line in our culture between the perfect, innocent woman…and the slut next door who wants to be raped. In our culture, sex, for a woman, is a dammed if you do and a dammed if you don’t situation.

Yes- throw out Cosmo! But I would also see a therapist and work on feeling comfortable with yourself and body. It takes work to reprogram and remove all of the culturally-acquired toxicity. A great deal more than Cosmo needs be tossed.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: I don’t really see this as a cultural issue. I’m sure that many of the attitudes people have about sex originate in cultural roots, but approaching it from that angle won’t solve the immediate problem- this is how Diane’s brain is functioning and there’s no guarantee that therapy will change it. Let’s see what we can do with the brain Diane’s got. Diane, let me explain something to you- just because sex is difficult for you to initiate, this doesn’t mean that you should always, and easily, get sex when you screw up the courage to make a move. God knows, men don’t. Not to mention- other people have involvements and needs of their own to distract them at times, and since you aren’t a Brazilian super model, you can’t rely on shock to tilt the results in your favor.

Men have testosterone that will prompt them to persist in their drive if not given the reception they hope for at first. Instead of testosterone, you have insecurity and negative expectation causing you to shut down at an initial rejection. Your personal embarrassment is unnecessary. A man wouldn’t care. But that’s a whole other can of worms and we won’t open it right now. I think that the useful thing to consider is this- you are taking a contrived approach to initiating sex, because it’s something that doesn’t come naturally to you. Contrived sex, imposed at the wrong moment, is a recipe for clashing and disaster. What I would suggest is watching, waiting for the right moment, and initiating something in a manner that arouses you. I am guessing that you will get a very different reception.

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You most certainly can have your relationship and career too:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I am not some throw back to pre-feminism. I do believe that a woman should be able to support herself and that we deserve equal pay for equal work.
However, I am in a debate with my sister over an issue, and I wonder if you can throw your two cents in.

I really believe in the value of a good relationship- I think that if two people can help and support each other, they can go farther than someone going it on their own.
I want to have a career, but I do not want to wait until I am established and successful before I have a relationship. I am actively looking for a partner.
As you know, this isn’t a simple thing these days- I don’t want to hook up with some loser just to be in a relationship. I am willing to put the time into attending meet-up clubs, even trying some online contacts (cautiously!) and getting out to openings and functions so I have choices.

My sister tells me that I would be much better off putting my time into my career and going to night school to get another degree. She is working on her master’s in business and has her eye on a job with big pay checks. I can’t help but notice that she is alone though. And she doesn’t seem to be any happier
for her career intensive life.

Am I a fool for spending my spare time dating instead of toiling at books? Is my sister right? Will I end up with less of a career because I want to have a relationship?

Notta Lone

Dear Notta,

I once was in your shoes and everyone told me the same thing- focus on yourself and your career first! However, my priority and intent for my life was to have a family and not end up alone. My career and own interests were important too, but I didn’t understand why I couldn’t do both. A person can also learn a lot about themselves through dating. To me, the important thing (besides finding someone nice, not insane) is to gauge how a potential partner will fit into your life. We all are packages and you get the whole thing when you are with someone; people often forget that. If you both have a mutual intent, and the same picture of the future, this helps to insure that you will enhance each other’s energy rather than suck it dry.

I think too many people wait too long and believe that their entire life must halt when they are with someone. Anyone who needs that, you don’t need. Once kids come and the focus can’t stay on your partner any longer, these relationships tend to fall apart anyway.

As long as you find a partner who is on the same page as you about relationships (this is an ongoing conversation you must be having) I’d say go for it.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: I have no idea why people think that they can parcel their lives and neatly take care of one goal after another. A family certainly doesn’t operate that way.

If you want a relationship, don’t wait until you have your life all set up. If you do, there will be no room for a relationship at that point. You will have developed a system that operates efficiently on it’s own. Fitting another person into it will be a complex task.

To be honest though, I can think of certain professions where one might prefer to get a degree before assuming a family- my son went through law school and told me that he saw every relationship his fellow students had, both married and dating, fall apart due to the stress of too much work. If you are a medical intern and you don’t already have a partner, you may want to wait until after you get back to a normal sleep schedule to pursue new partners. Otherwise you may sleep through your dates rather than getting to know them.

