But didn't she differentiate between going on a vision quest and spending time in a sweat lodge and learning yoga, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, buying a self-help book by someone else who's had these experiences?
"Direct experience is definitely more profound and more life-changing. But I think going to a seminar falls under the heading of direct experience."
Why did Cameron feel that she should go to a seminar to learn about connecting with men?
"I think my quest is how to communicate and how to bring peace and love into the world," Cameron said. "So when it comes to men and women understanding each other, there's that burst of knowledge for me in wanting to understand men and have that peace and community and connection with men. I wanted to learn to honor men for who they are. Also, when I started with "Celebrating Men, Satisfying Women," I was at a place in my life where I was seriously contemplating relationships and wanting to see what it would take to work together in partnerships with men, to create a successful relationship."
("Celebrating Men, Satisfying Women" is the brainchild of Los Angeles native Alison Armstrong. In 1995, Armstrong formed a company called PAX Programs Incorporated, which now oversees the sales of a novel and a CD and operates six seminars in dozens of cities designed to help women understand and appreciate men. "Celebrating Men, Satisfying Women" is also the seminar that I was preparing to participate in.)
And what was Cameron's own history with men?
"Probably you could categorize it as serial monogamy. You know, a series of one- and two-year relationships. I just got out of that four-year relationship recently. And I was engaged once for a very brief time."
And she'd had enough problems with men that she wanted to get help in figuring them out?
Cameron answered, "It felt like if I was seriously contemplating wanting to be in a relationship and eventually to get married, then these tools would definitely benefit me, not only in looking for a partner to spend the rest of my life with, but also just in general. You know, the men I encounter in business, or my patients, or colleagues, or roommates, or any male in my life, I wanted to learn how to honor and cherish and communicate with men."
And that was different from learning how to communicate with women?
"Yes," she answered, concisely.
Could she explain?
"Well," Cameron began, "with women you can talk about ten things at once in a circular motion, and we can follow each other and get back to the point after taking many side trails. Whereas communicating with men you want to stay single-focused and on a single point. That's because men are hunters, and they need to stay focused to capture the deer, or whatever they're hunting. If they stopped to notice the pretty flowers, then they might look up and the deer would be gone. With women, we can chime in and add our two cents and add our experience and validate each other and cheer each other on and interrupt, and it's not a big deal. Women are gatherers; we can notice the details that make certain flowers different from other flowers. But with men, interruptions get them off track."
I interrupted Cameron with my two cents. I told her that most of the characteristics she had just ascribed to women reminded me of myself, even though I'm a man. And the traits she'd said were common to men didn't sound like me at all.
"That's good that you're in touch with your feminine side," she said, and it sounded sincere. "But what I think men value is listening without interruptions. Men usually think deeply and have strong opinions, and their opinions are very much tied in with their values and who they are."
I interrupted again. I was getting irritated at Cameron's broad generalizations. (Was I growing irritated because my male values were being compromised? Was I unable to accept what she was saying because I was too single-focused -- like a typical male -- on a particular implication in her ideas, namely, her stereotyping?) I told her she was reducing massive complexities into neat little categories.
She didn't blink. "There are fundamental differences with communication," she maintained. "With men, they think, and they build opinions, and then they share from that place, which is kind of a very sacred place for them to share from."
But I told her again that I don't do that and that it was rubbing me the wrong way for her to lump me in with others of my gender.
"I don't know how to explain it any other way," she said. "That's what I've learned. To listen to a man without interrupting him is a gift that you can give him."
Which is just a nice value for any person to have when they're talking to any other person.
"I guess you could say that," she conceded. "But I've found that it really helps for me to shut up with men, to hold back, and then they can go deeper with their opinions. That's not something that I've found as much with women."
Fine. Okay. So. What were some other techniques that Cameron had learned from her seminars?
She thought a moment. "I learned that it's good to give a man some transition time between activities," she said. "If he's just gotten home from work, then it's good to give him time to land and decompress and not just inundate him with questions and tell him about your day the minute he walks in the door."
But what about her needs? What about Susan Cameron? What if she wanted or needed to talk about something the moment her man came through the door?
"Then you give him half an hour," she answered.
So wasn't this seminar just encouraging women to be innocuous and acquiescing?
"Not at all," Cameron said quickly. "It's about getting our needs met. It's about empowering women to speak what our needs are in a very honorable way."