Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I was an intern at the family agency and could hardly believe my good fortune. Now I was dealing with real people rather than studying case histories in the classroom. Thus began my professional career and much of what I learned in that far away time has remained with me.

What has also been a dividend from that time is a friendship that developed with another intern in that office. In the many years since that time, during the incredible changes in our lives and in the wide, wide world, our love for each other has not diminished. Together, we gained some confidence in our professional selves. We also reveled in being young and carefree.

Although in later years we traveled to faraway and exotic places -- at that time our travel was to singles resorts in the Catskills and Adirondacks, citadels of dreams, that no longer exist in the era of modern transportation.

We grew oldder. We got jobs. We got married. We moved out of the sheltering arms of our parents' homes. We learned how to cook and combine being wives and dedicated workers. Our husbands became part of our close friendship and we added children to our circle.

Our friends moved to Westchester; we stayed in Manhattan. We exchanged visits as often as we could. I remember some feeling of difference in their lifestyle. Their friends seemed more suburban, more interested in their homes, their gardens, their carpools. The didn't travel into Manhattan as much for theatre, museums, and concerts.

But, despite what felt somewhat like their complacency, we remained closely bound by our political passion. We lived in turbulent times -- the Great Depression, World War II, the labor movements thrust towards unions, the left wings -- "We Shall Overcome." We joined in the struggles. We wanted to change the world as our children would do a generation later. We marched in parades and sang songs of protest that still ring in my ears.

We got even older. My husband died. I went to her husband's 100th birthday party. A few days ago, my friend called me to say that her busband died at the age of 104. Until the end, he had been playing bridge, taking art classes, and enjoying life with his partner for 73 years.

With all the memories stirred up, all the feeling the news of a long-time friend evoked, why did I smell the rich aroma of my friend's mother's cabbage soup? As interns we would drop in to her mother's apartment for dinner, which was near our office. Clearer than any other memory was sitting at her dining room table, sipping the soup, keenly aware at some level that all of life, with its infinite possibilities, stretched ahead of me.


Are you a workaholic? For the past years, wives complained that their husbands were addicted to work. Some wives even threatened to end the marriage because addiction to work and long hours at the office left no room for companionship and the pursuit of shared pleasures. As for sex -- "too tired" -- "tomorrow" -- were the common excuses. And there was always, almost always, office work to be completed at home.

But not only wives complained, husbands accused their wives of putting the care of children and household chores ahead of them to such a degree that the relationship became sterile, devoid of time together to play, to talk, to hold each other, to make love.

With an increasing number of women working outside of the home, and still having tasks at home, we are hearing more about work addiction on the part of women, with more frequent feelings on the part of men of being rejected and neglected. Men are becoming more involved in helping with house work at home, while the women of the family sit at their computer -- late into the night.

Of course, high-pressure careers often demand long hours, travel, and intense involvement. The troubled economy may demand more involvement to avoid losing one's job.

However, sometimes the investment of excess time and energy is to meet the workaholic's needs, rather than the job's requirements. People addicted to work see themselves as having little option, stating they have to get the job done, or they feel restless or on edge if they are not busy.

What are some motivations that drive some men and women "beyond the call of duty?" Of course, the lure of money -- "making it big" -- is a common motivation -- but even millionaires are often work addicts. There are other motives, of course -- the attempt to deal with low self-esteem, which is bolstered by always being busy. Another not uncommon reason for being addicted to work is the fear of intimacy -- of getting close to someone else.

There is no AA for work addiction. Our culture worships success, money,and power. We admire people who work hard and have contempt (usually hidden) for those who are idle or unemployed. But, as the technological revolution makes us feel more isolated, there is a new surge of interest n seeking connection, spirituality, and meaning in our lives. Couples need to talk (an important aspect of intimacy) to find their individual path to feeling less alone.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Dinner time! But where have all the diners gone? Dad called that he's detained at the office. Mom's still at the gym. The teenage boys are at soccer practice. The older sister is studying at her friends. Even the family dog is still at the animal day care center.

In previous eras, the family meal was almost a sacred table. Mom was still in the kitchen -- putting the final touches to a full-course meal. The children knew they had to look neat -- their hands washed, their faces scrubbed. No excuses for being late! Whatever subject was being discussed, it was silently acknowledged that father knew best.

With an increasing number of women in the work force, with after-school activities almost mandatory, the chances of the family sitting down together at meal times is markedly reduced. When they are together, often a decision is made to eat out -- there is a whoop of joy -- no cooking, no clean up and those french fries at the neighborhood fast food diner!

