Photo: Noel Hendrickson
I've been practicing psychotherapy for more than 30 years, and in my view a great number of people are running around thinking that they are depressed when it may be that they are simply disappointed. Not that disappointment is merely a case of depression lite. It can cast heavy shadows over one's life, often with lasting consequences, especially when it occurs in love or career. As the character played by Shirley MacLaine in The Evening Star (the sequel to Terms of Endearment) put it, "Disappointment has ruined more lives than all the diseases known to man." But it's not disappointment that ruins lives. It is the incapacity or the refusal to deal with life after disappointment.
There are plenty of roads that can lead to disappointment. But probably the heaviest traffic turns up on the one traveled by people in search of love. Consider the plight of Shelley and Franklin, a couple in their mid-30s who came in together to see me for marital therapy. They had found each other six years earlier at a mutual friend's book party. Both were glamorous professionals moving steadily forward in their careers—he as a creative young scholar at a major university who also writes a literary column for the Sunday edition of a newspaper, she with a big job in the media, producing documentary films for a national cable channel.
When their eyes first met, the din of the party seemed to recede and the room to light up for the two of them with a glow of promise. After a few months of Friday and Saturday nights together, they moved in with each other. Within a year, marriage felt right to both of them.
But marriage turned out to be a good deal more than they had bargained for. As singles living together, they'd conducted their lives separately. When they dined together, it was usually in restaurants. Now someone had to shop and cook, clear the table and do the dishes. The garbage had to be taken out every night. Piles of bills mounted. There was the question of who got to sleep through the night and who was on call when their new baby's colic kicked up at 2 A.M. It became more and more difficult to find time for sex. They were both too tired anyway.