Session 6

It is 1998. I am in my bedroom around 11:000 at night, and my pager buzzes. I dial her number.

“Hey,” she says.

“Hey.”

“Are the boys asleep?”

“I think so.”

“Good. I have a couple of things I want to talk to you about.”

“Okay.”

“First, I got a new job! I interviewed over at Cosmetic Associates and got it. It pays more. I gave my two seek notice yesterday, but since we’re overstaffed right now, Dr. Ibis told me I could go ahead and start over there Monday if I want to. He was totally cool about it, said if I ever needed a reference or whatever he’d give me one, or that I’d be welcome back if things didn’t work out.”

“Well, that’s exciting. Good for you.”

“The other thing is… I don’t think we should see each other anymore.”

“Oh. Okay.”

She’s waiting for me to ask why, but I’m not going to do it.

“The truth is, I still have feelings for…”

“… your ex, I know. It’s fine, really. I’m glad you’re able to admit you have feelings for him… well, for anybody, really. You are a loving person at heart, I know it.”

Silence for a moment, before she breaks into “Tuesday, did you tell that little girl I would take care of her, and make sure everything was okay? I thought it must have been you.”

“Yes, that was me.”

“That was very sweet.”

“You’re great with kids, I’ve seen you.”

“She was adorable. She just clung to me the few minutes her mother was in with the doctor.”

There are a few more moments silence.

“You aren’t making this easy, you know,” she says suddenly.

“How? I’m not even arguing.”

“Because you’re so nice to me, even though I’ve told you I don’t love you. I haven’t been nearly as nice to you. It isn’t really fair.”

“Look, you’ve always been totally honest and upfront with me, and that means a lot. You and I are just not… we’re not ‘destinations’ for each other, not stopping places. It’s no more complicated than that. We each move on.”

More silence, which I break this time.

“Look, Lisa — I am very fond of you,” I say. “I hope you’ll be happy with your new job. I know you’ll do great. Although, honestly, I won’t miss your horrible taste in music.”

She laughs.

“Great. We break up, and only then do I get my first laugh out of you. You know what else is ironic?”

“What?”

“That we break up just as it becomes cool, workwise, for us to be seeing each other.”

“Wasn’t that part of the attraction?” she asks.


“… oh, and one last thing: the woman I was seeing broke it off.”

“And how are you feeling about that?”

“Relieved, honestly. She never lied to me – and it wasn’t my fault if I was lied to in the past – plus, we just weren’t right for each other. I am as worthy of love as anyone, I know.”

“Do you mean that, or is that part of the exercise I gave you?”

“Some of both, I think. Which is pretty damn good.”

“How are things at work?”

“Better. I’ve been able to focus better.”

“Well, truthfully, even though you have a session left, I think we’re done here. Unless there is something else you feel like you want to get done, I think you have what it takes to deal with what you’ve got.”

“Thanks, Doc.”

“Keep in touch. Let me know how things are going.”

He claps me on the shoulder as I pass back through the door into the lobby. The girl and her mother are back, and the girl, who appears to be about nine years old is asking the new receptionist where Lisa is.

“You must be LaTonya,” she says. “Lisa’s gone to work somewhere else, but she left some things for you,” she said, bringing out a stack from underneath the counter.

On top of the stack was a card. The girl opened it, reading it carefully. She smiled as she read.

Next was a package she opened. It contained a diary. “She said she writes in hers every night,” the girl said to her mom.

I moved to the side of them, telling the new receptionist I need to cancel my last appointment.

“Hello, there” the mom said.

“That’s quite a daughter you have there,” I said, and they both smiled at me.

I turned to leave. It was time to get on with my life.

Session 5

“… I’ve had what seems like hundreds of female friends, ever since I was in my mid-teens.”

“Why is that?”

“Two reasons, I think. The first is that I genuinely like women. They just think… differently. I’ve always enjoyed the way different people process the world. I like variety, genuine difference, people who, frankly, don’t see things the way I do.”

“What’s the other reason? You said there were two.”

“Oh, yeah. The other reason I have been friends with so many women is that I figured out years ago that if I wanted to be around women it was the only way. I went for years intensely desiring girls but being rejected at every turn. I concluded I was not attractive, and that friendship was the best I could hope for.”

“But you’ve been with women since then, right? You are with someone now… sort of?”

“Yes, but she wouldn’t be with me except I spend money on her.”

“Do you like her?”

“Yes. She’s a very, very good person at heart, kind of humorless, but a really good person. She got hurt, really badly, by a guy she was really, really in love with. He cheated on her, and dumped her, and she still loved… or loves him. She insists she doesn’t love him or anyone, and that love is all just bullshit. She’s shut that part of her down. She likes sex, she says, and she like things. She likes having company when she wants to have it. And she likes being around a man who would never hit her, frankly.”

