Yours, mine, ours

– “Doctor…Choosing ice cream flavors can be a real challenge—takes a lot of negotiation.”

Maria X. is a nice middle-aged lady that has been married twice already and has offspring from both relationships. She has two teenage daughters for her first marriage and Victor, her present husband, has two teenage sons from a previous bonding; they both had had a small daughter. Nowadays the family relationships cannot be solely explained by the traditional tree as there are more crossed relationships from remarried partners, homosexual marriages and adopted children.

The typical image of the stepmother as “a witch bent on mischief on her adopted children” is far from the reality sur le champ where young kids get oftentimes more attached to a close mother figure that their more distant biological one. Similarly, young children often revere more a father figure that helps them with their homework or plays baseball with them than their biological one. Sometimes the breakup of relationships entails the forced adaptation of children to another hearth and to another company without having much say in their parents’ sexual and amorous choices.

The assembly of these composite groupings occurs rather spontaneously as there is not a rational pre-planification of “who will be who”; the gregarious nature of humans makes us seek company. Everything is not always rosy as there are power disputes as in any large human grouping, eventually creating internal cliques and sub-groups; their genetic similarities will not guarantee that Maria’s two teenage daughters will see eye to eye in all their daily choices and dilemmas. She told me that one of them is much closer to the eldest son of Victor and supports him passionately.

Planning their daily chores, their weekend leisure activities, their yearly vacations and something as mundane as who gets to enter the bathroom first in the morning must be negotiated carefully. The members of the group must develop varying grades of tolerance for each other all the time. First of all, the parents must learn to love and show their sincere affection for children who are not biologically related to them but share the same hearth besides present and future family objectives. The siblings must learn how to be equitable in their dealings with each other, avoiding clannish attitudes that might damage the overall trust that young people demand from those close to them.

According to Maria and Victor, sometimes they have rough moments but so far, they have been able to avoid intractable situations that would poison their daily interactions; the fact that they are both professionals earning good income and with extensive social connections made a difference. They claim that their extended family is just a microcosmos of the much more problematic and larger inter-ethnic and multi-cultural environment of South Florida where we all live at present.

We wholeheartedly agree that this family constitutes a great example of how people from different backgrounds can eventually learn how to coexist in a closed environment for the common good. It is only natural that we tend to seek the company of people who are similar to us in the private sphere, especially when we are seeking a steady couple relationship. Things run much smoother. However, we should take a more open and tolerant attitude when we enter into the public sphere.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

 

Friends with benefits

– “Doctor…An occasional tryst won’t break our marriage—on the contrary.”

Patrizia X. is a nice, attractive middle-aged professional woman with a nice family of four: a loving, considerate husband and three teenagers that are excelling at their studies. Who could ask for more? Well, she does. A few months ago, she sat down with her hubby and discussed together the decreasing eroticism of their relationship and ways to improve it. Being both Italian-Americans, the solution was not an easy one.

Finally they decided that they could each have an occasional date and sexual encounter with a partner of their choosing with the acknowledged aim to refresh their sexual desire. They could not lie or hide the romantic escapade to each other and they were not supposed to repeat the same escapade. Usually they chose mutual friends that would keep the secret or, in this time of extreme social connectivity, an old flame from the past that landed in the USA to visit or even an inconclusive high school relationship. The fact that they were not residents of the same city supposedly precluded any attachments.

They are not swingers. They do not profess the mantra of free love. And they don’t cheat. They assume, as informed and responsible adults, the need to revitalize their relationship with “un souffle au coeur” as the French had pointedly defined this novel arrangement. In order to properly function both members of the couple must be willing and ready to accept it; it cannot be the result of one of the partners co-opting the other one for a needed change. Once they complete their escapade, they erase that episode from their minds altogether.

Even though this kind of arrangement is rarely seen, it has become progressively more common, especially in young and middle-aged couples that are often educated and well off. The cross-fertilization of social habitudes in our multi-faceted, hyper-connected society has pushed out into the open something that had been an accepted practice for the closeted; when the LGBT community pushed for equal rights for marriage, they brought us a present. Homosexuals, unencumbered by the traditional view of the couple based on marriage, breeding and the patriarchate, have been tolerant of an occasional third party in their couples, as long as there was no lying, hiding or the break-up of their amorous relationship.

It all sounds very exciting and adventurous with the possibility of maintaining the status quo. However, we must respectfully disagree with the apparent “civility” of this increasingly common agreement; we will reluctantly play the part of “devil’s advocate” in this honorable court of bloggers’ forum. It is never that easy to keep a clear mind.

Long, long time ago (before I became a monk of Medicine) I had the rogue predisposition to establish clandestine friendships with duly married ladies, without any guilt or remorse. Each one of those felt like an exhilarating roller coaster ride that would jump-start our hearts. It was fun. It was invigorating. It was fabulous. But a Damocles’ sword was always hanging above us. After guilt-free sexual encounters with somebody you really liked (it’s only natural to want more of it) the bug of emotional attachment buzzed. Inevitably we tended to fall in love. And then what were we supposed to do, eh?

