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Mark Goulston, M.D. Headshot

The Marilyn Syndrome

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"When everybody loves you, but nobody knows you, you can die of loneliness." -- NY Daily News interview

Actually that is not exactly what the exquisite women told me 25 years ago whose beauty was only exceeded by her intelligence... an intelligence that nobody cared about.

What she actually said was that Marilyn Monroe didn't die from suicide. She died from loneliness and emptiness. And when the pain of both of those and the fact that anything or anyone she connected with not only didn't make that pain go away, but often made it worse, connecting with death as a way to stop the pain became appealing.

"I knew I belonged to the public and to the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful, but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else." - Marilyn Monroe

She went on to tell me about her own living hell as someone that the world would think had it all. She said:

"Imagine this. Unattractive -- in both looks and personality -- women are jealous and want what you have and resent you for having it. And powerful but insecure, undatable-in-high-school men want to possess you for how you make them feel and how you help them get even with all the jocks and popular people who made them feel like pariahs."

She then became angry and said:

"I may not be a genius, however I'm not stupid, but nobody knows or even wants to know what I think. It's gotten to the point where unless I have a particular role I'm supposed to play, I don't look people in the eye anymore. I can't stand to see what way they are trying to use me to fix something in them or just to show me off."

She said that she used to look people in the eye with a look that said, "You know you don't really care about me, I know you don't really care about me, and now you know that I know that you don't really care about me." But over time she told me that it was an empty victory and still did nothing to take her pain away.

A shameful confession from me was that I had to admit that although I greatly appreciated her intelligence (and I'm betting she might have been a genius), I also appreciated the beautiful package it was wrapped in.

What's a modern day Marilyn to do?

I don't have a very good answer. Looks seem so inordinately important to so many people, whether it is the woman who wants to have them or the man who wants to possess and show off the woman who has them. My only suggestion is to delay having the other person see you as long as possible and have them get to know you for as long as possible, before they actually see you. And then when they meet you and realize they have hit the lottery, try not to be too hurt or offended, unless they suddenly lose interest in anything other than how you look.

There is something else you might try. Surround yourself with people who see the inner beauty in you and value it so much that they don't even notice how you look.

I have started doing dinners for women who are amazing and who inspire each other and who I am blessed to know because I serve as kind of "the big brother" they always wanted. Being a loving, strong, stand up for you, stand by you, stand up to you, "big brother" helps each of them be the best they can be... which is better than any of the men I know.

My suggestion to you is to identify people (male of female) who see mainly the inner beauty of others and build relationships with them. I am currently drawn to these women, because I am drawn to people who are not easily seduced by power, ego and greed and that seems to apply to fewer women than men.

In the 1970s I lived in a commune (yes, remember those? and yes, I am that old) in which one of my roommates was a very plain looking woman with an incredible heart of beauty and another was a blind man. Over time it became clear to him how beautiful she was and so they fell in love. In exchange she also helped him decorate his room always asking her what some picture or piece of furniture looked like and where it looked best.

One resource you might try is Business Women Rising, where I am about to serve as "Resident Big Brother." The support that organization give women is amazing.