Lady Gaga and American Relationship Blind Spots [39]

By Dr. Keith Witt
December 12, 2011
flags_110-150x110 People often say America is a celebrity culture, but this seems unfair to me. All cultures are celebrity cultures! Humans are fascinated with extraordinary people everywhere. In the U.S. we just have more celebrity coverage. In previous ages, famous figures passed into legend, like Queen Elizabeth, Jesus, Kublai Khan, and Odysseus. Their lives took on mythic resonance that fascinated and instructed people—largely through storytellers, minstrels and priests until the printing press and widespread literacy hit the world like a comet a few hundred years ago. In our modern information age, such stories erupt quickly as people achieve notoriety from accomplishment (the Beatles, the Clintons, Kobe Bryant), huge falls from grace (Barry Bonds, Bernie Madoff), or sheer dedication to celebrity (the Kardashians). We are especially attracted to celebrities’ love lives—who and how they love. I think this reflects fascination with each other—especially with mythic figures in the big stories around us, illustrated as they are by celebs. Lady Gaga is one of my favorites. Great music, fearless performer, straight from the heart communicator. What’s not to like? I was recently much taken by statements she made in an interview in Vanity Fair. Excerpts include:
  • “I have an inability to know what happiness feels like with a man.”
  • “I think what it really is, is that I date creative people. And I think that’s what intimidates them is not my purse, it’s my mind.”
  • “It starts out good. Then when I’m in these relationships with people who are also creative, or creative in their own way, what happens is the attraction is initially there and it’s all unicorns and rainbows. And then they hate me.”
  • “It’s a hideous place to be in when someone that you love has convinced you that you will never be good enough for anyone.”
  • “When I fight with someone I’m in a relationship with, I think: ‘What would my fans think if they knew this was happening? How would they feel about my work and about me as a female if they knew I was allowing this to go on?’ And then I get out [of the relationship].”
I have no personal knowledge of Lady Gaga, but I like her music and performances, and she is obviously a brilliant, talented woman. What seems revealed in these quotes (perhaps just what she was feeling that day, but also perhaps deeply held beliefs) are stories she tells herself about love—variations of painful patterns I’ve heard from clients of all ages. This Lady Gaga version seems to include:
  • Relationships start well.
  • People (especially creative people) become intimidated by my mind and begin to hate me.
  • My lover and I fight, and leaving seems the best option, so I get out.
  Her conclusions seem to reflect what I’ve come to see as an enormous blind spot in American culture. Far too often, people have repetitive relational experiences, tell themselves stories that explain the patterns, and never think they could create different stories. We don’t do this with physical health problems. If that ache in my back gets worse, I get help—maybe from an MD or Chiropractor—to find out what’s wrong and what to do. Healers might not always be right, but I assume their training, experience and access to special knowledge can help explain my problems and generally make things better. Way too often, when it comes to emotions, sex, or relationships, we come up with a negative story, and keep playing out the same drama without considering that we can probably change the script. For instance, a new story might be, “I can be more able and willing to do what it takes to get back to love (see Blog #35). I can choose partners more able to get back to love, and we can help each other improve our abilities to communicate and resolve issues (see Blogs #36 and #37). Intimacy is like learning to sing and play the piano (something Lady Gaga has obviously dedicated thousands of hours to). Effort and progress can result in natural ability growing to modest ability, growing to extraordinary abilities. This growth mindset attitude—focus on effort and progress is better for development and achievement than focus on success and failure—applied to love could be widely taught at every level to children, teens, and adults. It could also be more widely embraced by celebrities—our mythic role models. Many high profile people don’t have the time or energy for committed intimacy (public lives can be brutally demanding), and often keep the details of personal growth private when they do successfully use therapists or other helpers to resolve relational issues. How often does any celeb—even Woody Allen or Harry Bellefonte who publicly acknowledge extensive years in therapy—talk specifically about personal transformations they’ve experienced through changing relationship patterns? Except in the context of drug and alcohol rehab, hardly ever. I think this is cultural blind spot—not seeing love as a developmental line that we grow on just like we grow physically, athletically, or musically, and where we often need help to grow well. Too often, people assume relationships work a certain way for me and that’s it. Therapy can be enormously helpful in changing destructive patterns. It’s really less about treating symptoms (the traditional medical model), and more about helping people elevate abilities to love and understand. Lady Gaga reaches millions of men and women around the world, and clearly cares about her fans. What if her story changed to, “I used to believe that lovers became intimidated by my mind, started to hate me, and then I had to leave, but I live differently now. I’m more dialed in to who might be a superior partner. When I fight, I’m getting back to love quicker and easier.” On the other hand, given her wild talents, maybe this already is her new story.

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