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave us alone.

The cordial cohabitation

– “Doctor…It’s tough living under the same roof sometimes—we’re doing it for the kids.”

Kim X. is a very nice middle-aged nurse that has been separated from her husband for a few months already; they decided to stop their relationship because they weren’t in love anymore. They did it on good financial terms and decided to stay in separate rooms of the same house; considering that their two children are only 5 and 10 years old, they are threading carefully. For the time being they have reached an “entente cordiale” where they discreetly pursue their loving affairs outside the house but inside it they both emotionally support their young ones every day.

She confided that fact to me because she knew that I have been separated from “the mother of my children” since the beginning of the millennia but we have stayed very close all the time, with some ups and downs of course. Our two children were very small then and we made the conscious decision to relegate our personal lives a little in order to keep a watchful eye on them. I recently saw “Wind River”, an action film where the main character suffered because his daughter had been assassinated by a straggler when he had been fulfilling his duties as an Alaska park ranger. He admonished the female FBI agent that was helping him: “when you have kids, you can’t even blink. Not once.”

A few days ago, I listened to a panel discussion in “France Inter”, the leading private radio operator in France, where they discussed precisely this cohabitation arrangement. In general, the French have been quite permissive in their sexual and loving relationships, never doubting to change their spouses and or companions at the slightest hint of marital malfunction. However, the recent experience of thousands of young women, many of them working poor and members of Minority groups, has rekindled this perennial question: “do women need men to raise kids?”

Of course, they don’t, all the panelists agreed. But the presence of “the father figure” is needed. Most of the ladies confessed that raising a male child with a lot of love and dedication sometimes produced uncontrollable brats that felt entitled to anything. “Mom will give it to me” they said. The limits set by the vigilant presence of “the father” helped the youngster learn some basic civic virtues like respect and tolerance of the others, so necessary in our convulsed modern times. They even suggested that the rising crime rate of the “quartiers peripheriques” full of immigrants from Northern Africa and Eastern Europe could be countenanced by more social services. The present configuration of Paris entails the creation of a peripheral circumvoluting road that keeps those “undesirables” out of the more sanitized, clean and touristy “centre de la ville.”

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

She wants him back

– “Doctor…My ex-boyfriend is dating a gorgeous girl—and she’s much younger than him.”

Paula X. is a very nice lady “d’une certaine age” that had a longstanding relationship with a fellow co-worker for many years. They seemed to be a very stable couple but one day, out of the blue, she decided that he might not be the man of her life. She started to voice her progressively worsening concerns with almost everybody, including yours truly; eventually she decided to kick him off her life by expelling him from her apartment and erasing their common social contacts.

Her newfound single life had a strong tailwind and she was enjoying her freedom to date to the hilt. Until one day something terrible happened. She came across her ex in a happy hour event. Not only he looked good but he was accompanied by a younger girl who seemed to be a model. All of a sudden, the complete certainty she was holding in her mind about him crumbled totally. She felt an excruciating bout of epigastric pain and nausea that obliged her to leave the premises. The two loyal girlfriends that were accompanying her immediately knew what happened and took her home in a taxi.

What’s going on? First, she loved him. Suddenly she hated him. Then she wanted him back. That paradoxical behavior of ladies, which has certainly disconcerted many of us sometime along our lives, can be explained by the higher preponderance of Right Hemispheric activity in their brains. Even though the human brain functions as a marvelous unit, we have in fact two, not one, brains. The Left Hemisphere specializes in language and writing, logic reasoning, mathematical sequencing, organization of ideas and actions, i.e. it is our analytical brain that helps us function. The right Hemisphere has a more holistic function as it integrates the emotional undertones to our ideas, prodding us to become more creative and to seek transcendence, i.e. the artistic brain. In the right side of our brains, contradictory feelings like Love and hate coexist side to side.

The two sides of our brain are inter-connected by a thick set of neuronal fibers that constitute the “corpus callosum”, which allows the smooth. efficient integration to carry our daily tasks. In women, that structure is usually more developed than in men, which explains their uniqueness. Neuroscientific research has shown that in men the interconnection via the corpus callosum is from the “anterior” part of the brain (where our attention/awareness lies) to the “posterior” part of the same hemisphere that helps to translate our ideas into concrete, focused actions. In women there is a higher number of fibers that travel from the right to the left hemispheres, integrating the emotional aspects more thoroughly with the practical ones. Yes.They are much more advanced.

Next time you ask yourself why it is so easy for women to multi-task all the time and so difficult for us, men, to finish even one task at a time, get some solace knowing that there is a biological explanation. Moreover, they are quite capable to seamlessly love and hate someone at the same time, without any kind of feelings of remorse or uneasiness.

What do you want me to say? Thank God we have our dear women to help us all along. And if we have to take their rap from time to time, do as I do. Just say: “yes, dear.”

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

 

The excited executive

– “Doctor…Can’t go back home with so much excess energy—I need my escape valve.”