“I don’t think you heard my question. Do you like her?”

Sigh.

“Not really, not as someone to date. She’s offered me an alternative to getting my heart broken again. You’ve got to understand, my ex didn’t love me. She never wanted to be with me, she just was with me, because she thought being attracted to women made her ‘abnormal’ and I was a chance for a ‘normal’ life. And she felt sorry for me, coming out of all those years I was really sick.”

He waited before speaking.

“Your ex never loved you? So no one can love you?”

“That sounds about right, yes.”

He got up from behind his desk and pulled a picture off of the shelf. It was of him, his wife, and their two kids, both in their teens.

“Is this what you want?”

“I already have kids,” I said.

“No. Do you have an image in your head of what a family or love is supposed to be? Not this image, but this will do as an example. Close your eyes, and tell me what love looks like. What the love you want looks like.”

I close my eyes and think. I see Lisa as I last saw her, peacefully sleeping, totally at her ease. And I think, I could love her…

… but then, I think about that long, silent car trip we took, where we couldn’t think of anything to talk about. How bored she was with my stories, and the awful music she played on the radio…

What am I doing? What am I doing with her? She does still believe in love, she loves him.

I’m just providing her an alternative.

I open my eyes. “I don’t know. I don’t know what the love I’m looking for looks like.”

“Now listen very carefully to me,” he says. “We only have a few sessions left. I want you to think about something this week, and I want you to do something.”

“Okay,” I say.

“First: it is not your fault you were lied to. Repeat that.”

“It is not my fault I was lied to.”

“I want you to repeat that to yourself, every day, at least twice a day.”

“It is not my fault I was lied to. Got it.”

“Secondly, I want you to understand something, and I mean really understand and accept it. That is ‘you are as worth of love as anyone’.”

“I am as worthy of love as anyone.”

“I don’t know what your deal was when you were younger, but believe me, you are as worthy of love as anyone. I know women are attracted to you. Hell, weeks ago, when you first started coming, our freaking receptionist said she thought you were cute, to one of the other doctors. And she has guys falling all over her.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really. I want you to repeat that last bit as many times of day as negative thoughts come into your head.”

“I will.”

“Anything else this week –?”

“Yeah, one thing. I have met a woman I’m really, really attracted to. I’m staying away while she’s going through a divorce, though.”

“Do you think the attraction is mutual?”

I looked out the window, at where a mom was walking up to counseling center, holding the hand of her pre-teen daughter.

“Yes, I am as worthy of love as anyone.”

He smiled. “Get out of here. I’ll see you in a week.”


Closing the door, I see her a few feet away, talking to one of the nurses. She doesn’t look up, and since I’m already prepaid and my next appointment is set, I walk out the front door. Just outside, the woman I saw earlier is hugging her crying daughter.

“Do you work here?” the woman says, seeing me.

“No. I’m a … um, client.”

“Could you tell her it’s okay? That they don’t hurt people?”

The girl is hugging her mom, and her face is blotchy with tears. I sit down on the step, a couple of feet away, so the girl and I are more at eye level.

“They are very sweet here, very gentle. If you ask at the desk, Ms. Lathermore will help you. She’s the really pretty woman with dark hair and glasses. She’ll introduce you around and show you the place before you meet the doctor. The doctors are really nice, too.”

The girl stares at me as her mother strokes her hair.

“What is her name?” the girl asks, tremulously.

“Ms, Lathermore — Lisa is her name, she’ll want you to call her Lisa. She’ll take care of you, I promise.”

They turned to go inside, the mother looking back over her shoulder at me. “Thank you,” she mouths.

“Lisa will take care of you,” I say, turning away.

Session 4

I’m riding in the passenger seat of a van, four hours away from our destination. The woman driving is a co-worker; we’re headed to a university to talk to college students about coming to work for our company.

“How have you been since the divorce?” she asks.

“Not … not terrible. Okay, I guess. The boys are okay, which is the main thing.”

“Did you end up using the visits?”

“Yeah, they’ve been helping. I think I have four sessions left… or maybe three.”

“What have you learned?”

“That the divorce has left my priorities kind of screwed up when it comes to relationships… and that I try to buy affection.”

I look over at her. She’s more than halfway through her pregnancy; she volunteered to drive because her vehicle is so much more comfortable than mine.

“How many kids do you and Adam plan to have?” I ask, changing the subject.

“We plan to have three, which means one more after this one. We’re so excited.”

“How are you feeling?”

“So much better this time, there’s no comparison.”

