Family therapist Elizabeth Reid addresses her classmates -- and others -- as members of the Class of '71 prepare to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their graduation
For the last 25 years I've been exploring the intricacies
of emotional and interactive life as a psychotherapist. Can I tell you
something I have learned in 1200 words? Probably only a little something, but
the challenge of trying to communicate with the Colgate men of 25 years ago
intrigued me. |
I was one of 12 women at Colgate in 1971. I lived in Whitnall with 12 men on the floor above and 12 men on the floor below. Now
I live with six men: my partner of two years (my husband died in a skiing accident on Christmas Day 1992) and our five sons ages 14 through 24.
Living with men at Colgate and then in graduate school at Colgate Rochester/Bexley Hall Seminary resulted in my actively joining the women's movement. I struggled with claiming my power as a woman while having two sons, supporting my family as the main breadwinner, learning to be a psychotherapist and beginning a private practice. In 1984 my husband, two sons and I moved to Albany, New York. The move was because of his job. That traditional decision began a journey of learning to share power with men.
When power is shared, life is truly coeducational. Since college I have learned from men and about men in the world, in my personal life and through my practice. I watched men Bill Clinton's and our age who are capable of simultaneously having affairs and maintaining their marriages. I watched my father envy my husband's skill in parenting our baby boys. I watched my sons grow up more equal with girls. I watched men, who were asked to be very different from the men who came before them, struggle with their coeducation. From the perspective of my therapy office, men explore internal and interactional realities. These men come to therapy because of problems with intimacy. They can't understand their chosen woman. They can't stay monogamous. They want to heal the wounds of their affair or their wife's affair. They come frustrated with the traps of successful careers that are no longer challenges but provide too much security to abandon. They come because their adolescent children baffle them. They come because their women want them to connect emotionally and they want to connect sexually, and the match is difficult. They come because they are afraid of dying without adventures, and adventures are scary. They come because women make them come and sometimes they discover the rich resource they have in their woman's love and knowledge of them. They often come without knowing they are looking for something to feed their souls and fuel their passions.
So what do I know about men from these coeducational experiences of mine? Each man is unique, but as a group men are under pressure to change and learn. What are they learning?
A class member in a sexuality course discovers he can set a more relaxed tone to his lovemaking. He increases his enjoyment, despite loss of erections, as he worries less and plays more.
A recently divorced construction worker is awestruck by his new woman who worships the Goddess. He goes for therapy at her request, despite the fact he would never consider it on his own. An old jealous rage is resolved and he begins to live life with a new openness that amazes him. He feels his voice has changed, coming more from his gut. He returns to his church and joins the choir.
Men and women find it hard to use each other as resources. This is sad. When we use each other, it is such a rich coeducational experience. I wonder if 25 years later you are learning from the women in your life, and I wonder what you are learning. Our college years were virtually the end of single-sex college education. Do you think coeducation is the better way? The men in my life teach me and challenge me every day. I hope your women do the same for you.