You have a great office for entertaining, it’s no wonder people can get so relaxed in here.
It’s sort of set up for a drink like this. We have a wine cooler and an espresso machine, we hang out in here.
Is this how we’d typically find you, hanging out overlooking Michigan Avenue?
Yes, you would find me hanging out here in the afternoon—with my wine spritzer!
We came prepared. When did you first become interested in this field?
In sex? I didn’t grow up knowing I was going to be a sexpert. I knew pretty early that I was going to be a therapist because I was the therapist for my family. I was the problem solver and the listener so I knew I was attracted to that but it really wasn’t until graduate school that I became interested in being a sex therapist. I remember I was doing my first field placement and the couple I was working with brought up a sexual problem. I went to my supervisor and said, “They say she has low desire and isn’t interested in sex. What should I do?” and she looked at me blankly like, “What do you mean? They said that to you?” She didn’t have anything to offer. Evidently it was unusual for therapists to ask about their sex lives but I grew up in a family where it was a natural thing, it wasn’t taboo. To find that couples therapists had not been dealing with sex was so bizarre to me.
Do you ever get tired of talking about it?
No. In fact, my husband jokes that the moment he fell in love with me was not long into our dating relationship when I had said, “Look, you have to understand that I am 90 percent sex. I’m writing about it, I’m talking about it, I’m thinking about it, I’m studying it. This has to be something you’re comfortable with.” I didn’t do it to make myself more attractive to him, it was more of a warning. I had learned that if I was serious about a guy I had to give him the speech. But according to my husband, that’s how he knew he was in love with me.
He really hit the jackpot.
I know, right?
Do you have ground rules for dating and sex?
If you’re looking for a serious and monogamous relationship, especially if you are a women, you don’t want to have sex too soon. The rule of thumb should be to say to that person on the first, second, third date or whenever you feel it’s appropriate, “Look, I just want you to know I find you really attractive but I make it a rule that no matter how attracted I am to someone, I don’t have sex with them until we’re both clear we only want to be with each other for the time being.” That may change and you can talk about it but until you know you’re only going to be with them and they’re only going to be with you, you should wait to have sex.
Eva Longoria is producing a show based off of your life. How did that come to be?
It was a weird serendipitous series of events that brought me to her but I have had an idea for a scripted show for awhile because you just couldn’t make up the kind of stuff that happens in my life. I enjoy watching scripted shows myself so I had written one up a long time ago that was based on myself in graduate school. It was this whole crazy confessions of a sex therapist in training kind of thing. I ended up meeting someone in Hollywood through another project, I showed them my script and they showed Eva and one thing led to another. It was actually Eva who wanted to change it to a 30-something divorced mother of two, but it’s still based on my life.
What was it like being a regular guest during the height of “The Oprah Show”?
When I first moved here my husband had taken me out to a business dinner, he had went to get us a drink and when he came back he was mortified because one of his female colleagues was telling me about her orgasm problems. He’s gotten used to it now because it’s at the point where people will come up to him and ask him about their problems, like he’s an expert by proxy. He kind of is! Now he can answer those questions. I don’t mind when women come up to me, sometimes he minds if we’re trying to have a romantic dinner. The kids think it’s hilarious when people recognize me and if they don’t they go, “Um, do you know who Dr. Laura Berman is?”
Your sons are going to have very happy partners.
That’s my mission! I think that’s why God gave me three boys, it’s to raise three men who know how to treat women and know where the clitoris is. Those are my two goals.
Did you grow up in Chicago?
No, I actually spent the first half of my life in Manhattan and the second half of my life in southeast Georgia. My husband was from here and I was living out in L.A. when we started dating, this was about 11 years ago now. I was thinking about leaving L.A. but wasn’t sure where to go next and he convinced me to come to Chicago. It was the best decision I have ever made.
As a therapist, you can’t vent about work the same way other people can. Is it tough to keep it all to yourself?
Sometimes I’ll say to my husband, “I can’t stop thinking about this couple,” but he knows not to ask me for specifics. Sometimes I’ll just get really stuck, I’ll feel their pain and take it home but for the most part I’ve gotten really good at separating it. You have to.
Who do you go to for advice?
I have therapists! Every therapist has therapists. When you’re sponging it all in you have to have someone to wring it out, for sure.
What do you remember most about your first day on “The Oprah Show”?
The first time I went on was probably in ’98. In fact, ironically the first time I did her show was the first time I saw my husband in 20-something years. He had reached out because he was a friend of my sister, they were in the same class together in New York City and our families were friends but my family had moved away and none of us kept in touch. He saw we were doing a book tour and he emailed saying, “If you’re ever in Chicago, let me know,” so when we came to do “The Oprah Show” the first time I saw him was in the lobby of Harpo Studios. He came to watch the show and then we went out to lunch. I remember I had this girlfriend with me and I was analyzing him across the table like, “Hey, he’s pretty smart,” and he caught me totally checking him out. Our eyes locked across the table.
And then the rest was history?
About a month after he emailed me and said he would be out in L.A. for business. I found out later he fabricated the trip out to L.A. [as an excuse to see me again] and that was the beginning of everything.
Does being a relationship expert make marriage a little easier?
You would have to ask my husband, he often asks me why I don’t practice what I preach more. If only it were that easy! It’s much easier to help other people with their relationships than be perfect in mine. I’m far from perfect, far from it but I think that I recognize more quickly when things are going awry. I am very good at taking responsibility for the crap that I’m bringing into the situation.
Where can we find you dining in the city?
I don’t get out that much with the three kids but I always go right here when I’m at the office to Coco Pazzo Café, that’s a good daytime standard for me. Piccolo Sogno is a restaurant I love. Also, there’s a sushi restaurant that just opened in our neighborhood called Juno that has really good sushi.
What neighborhood do you live in?
Looking back on your 20s, is there anything you wish you would have known?
The main thing that I wish all women knew, myself included, is that if you can focus on being a complete person and a really full person with friends and hobbies and a life and you want to meet someone but you’re also blissfully single, that is when you really attract someone into your life that is going to be at that level. There is not a more unattractive perfume than the scent of desperation and men can smell it on you from a mile away.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
Oh gosh, I wish I had heard this question in advance. You know, I think what I would like and what I crave most is girl time. At your age and stage in life it’s easy to get together with your girlfriends but for me it’s hard so when I think about someone I would really like to have a drink with, I’d like to get together with my girls.
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