I’m talking to a good friend who lives in another city.
We speak every couple of weeks, and since we’ve known each other for over twenty years, we get to the heart of the most important subjects pretty quickly: she asks how my book sales are doing (could be better, but I just wrote something for MORE Magazine online), whether I’m still smoking (only at parties), and what I made for dinner (we foraged for food, meaning we had olives, guacamole, pita chips, and Laughing Cow; it was not a cooking night).
I ask her about how the preparation is going for her upcoming gala fundraiser (she runs a not-for-profit in the Southwest), I ask how her search for a nice guy is going on match.com (she broke up with a guy I still like—not that I’m bitter—and is checking out the rest of the world), and I ask how things are going with her shrink (unlike me, she’s fairly new to therapy).
In particular, I ask her whether she’s told her shrink, who happens to be a man about five years older than she is to whom she is deeply attracted, that the real reason she broke up with the last guy is because they had really lousy sex.
“We really don’t talk very much about sex.”
“You go see a shrink, and you don’t talk about sex?”
“There are lots of other things to talk about. You remember my mother, right?”
“Yeah, so don’t they end up being the same conversation? How you can you not end up talking about sex when you’re talking about your mother? She was the most sexual creature I ever met. She made Mrs. Robinson look like Mother Theresa.”
“Well, to be honest, I’m uncomfortable talking to him about sex. I’m afraid he’ll think I’m a slut. I want him to think I’m smart. I want him to be intrigued by my mind. And I want him to think that if he slept with me, he’d be doing something special. Like he wouldn’t have to take a number, like at a bakery—or at Panera where they call your name when your order is ready. So no, we don’t really talk about sex. We talk about the news.”
“You’re paying $135 an hour to lie to a stranger?”
“It’s not like I don’t have insurance.”
“Okay, but you have a co-pay, right? Even if it’s only fifteen bucks, you’re still a very busy woman, and you have to travel to get to this appointment, make space in your life, make space in your head, and what you’re doing is sitting there, inventing this entirely constructed character, so that this guy who you otherwise do not know will think of you a certain way and offer you—what?—approval, advice, permission? That he’ll sign the piece of paper that you’re not nuts?”
“No! He’s got to sign the paper that says I am nuts, or else I can’t come back after twenty visits.”
“Oh, that’s gorgeous. That’s really healthy. I can see that this whole therapy thing is doing you a lot of good already.”
“Stop. You’re making me laugh. I’m spitting out my coffee, and if I get it on my shirt I’ll have to change before I go to today’s session.”
“Oh, because you can’t go in looking like a person, right? I bet you dress up, put on a little bit of makeup, choose your earrings carefully? Try to appear somewhere between Angelina Jolie from Girl Interrupted and Angelina Jolie from Tomb Raider?”
“You’re not my friend.”
“What if you went in and told the truth about yourself? What if you went in and said, ‘You know there are a couple of things we really need to talk about before we go any further. You probably already know that I have a crush on you, and if you don’t then you’re fired, because I think it’s probably pretty obvious. All questions of transference aside, I think we need to air this piece of linen before it becomes any more of my dirty laundry. And I also need to be able to talk to you more freely about my sex life, how I feel about the men that I’m meeting, how I feel about my own body without my being afraid of your dismissing me as merely another neurotic, overly-romantic, narcissistic woman of a certain age.’”
“But then he won’t like me anymore.”
“That’s the only way he has a chance of liking you. He has no idea who you are, not as things stand. You’ve presented this version of yourself that doesn’t do justice to all the complicated, heart-breakingly humble, real, serious, generous, wounded parts of yourself. And covering up your real self might be something you need to do with most people—you can’t go into work and talk about how you slept with somebody after the first date, or how the greatest pleasure you got out of meeting one guy was realizing that he had gone out with an old enemy of yours. But that is the kind of thing you need to talk about in therapy, because it’s important and very few other people are going to have the kind of concerned disinterestedness that you need to help you figure out what’s going on and how you can keep making your life better.”
“That sounds like so much work.”
“So is getting someone to fall in love with some version of yourself that you’re going to have to unravel, especially when that person’s entire professional life depends on not falling in love with you.”
“You’re a lot of fun today.”
“You know I love you, right?”
“Yeah, although I can’t say I’m grateful.”
“That’s fine. I’m grateful enough for both of us.”