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It’s Easy for This Expert to Joke About the Rocky Road to Relationships

Susan Christian is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

She’s Joyce Brothers with a bawdy sense of humor, David Letterman with a head for common-sense advice. She’s as constant as Old Faithful and as unpredictable as an earthquake.

Even if you disagree with some of her counsel, even if you think relationship rap groups are a ‘70s leftover that has overstayed its welcome, you have to admit that Pat Allen is pure theater.

Since 1974, the Newport Beach-based psychologist has been presenting her ongoing comedy act/group therapy session weekly. Her following continues to snowball; between 200 and 400 people show up Wednesday nights at the Costa Mesa Community Center to revel in the fun.

The $5 entrance fee buys a lot of laughs. It also buys a little peace of mind. No, you are not the only person in the world who has fallen victim to an “addictive relationship"--three-quarters of the auditorium confessed to that error in judgment when surveyed at a recent seminar.

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“You know--the kind of relationship in which your body liked them, but your brain didn’t,” Allen explained. “Your body said, ‘I don’t care if I don’t like him, I love him anyway.’ ”

Nor are you frighteningly unique for chasing after the unattainable: “Often women think men are like whales--if it’s lying on the beach and you can pet it, it’s sick.”

And rest assured on this one: You definitely are not the only one with wacko parents. “Ninety percent of the population came from wacko parents, and now we’re being wacko parents ourselves,” Allen said. “Now my kids are going through therapy.”

That unapologetic declaration represents the foundation of Allen’s charm. Herself a recovering alcoholic prone to compulsive eating, the daughter of an alcoholic father, a thrice-married divorcee and a self-described “basket case” until she sought therapy at age 35, Allen selflessly shares--in fact, thrives on--her personal vulnerabilities.

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“Most people do not perceive successful people as being human, and I like to let them know that I am human,” the 54-year-old Laguna Beach resident said after the seminar. “My way of making an impact is with empathy.”

Empathy and wit. “I’m kind of a stand-up comedian,” Allen said. “While the information is very valuable, I couch it in humor to make it more palatable.”

Allen involves the audience by taking both written and oral questions. The following is a capsule of the 1-hour session, minus a few scatological terms. Imagine frequent roars of laughter and bursts of applause throughout.

First question: “Dear Pat, Would you date a man who has been married three times if you are trying to find a marriage partner?”

Answer: “Well, I would, because I’ve been married three times.

“Let’s take a survey. How many people have been married once? (A good half of the participants raise their hands.) Twice? (One-fourth.) Three times? (Five or six hands go up.) Four times? (One hand.) There’s our winner! That woman takes chances. Congratulations.”

Next. “Dear Pat, I’m a Wendy who’s attracted to Peter Pans.” Allen pauses in reading the note to explain those two terms. “Wendy, for those who don’t know, is a woman who gives too much. All the ladies in the room, repeat this pledge: ‘I promise, on my honor, never to give anything to an able-bodied human being, especially a man, unless there’s something in it for me.’

“How many of you women have been with Peter Pan? Wasn’t he darling? Poor but cute. Those big deals always fall through. Can he borrow some money for a new suit? Can you loan him your car? A great lover for about 6 weeks, and then he cuts it all off because he’s afraid he’s losing something if he makes you happy.

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“Most ladies go with Peter Pan because he’s nice to show off to their girlfriends. How many women in here pick men because they’re cute? Deadly, deadly.”

The Wendy/Peter Pan note doesn’t exactly ask for advice, and Allen doesn’t exactly offer any.

A question from the audience: “I told my husband to pack his bags, and he did. And now I’m saying, ‘Oh, no.’ Would it be wrong to beg him to come back?”

Answer: “Well, I don’t know about begging. . . .

“But if you want him back, be sure you tell him you want him back. Don’t let those things go unsaid. Do whatever you need to do, outside of the illegal or the immoral. He doesn’t have to say yes to your proposal. If he says no, move on. You’ve done the best you could--that’s as far as you can go.”

Question: “Dear Pat, I’m a 37-year-old widow of less than 1 year. I’ve been seeing a man I’ve known for 10 years who wants to get married as soon as his divorce is final. Do you think we’re ready for marriage?”

Answer: “Nobody’s ready for marriage. No one is worth marrying. Does everyone understand that? If you marry, it’s because you want to live the life of a married person. It doesn’t mean that the person is worth marrying. You can’t trust their side of the game.”

A man who apparently is somewhat familiar with the Pat Allen philosophy asks: “Could you go over the different stages of dating?”

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Answer: “Well, first of all you’ve got to meet somebody, which means you’ve got to attract them, which means flirting. You flirt some place where there are people. There are a lot of women staying at home praying, but it doesn’t work much.

“Now, when you go out and flirt, flirt with the scary one, not the one you’re comfortable with. You’re comfortable with the kind of person you were with before. But if you wanted that type, you’d still be with them, so you’re obviously ready for a change.

“Usually a relationship grows about every 90 days. The first 90 days are perfect--you have met the perfect person. They don’t do anything wrong, they don’t have bad breath, they don’t burp, they are inhumanly wonderful. The second 90 days are a little imperfect--she doesn’t always wear makeup, he sometimes swears. You start seeing these accidents, but they’re only accidents.

“The third 90 days we know that they have hideous habits. Now we’re getting to the real relationship. If you can handle a person’s obnoxious side, you have a chance to have a relationship.

“Now, the whole thing switches if you start having sex before you even know the person. Sex will carry the relationship either into an addiction or into a gigantic mess. We ladies, especially, melt after we get into sexual relationships. We get fuzzy-brained. We bond to the man, and then we have trouble leaving.

“So your best bet is to know the person intellectually. Talk before you touch. Discuss long-term goals, how often you’re going to see each other and if you’re going to be sexually exclusive.”

Sounding a bit disappointed in Allen’s proposed schedule, a man wonders: “Does that mean you have to wait 9 months before you have sex?”

Allen: “People think I’m saying that, but I’m not. I’m saying, wait until you feel comfortable with this person--and they’re saying the things you need to hear, when they’re sober.”

A woman in the audience makes no bones about her gripe: “I’ve been divorced 7 years, and I’m in my mid-30s. I’ve been to all sorts of singles clubs. Most of the people at singles meetings are dorky. I’m not dorky. Where am I supposed to meet someone?”

Answer: “You probably seemed dorky to them too. . . . Very often when single people get together to meet single people, they are so fixated on that goal that they are not balanced--they are not just living. You will do better if you meet someone at the grocery store buying his food, or at the library, because that’s where people are living--rather than when you go some place and say, ‘Are you the person who’s going to make me happy the rest of my life?’

“But that said, I’ll add: I’ve never met a person who’s admitted they’re a dork or a nerd. We are all nerds--we’ve got nerdy bodies or nerdy brains, we’re still reverberating over Mom taking away the teddy bear.

“If you go out there with the assumption that we’re all imperfect, and then you ask yourself, ‘What is the gem of this person?'--I promise you, you will not find one nerd.”


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