Yakking over a bourbon and Coke - Bob Paslay

It is rainy, not raining, in Atlanta Sunday night. A fog shrouds midtown, creating this wonderfully eerie feel as the lights of the skyline are visible, but muted.

I am sitting in a bar with my friends Patrick and Julian. Not a lot of people come out to the bars on Sunday, many of us doing it out of habit or boredom. We are dissecting each other's lives and our own to pass the time.

Patrick had some years earlier escaped a bad marriage and a crazy stepson and so far has not found that special person to settle down with even though he is the marrying kind. Julian also escaped a marriage but has some spectacular grown sons as a reward for that union. For the past year he has been living with a love interest much younger, but that relationship has cooled. Some who know only Cliff's Notes of his life accuse him of being a sugar daddy, providing a place to stay for a lost love interest, keeping the candle when the flame has gone out, deciding that the ghost of a cooled relationship is better company than a quiet empty house. Those who don't know him well don't understand the situation, not accepting the concept that the love can continue long after the passion on the other's part has cooled.

I am not sure Julian doesn't believe that one day the candle will re-ignite and the passion will reheat. I am sure he feels deeply for his now roommate, friend, and cares enough not to hand out the walking papers.

I am the only one of the three who has not been married. I said some drinking sessions earlier that I have been in love a few times, but Patrick and some other friends contend that it is hyper-lust rather than love. Patrick says I reach for the unattainable as a way of not worrying about what to do after the attainment. I say that unless you take a bite out of the apple you can't say whether it is lust or love. I am not sure I am capable of a long-term relationship since as a loner I might feel trapped by the responsibility. Imagine, I say to myself, going to bed at night knowing that the health and welfare of a family falls on your shoulders. It is quite a psychological burden. I tell my friends that in my life I consider it a long term relationship if you buy someone supper and they stay for dessert.

It occurs to me that some seek out the help of professionals, shelling out money to a psychologist or psychiatrist to help sort out their lives. And I must admit I am fascinated by that profession although I have never had any training in it. So thousands across the nation are like me and Patrick and Julian. We provide the same service as a psychologist -- we listen. But our services are free. I feel sorry for people who don't have good friends to listen and exchange observations on your life.

If you go to a regular doctor, he or she says: So what hurts? Why are you here? Does it hurt if I push here or there? You come for help but you are doing some of the work figuring out what is wrong with you. The same is true of mental health. Ultimately with the help of talking and listening you have to make your own decisions, you have to right your life if it is lilting or change it if it is going in the wrong direction. Sometimes like a kettle on the stove you just have to vent, the process of unburdening being a therapy and healing in itself. Friends are interesting animals. You start out with little in common or knowing what you have in common. You tiptoe with your comments for fear of hurting the other's feelings or making them mad. And then over time you feel more comfortable being honest and saying things you would not have before. That is not to say you don't misstep and end up having the friend not talk to you for a week. But like family, good friends forgive and come back.

We are told the holiday season with all its pressures and burdens is a time of deep depression for some. The idea is that when so many are soaring you feel even deeper in your valley. I have read accounts by people like Dick Cavett and William Styron and in those cases of depression you need medication and serious help. But most of us don't hit those deep holes. So if you are feeling a little blue this holiday season or your love train has derailed or can't seem to even get out of the station, then vent with some friends. It is great therapy.

Bob Paslay is assistant managing editor at the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at bpaslay@news-daily.com .