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Dr. Scrooge and 'Sleepless in Seattle'


I bumped into Dr. Scrooge, the psychotherapist, at the ice cream parlor on my way home from seeing "Sleepless in Seattle." He too had just seen the film, so we discussed it as we sat out front eating our ice cream cones.

I said I enjoyed it, and that nearly everyone else did too, judging by the sunshine on the faces of the people leaving the building.

Dr. Scrooge agreed it was entertaining but he didn't like the lesson it was teaching about love. In fact, for young people he thought the film would be "a disaster."

I disagreed. "Very upbeat," I said. "No criminality, no violence -- and the sweet girl and the attractive guy get together in the end."

He insisted that young people will take the movie seriously, and that it will land many of them on the psychiatric couch.

I said, "Hogwash," and took another lick of my ice cream.

He said, "That's what I mean. It's hogwash -- a ridiculous way of selecting a mate. There's very little chance that that couple will be happy together."

I pointed out that Sam and Annie had nature going for them -- youth, chemistry, love at first sight.

He said, "So did most of the people who are being divorced every day. But it takes more than romantic feelings to make a match. And afterward, when it doesn't work and there's pain, they come in to see us."

I said, "All right, I've told you why I think they might be happy together. You tell me why they might not."

He said, "Look at his first marriage -- terribly co-dependent. Something out of 'Women Who Love Too Much.' I'll bet one or both of them had an alcoholic parent -- or came from some other form of dysfunctional family."

I objected that their pre-teen son seemed to be happy and well-adjusted -- except for the normal sadness over his mother's death.

Dr. Scrooge disagreed. He called the boy a "manipulative schemer" who kept interfering in his father's affairs. The boy needed less of a pal and more of a father, he said.

I expressed admiration for the way the story developed from a call to a radio-show therapist.

That touched a sore spot in Dr. Scrooge. "That Doctor Truelove -- or whatever her name was -- you call that a therapist?" He was nearly shouting. "Discussing a man's most intimate feelings over a radio network -- that's entertainment, not counseling. It's for a Donahue or an Oprah, not for a trained professional. And what does she advise him? To go looking for a replacement for his deceased wife. His Aunt Minnie would have told him the same thing!"

I asked, "What would a real therapist have him do?"

"I would have him develop more self-reliance. Do some superficial dating. Get in touch with his feelings. Look back over his previous relationships. Recall his early psychosexual development. Record and analyze his dreams. Check his shadow, his anima and his Oedipal feelings."

I said I didn't see the necessity for all that because he was the prototypical American male, without any serious hang-ups. And she was the ideal American female -- attractive, smart, pleasant, responsible . . .

"Responsible?" Dr. Scrooge looked up surprised from where his ice cream was disappearing into the cone.

"Sure," I said. "Anybody who holds down a job as a feature writer on a big metropolitan newspaper like The Sun has to have all those wonderful traits."

He grunted. "You call it responsible when a woman hears on the radio about a lonely man on the opposite coast of America and she imagines he is just the right man for her?

"All right, she imagines. And then she uses the newspaper's facilities to locate this man. That's all right too -- I understand that journalists do this all the time. But then to fly from Baltimore to Seattle with the vague notion that, as soon as they see one another, they will immediately know they are meant for one another -- that is simply too absurd to imagine.

"And then to break off a perfectly sane and rational relationship that has already been proven, both in and out of bed, because of this romantic whim -- I would say that Annie is still far too immature for any real relationship."

I said, "But wait a minute. This guy suffers from allergies. He's dull. He's boring. He's entirely predictable."

Dr. Scrooge said, "Wait until she's married to this -- this architect. Do you think he won't become boring and predictable? And if he doesn't have allergies, he may have something worse. He may take up yoga and sit cross-legged for days meditating by himself. What will she do then, listen to another late-night talk show to find another lonely man? I'd say this young woman hasn't yet separated herself from her inner child. She needs at least six months of intensive therapy."

By then we had both reached the end of our ice cream cones. As I rose, I said, "But, Doctor, in spite of your criticisms, you must admit -- you saw the faces of the people coming out -- they loved the movie."

"Yes, I know," he said. He was even smiling. "And in spite of my doctor's warnings about my high cholesterol I still love ice cream."

Isaac Rehert is a retired Baltimore Sun feature writer.

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