I’m not an Alcoholic. That’s Why I Needed Alternatives.

wendy drinking champagneRecently I met a dynamic UCLA professor in the CNN green room. As we started chatting I learned that he also runs a moderate drinking management program in Beverly Hills called Alternatives. I had never heard of such a thing, but the words made me sit up straight and pay attention. If you know me well, you know I love my red wine. I have a glass or two every night with dinner. Every night. Like, for the past twenty-five years. (Note to pregnancy police: Except while with child.) I even do a “Wine with Dr. Wendy Google Hang Out” on Wednesdays. But I’m also a bit of a health nut. I eat a vegetable based diet that is organically grown and farmed close to the table. And the health benefits of alcohol have been well documented. One drink a day. Not two. Not three.

This wasn’t a goalI had ever been able to maintain. Not because I was an alcoholic, but because I had a behavioral habit. I wasn’t drinking my feelings away. Lord knows, I drained those for years in a therapy office. I was just accustomed to the taste of wine and food and I couldn’t eat dinner without a glass of wine. I certainly wasn’t a candidate for a twelve-step program. I just wanted to drink a little less. Not quit! And I like science more than the give-it-to-a-higher-power stuff.

Enter Dr. Adi Jaffe and Alternatives. The program is simple and scientific. Thirty days of abstinence with lots of support to separate the wheat from the chaff, the hard core drinkers from the social winos. Then the reintroduction of alcohol in a mindful way. Mindfulness is a big part of the program, as is Bio feedback. With your brain hooked up to a computer game, you can really see the function loss while drinking, Then there’s the drinking while blowing in a breathalyzer treatment so you can get a real feel for how your blood alcohol level rises while you drink.

Okay, I’ll admit it. The first thirty days were rough. Food tested weird. I missed the smell and the swirl of a chewy cabernet. But Dr. Jaffe helped me find substitutes: Who knew that unsweetened cranberry juice with a splash of grape juice tastes remarkably like wine? It’s been three months now and I drink a glass of wine about three times a week. Once in a while I have two. And I have four glorious nights sleep every week with my brain alcohol free, where I dream amazing dreams. Didn’t know that alcohol can suppress dreams. Clearly I’m not an alcoholic. But now I’m a mindful drinker.

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FOR SINGLES: Is Marriage Becoming Extinct?

The shape of our families is constantly changing. People are marrying for the first time, and the divorce rate just keeps soaring, giving way to many single parent households. Single life is no longer a short rite of passage; it’s an important consumer demographic. For the first time in history (since the immigration of mostly male, early settlers), almost half of adult Americans are now unmarried. There’s even Singular Magazine, devoted to the lifestyles of those who have made a commitment to being single. It even includes ads for commitment rings to purchase for oneself.

But has love changed? Has committed love been replaced by a revolving door of dates? Is long-term monogamy even necessary for our species’ survival? The answers are complicated. Marriage may be changing, but it will never go out of style.  In case you’ve been living under a rock, there’s a fight going on right now in America to allow more people to be granted marital rights.

Marriage may not be going away, but its purpose has shifted. Historically, marriage was a place for women and children to have economic protection. It was a place where religious values could be taught and extended to the next generation, and a place where family fortunes could remain intact. More recently, marriage became a place for a relatively new invention: romantic love. But since dating and hooking up have morphed into America’s favorite pastime, full of hopeful highs and disappointing lows, even romantic love is losing its luster.

So why choose marriage today? Because it is an intellectual decision that leads to survival of the species. Anthropologists have always said that it was human’s sophisticated social structures, including the adoption of long-term monogamy, that help our species procreate and thrive.

Humans are the animals that require a huge amount of nurturing for our psychological and physical survival, more than virtually any other animal on earth. While most newborns are up on four legs and running with the herd just hours after birth, we Homo sapiens have a vulnerable in-arms (or stroller) phase that lasts almost four years. And it’s really, really hard to nurse and carry a baby while extracting resources from the environment. Just ask any single mother. Doable, yes, but very difficult. Remember the mission: to grow up healthy and create offspring that are also healthy and ready for careers and parenthood.

Family therapists know that dysfunctional family systems eventually fall out of evolution’s chain. Each generation has fewer and fewer offspring that survive through the next procreation, until the family line finally dies off. Apparently, neglectful parenting can create drunk drivers, criminals caught in crossfire, hermits, drug addicts, and narcissists too selfish for parenting — all people with lower chances of reproducing. But let me make one thing clear before I get inundated with e-mails about this: I am IN NO WAY SAYING that all single mothers create dysfunctional families. What I am saying is that every time one factor is removed from a system that has been selected through evolution, the chances for dysfunction increase. Plenty of single mothers are raising healthy kids with the help of extended family, surrogate male role models, and friendship villages that act as a de facto family. And this is part of our changing family structure.

Evolution has shown that our best chances for survival and for the survival of our offspring’s offspring is a team approach to raising humans. And the best team captains are people who have a biological interest in the child. And to create that, we need to sometimes put the notion of romantic love aside and make an intellectual decision to do what’s best for our genes, ahem, I mean kids.

