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04.07.10

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Can't Get Your Relationship Straight?

'Working It Out' primer for lesbians offers good advice, no U-Haul jokes

By Kate McFarland


Relationship workbooks have a bad rap. Often, they're treated like multivitamins. No thanks. I don't need those—this baby's strong enough without 'em! And on other occasions, they're more like a glossy Hustler magazine, shoved deep down in your shopping basket, buried casually among your purchases. Oh, gee. How did that ever make its way in there?

But wait. What about within the graceful dynamic of the femme-et-femme relationship? Well, with the publication of Working It Out: A Lesbian Relationship Primer (BookSurge Publishing; $19.95), it turns out, the stigma still stands.

Written by Sonoma County psychologist Dr. Frances S. Fuchs, Working It Out looks like "Hooked on Phonics" for your gay relationship. There are writing exercises, fill-in-the-blank exercises and, yes, even matching games. Little black-and-white cartoons dot the pages, aiming to convince readers that dissecting every aspect of a relationship isn't work—it's fun! As a friend said, flipping through its chapters, "I would have to really, really love someone. Like, down-on-one-knee, marry-me-today kind of love someone, to even think about reading one of these with them. Except maybe if she were Scarlett Johansson."

And there the irony lies. Chances are, when you need help with your relationship, it's not going to be while you're in a state of infatuation with Ms. Johansson.

The snicker factor of such books isn't completely unjustified. In fact, "Exercise 19—Dealing with Differences: The Talking Stick" might be enough to make you disregard any potential open-mindedness you had to begin with. The idea is simple: whoever has the "talking stick" may speak, some variation of which almost all of us have encountered by the time we complete grammar school. Readers then take turns expressing their feelings in "I" statements; however, one of the suggested handy items to use as your talking stick is a tampon. I statement: I feel stupid sitting on the couch talking about my feelings while holding a tampon in the air.

However, Working It Out brings something more than cynical humor to the coffee table. Even in a self-help-laden book world, lesbian relationship books can be hard to find, and Fuchs manages to succinctly cover everything from coming out and finding a potential partner to fighting fair and the big "I do." And while it can dangerously border on stereotyping at times, it is thankfully without mention of a U-Haul.

In the end, the most noteworthy part of the book may be Fuchs herself. The granddaughter of the influential psychologist Dr. Carl R. Rodgers, author of The Handbook of Person-Centered Psychotherapy and Counseling, Fuchs is a senior associate at the Couples Center Educational Institute in Santa Rosa, and her sensibility and kindness are felt throughout the book. You get the feeling that not only does she really want to see relationships work, but she believes they can.

Unlike many self-help books, Working It Out also manages to avoid being preachy. There is no know-it-all, condescending vibe to her writing, and she waxes philosophical via anecdotes instead of telling the reader what to do. And if you do end up on the dreaded couples-therapy loveseat, Fuchs seems like just the woman you'd want across from you. So take heed: this book may be purchased in jest or idle curiosity, but it just may end up becoming your bedside companion.


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