Archive for the ‘relationships’ Category

An Open Letter to Young Adults about Sex, Drugs and Alcohol

February 27, 2015


Dear Young Person: Alcohol, drugs and sexuality can enhance and create life. They work. They can alter your moods, change your perceptions and disinhibit you. It’s fun to be able to behave differently. Blotting out discomfort relieves anxiety. Going wild can release tension. Alcohol, drugs and sexuality have always been part of the human experience. Think of them as elegant enhancements to already very wondrous life experiences. The young adults I know move me with their energy, brilliance and dedication to causes and creativity. Even those making traditional choices bring unique voices to their work and professions. When I think that you are the future, I want nothing more than to nurture and support you, paving the way for your dreams. Yet, some of you have taken a dangerous detour. The current style of drug, alcohol and sexuality misuse both deprives and potentially harms you.

Our society, and that includes the people who raised you, haven’t figured out how to talk about limits without going back to a more repressive past. Rock and rap stars make tons of money pushing an image of sexy macho hooking-up druggy behavior but it isn’t real. When real people try and live that way, it usually feels really, really bad. People get hurt and violated. Further, attending high school, college or graduate school for the purposes of wild partying disrespects yourself, the concept of education, and all those people in the world who would give anything to have the privilege of education.

I know you have been given mixed messages about all of this stuff and it isn’t your fault if you think the only way to have a good time is to obliterate your mind. So, if you will allow me, I have put together a few modern guidelines for how to navigate the difficult terrain of drugs, alcohol and sexuality. Here goes: (more…)

Teach Your Children Well

February 26, 2015


I’m not going to link to every reported instance of college or high school partying getting out of hand. Nor am I going to link to the number of emergency room visits that occur every weekend due to alcohol poisoning or drug overdoses; nor every instance of campus sexual abuse. In almost every adolescent community a brilliant and talented student has to be rushed to the hospital each weekend. Or a young woman comes to my office feeling confused and violated by an unwanted sexual experience that arose out of too much alcohol, or having been “roofied.” Pre-gaming and tailgate parties occur openly in our culture. Americans abroad are known for their wild partying.

Recently a private university sent twelve kids to the hospital, two critically ill due to the effects of bad “molly.” The four student dealers were among the school’s brightest students. I’m not going to link to this particular incident or any other because it is too easy to blame individual students or the institutions or the families.

Let’s be clear: I am not advocating prohibition or demonizing the responsible use of drugs and alcohol.

Rather, I’m suggesting that along with a national conversation about campus sexual abuse, it’s also time for a national conversation about how getting wasted has become commonplace for kids as young as thirteen and fourteen. Sexual and alcohol abuse are, after all, related events.  Is it time to start setting some limits on the youthful narcissism and entitlement that makes excessive alcohol use and hook-up sexuality more rewarding than the development of good character?  In ways no one intends, do we not reinforce adolescent substance misuse? Do we cultivate the culture of getting wasted over the development of sober social skills? Consider what I have observed in my work as a psychologist:


How to Date in Five (not so easy) Lessons

February 23, 2015


I’m not sure why exactly it is easier to arm the student population than to simply reinforce the idea that sexuality is an extension of a relationship. I’m not advocating a return to a repressive sexuality. Rather, I’m thinking that the brilliant talented kids who constitute our country’s future might benefit from learning how to date.

I once suggested to a client that she have dinner with a man before having sex with him. She looked at me in horror.

What?” she exclaimed, “Have a meal with someone I’ve never met before? Are you crazy?”

No, I’m not crazy.

No matter how it may be publically depicted, the alcohol and drug fueled hook-up sexuality simply feels awful – especially the next morning when your breath stinks and you can’t find your underwear. Let’s get real. Sexuality without intimacy isn’t quite as fun as the hype would have you believe. Further, you get hurt or hurt someone else when you neither know nor understand your partner.

Finally, by popular demand, I am posting my five tips toward successful dating. In other words, here are some ideas for how to behave before you even think about having sex with someone. Here goes:


Thoughts on Male Sexuality

December 27, 2013


In an age when sexuality has become openly commonplace, both boys and girls find it hard to recognize and value limits. Conversations offer a beginning point, an opportunity to sort out the new sexual mores for the twenty-first century. See my recent post on for some thoughts about helping boys find an honorable sexuality.

The Mothers of Diversity

December 2, 2013


We live in a kaleidoscopic time. Social diversity accompanies globalization and technologization.  We seek shelter with similar others only to encounter difference in every excursion. The tension between diversity and unity has never been greater.  We are unique, equal, and still one humanity.  Building diverse togetherness entails intricate stitch work – small threads of different colors creating a whole cloth. Mothering – as practiced by women, men, artists, educators, scientists and healers of all kinds – can expertly thread that needle.  (more…)

Status Anxiety

October 31, 2013

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A mom stepping down the steps of her third-floor walk-up dreads attending the class parent meeting in another family’s Fifth Avenue doorman building.  An adolescent male doesn’t invite friends to his home because he doesn’t to be judged poorly because of his family’s wealth. Another young man won’t invite friends to his house because he doesn’t want to be judged poorly by his family’s lack of wealth.  A woman wonders what to wear to meet old friends so she won’t appear too rich. A man sits alone and silent at a cocktail party because he feels too poor.