Is the passing of the family meal, something to be mourned? Have we lost an opportunity to transmit family values and to bring together the family to offer support and security? Maybe something is lost, but the family meal wasn't always serene. There were sometimes heated arguments and a feeling of oppression by the woman in charge. And what about boredom -- and the wish to get through the meal as quickly as possible and get on with one's own interests.

Of course, families still get together, although surely less frequently around a table. But today, some major change can be observed. With almost no exception, one or both of the children, or even Mom or Dad is on a cell phone, an iPhone or watching a portable video screen. There's more talk to someone not at the family table that there is to someone present. Even couples alone, or a mother and child together, or grandparents visiting from afar, are technologically engaged.

Will the listeners at the other of the cell phone, the iPhone, or whatever new device is developed -- will these connections be the new electronic family? Will the text messages constantly transmitted, transmit the cultural values, offer support and security? The answers lie in the future, a future which will have its own technology, its own questions, and its own search for answers.



2 people reasonably sound in mind and body.

3 large cups of getting to know each other before tying the knot.

1 large tbsp. of learning about each other’s faults and virtues.

Several measuring spoons of accepting that you can’t change another person; it’s hard enough to change oneself.

12 oz. of agreement that you each have – separate interests you want to pursue and some degree of space required that you need to regulate.

Pour in a large bottle of luck, mazel, good fortune, and prayers to whatever God may help you.

Sprinkle the mixture with whatever spices you each like and start stirring in one of those bowls you received from your gift registry. Keep stirring until the mixture is smooth and relatively free of lumps. There are always some lumps and bumps in every couple pairing.

Your oven should have been preheated in the time you were getting to know each other – now turn it on high and put your dish into a hot oven and keep it hot.

Because Alana and Michael have all the ingredients for this recipe and they are both good cooks, I predict a successful outcome for this recipe – which I hope they’ll enjoy for many, many years to come.


About two months ago, I became a great grandmother. Our new family member is a boy, his name is Ariel and he lives in Jerusalem.

My friends congratulated me, commented on how excited I must be and questioned when I planned to visit him. At 95 years of age, the journey to Israel is one I don’t contemplate with confidence – so I have decided against it. The possibility of Ariel and his parents coming to New York in the near future is very uncertain.

There are many stories in history and literature of family separation and disbursement, sometimes never to be heard from again. When there was communication, it was limited and often delayed. But over time, communication improved – the postal system, telegrams and the telephone.

Ariel was born in the era of modern technology. Technology is the way I am getting to know him. I get frequent pictures of him on e-mails and messages about how amazing he is with more pictures. Then there is Skype, which shows him smiling, moving around, interacting with his parents – and its free! I can even speculate as to which family member he resembles. He is already a familiar presence on Facebook. If he weren’t so young, he would probably be twittering!

For me, getting to know my great grandson through technology is not very fulfilling. I see babies on screens, in magazines, on the street, and often admire them – but they are not my baby. I personally get pleasure from babies when I can touch them, hold them, taste them, and breathe in their delicious aroma – I can’t do that with Ariel.

Maybe in a future era of technology, we can touch them, smell them, cuddle them – but that era has not yet arrived.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


It's 1957 -- I am at a posh restaurant in New York. I delight in having my handsome husband sitting next to me. On his right is the first director of the Human Sexuality Center at LIJ Hillside Center. She is charming all of us. Next to her is the couple who have contributed a million dollars to fund the Center. They are our hosts tonight.

Across the table from me are our guests of honor, William Masters and Virginia Johnson. Their work has started the world talking about sex, sex, sex. It is a time at the height of their celebrity. As a newcomer to the field of sex therapy, I can't believe I am having dinner in their company.

My seat at the table faces the wide door that opens into the restaurant. As my glance falls in that direction, I see Margaret Mead coming through the door, followed by a group of about six, all of them in colorful ethnic attire. I think there should be a band beating drums. Dr. Mead moves in a slow, measured way towards her table. She is facing in my direction and notices my smile of recognition. She stops and remarks:

"How nice to see you, Shirley, and in such good company." Masters and Johnson rise to greet her, and they address each other as Maggie, Ginny, and Bill. I whisper to my husband that I can't believe I'm apart of this scene. Is it really happening?

As she moves on, I am asked how I know Margaret Mead. I explain that a few years ago, I was working on my doctoral dissertation. The topic I chose was Husbands in the Delivery Room, a popular practice today but considered radical at that time by both prospective parents and obstetricians.

I wanted to explore delivery customs in other cultures; so, feeling very courageous, I arranged a consultation with Margaret Mead, considered a leading authority in the field of anthropology and revered as a faculty member at Columbia University. (Despite her status, she never became a professor because no women were given that rank then!)

