The Colgate Scene ON-LINE

[Elizabeth Reid]
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?

  • As men learn to embrace their vulnerability they feel better about their performance in bed and competence on the job.

    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.

  • Men don't generally like to deal with sharing power whether on the job or in the home, but they often rise to the occasion as they understand the advantages for us all. For example, my partner insists on doing his own laundry. He hadn't done it in his marriage. He had just learned how to do it before we met. Laundry is still easier for me and I keep offering. He knows he needs to keep the task because it represents power over his own life.

  • Men are learning to be more expressive. It is common for couples to begin the conversation about sex with women wanting more talk and men wanting more physical activity. As the conversation becomes more trusting, other desires are revealed. One man dreams of holding his wife all night in a gentle, caressing embrace. He tells me in the next session that he understands there are many ways to express closeness. He says, "I'm looking for a sense of real connection."

  • Men's needs for comfort and care are often unconscious, but as they become more aware they can also learn to give more comfort and care to others. With the support of AA, my father's chronic, fatal illness allowed him the time and attention to parent and discover his own spirituality even as he required more and more physical care.

  • Men are easily hurt, hide it and have a hard time learning that it has to be resolved. After years of hurt feelings, one man has an affair that threatens his marriage. Even when he decides to stay in the marriage, he doesn't want to confront his wife about the things that have hurt him and led to the affair. Now she is the hurt party and he doesn't have the right to say what he needs. Only when his needs are addressed does the marriage have hope.

  • Men are learning to work around the weaknesses in their styles of interacting. Introverted men are often more comfortable with distance that can hide their real capacity for engaged conversation. Quiet men can learn to take time to process their thoughts. A wife tells her husband she would like to discuss the movie they just saw. He says ok but not right now. The next day he thinks about the movie and has lots to say at dinner.

  • Men our age are easily depressed and need to watch that they are not depleting themselves by working too hard or doing too much of the same thing over and over. One depressed engineer goes to culinary arts school to cure himself and finds the cooking more filling than the eating.

  • Men our age are afraid of dying soon or they are afraid they are not going to die soon, or both. They are learning to live with that ambivalence. One man despairs of all his relatives who died in their 50s and simultaneously of his fears of the slow process of getting older and getting weaker.

  • Men are learning about their souls and soul food through their spiritually searching women.

    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.