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.