Dr. Mead was interested in my work and became a member of my Doctoral Committee. She opened doors for me in many ways. The one I remember most is the door to her office in the Tower of the Museum of Natural History.

As I told my story that evening, I kept pinching myself (and my husband) that I had become a subject of interest to this amazing group.

Now it's 2010 -- I am one of the few survivors at the dinner party, perhaps the only one left that remembers that bright, shining moment in time for me. I am having lunch with a young student, who tells me that she wants to become a sex therapist.

At some point I bring up the names Masters and Johnson. She dismisses them as irrelevant today. I don't even try to describe to her their enormous impact on our sociey. I reflect on how many young people today probably have never even heard their names.

A few days later, a friend brings up the name of Margaret Mead, a name rarely heard today -- her books frequently unread. My friend describes Mead's findings as inaccurate. I don't challenge her.

As I sit at my desk, I find myself wondering -- What is fame? What survives? What is knowledge? I have no answers -- I decide to go to the gym!

Thursday, January 28, 2010


AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR -- Back to the Future -- Shirley Dlugasch Zussman ‘34

An invitation came from Smith College to attend the 75th Reunion of my class. Images of my college years floated in my mind. I wanted to be in that time zone again. Never mind that I was 95 years old. I arrived in Northampton in May, 2009, eighty years after my first arrival in the fall of 1930. The campus had that unreal quality for me of a dream state.

I was joined by three other members of my class--fit and energetic – No wheelchairs, no walkers, no dementia, yet! All of us over 95, our lives had spanned almost a hundred years. We related to each other as if no time had passed. We were very much in the present moment. Forty-seven other members of our class still survive. Only a century ago, women died at the age of 48. Today, many women are starting a new life at that age in a burst of what Margaret Mead called menopausal zest.

Women’s lifespan today is almost 80 years. Longevity is one of the dramatic changes achieved by women in this century. In the future, it is likely more women will attend their 75th Reunion, even their 100th. More women are going to college today and now outnumber men in both private and public colleges in this country. Another achievement!

How different today’s curriculum is than in our time! Today, Smith women are being prepared to take their place in the worlds of engineering, government, medicine, computer science, and economics—wherever their dreams take them. Our curriculum, with its emphasis on literature, music and art, was shaped to meet the expectations of women to become educated wives and mothers; however, despite the limited career expectations of the class of 1934, many went on to successful careers in many different fields, their early expectations greatly enhanced by women’s changing role in society and the opportunities it provided. Julia Child, our glorious classmate, provides a perfect example of having started out with a domestic skill and elevating it to a professional and world-famous level.

“What was it like to be here way back then?” That was a question asked us by current students who served as our guides throughout the reunion. They thought of us belonging to the Victorian Age. Not so! That age ended at the beginning of the century followed by the Roaring Twenties, the first emergence of the emancipated woman. World War I had brought women out of the house to work in offices and factories and given them a new freedom. The harsh sexual repression of the Victorian Age had begun to subside. It was against this background that the class of 1934 began its college experience. The excess of the 20s was somewhat diminished by the Great Depression which had begun 1929. But the new freedom for women was relished by the students. Smoking was common, its dangers still unknown. Drinking was seen as part of the new freedom, even though Prohibition was the law until 1933.
Our young guides found it hard to believe that some students had sex lives. They knew I was a pioneer in the field of sex therapy--and of them had read my blog—and wanted to know my ideas about women’s sexual feelings and experiences at that time. As I look back, we were not knowledgeable about our sexual selves--about what we needed and wanted. We thought men were the sexual experts and that pleasing our partners was what it was all about. We read books like Lady Chatterley’s Lover and all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels, probably reading these more fervently than our assigned reading.

The sexual revolution had yet to come and the pill had not yet appeared on the scene, although diaphragms and condoms were in use. The great contribution to female sexuality came from the works of Alfred Kinsey and Masters and Johnson. These researchers forever eliminated the Victorian concept of women as frigid – they presented scientifically validated evidence that women were equal to men in their capacity for sexual response and they even reported that aging had little effect on female sexuality.

Although we still have much to learn about our sexuality and its role in our lives, as women we are more comfortable today with ourselves as sexual beings, freer to give and receive pleasure.

So here I am writing this piece on my computer—95 years old—my journey back in time is over—so many changes—so much we owe to the combined efforts of so many women to enhance our lives, to overcome “the feminine mystique.” There will be others in the next one hundred years to carry on the mission in a world that even our fantasies cannot construct. But carry on they will!