Psyching the Zietgeist:
Current Culture Through a Mental Health Lens

Working Hard to Keep Everyone Around Us Happy

In her 4/7/18 New York Times Opinion Pages piece, Maureen Dowd writes about the “weird pattern” of women having sex with men they’re not attracted to. She asks, “You can lean in, but you can’t walk out?” I squirmed at this seeming suggestion of blame and letting men’s bad behavior off the hook.  At the same time, this misses a phenomenon I’ve noticed in many of the women, young or not, with whom I meet to match with therapists. They are competent, driven, well-spoken, and professional in their career identity, but in interpersonal relationships, they struggle to maintain a sense of self. Dowd refers to The New Yorker short story on the perils of romance, “Cat Person”, that caused a stir when it was published last year. The story’s author told the magazine that her protagonist “… speaks to the way that many women, especially young women, move through the world: not making people angry, taking responsibility for other people’s emotions, working extremely hard to keep everyone around them happy. It’s reflexive and self-protective, and it’s also exhausting.”

I’m struck by her observation, which is consistent with the impression I have of many of the women who sit across from me waiting to be referred for therapy. These traits are so deeply socialized in us women. The best therapy, I think, helps us identify, untangle, and begin to shift this defeating, self-negating way of being in the world.

by Judy Koven, WTRS Coordinator