I looked forward to meeting Kenneth for the first time. He had heard of the columns I do for the Cape May County Herald when his friend, Miranda, told him to “Go find the work of Judith Coche. She can help you figure out your problem.”
Speaking with him briefly on the phone, I learned that he felt successful in the rest of his life - he loved his son, who was in graduate school for engineering. He liked the freedom of being unmarried. But he was terribly lonely on weekends when he missed what he called his “habit,” which was to pick up women at the bars in Cape May and spend some time with them until he lost interest.
The first thing I noticed about Kenneth was his strong handshake. About 6-foot, 1-inch, Kenneth presented himself in a way that demonstrated to me that he would have no trouble finding female company.
“So, Doc, can you help me find a good woman? I already have female companionship because I’ve got this terrific black lab named Lucy, who joins me in my bed. So, I’m really not all that lonely.
"But it seems like… I mean, doesn’t everybody need… somebody to love? I’ve been reading blogs telling me that intimacy can keep me healthy longer and extend my life. Is that right?” Kenneth looked intensely at me.
“Kenneth, you’re correct. Intimacy can impact our health and well-being. Dr. Helen Fischer, an anthropologist famous for her groundbreaking research on the neuroscience of love, confirms that good relationships with pets and people improve both mental and physical health, as well as increasing longevity.
"I know of research at the University of Pennsylvania, demonstrating that pets improve the health of those recovering from a heart attack. More than twice as many pet owners with a severe heart attack remained alive one year later than heart attack victims with no pets.
"Intimacy between pets and their owners is a natural outgrowth of owners who need to care for their pets and pets who need owners. In addition, walking a dog created necessary exercise and petting an animal reduced blood pressure. This intimate bond is most evident between a dog and its owner, but intimacy benefits the lives of owners with many varieties of pets.”
“Doc, I’m glad to know that Lucy is as good for my health as I am for hers. So, you don’t think I really need to go find women to be close to? It never occurred to me that Lucy could replace a girlfriend.”
I paused, recognizing that he was asking a question, and the answer was crucial in his life. Clearly, he wanted a good, weekend relationship with a woman he cared about to dissuade him from finding the women he sought who were not likely to bring him the level of sexual and emotional intimacy that he yearned for. So, it seemed like Lucy was necessary for his well-being, but not sufficient.
“Kenneth, I think you understand that you need to do some work to feel success in the complicated process of first meeting and then selecting the woman you want to be part of your life. You’re clear that you don’t need to remarry, but you do want to look forward to intimate human companionship on weekends. Perhaps you would like to use our time together to explore how you might achieve this success you seek.”
Kenneth looked down at his knees and then looked up. “Yup. That sounds right. Can you help me figure it out because I’ve been trying for a long time?” I indicated that I would be happy to try to help.
In the year or so that followed, Ken talked about his failed marriage, his failed five-year relationship with his girlfriend and his annoyance at having to “meet somebody new.” As part of this process of looking inward, he realized that he was less likely to find this woman in a bar and more likely to find her walking on the beach, or biking.
As he became clearer about the woman he wanted to find, he found someone of great interest, and they are currently exploring where to go in their weekend relationship.
And Lucy? Lucy thinks her dad’s new friend is a great addition to the family.
She brings treats and smiles and loves to scratch behind Lucy’s ears. Life just doesn’t get any better than that.
To consider: Could you be deeply satisfied with a weekend relationship? Why or why not?
To read: Odean Cusack Pets and Mental Health New York Haworth Press.
ED. NOTE: Dr. Coche practices clinical psychology in Stone Harbor and Philadelphia. She invites responses through her website, www.cochecenter.com