To the recorded sounds of "Love Will Keep Us Together," "The Wedding Song" and "I Won't Last a Day Without You," 31 women take their seats in a room above a pizza restaurant in El Toro.
It's just before 7 on a Monday night and the women are trying to decide whether to sign up for six sessions of a workshop entitled, "Light His Fire." To help them decide, framed pictures line the walls, each depicting a serene scene and bearing an inscription such as, "Real Love Begins When Nothing Is Expected in Return."
A striking woman in her 40s, married for 17 years and one of several in the room who have been through the workshop before, is trying to convince the first-timers to sign up.
"One day I went to lunch and didn't come home for 11 months, two weeks and four days," she said. Everyone laughs, but there are murmurs and understanding nods. The woman said she has "been home for a year now," and it becomes clear that that's what is at stake here: potentially desperate situations and disrupted lives.
Ellen Kreidman, the workshop director, steps to the microphone and, reminiscent of speakers at real estate seminars, tells the women they can get rich quick. But she is promising them something more powerful than money--love.
"I have a marriage I've always dreamed about," she said. "In six weeks, you can have the marriage you dreamed of." To encourage the single women to take the class, she said: "You'll be in the most wonderful relationship you ever dreamed of in six weeks."
wonderful relationship you ever dreamed of in six weeks."
Frightened by AIDS and horror stories from divorced friends, many men and women are trying harder these days to salvage marriages or live-in relationships. Psychologists and others say that the swing toward improving long-term relationships is the natural counter-reaction to the drive in recent years toward self-expression and the sometimes obsessive pursuit of professional success.
Having decided that committed relationships are now more important, men and women are looking for ways to rejuvenate their unions.
To help them, a number of seminars and workshops has surfaced in Orange County aimed at improving relationships. Some deal with the serious business of male-female communication, others with the more lighthearted aspects of romance.
And rather than being the near-exclusive province of women--as has historically been the case with human relations seminars and workshops--the current crop of seminars is attracting men. At a workshop conducted several months ago by Lola and Hank Gillebaard, dealing with putting more romance in life, 25 men showed up. And no women.
"We even waited five extra minutes before starting, which we never do," Lola Gillebaard said. "It just didn't seem right, but a woman never did show up." She thinks one reason men are attending such workshops now is because they "have always feared loneliness more than women do, but they're willing to admit it more now than before."
Like many workshop sponsors throughout the county, Kreidman has never had a private practice in psychology. But that hasn't deterred people from signing up for her class. Since May, 1981, when she held her first women's class, 2,775 have "graduated." A twin class for men, entitled "Light Her Fire," started four years ago and has attracted 300, she said.
But while Kreidman's six-week course (a total of 12 hours of class time) is the longest-running and probably the most ambitious in Orange County, it is by no means the only outlet for people who want to make love and romance bloom. For example:
In Huntington Beach, the night after Kreidman's class, 13 people (eight women and five men) paid $19 to attend a one-night workshop at Golden West College entitled "The Romantic and Unusual in Southern California." The seminar is also available at North Orange County Community College and Orange Coast College.
On a recent Saturday at UC Irvine, about 65 people were expected to pay $65 for a one-day seminar entitled "On Love: Smart Choices, Foolish Choices" and conducted by Los Angeles psychologist and author Melvyn Kinder. According to UCI officials, Kinder canceled his appearance. Another workshop is scheduled for later this month, entitled "Burnout in Marriage: Keeping the Spark Alive." That seminar will cost $67.
At Orange Coast College, more than 25 workshops are available this semester dealing with male-female relationships and generally costing about $20. That contrasts with "10 at the most" that were available just a few years ago, a college official said.
The Gillebaards, married for 34 years, have been conducting workshops for the last year in Orange County, charging anywhere from $25 to $45. The workshops have included "How to Put More Romance in Your Life," "Romancing Your Mate for Life," and, their latest one, "How to Stay Happily Married."