But let’s face it- as we go through life, we constantly face challenges and difficulties. Two people who are helping each other can often go further than someone operating on their own. It sounds as if you want to go through life with a partner. Put your life together with that potential in mind. You don’t have to put either your career or your emotional life on hold. They really do both go together.

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Stay or go aren’t always the only choices

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliche;

When I met Lianna, I thought she was amazing. She was as beautiful as a model and extremely well-spoken. She worked in PR at my company. She came after me, for some reason, and at first it was great. We had a good time together and the sex was great. She had two kids and I really liked them a lot.

But little by little, the flaws came out. Lianna was incredibly manipulative, was constantly asking me for money, and had an unholy alliance with her mom, whom she called four times a day. As Lianna showed more and more of her dark side, I was on the verge of leaving- but then she had some personal problems and really needed my help and the kids depended on me because their mom was acting like a ranting loon. To make a long story short, I ended up staying 8 years, intending to leave most of the time, but having one tragedy after another make me feel like I’d be a heel if I walked out. It wasn’t just minor, manufactured dramas that kept me hanging on. Lianna’s dad died, and then her brother. I felt that if I hadn’t been there, her kids would have gotten thrown to the wolves. I couldn’t stand the thought of that happening.

I finally left, but I can’t get around the fact that I knew this woman was a monster and yet I stayed. I even went on medication to help me deal with the stress. I threw all my pills out when I left and I never went back.
Still, I wonder why it took so long to leave. I know that my own mother was a nightmare, so I probably don’t have a healthy role model. I really do not want to make this mistake again. Any thoughts?

Zorro

Dear Zorro,

Black and white thinking puts us in tiny boxes; and not seeing the big picture traps us there. Stay and Go were never the only options you had. They are simply the two black and white extremes. Eight years ago, if you were honest with your feelings and said “this isn’t working out for me but I want to remain friends and be there for you and the kids,” this would have been a middle option that would have allowed for flexibility…and a potentially better outcome. Of course, she may have told you to go f__k yourself. Then it would have been her choice, and that would have been that. Her kids are, after all, her kids, not yours. You have to realize that it ended eventually anyway- but if you’d been honest earlier on, there might have been a more balanced outcome for all involved now.

This much is true- you are accustomed to ignoring bad situations and just drifting through time. Learn to ask this question daily: “do I agree with this?” That will prevent the same situation from happening again and again. All relationships seem great during initial attraction; but if you learn to ask questions you won’t miss the bigger picture.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: I am having a good laugh at the thought of a guy telling a ranting woman, in a reasonable manner, that he doesn’t want to be with her anymore but he hopes to stay friends and help with the kids. I hope that if he tries this, he is wearing a football helmet and some protective gear.

OK, I am willing to grant you, Zorro, that a neurotic, manipulative woman with whom you also work may not the easiest tie to break, but I can’t buy the part about sparing her feelings. Let me tell you something about neurotic, manipulative women- their intuition is better than you think. If you don’t want to be there, but are pretending because you are afraid to leave, she will sense this the same way a dog smells fear. It will just make her crazier. You are not doing her a kindness by staying. You are setting the stage to send you both over the edge. No wonder you needed to resort to medication.

When two people are intimately involved, they build their world together on the information that is given. If you are giving out a pack of lies, you can’t build anything but a house of cards. In the end, it will always fall apart- every slight breeze that blows threatens the foundation. This is not a favor to the children either. They need something real.

I will relate a story to you. I lived with a man for four years back in my 30’s. We had a tempestuous, destructive relationship that finally blew up. A month after our demise, he discovered he had Hodgkin’s lymphoma. In his fear, he came and begged me to go back with him, saying he couldn’t make it without me. I wanted to cave in because I knew it would seem like a terrible thing to deny him. But I also knew that his being sick wouldn’t change the way we interacted; in fact, the stress from constant fighting may have contributed to his condition. I told him as gently as possible that I just couldn’t pretend. Then I felt like I killed a puppy. But wait! The story has a happy ending, or at least as happy as it could. The guy found another woman with whom he really was compatible; he married her and spent his last year in peace. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I’d tried to “spare his feelings.”

