New Behavior: Old Feelings

People today have very different expectations of their relationships than their parents and grandparents did when they were young. Women's lib, accessible and simple birth control and computers and the internet have changed the world of relationships. Or have they? It is certainly true that many behaviors have changed. Feelings, however, seem to lag behind.

Let's compare some of the expectations from the 1950's when today's grandparents were getting married to today.

1950 expectations: the man was the provider whether on a date, in a committed relationship or in marriage. He was responsible for making the first moves toward a relationship, responsible for the finances and, in the final analysis, responsible for much else that happened or didn't happen between a man and a woman. Women had little input with regard to finances--whether shared expenses on a date or contributing to financial stability in a committed relationship. A job teaching was okay but professional careers were frowned on; having a family and being a homemaker were the expectations after marriage.

  Today's expectations: Sexually, financially and professionally a woman's role has changed. Shared responsibilities are the norm. Unfortunately the feelings that people have don't seem to have kept pace with the newly acquired behaviors.

Some examples may illustrate the discrepancies between new behaviors and old feelings that people today must deal with. Pamela, an extremely attractive young woman, was in medical school and quite happy with her prospective career. Standing on line with her boyfriend near the medical school she attended, the couple began talking to the family standing behind them. "What do you do?" asked the older man. "Are you in college?" "No," she answered. "I'm in my third year in medical school." "Oh ho," said the man. "You'd better watch it, young lady. Men don't like girls who are too smart." Later on, while they were having dinner, Pamela's boyfriend said in a joking manner, "You see, Pam, I told you there would be trouble up the road." Many a true word is spoken in jest but it wasn't too long after that Pam and her boyfriend broke up.

Another example: Roxanne is a highly successful investment banker. Her boyfriend of many years is a chemistry teacher. She refuses to marry him because his income is not even close to hers. "Why should I support him?" she asks, whenever a discussion of their marital plans arises with one of her friends.

Sarah's new boyfriend liked sex. But, for him, there was only one position that was acceptable and foreplay was something he had no interest in. Sarah felt ashamed that the sex they had was never enough for her. She had never been satisfied and was unable to say any more than a feeble "Don't you think it would be great if we fooled around a little more?" Well, Jim didn't think so. And Sarah who wanted this relationship to work, kept telling herself that the sex was okay, that her dissatisfaction was because there was something wrong with her. It wasn't too long before their relationship broke up. Neither Sarah nor Jim realized why.

Bill had been on pins and needles since word first leaked of the sale of his division. He knew that if it went through, he was likely to join the ranks of the unemployed. Yet when he was officially told that his job had been eliminated, it came as a real shock. He couldn't even listen as his boss described details of the severance. He felt completely unprepared to embark on a job search and didn't know how he would tell his girlfriend. He decided that it would be better if she didn't know just yet. Besides, maybe he'd get something soon and he could let her know after he had an offer! So, every day Bill got up as usual, put on his suit and tie, caught the same train to the city, and came home to dinner. He told his girlfriend he was making sales calls all over town and wasn't reachable. Actually, he was spending his days in the library and on his cell phone trying to get an interview.

Bill's girlfriend found out that something was up, but not soon enough to prevent serious damage to their relationship. Shame about a situation that was a) temporary and b) a not-so-unusual reality of present day economics had caused a serious breach between his girlfriend and himself.

Feelings that are different from behavior always interfere with the development of a relationship. Sometimes, these feelings are expressed openly. Other times, they remain unexpressed because either one or both people are ashamed of what they feel. It is our belief at Park East, a belief that is supported by experience, that the only path to take when behavior and feelings diverge is that the gap must be bridged through frank and open discussion. If shame presents a barrier that is too rigid or if there's too much anger, then a couple should go together for counseling - specifically, goal-oriented counseling that would break those barriers to intimacy.