The following is a true story, but the people have been disguised.
As a psychiatrist, I spend much of my time talking to people who have been disillusioned and disenchanted by unhappy relationships. I ask them, and everyone else, for that matter, what attracted them in the first place to the person they are with. Most patients take a moment to respond, as if the question had not occurred to them for some time. Most of the time, they tell me their partner seemed to be a nice person, or caring, or funny. Often they mention good-looking. They often go out of their way to add that their partner really liked them. If I prod them further, they talk about having had similar goals and attitudes about children and other interests in common. Yet things have gone wrong.
Sometimes things have gone very wrong, indeed. A loving couple may end up in the courts with an order of protection to prevent one of them from assaulting the other. Stalking is not an uncommon occurrence. I have seen women slashing the tires of an ex-husband, or accusing them, knowingly, falsely, of sexually attacking their children, or of setting out to sabotage their employment. I have seen a man set out to burn down the house where his ex-spouse was living. When I hear stories like that too often, I become discouraged. It seems to me there are too many ways a relationship can go wrong.
So, I would like to report on a relationship that went in the other direction.
The principals: Iris, a young woman who was twenty-nine when I came to know her. An artist.
George, a young man, also twenty-nine years old, who was working at that time as a museum curator.
Henry, a bystander.
The story: All three of the principals attended the same college in Boston. They met at the end of their freshman year. Iris found herself in class with Henry, who was a good-looking guy, but who was interested in sports and politics, and not art, which was Iris's primary and overwhelming preoccupation.
Nevertheless, they were attracted to each other and began to date-and continued to date throughout the rest of college. George was Henry's roommate all four years.
George, according to Iris, was smug and unpleasant. He had a loud laugh and was messy. Also, he did not like Iris. It was hard from the perspective of ten years later to figure out who disliked the other first, or most; but their mutual dislike continued during those years when they were thrown together because of their mutual friendship with Henry.
Then they graduated; and all three headed in different directions. Henry disappears from the story.
A year later, Iris ran into George outside of Grand Central Station. They had coffee someplace and talked about George's new job, working in a museum. Iris, because of her interest in art, listened attentively.
The two decided to meet again. Neither seemed to have any romantic interest in the other. Certainly, Iris, she told me later on, did not have any such interest. George still laughed loudly. Also he ate with the fork in the wrong hand. But they became friends. And, over time, they became close friends.
Their friendship continued on un-changing, for years. They double-dated. When Iris came into New York on a date, usually she slept over at George's apartment. They commiserated with each other during a number of failed relationships. Iris worked in an art gallery. George continued to prosper within his narrow ambitions. Neither made very much money; but both seemed to be enjoying life.
Then one night, according to Iris, they fell into bed together and became lovers. After a number of months, they were engaged and subsequently married. When I knew Iris, she was pregnant. She came to me because of a phobia she had been troubled by for a number of years. When the phobia disappeared, I lost track of her. And the story ends there, as far as I know.
Years later, when I saw the movie "When Harry met Sally," I thought of Iris; but, as I remember, Harry and Sally were always attracted to each other. Iris and George were not.
Some important questions:
- How can a person know someone really well over a period of four years in college, dislike him all that time and still later on discover in him something that makes him desirable as a friend? This was not an example of that frequent experience where someone does not like someone she has just met, but on second or third meeting begins to find him appealing. Iris knew George for four years. Did she not come to know him well during that period of time? The same question can be asked about George.
- How can a young man and woman spend another three or four years together, sleeping sometimes in the same apartment, and show no evidence of a romantic interest that then shows up suddenly years later? I do not think two people, secretly enamored of each other all that time, could restrain themselves all that time. Their feelings must have changed.
- First of all, I am reminded, as I am from time to time, that I do not know people as well as I think I do. People change. They grow, if you like; but certainly they change. Democrats become Republican. Protestants convert to some other religion. People set out wanting to have children, and then change their mind. Or they change their mind in the other direction. Maybe this is what is meant when someone says that strong passions can pull sometimes in quite different directions.
- Did Iris and George live happily forever after? I don't know. It is hard to imagine Prince Charming and Cinderella settling down into the ordinary give and take of married life. Maybe they argue over who gets to use the bathroom first. Maybe Prince Charming goes bald and begins to snore after a time. Maybe they disagree about the children's upbringing. Cinderella may begin to resent the fact that the Prince is too easy-going, and she has to do all the disciplining in the family.
Maybe Iris got tired of living on a small curator's salary. Maybe Henry reappeared, driving a sports car, and seduced her into their old relationship. Maybe George started to drink. I don't know because I always pick up the story in the middle and set the book down before I get to the end. But I hope that, for a change, George and Iris lived happily for ever after. © Fredric Neuman 2013 Follow Dr. Neuman;s blog at fredricneumanmd.com/blog