If you want my advice, it is this: be honest, Zorro. It takes courage, because people will be hurt and yell and make threats and all sorts of crap. But pretending won’t make any of that go away. It will just prolong the agony, for everyone.

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Armageddon what a party:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché,

Do you think that the profit from catastrophic news actually fuels the occurrence of other catastrophes? For example- school shooters get widespread attention in headline news… and the woman who killed her boyfriend sold the movie rights to her story. The Zumba aerobics instructor who ran a prostitute ring is already in negotiations for a movie contract!

WTF

Dear WTF,

For some people the profit from catastrophe is a great incentive; for others it is not. There are those who could justify any heinous act for 5 minutes of attention. Copycat catastrophes are the direct result of media coverage. But the biggest problem caused by the constant reporting of the worst of human behavior is the sense of hopelessness and apathy that the 14 to 28 year old segment of the population is experiencing. “Why bother? Live for the moment! Who gives a F__k!”

My generation grew up with the prevailing threat of nuclear war but our cultural myth was that we would regroup bigger and stronger to carry on the American way. I don’t think that this new generation expects to survive. They welcome Armageddon. As George Carlin said, “ I want front seats. It will be a great show.”

I believe the anticipation of anarchy can help to bring about anarchy. The media gives us the impression that it is already occurring so why not join in? Hell, some people even believe the bible foretold it so it is necessary for their salvation.

Yes, there is big money in profiteering off fear and anxiety, ignorance and gossip.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: if you build it, they will come. Let’s assume that this glib axiom from Field of Dreams is true. If so, the media is building a circus of freaks.

The world is a big place, and it is becoming so overpopulated that I think we all feel like grains of sand on a vast beach, with no chance of distinguishing ourselves through respectable means. If you get up on a tower and shoot a bunch of people, you will get noticed. But only a sociopath would see this as a real achievement.

I think that the media provides psychopaths with a ready stage. However, I do not think that a healthy personality would ever consider taking this stage as the route to stardom. We can’t blame the news for the fact that there are screwed up people, because people were screwed up long before the news was on. But I do wish to hell that Lifetime would stop making movies of the week that feature the antics of nut cases. It sure doesn’t do anything to discourage them.

Is our current crowd of youth just waiting for Armageddon? I don’t think so. I know and work with quite a few people in the 14 to 28 year old segment of the population and although there is the usual percentage who would be happy to do nothing but play video games until their back yard becomes Ground Zero, there are also a very large percentage with hopes and dreams for the future. Dr. Brilliant sees more than his share of dysfunctional young people. But there is still a very large world outside of the therapy offices, and there is still a passion for life that lives within us all. It’s the only explanation I can find for those off-key, juggling hopefuls who wait 10 hours in the rain to audition for America’s got Talent.

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His EX is so ugly I no longer desire my boyfriend:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

I’ve been seeing Richard for about a year. We have common interests and I find him attractive. We have had a lot of good talks about our past relationships because we both had been hurt and knew we had some issues to work out. I know that the loss of his last girlfriend, Jolene, did a number on him.

Last weekend, we went to his mother’s house for dinner. I’d been there once before, but the last time we were on our way to a movie and didn’t stay long.
This time, when his mother offered us tea and dessert, we ended up in the living room looking at photo albums. In the family pictures from two years ago, I saw, for the first time, a picture of Richard with Jolene.

Ever since that night, I have struggling with unwanted feelings. It’s starting to affect our relationship because I just can’t bring myself to talk about it but Richard can tell something is up and who knows what he’s imagining.

What is causing all these conflicted feelings? I am embarrassed to say, because I don’t know what it says about me as a person but I need perspective so here goes.
All the time Richard was talking about Jolene and his emotional pain, I had been picturing her in my head. Because of the depth of his misery, I somehow envisioned her as heart breakingly lovely. But the real Jolene was overweight and rather dumpy. In the picture, Richard was also about 20 pounds heavier.

