DEAR SUSAN: I feel down in the dumps. No special reason, just a lot of nothingness in my life. I never write to advice columnists, but you and "Single File" seem to have some good ideas. Do you have any for me?
DEAR BLOGGER: The way I see them, some low feelings are perennial; they crop up no matter how many times you think you've weeded them out of your secret garden. These are generic blues: a vague, unspecified unease. Yet low-grade as they are, they make an ideal breeding ground for bona fide troubles and can escalate a simple problem into a full-blown case of self-pity. So, it's important to deal with them at the first sign. ere 'm not dealing with If But But answering your letter takes me into the realm of the shortcut, the simple and effective way to deal with momentary difficulties. The habitual ones require second and third opinions, and sometimes professional intervention. (If you've been hanging around this column for a while, you know how deeply I endorse therapy.)
A long walk in the fresh air or a phone conversation with your parents could dispel your moody blues. Most interesting to me (I've used it successfully) is a technique professional counselors use: runaway thinking, which has you exaggerate your problems to the nth degree. Blow them up in your imagination until they're so far-fetched and absurd even you can laugh at them -- and yourself! Shortcuts give a quick charge, but their effects fizzle fast. The real stuff, habitual positive thinking, takes repetition and discipline. To train your mind into positivism, use the time spent in mundane tasks (brushing teeth and hair, dressing yourself) to give yourself upbeat sermons. The deeper this discipline moves into your thoughts, the more available solutions will be. And problems will lose much of their drama. Give it a try.
DEAR SUSAN: In your book, you wrote about mutualism. Now that genders are crossing over and same-sex marriage is legal, I wonder if you were ahead of your time in describing a gender-neutral relationship.
DEAR BLOGGER: For the record, mutualism is a partnership based on mutual contribution. Adherents ask three things of their relationships: reciprocity, enrichment, equality. The fact that those components are not gender-specific is their strength -- and your strength. Approaching people on those terms wipes out the superficial boundaries between you and them and gives you a broad, rich and varied spectrum from which to make your choices. Unnecessary limitations (age, gender, height, income) fade into oblivion, as they should, while the fundamentals become more important than ever. Not that mutualism is a guarantee of lifelong bliss. Relationships are a root speculative, a jointly ventured stab in the dark of indeterminate duration. But a mutualistic relationship has the best chance for survival because the two people are helpmates, a perspective that releases gender-tied expectations and ends role-playing. Whether it's making love or taking out the garbage, the issue of who does what becomes irrelevant. I predict great things for mutualism. It is finding adherents everywhere.
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