Loneliness, Compassion, and “What Women Want” (2000)

In a recent conversation a touchy subject came up: what happens when our ego-walls are so thick we cannot break them, even if they form a trap, like a car with locked doors tumbling off a cliff. This thought evoked a reader response:

This completely describes my friend who fell down that hole. Sadly, no compassion seemed enough to fill his pain. If he could not have total victory he could not feel his own worth.

In the end, he took his own life.

Holidays, when everyone else in the world can seem to be having a wonderful time, can make isolated people feel even more alone. And that loneliness can lead to self destructive behavior. People can lose “faith” that there is anything on the other side of this pale abyss. Why go on?

The “why” is that there is joy in the world, if we can learn to sense the wind and the tide of life and align ourselves with them. What, then, is the “how?” There are many, and a small moment in the movie “What Women Want” (2000) touches on this.

Nick Marshall is a swinging ad executive with the world on a string. He is fast-tracked but shallow. Raised by his Vegas showgirl mother, he understands the surface of life very very well.

When his big promotion goes to Darcy McGuire (Helen Hunt) he is resentful. But then a near-death experience gifts him a miraculous gift: the ability to hear women’s thoughts. It changes everything.

At first he is frightened by is, then he revels in it, stealing ideas from Darcy and claiming them as his own. Seducing women simply by knowing exactly what they want him to say and do. He’s on top of the world! But he also realizes that the women at work consider him to be sleazy and superficial.

His emotional distance from his own daughter, the fact that his own therapist dislikes him, and the realization that he has used his psychic abilities to manipulate people he cared about all begin to stress him.

And then he realizes that his disregard of Erin, a secretary who had wanted to work in the firm’s creative track, has added to her burden of isolation and despair, and she is considering suicide. He has felt her anguish, her shattered hopes and dreams, heard her inner dialogue (“would anyone even notice if I was gone?”) and in his first real act of unselfish kindness, reaches out to her with appreciation and opportunity.

It is an awkward scene, him showing up at her apartment.

Is he there as her boss, with criticism? As a man, seeking sex?

You can see the confusion in both of them, trying to figure out what this means. The old Nick might well have used this moment, manipulated her perhaps into bed, and “scored.” But that’s not what this is about. In saving her, he saves himself. A small moment, but one in which a shallow, facile, manipulative human being becomes an aware adult capable of finding, winning, and accepting true love.


It’s a small scene in a fun movie, but it stayed with me. Nick is alone internally, but seems to have the world. Absent some massive shock, he was on his way to an endless string of superficial relationships, and the chance to miss one of life’s greatest gifts: true love. Surrounded by friends, he would find his “successful” life to be profoundly dissatisfying.

Erin has the same issue, but because she isn’t a dazzler, she seems invisible to the world. And that “being unseen” shrivels her.

That single moment of human contact was the sort of moment that changes lives.

It opens the door to our real emotions, connects us more deeply with our hearts, and opens the door to the possibility of real intimacy — not with THAT person, necessarily.

There is rarely a straight path to life’s most profound experiences .

We have to be who we are, living our lives with integrity, joy, and love, make OURSELVES happy in the “being-ness” of who we are…and then we will recognize others of the tribe of awakened human beings, and they will recognize us.

But…you can’t fake it. That gift, the simple gift of compassion and caring, the “I see you!” gift, is something you give to yourself when you give to others.

If this holiday season you are alone…if you feel at the end of your resources, you might remember the people who are even more isolated, more alone than you. Give to one of them, and you brighten the world. Visit a retirement home. Serve at a homeless shelter. Invite a widow or widower to have Thanksgiving with you. Seek to serve, taking pleasure in the GIVING, seeing that giving as serving yourself. Find joy in service, and no one will ever be able to deprive you of joy: there is ALWAYS someone in life with less than you, just as there are always people with more.

Once you see the path, the “road of trials” that life is for all of us, all there are are companions. When we are depressed, that is fear with no one to fight and no where to run. Our emotions are controlled by our focus. The instant we take that focus off ourselves, we shift. If you can find that place that is the origin of love, and become a source of love in service to the world…at that moment, we can give Thanks for all that life is, and our days within it.

Connect with your own soul, and you may be alone…but you’ll never be lonely.

Give yourself the gift of love.



(By the way: the answer to that implied question: “what do women want?” is devastatingly simple: its the same thing men really want: to be human beings, having a joyful human experience. And…to be SEEN as human, by other humans. We need tribe. And the most important person to see you as human…is you.)

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