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'Single' Should Describe, Not Condemn

December 14, 1986

Elizabeth Mehren's article, "Frustrated by the Odds, Single Women Seek Answers in Therapy" (Nov. 30) adds unwelcome fuel to a spreading fear.

As a psychotherapist in private practice, the majority of my clients are women struggling with relationships and being "single" (the word is beginning to sound like a condemnation instead of a description). Contrary to the idea that a search for men drives women to therapy, what leads them to therapy is distress about the types of relationships they do have, and the ways they feel and act both alone and coupled. Their problems don't arise mysteriously after age 30; it just takes that many years of experience before most people are able to see the patterns of their behavior.

For many women, the "Cinderella Complex" written by Colette Dowling several years ago is very real today. It means that women were in fact raised to be dependent upon men, and the shift to independence is not so easy. A woman may be quite competent in her career--an adult in the professional world--while emotionally she has not yet learned to take care of herself. She is a "dependent child-like adult" waiting for her husband/father to make her feel safe, loved and lovable. This dual character is understandably as confusing to men as it is to women. The "Woman Who Loves Too Much" is often the woman who can't be alone. Wanting a relationship is natural and healthy; needing one for emotional survival is not.

Therapy can help; speculation does not help, and has no place in therapy. To argue, as Janice Lieberman does, that a woman's single status is not "her fault" but the fault of a "male shortage" is to miss the purpose of therapy as a growth -oriented process whose participants are neither guilty, nor passive victims in life. Therapy ultimately aims at helping a woman or man to appreciate the profound meaning of her or his own life, and to learn to live it more fully and freely, responding to circumstances as they evolve.

The statistics may be real, but identifying with them as one's fate discounts the individual who is unique, and perpetuates self-doubt, desperation and the "I'm nothing without a man" mentality. The belief in scarcity (whether real or imagined) generates fear, and actions based on fear. If we're lucky, when the panic subsides we will have learned to view marriage and men more realistically, and will have furthered our emotional development both individually and collectively.

JOYCE HOUSER

Santa Monica

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