I happen to sit behind this one couple at The 5th Avenue Theatre. I've seen their scenario before.
I'm here for a lecture by John Gray, whose book has now spent an astounding 149 weeks on The New York Times' bestseller list.
Quite a success for a work that was scornfully described in New York magazine as "bought by people who don't read books and almost entirely ignored by people who do."
You know the book. "Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus" has become part of our 1990s jargon.
I watch the couple as I listen to Gray, this lecture added on after his first one sold out.
Gray to the rescue
She's sitting all troubled-looking, hands stiffly on her lap. He's awkwardly giving her a neck rub, trying to act, you know, kind of sensitive.
You can bet these two had a very nice argument sometime earlier, one of those wonderful discussions punctuated by, "Maybe we should just split up!" At which desperate point maybe he remembered that ad for John Gray's lecture. Yeah, that'll save his relationship.
And $81.55 for two tickets later, here they are, listening to Gray, at age 44 a one-man advice industry. As he readily tells me after his lecture, explaining his success, "My message is a quick fix." We like quick fixes.
He also doesn't try to disguise his past, like the prominently displayed "Ph.D." after his name. He got a correspondence-course doctorate in counseling from Columbia Pacific University, an
unaccredited but recognized school in California.
Gray also was married previously, to Barbara De Angelis, another relationship guru. When they split up, Gray had to resurrect his career. It's tough to lecture on relationships when your own busted up. He says it helped him better understand what others have gone through.
What else? For nine years, after high school, he studied Transcedental Meditation, living the life of a monk. Meaning no sex for nine years. For a year after returning to regular life, Gray wrote, he caught up fast.
These days Gray is married a second time, raising a daughter, mostly tired from the hours that the relationship industry takes up.
Working on yet another book, he now rises at 2:30 in the morning. Besides the lectures, there are the infomercials, audiotapes, CD-ROMs and Caribbean "Celebrity Cruises."
A simple notion
Newsweek magazine says Gray's success is a testament to pushing a simple notion with relentless energy. The simple notion is that men and women are different.
Men, here are a few John Gray ways to score points with a woman: Listen and ask questions. Give her four hugs a day. Compliment her on how she looks. Call if you're going to be late. Offer to help when she's tired. Tell her "I love you" every day. Don't flick the remote control.
Women, here are a few ways to score points with a man: Don't say "I told you so." When he withdraws and decides to spend time alone, don't make him feel guilty or punish him; guys are like that, they need time alone. Act happy to see him home. Enjoy having sex with him.
I watch the couple in front of me, and they are warming to each other.
Later, in the lobby, I talk to other couples. They universally say that Gray helped them.
Janine Anderson, an accountant, and Bob Jones, a manufacturing engineer, have driven down from Marysville. With his plaid shirt and grizzled appearance, Bob looks as though he should be fishing instead.
But Bob has nothing but praise for Gray's tapes, saying they helped him "communicate" with Janine.
The figure that's often quoted is that half of marriages end in divorce. If "Leave It To Beaver" was the idealized American family, now it's just "Leave It."
John Gray certainly is a blatant self-promoter, but that doesn't mean the message he's promoting is bad.
I talk to Rae and Bill Scott, 54 and 62, respectively. She's a data processing consultant; he's looking for a job after being downsized from managing communications systems.
You work so hard, and get so stressed out, that sometimes you forget about holding each other, Rae says.
John Gray, she says, reminds them about what's important.
In relationship-deficited America, I think Gray easily has got another 149 weeks on the bestseller charts.
Erik Lacitis' column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Friday. His phone number is 464-2237. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org