Ever since I saw the picture, I have been thinking less of Richard. I know it’s superficial and I’m awful for feeling this way, but I can’t help myself. I see him as a sort of loser now. His emotional pain, which used to make me feel sympathy, makes me feel as if there’s something pathetic about him.

Obviously, you can see why this is hard to bring up. I wish I didn’t feel this way, but I do. Now what?

Wilhelmina

Dear Wilhelmina,

On one hand yes, this is entirely superficial and a silly non relevant line of thinking that will ruin you if you continue. On the other hand humans are social animals and you discovered an innate thing about the female of the species. Females are preprogrammed to compete for the most genetically fit mate. Women compare themselves to other women for this reason. Women are attracted to a man that other women want. Using this line of reasoning, any man you want must have been wanted by the fittest of the species, i.e. someone you see as hot as you think yourself.

Here’s what you are not taking into account- genetic fitness can also be measured by brains, personality or strength of character. Jolene may have been your equal in these other areas. People are attracted to similar traits in most of the people they date.

Your attitude also tells you that amongst all the traits you possess you judge your self-worth by how you look and compete with other women on that level. This is not only unhealthy but it is a character weakness. I wouldn’t tell Richard all this as he might lose interest in you. He seems to be a person who values woman of strong character.

Instead I would try role playing cave man/cave woman with Richard. Have Richard beat up a couple of large stuffed bears and a large stuffed woolly mammoth in front of you. This show of aggression with rather a lot of grunting and sweat should trip your attraction genes into gear again. By the way, this is one of the reasons people get off on S&M…it trips some of the innate genetic aggression, dominance/subservience triggers we have.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: whoa there, Dr. Brilliant. You’ve made a lot of assumptions here that I think are as misplaced as you view Wilhelmina’s feelings to be.

First, we don’t know that Jolene was either intelligent or had a strong character. All we know by her photo is that she was overweight and dumpy. This does not automatically qualify her as a stunning personality or a genius. There are overweight and dumpy people who are stupid and mean as well. Over-eating can also be seen as the sign of an unhealthy personality- people who over-eat often do so to comfort and indulge themselves rather than dealing with life. This is something everyone who goes to Weight Watchers knows.

Second, you are not putting any value on a very important fact- Wilhelmina IS questioning her knee-jerk reaction. As you have said many times yourself, Dr. B, there are no right or wrong thoughts. It is how we act on them that determines their impact. Yet you are accusing Wilhelmina of character weakness because of what you admit is an instinct which every other woman on the planet shares! Do all women suffer from character weakness?

What I see as important here is that Wilhelmina values her relationship with Richard enough to question her reflexive, unwanted thoughts. She is making an effort to process past them. I applaud her for this, and see it as a sign of strength in character. Far too few people question their reflexive thoughts or feelings.

So rather than judging you, Wilhelmina, I am going to give you the advice you seek- these feelings you find yourself with only have as much weight as you give them. They feel very heavy right now because they are accumulating in your head. However, a word of caution- I don’t advise you to discuss them with Richard. They have little to do with him and everything to do with you.

Understand that these feelings are a natural instinct and that there is a valid reason for them- if one is concerned with genetic fitness, weight IS an issue. Whatever other qualities a person has, obesity is a serious health risk and affects longevity. Food can also be an addictive issue the same as over-indulgence in booze or drugs. You are not a bad person for having these thoughts.

But now ask yourself this: how you would see Jolene if you knew she was as brilliant as a rocket scientist, was a celebrated author and had five other men after her besides Richard? Would that make you feel better about Richard?

OK, now let’s get back to the reality of the day. You had a momentary lapse of knee-jerk instinct. Now that you see it for what it is, how do you really feel about Richard? How does he treat you? Do you respect the way he is living his life and the way he sees the world? He’s lost weight, which takes resolve and discipline. Can you help each other grow and do you have fun? These are more important factors in your potential relationship than his last girlfriend.

Don’t judge yourself so harshly…and I think you can process your feelings without any asinine role-playing.

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Childhood lost love:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

When I tell this story to other people, they say, “oh, grow up!” But I am hoping you can give me perspective on it.

When I was a kid, I was in love with the little girl next door. We played together nearly every day.
We both just assumed we’d get married when we grew up. Of course we were too young to understand any of it, but it felt very real to us.