Watch my youtube video: What is Slow Love?

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FOR WOMEN: The Problem of a Woman in Red

Woman red dress portrait isolated on white background. SmilingWe all know the old folklore about a woman in red. Men love her. In fact, plenty of research supports this and explains why. When dressing to meet a man they are attracted to, women are most likely to wear red, and men perceive women in red as more sexually receptive.

But new research looks at mate-guarding and the color red, and the story is a little different. First of all, “mate-guarding” is a term coined by evolutionary psychologists and it simply means protecting one’s mate around potential suitors, or “mate-poachers.” Research has also shown that the best way to mate guard is to devalue a competitor. Women will say awful things about even their closest girlfriends if they think their boyfriend or husband thinks she is attractive. It’s called trash talk, ladies and it’s an age old human mating strategy. And there are two ways that women are particularly adept at devaluing other women. They either call her a slut, implying that she wouldn’t be a loyal mate for a long term relationship, or they call her frigid, implying that I guy will waste his time and his money and not obtain sex. Of course, the risk for women is calling a woman a slut when their boyfriend might only want a short-term affair!

And all this happens more when women wear red. A new study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that women with partners are particularly threatened by a woman wearing red and will trash talk her more. My advice? If you are about to meet your best friend’s new man, wear black or white. But definitely not red.

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FOR 40+: Is Your Aging Body Sexy to Others?

Mid age couple in bedroomRecently a stark and honest article on Huffington Post told a wincing account of a 59-year-old woman who met a 55-year-old man on a dating site. After the customary first few dates, the romantic weekend ensued. But despite sleeping naked, the man did not initiate love making with his smitten date. When she queried him about it later, he simply said he was used to a steady diet of young women and was not turned on by her wrinkled skin.

I know. Superficial, right? But actually, his “naked truth” said something deep about him and so many aging Americans who don’t feel good in their own skin. My analysis is this:

This wasn’t her naked truth. It wasn’t even his truth. His rejection of her body was a perfect foil for him to continue to create one-note relationships and push away a fully formed human who could bring him the peer love he deserves.

But perhaps more than that, it’s also about his distaste of growing old himself. He hates his own aging body and what it represents… a step closer to death. That’s terror. This is Jung’s shadow at play. Carl Jung said our shadow is the darkest part of our personality, so repulsive that we can’t tolerate seeing it. Instead we recognize it in others and point fingers in disgust. My bet is this aging man’s rejection of a peer woman’s body is Jung’s shadow is full operation. It’s also his way of satisfying his addiction to longing. He can’t find love because he can’t love all parts of himself.

When we make judgements about our partners, we must always look in the psychological mirror first.

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FOR COUPLES: Beating the Mid-Marriage Blahs

couple newspaper in bedAre you bored in marriage? Want to bring back the old excitement? Forget the tired advice to spice up your relationship by adding a date night. There are much better ways to understand and combat a lull in your longterm romance.

1. Look at the whole game board. Mother nature is brilliant. She has made a complex war between romance, sex and family. Hundreds of years ago, these three functions were found in separate people, but today, we expect it all to happen with one person. The problem is, if you focus on romance and sex over family, you could create a family dysfunction, and your genes may fall out of evolutions chain. If you focus too much on family, you may lose your spouse. And if you focus too much on sex, you may lose your mind to a computer. The answer is to realize and understand that these three pulls are natural. Discussing them with your partner and finding a balance can bring some relief to feelings of unmet needs.

2. Examine the wall. Is your partner shutting you out because he/she is on the way out, or are their underlying issues that have created a cold fish? Anger, for instance, can be a big killer in a relationship. Or maybe it’s just complacency. Perhaps your partner doesn’t believe they have to water their garden to make it grow. The answer isn’t nagging but it is talking about the elephant in the living room, preferably in the calm office of a therapist.

3. Listen for the alarm bells. Boredom may be one thing, but sometimes a mid-marriage blah may actually be the beating drum of one partner preparing for an exit. How often has one partner been “surprised” by divorce when everyone else around has seen it as obvious. If your marriage has become sexless, non-communicative, and date nights have been replaced by girls or boys nights out, these are signs that one partner is making an exit. Also worry, if someone has a new hairstyle, a new gym membership, or plastic surgery, all signals that one is readying themselves for the mating market.

4. Consider walking out. If distance turns into total disinterest, at what point should you walk away?
That’s the million dollar question. Consider children first. Research shows that staying in a good enough marriage for the children’s sake, could save your genes. On the other hand, a toxic nest filled with chronic fighting, drug or alcohol use, or painful cheating, isn’t a good place for children. Consider your mental health. Consider your financial future. You may be happier as a single parent but not a poor single parent. In the end, this is a complicated decision that can take years to make. And it shouldn’t be made alone. Couples therapy is a good place to hash out all the pros and cons. And you may even find that staying is the best thing for all concerned.

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