These people experience status anxiety. Mostly everyone recognizes the tight squeeze of stress. Sometimes internal conflicts cause it. Or, dire circumstances can bring about the sweating and the palpitations. Status anxiety, however, specifically occurs when a person feels discomfort around others because of his or her socioeconomic position. (more…)

Binge Sex: How Kids Learn About Rape

October 22, 2013


Is there an epidemic of binge sex?  Is there a week that goes by without a story about teens or young adults drinking way too much who end up in an encounter of unwanted sexual contact and rape?

In response to the recent onslaught of these stories Emily Yoffe’s post urged women to stop drinking. That provoked a reply from Soraya Chemaly who said that the males need to be told to stop binging and raping.  As a psychologist in private practice my experience suggests that Yoffe and Chemaly both have points. Yet blaming the kids doesn’t get to the source of this problem. Nor does the finger need to be wagged at parents or schools. Rather, it’s the people making lots of money off of binge sex who most warrant the scolding.


The I’m not Frank Rich Syndrome: A Clinical Analysis

March 8, 2011


Frank Rich

A funny thing happened in my practice last week.  A number of people, no fewer than seven, lamented, “I’m not Frank Rich.” People are often unhappy and upset when they talk to me.  Sometimes they discuss the impact of upbringing and sometimes their problematic temperaments.  Never, however, had I heard so many people attributing their malaise to not being Frank Rich. What was the meaning of his entering my office as some kind of iconic blank screen? (more…)

Who owns a country? The question of space, place and territory.

March 1, 2011


by Robert Daniels at

Far away, people in countries across the Mideast have been rebelliously signaling to their leadership that they want better governance and more freedoms.  Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo spoke about a world where differences in religion become opportunities to better know each other and to create a shared world where all children grow up with the same dreams. He described his own life as the remarkable production of different religions and countries all within the embrace of a democratic nation.

Like Bruce Mason in Wallace Stegner’s Recapitulation, every sweep of one’s personal life history is also a geographic tour. Place is meaningful. We remember where we first walked atop a high structure, like a tree or stone wall, heard John Lennon’s voice, or realized that we really liked someone (wasn’t it on the campus lawn underneath a canopy of trees?), or where we met our spouses.  Here in New York it is easy to take for granted how important developmental places also span a variety of divergent cultural spaces. Gay, straight or somewhere in between; dark, light or medium colored; scarved, hooded, capped or pony-tailed; there is no New York without its differences and there is no person here who isn’t larger for having made sense of that diversity while still finding a place to stand as one’s self.

In thinking about the question of political leadership and the Mideast uprisings, I only know that the attachment to space, place and geography is largely personal. Territory is as psychological as it is a bordered landscape.   Sometimes nation states and the authorities that run them tend to mistake what is personal and geographic for that which is symbolic and societal. There has been a loud cry from the Mideast upholding the integrity of a people’s right to their own meanings of land and country.

Everyday when I wander about the streets on New York, I am aware of the many problems we face in our country. I am, however, very appreciative of the fact that no one group or leader owns this place.  It really does belong to a kind of cultural multiplicity.  Through a variety of small economic exchanges, personal relationships, or simply sharing a sidewalk or a subway ride together, we create the beginnings of a world where differences present an opportunity to know each other better and to therefore augment humanity’s growth. Nonetheless, it is a much harder life.

Valentine’s Day: Something Real

February 14, 2011


There can be more to Valentine’s Day than marching out to the nearest store to buy something.  There can be more to Valentine’s Day than longing for your partner to behave like someone else. There can be more to Valentine’s Day than wishing you were in a relationship.  Valentine’s Day also offers the opportunity to cherish and honor the fact that any of us feel anything at all. In my work, I often marvel at how much people hurt because they care so deeply.  The intensity of disappointment obscures the underlying gift of a capacity for connection, empathy, and appreciation.

This Valentine’s Day, before heading for the florist or the chocolatier, take a walk outside.  Note the extended daylight, the spindly tree branches curling in on themselves as they prepare for a spring resurgence, and the more frequent and higher pitched birdsong that heralds the last weeks of winter. Amble about your wilderness of stone and steel, or tree and star, and notice life bustling around you. You are witnessing a great wonder, the ability to experience life even in its most bitter vicissitudes.

Reality is the greatest of all Valentine’s presents and you don’t need Hallmark to share it.  Go help someone in need.  Volunteer to tend a city park.  Sip cappuccino  with an old friend.  Take flowers to an elderly or otherwise lonely person.  Photograph the sunset. Play with your dog. Listen to Rachmaninoff, recite Shakespeare, dance wildly in your room to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, bake bread, hug someone, have a long deep conversation over dinner, look through your save box, and most importantly – wake up and notice everything.  For it is there in the fine excitement of the senses that one finds the path toward most authentic love.

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