Maybe You Should Talk To Someone by Lori Glottlieb
What does griping about an ex-boyfriend and hating your coworkers have in common? Both of these can be cathartic activities. They might also be tools that allow you to avoid dealing with your innermost feelings. Kinda heavy, right? But these are just a couple of the tactics deployed by characters in Lori Glottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk To Someone when they’re meeting with their therapist (and that therapist when she’s meeting with her therapist).
This book is all about uncovering revelations, particularly the ones that come after trying hard to keep certain thoughts, feelings, or fears under wraps. As the reader becomes more acquainted with the characters, it becomes clear that though they may appear one way on the surface, each person is guarding (or sometimes just unaware of) a multitude of secrets. As the characters become vulnerable with their therapists and reveal their truest selves, the reader discovers Lori is unveiling some observations of her own.
Human connection can be scary, so often, we avoid it.
69-year-old Rita goes to get pedicures because she is desperate for some kind of human connection. She has been socially isolated for about a decade when she finally seeks out therapy.
John went to therapy only to grapple with his insomnia. He spent sessions being rude to his therapist, making inappropriate jokes, and texting on his phone to create a boundary between himself and feeling any sort of intimacy with his therapist.
The therapist talked about her ex with her therapist incessantly instead of grappling with why the end of their relationship was so significant to her. All she wanted to do what chat about how angry she was at her ex.
Though in some cases it might not seem like it, all of these characters ached for human connection in different ways. However, they each found ways to avoid it. Whether the desire for connection is avoided with complete isolation, being rude, making jokes, or talking about everything but the issue, the problems they enter therapy with persisting as long as they continue to use tactics to avoid them.
Avoiding connections can be safe and comfortable, especially after being burned in the past. However, avoiding connection prevents problems from being addressed. Not only that, but connection feels good. Life without it can be empty.
There is always more to the story than we might realize
John reveals that when he was six years old, his mom got run over by a car. Recently he had been in a car accident, and his son was six when it happened.
The therapist is lonely, and becoming fearfully aware of her own mortality, especially since she has started having strange symptoms that the doctors can’t diagnose.
Charlotte, a 25-year-old woman, cannot stop sleeping with “Bad Boys” and drinking, although she is having many negative consequences. We learn she came from a broken home, and now she associates love with anxiety.
On the surface, they appear to be a woman who won’t stop talking about her ex-boyfriend, a 25-year-old alcoholic who keeps sleeping with men who treat her badly and a rude man who won’t take therapy seriously. It is easy to draw unfair conclusions about them. To wonder why John would be rude to someone who was trying to help him. Is he just a jerk? Why can’t Charlotte stop drinking and sleeping around? Why won’t that woman shut up about her stupid ex-boyfriend? ISN’T SHE A THERAPIST?
The compassion piece can come when we realize that they are each suffering tremendously, and we understand that sometimes we can’t fully comprehend what someone is going through. John might seem rude, but he is really struggling to open up. Charlotte hasn’t been able to address the issues that cause her behaviors, which is preventing her from stopping. And the therapist, she is afraid of looking honestly at her mortality and illness, which is terrifying. It is important to remember when dealing with people: not all is revealed immediately, and in most cases, before dispensing judgment, it's best to take a second look.
You are not powerless over your responses, even if you feel that way
Julie, a 33-year-old college professor, was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
The therapist is also struggling with another issue besides the ex-boyfriend. She was given an offer to write a book, with a hefty advance she already spent a portion of. Her agent keeps telling her that she is not going to get another opportunity to write a book: that she must absolutely take this one. Her issue? She discovers she doesn’t want to write it. She views herself as an author, and now she is an author who isn’t writing. She feels powerless over this book she doesn’t want to write.
Both of these characters were faced with circumstances they were powerless over. Julie’s circumstances were substantially more severe, but both women felt as though they were robbed of their opportunity to make a choice. As though life has forced them into a corner and they were out of options.
After processing those feelings, both women decided to take matters into their own hands and make their own choices.
Julie makes the decision to start doing whatever the f*** she wants. She sings in a band when she sees an ad, takes a job at Trader Joes as a Cashier, and she goes on a game show. In the face of her own mortality, she starts living.
The therapist realizes she doesn’t want to write the book, so she won’t. She returns the advance and later she decides to write a book on her own terms.
Hint: It's this one.
About the Author
Lori Gottlieb is an American writer and psychotherapist. She writes for the weekly “Dear Therapist” advice column for the Atlantic. She was born in Los Angeles and attended Yale College and Stanford University. She worked as a commentator for National Public Radio and as a contributing editor for The Atlantic. She has written for the New York Times, Time, Slate, Elle, and Oprah Magazine. She has appeared on television and radio as an expert on mental health issues.
Lori Gottlieb’s book about different patients seeking therapy reveals many aspects of human nature. It teaches us about human connection, empathy, and how we have the power to choose our responses to everything: even in unimaginable circumstances.