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Book Reviews

Being Single in a Couples’ World

by Xavier Amador, PhD, Judith Kiersku, PhD

Dumped!

by Sally Warren with Andrea Thompson

Lesbianism Made Easy

by Helen Eisenbach

“The Love Boat… life’s sweetest reward… it’s an open smile on a friendly shore… adventure… romance… welcome aboard…” Yeah, right pal.

No. Seriously. The Love Boat, Aaron Spelling’s long-running television romantic comedy set aboard a luxurious cruise liner, is the perfect low-brow metaphor for a big-sky emotion like love.

The trouble with love for many of us is that we tend to treat relationships as though we were fare-paying passengers on Spelling’s Pacific Princess… we think we’ve done our bit, saved the money, paid the ticket, survived falling off the boarding ramp… it’s time to let the sun do its job, and Gopher, Isaac, and Julie will take care of everything else.

The thing is, once the excitement of shuffleboard and Captain Stubing’s disco nights have worn off, love is liable to conk out if it isn’t taken for a lap around the souvenir shop once in a while. And, if it’s left too long unattended it might drift off altogether.

If I hadn’t been so predisposed to the prospect of separation, Mira Kirshenbaum’s Our Love Is Too Good to Feel So Bad is the sort of book that might have saved my marriage.

Based on 14 years of research studying the love lives of ordinary men and women, Kirshenbaum, a Boston-based psychotherapist and author of Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay, has managed to nail down the 10 love killers – from destructive criticism to unfulfilled needs – that threaten the health and happiness of relationships.

Modeling her approach on a U.S. radio gardening expert who, after careful diagnosis, offers callers personalized remedies for drooping rhododendrons, Kirshenbaum invites readers to diagnose and treat their own sagging partnerships.

In most cases, she says, it is the pressures of everyday life – work, children, finances – that opens the door to the love killer, be it sexual depression or toxic buildup from the past. But by focusing on the basics of essential love maintenance – shared activities, mutual support – these problems can be overcome, or prevented from the outset.

Wisely, Kirshenbaum has designed her book to enable one person in a troubled relationship to gain results working on their own. But don’t kid yourself. Fixing a frayed romance is ultimately a joint affair.

In the case of a woman whose husband circumvents any hope of relationship rescue, by leaving her stone cold dead – invariably for another woman – Sally Warren’s Dumped! will help stem the flow of blood.

Warren, a Canadian-based communications consultant and writer, came to grips first-hand with her subject when she was dumped after 19 years of marriage. And she knows her stuff.

Co-authored with freelance writer Andrea Thompson, Dumped! makes for riveting reading, and is something of a rarity in the self-help stakes. Instead of chest-beating its own worth for pages on end, Warren’s book gets straight down to business.

Drawing on numerous accounts from other dumpees, readers are bound to find themselves strangely uplifted by the frank confessions and insights of others. And there’s nothing like a dumpee’s newly acquired grit when it comes to surviving misfortune:

“As soon as you read the handwriting on the wall, start looking after yourself, and start acting like a man would act, basically – cover your ass.”

As well as tackling all the major hurdles of abandonment – shock, humiliation, survival, security, insecurity, divorce proceedings – the true beauties of Dumped! are in the details.

Avoid seeking solace in plastic surgery directly after your husband leaves, cautions Warren. An eye lift, for example, will only draw more attention to your emotional state as it causes tears to shoot forward horizontally.

And, of course, there will be tears. But, if a dumpee should feel her eyes welling in an inappropriate setting, she should look up at the ceiling; it helps keep the fluids in check.

What is most reassuring about Dumped! is its lack of pettiness (few suggestions for revenge are included), and its steadfast determination to move the reader gently forward.

There is life at the end of the dumped tunnel, and it can be a good one, says the author. After all, giving up is not an option in Warren’s book.

Being Single in a Couples’ World by psychotherapists Drs. Xavier Amador and Judith Kiersky, addresses what may strike many as another one of life’s grave misfortunes: Singlehood.

Drawing on years of clinical experience and research, Amador and Kiersky uncover the obstacles that can hinder what should otherwise be a rich and rewarding existence.

For instance, that childhood fantasy of what marriage would be – you know the one, the big house, the picket fence, yadda yadda – can hold us back in later life. Not only because the single person has failed to find a suitable partner to fulfill his fantasy, but also because his early aspirations, say, to live in the country, may no longer jibe with his grown-up passion for big-city living.

And just as we developed a personal marriage script, we inherit a cultural one along the way. According to Being Single, cultural expectations about marriage invariably translate into a kind of prejudice against the unwed.

Hence, the inspiration for Amador and Kiersky’s work: to help readers revise their own scripts, and to discover why they are single, what they expect from marriage, and whether they want to be married at all.

Phew! This is serious stuff, bachelor brethren. But joke as I may, singles are constantly a cause of unnecessary concern for relatives and friends (especially married relatives and friends), and are frequently on the receiving end of negative messages.

As the book points out, the stigma runs deep in the fabric of society – after all, two for one specials were not intended for use by singles.

Even Time magazine was driven to note Thomas Hamilton, the “monster” who shot and killed 16 children in Scotland, was described as leaving his “shabby bachelor apartment” before heading off on his murderous rampage.

Although Being Single’s in-depth analysis is not for the fainthearted or time-impaired – after reading this book singletons suffering from matrimonial inferiority will come away with an intellectual advantage when it comes to future skirmishes on the subject. And this, as any lone rider knows, is sweet victory enough.

Most booksellers agree that the majority of relationship guides purchased are bought by women. Therefore, as women are already quite knowledgeable on the subject, and are proving all the time with every self-help book they buy that they’re committed to making love work, it’s only logical that they should stop roaming bookstore aisles in search of Mr. Right and start hitting on each other.

However, there’s just one hitch. The fine print definitely calls for sex, and if this is a problem, then Helen Eisenbach’s Lesbianism Made Easy is bound to prove otherwise. Not that Eisenbach dwells much on the actual mechanics of the job, despite a chapter entitled “How to Have Sex.” Rather than spell it out, her preferred method is to tease and titillate the reader in a style engagingly reminiscent of U.S. social satirist Fran Lebowitz.

As the author readily points out, not everyone is cut out to be a lesbian. Hating other females, for instance – which Eisenbach assures us a surprising number of gay women do – does not constitute a healthy bearer of the homosexual torch.

And the rare straight reader, who may thumb this book out of curiosity (i.e. a heterosexual male), will no doubt be surprised to learn that a sapphic predilection does not guarantee one a life of erotic exhaustion. Lesbianism, as Eisenbach notes, is a complex business, rife with confusion and false advertising.

But, despite the obstacles, a wily woman will do whatever she must do to succeed. In the chapter “How to Pick Up Girls,” the author recommends the use of decoys, i.e. men to promote your charms to their lesbian acquaintances or even complete strangers. For some reason, Eisenbach swears this works. And if all else fails, they are often quite willing to coerce their girlfriends into sleeping with you (provided they can watch).

Despite its tongue-in-cheek flavour, Lesbianism Made Easy aims to inspire a sense of self-esteem in its audience. Regardless of sexual preference, in Eisenbach’s Lesbos women do not regard their bodies as a constant reminder of failure, they are instead grateful for them no matter how they look.

She is proud and swift when responding to the slings and arrows of prejudice – should someone yell “dyke!” as they pass her on the street, rather than scuttle into the nearest ditch with heart in mouth, she is more likely to reply, “hey, me too!”

And if Eisenbach’s lesbian strikes up a promising conversation with a delightful new femme, she does not go home and immediately assume that the entire incident was a cruel hoax. No. She goes to sleep with a smile on her face instead.