When I was 12, the girl’s mother decided she needed to play with girls not boys and cut off our friendship because she thought it wasn’t good for us.
I never knew this; I just thought my friend stopped caring. I’ve carried the pain like a piece of shrapnel in me all these years. When I saw her at a school reunion, I was still so angry I couldn’t speak to her. Of course I found out later that my anger was misplaced.

I guess that what I want to know is WHY? It makes no sense. We couldn’t have maintained our fantasy, I know, but the loss of our plans, the dollhouse we decorated every day planning out our life together.

Life is life but I can’t help ponder how it affected me. It feels as real now as it did then. Are children really capable of this type of emotional reaction?
And can it affect my relationships now? I know that I am very self-protective and have been reluctant to get close to anyone in my adult life.

Ned Nostredamus

Dear Ned,

Kids absolutely do feel love, but not as adults experience it. It seems that, for you, this girl was like your left arm; she was an unquestionable given. Losing her would be an experience similar to losing a parent or a sibling. It would leave an empty void in the world as you knew it.

Kids have no mechanism to process this type of loss because they have no understanding of it. You dealt with it by simply avoiding it. But you have to realize that love takes many forms. How you felt love as a child isn’t what you will experience as an adult. If you compare the two, that will just confuse the issue.

Feeling like someone is your left arm is like seeing them as an extension of you. As an adult, this is often an immature kind of love which will take you on a roller coaster. It is not the sort of love that is amenable to longevity or healthy stability. To answer your question- yes, your loss as a child affects you as an adult. It might cause you to live in your head and avoid direct experience.

In the movies, lovers meet after 20 years and pick up where they left off. This isn’t amenable to real life. It is fantasy.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: We all drag our childhood into our current relationships. I’m surprised you even have to ask! Every expectation we have is from the past; they certainly aren’t from the future.

As far as how vivid your childhood experience was- I’m sure that it was probably more deeply felt than anything you’ve experienced since. Once we begin padding ourselves against anticipated pain, we diminish sensation on many levels. This is not entirely a bad thing, as some people are such raw, open nerves that they need to develop some padding or they will sizzle and burn out quickly in the barrage of energy throw at them from life.

You, however, seem to have done a bit of unnecessary padding. What I find interesting is that you formed your ideas and expectations about relationships from a misconception, not a reality- your friend didn’t abandon you, her mother meddled. And you did the rest by running away and assuming the worst.

If you are going to allow a set of expectations to affect your life, make sure they come from something that really happened. Right now, you are letting an outright lie color your expectations, and probably any relationship you’ve ever had. That just doesn’t make sense.

So, now that I’ve told you it makes no sense, you’ll just stop it, right? NO! Of course not. It has become a reflex, an unseen knee-jerk reaction that happens before you know what’s happening. I’d just like to make a note here- these knee-jerk reactions run most people’s lives and they never stop to question them.

I’m glad you did. Keep asking questions and you’ll figure this out.

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The price of art:

Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;

My daughter is just out of college with a degree in fine arts and beginning to work in her chosen field.
She is uncomfortable with her skill set and doesn’t know how to price herself. She was very good at a workshop which her mom and I attended. But it is 3 hours and she’s only getting paid $50 a workshop! I think she’s underselling herself.

I had this same issue when I got out of school, although I work in the medical field, not art. All of us recent grads were uncomfortable charging for services too. Luckily, for my first job I inherited the previous doctor’s secretary and she knew what to charge for everything and how to set my fees.

I learned in school to always go up from job to job, and that worth is a perceived value. How can I help my daughter to make what she’s worth?

Dr. No

Dear Dr. No,

As I am more of a hobby artist, I will defer this question to the Granny Doctor, a working artist. Her livelihood is dependent on just this question whereas mine is not. The rules of a trade can differ greatly from profession to profession. In the medical profession, for instance, the professional climb and rates are mapped out for you. In the art world that is not the case.

As far as the psychological aspects of dealing with the self-worth, value is arbitrary. You are worth what you think you are worth, along with your innate talent and learned skills. The most successful people often feel they are winging it but they trust in themselves and the universe. They know they are creative, have skills and are flexible enough to figure it out. More often than not things do work out. But when they do not, the pros are able to learn from their mistakes, quickly regroup and recognize new opportunities.