Sheila X. is a successful middle aged married executive in a large company that has succeeded at the top of the hierarchy and has remained there for years. At the end of her long workday she still feels “charged up” and needs an outlet. Three times per week she goes to the gym to stay in good shape, but it is not nearly enough. Once per week she has a clandestine date with a casual lover she finds in Tinder. Her very own escape valve.

The dating site named “Ashley Madison”, which supposedly specializes in discreet match-up of eager men and women for an affair, made an informal canvass of the most common professions of the unfaithful women and men that was posted in their website. They found that among women, the most unfaithful professions were the following:

  1. Business executives – 22%
  2. Information technology – 12%
  3. Technicians – 8%
  4. Education – 7%
  5. Medical personnel – 7%
  6. Marketing – Communications – 7%

Amongst men the most unfaithful professions (24%) were the ones that had very flexible schedules and timetables that allowed to camouflage a clandestine tryst.

Neurophysiological studies have shown that women confronted with stressful events secrete much more Oxytocin—the hormone of sexual desire—than men do, Moreover the presence of stress provokes the secretion of testosterone both in men and women as part of the ancestral biological defense mechanism of humans. The adrenal glands produce a small amount of that hormone in women that can increase if they are chronically exposed to various stressful situations; women are more sensitive to the testosterone’s effects, which include the sexual excitement.

Sexual desire in women is prodded by a complex assortment of visual, auditory and skin stimuli, coupled with a hormonal rush that reach the brain’s Hypothalamus. If the successful women executives are geared up for performing savagely like a professional boxer in the ringside, shouldn’t they also be allowed some time to relax after the fight?

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Being fabulously single

-“Doctor…I’m finally having the time of my life—my family doesn’t get it.”

Sandra X. is a gorgeous forty-something recently divorced lady that has a fulfilling professional life and an affectionate family of four—her mother and three children. But no husband. And therein lies the source of her strange emotional frustration. Her family cannot picture her without the formal company of a man at all times.

In prehistoric times a woman that had not found a steady mate by the time she was thirty years old was dismissed as a “singleton” that had “to dress the saints.” And if a woman lost her husband after 50 years old she had to care for grandchildren. But times have changed dramatically and now any woman can have a new start at any age, be it 40, 50, 60, and even 70 years old. There are many artistic, sports, gastronomic, travel opportunities, etc., for someone that has the time and means. Moreover, she can find new friends and even a good companion in the new activity.

Sandra X. decided to learn how to paint, something she had wanted for years. Finally, she had the opportunity and the financial means to assist to a course, prepare a small atelier at home and network with people interested in art. As she felt too old to start bar-hopping to reboot her social life and meet men, she decided to visit art galleries with the company of another lady who had become a widow. They were both surprised to meet so many educated, interesting people in a city like Miami that until recently had been considered as a cultural and civic morass.

In big cities that are constantly renovating their socio-cultural matrix, the possibility of connecting with different people in exciting settings is much higher than in more suburban and rural environments where patriarchal prejudices still hold power. Initially Sandra X. avoided to have sexual relationships but eventually she fell madly in love with young bohemian painter 20 years younger and with a cute ponytail. Coming form an Hispanic family, she fears the reaction of her children to her choice.

Still undecided whether to break the news to her kin or not, she had nonetheless decided to rent a big apartment in the tony Wynwood neighborhood to install a bigger atelier and create an alternative home to enjoy her passionate relationship.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

 

The emotional dependence

– “Doctor…I need to consult my husband on everything—I depend on him.”

Paola X. is a successful physician that has settled in South Florida after completing her training in New York a decade ago. We met in an Italian-American social event a few years back and we have been friendly ever since. She is married to a very successful American professional and they have a nice family of four. However, her initial upbringing in a traditional Neapolitan family where the authoritarian figure of her father dominated even the secondary matters at home has marked her.

She has invested all her energies and time availability in the creation of a welcoming hearth for her husband and children, even though she is a very busy professional herself. She plans all their daily activities at home, being the perfect homemaker. However, all that dedication has come at a heavy personal price as she does not have any independent activity, let alone a supportive network of loyal girlfriends.

A rewarding loving relationship entails sharing a lot of time and activities with your partner, but do you have to share everything, all the time? There is a danger that any attempt of decoupling for the most menial task in a banal period by one partner might be construed as a sign of disloyalty by the dependent one. Individuals that have suffered unusual verbal and/or physical abuse as children are more likely to experience what psychologists call “anxiety of separation” in modern practices.

We all strive to love and be loved but the necessity of being always in the company of our partners can lead to great personal anxiety and undue stress in the couple. Moreover, to preserve the close relationship at all costs, the dependent individual can accept and endure various forms of abusive partners’ behavior. One of the sad tenets that we have found in the discovery of abused women is that they usually erroneously feel that “they need their partners”, delaying their rescue. We have witnessed how a few women have refused to press charges against physically abusive partners, even when the physician and/or social worker have helped them.

Sadly, the couple’s children can become hostages of these unhealthy relationships and in a few instances they are passive, suffering witnesses to intolerable levels of abuse.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.