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an interview with Sol Gordon

by Donald B. Ardell, Ph. D.

Gender Differences and Other Obstacles to Effective Communication

Dr. Sol Gordon has written many books, the latest of which is entitled "How Can You Tell If You're Really In Love" (Adams Media, Holbrook, MA.), 2001. Sol has appeared on numerous television shows, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, Sixty Minutes, and Today. He is Professor Emeritus of Child and Family Studies at Syracuse University as well as former director of the University's Institute for Family Research and Education. He is widely known for his work and lectures on sexuality, family studies, relationships, and suicide prevention. He lives in Chapel Hill, NC.

You might also enjoy viewing a video interview of Dr. Gordon at Penn State On Demand.

Don: As with everything you have written, I enjoyed "How Can You Tell If You're Really In Love."

Dr. Gordon: Yes, of course I agree. Many who start off "madly in love" end up just mad. Jealousy is equated with love, but it is always destructive. There might be a reason why the last part of the word itself spells 'lousy'—that's the feeling and outcome you get from it. Unrealistic expectations are a key variable in both instances, and no doubt in other life situations that lead people to grief. Better to find someone you really like and respect that person's freedom and your own. In fact, I suggest the most important ingredients of a successful relationship are a sense of humor, the wisdom to overlook a lot of stuff, and a basic respect for each other, no matter what.

Don: You state in the book that it is advisable to postpone the search for a partner until you are satisfied with your voyage of discovery and self-development. This sounds to me much like suggesting that it's wise to shape a healthy lifestyle (physical and mental, as described in the model of three domains and 14 skill areas at this site) before focusing on finding "the right partner." Am I interpreting your work properly -- do you place this much importance of what some call a wellness lifestyle?

Dr. Gordon: You are exactly correct, Don. Become the best person you can be. Don't expect good relationships or anything else to come easily. (According to one source cited in the LA Times on 9/18/2000, the chance of a first marriage ending in divorce over a 40-year period is 67 percent, but half of these divorces will occur in the first seven years.) If relationships were easy, the divorce rate would not be so high. In the self-discovery process, focus on meaning and purpose, and do good deeds, without expectations of returns. In the Jewish tradition, we say, "do Mitzvahs." These good deeds are the best therapy, along with going for a walk and getting massages. Just help somebody and be kind. You'll feel better if you do. Never compare yourself with others and remember that the best revenge is living well.

Don: I was delighted to note your skepticism if not outright derision toward new age spirituality, and the kind of claptrap found in the wildly popular book "Men from Mars, Women from Venus." Why do you suppose critical thinking is at such a low point in this country, if indeed you believe as I do that it is? And, what might be done to improve this abysmal situation?

Dr. Gordon: I agree with these sentiments. Before I wrote "How Can You Tell If You're Really In Love" I read about a hundred relationship books, most of which were suffused with mushy nonsense. I think we are in an era of self-indulgence and uncaring. This is clearly seen in junk TV shows like Jerry Springer and others like it. Among the baleful influences that cause confusion about love and relationships are Hollywood-style romantic films, MTV, romance novels, family pressures, cultural imperatives, astrological signs, money, status, chemistry, and love at first sight nonsense. Beware of these and other stereotypes.

Don: What are the major roadblocks to an honest study and discussion of love and intimacy? These seem vital issues to all those who wish to increase their capacity for and success at self-management for lifestyle artistry.

Dr. Gordon: The biggest roadblock is unreal expectations of what love can do. Before committing to another, ask yourself, "In this person's presence, do I love myself more?" This is far more important than hot sex and good times. In fact, it's more important to have mental orgasms with each other than the other kind, though both are nice. We have the power to make our own heaven or hell, to create the circumstances to change things in our lives for the better. My short list of recommended things to take into a relationship looks like this: Intimacy, a sense of humor, honest communication, shared values, equality, a sense of adventure, shared experience, respect for each other's feelings and wishes, passion (for something or several things, not necessarily sex, though that's nice, as well but overrated) and sharing in domestic duties.

Don: I noted that you did not connect lack of conflict with perfect compatibility; in fact, you seem to consider this somewhat redundant phrase a fantasy. Would you describe that scene in the film Annie Hall that you note in "How Can You Tell If You're Really In Love."

Dr. Gordon: Alvy (played by Woody Allen) goes up to a happy-looking couple and asks them their secret. The woman answers, "I'm very shallow and empty and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say." Her man says, "And I'm exactly the same way." There you have one idea of what a conflict- free relationship might look like.

Don: Sol, it’' always a pleasure to connect with you. How can visitors to SeekWellness learn more about your work?

Dr. Gordon: Just read my books -- especially "A Friend In Need" and, of course, "How Can You Tell If You're Really In Love."


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