Dr. Brilliant Cliché

Granny says: neatly done, sir! I will accept the passed buck and enlighten Dr. No about the realities of the art world. I will begin by saying, PLEASE remember, Dr. No, that you are her dad and she is worth the world to you, but your daughter is worth nothing to anyone else. They don’t know who she is, she hasn’t proven she can do anything but school assignments. She probably has a nice portfolio. This means she has the potential to develop her skills in the market; that is ALL it means. She will have to earn the right to ask for what seasoned professionals are getting. If your daughter is just out of school, she will have no experience with deadlines, departments, dealing with printers, adjusting her work for multiple usage, learning file protocol etc, etc… If you fill her head full of “you’re worth so much more!” you will send her to a freelance grave. She has to work her way up through the ranks and learn the game. When your daughter gets the appropriate experience under her belt, she will have no problem understanding the value of her work and knowing how to price it. The self doubt she feels now is a good healthy instinct. She will feel confident when she knows what she’s doing.

About pricing art- you first have to make a distinction. Your daughter may have a degree in fine arts, but this is the starting point for more than one field and the commercial art world is a very different place than that of gallery art. If your daughter is an illustrator or graphic designer going into commercial art, she can find out exactly what her services are worth by reading the Graphic Artists Guild Pricing and Ethical Guidelines Handbook. This will tell her what other professionals are making. Then she can strap on a set of brass balls and begin the long trek to reaching that level herself. If she is going find jobs for herself, she will have to sink some serious money into promotional materials and mailing. This will need to be invested without any guarantee of return or results. If she gets work, she is going to have to negotiate contracts. The first thing she needs to learn is that she should avoid “work for hire” situations. A “work for hire” job provides a flat fee for which she gives up the copyright and all control of her work and potential royalties therein. Does she want to go into publishing? Editorial art? Greeting cards and gift products? Magazines? Graphic design? Science and botanicals? Each field has it’s own rhetoric and it’s own standards. She needs to know what the current market is, because it changes constantly.

If she plans to go into gallery fine arts, best of luck. My advice to her is to get a steady job at some other work that requires no creative thinking at all and will not drain her, so that she can develop her art without living in constant fear of ending up on the streets or back in her old room at your house. Fine arts is a highly competitive field which generally requires years and years of beating one’s head against closed doors and indifference. If she paints nice landscapes, she can probably sell her stuff. If she does extremely original work she may end up dead before anyone else figures out what the hell it means or wants to have anything to do with it. But if she is lucky enough to find an audience, she will need to infiltrate an established gallery, which will probably require exclusive representation. Again, the negotiation of contracts will come into play.

Many artists, both commercial and otherwise, get reps or agents because the artistic mind does not work like the business mind, although there are many artists who have no problem wearing both hats. You should be aware that it is just as hard to get an agent or rep who will handle you as it is to land a publishing contract. A lot of work goes into marketing and promoting an artist and a rep wants to make money. They are very choosey about who they take on.

Grant funding is also available to fine artists of every discipline. But here, as with the job market, grants go to those with experience and proof of ability. Few applicants get them on their first try, a track record of some sort is required. This is called “paying your dues.” Every artists has to do it before they are taken seriously. Grants are generally not given to anyone enrolled in school. They are targeted for emerging and established artists.
If your daughter wants security and a steady art job where she can count on an income, I suggest she look into teaching. There, the corporate ladder can be climbed with fair assurance of order and sense.

The artist’s life is fraught with uncertainty, rejection and pain. Most of us go through living hell trying to make a place in an impossible market because we simply have no choice in the matter. We HAVE to do art. We’d like to have security and a solid future but we just can’t do it because something won’t let us sleep.

Good luck to you, Dr. No. But I advise you to stay out of this and let your daughter learn from those who are traveling the same path. Many schools offer workshops for alumni to help them understand operating as a professional. If you want to steer her in the right direction, check into that. But it would be better if she made the effort herself. She’s going to have to learn to do a LOT of that and there’s no time to start like the present.

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