Silence for a full minute.

“What does that mean, ‘buy affection’?” she asks.

“I guess it’s a pattern he picked up on.”

“Have you dated anyone since the divorce?”

“Oh, yes, I went on a date with a girl from my son’s day care who turned out to be way, WAY too young; then I dated Karen who interned here last year…”

“Seriously? You and Karen? How long?”

“Six weeks maybe. I don’t think either of us was really feeling it. And now I’m…”

“… now you’re what?”

“Not really seeing anyone to speak of.”

“Have you met anyone you really like?”

Truthfully, the answer was “yes”. A woman I had met who was going through a divorce of her own. But my rule was, “Still married = off limits,” a rule I thought wise to keep in place. As I sat thinking these thoughts, she seemed to guess some of it.

“So there is someone?”

“Yes, but she’s going through a divorce, and I don’t want to go there. Once that’s final though, I’d like to… although I doubt she’d be interested…”

“Well, that made absolutely no sense. If you like her, ask her out. That’s how this is supposed to work.”

I thank her for her advice. “Rejection has always felt worse than acceptance feels good,” I say, as she turns on to the state highway.

It strikes me though: it never even occurred to me to mention Lisa.

= = = = =

“How are things going with your mystery relationship?” he asks me, about thirty minutes into our session.

“She never laughs,” I say. “Nothing I say strikes her as being funny.”

“And that’s important to you?”

“Yes, I suppose it is.”

“Do you want to know why I think that is?”

Usually he tries to get me to explain myself; if he is going to cut through the questions and do it himself, I’m certainly not going to stop him…

“Because you want her to be with you for the delight being with you brings, not for what you give her. You want LOVE. Not barter. Not even barter that results in sex; you want love.”

“Love?”

“Yes, love. That thing that men supposedly don’t want. Look, your ex-wife left you because she realized she was a lesbian, but she did love you. She’s never wanted anything from you, no alimony, no money, and there’s been no real rancor over the divorce. I think there’s a part of you that’s trying to assert control: you think if you are in a relationship where you are paying for everything, you have control. But you hate it, because that’s not you.”

I stare at him, dumbfounded. “Damn, Doc, people told me you were good.”

= = = = =

The boys are asleep in their rooms; I’m reading an old book in bed. Her home number pops up on my pager. I pause a moment before calling.

“Hello,” she says.

“Hi.”

“Did you want to get together Friday? You said the boys would be at their mother’s.”

“Yes,” I say, more or less automatically.

“Thank you for the spa package last weekend, that was heavenly. Do you mind paying my rent this month? I’m a little behind.”

A pause.

“No problem,” I say.

Session 3

“You seem perturbed.”

“I am. I spent a small fortune this week, money I don’t even have, buying jewelry for this woman I’m seeing. And she only really kind of hinted at wanting it.”

“Yes, that stuff is quite popular. Miss Lathermore,  our receptionist, just got a bracelet she was showing off to everyone a few days ago. The nurses were oohing and ahhing over it. I don’t really get jewelry. Luckily, Mrs. Ibis has never been that big of a fan.”

“I’ve been thinking… you might be right about me trying to buy affection; I think you’re on to something. What can I do about it?”

“Are you ready to start talking about this relationship you are in?”

“Um… almost. I haven’t introduced her to the boys; I’m not sure the relationship will last long enough. She’s an expensive sort of girl to date.”

“Is she the materialistic sort?”

“Yes, very baldly so. She says that I have what she wants, and she has what I want, so the relationship is pretty much perfect. She thinks love is a big hoax, a scam. Everything, she says, is about tradeoffs.”

“She doesn’t really seem like your type,” he said, musingly. “What do you get out of the relationship? Sex?”

“That’s pretty much it. That, and a more interesting-to-read credit card bill.”

“Do you agree with her, that love is not a real thing?”

“No. Love is real. I mean… she’s younger than me, and very attractive. I’ve never had anything like this happen before. I’m… a gentleman, I guess you’d say. Women feel safe with me, they are safe.”

I laugh, thinking about two other women I had dated. “I’ve known others who wanted me to spend money on them, but I never got anything in return. A least this one has her own sense of honor.”

“You call that ‘honor’? To fuck you in exchange for money?”

I stared at him. “You aren’t a typical therapist,” I say, at last. “Yes. She uses me, and I use her, each with the others’ full knowledge and consent.”

“How many people know about your relationship?”

“No one.”

“Why is it a secret?”

“It’s … not entirely appropriate, given what each of us do.”

“Ah, a work relationship.”

“Sort of, yes… I don’t really like feeling as though I have to buy love, because that is how I feel. What do I do about it?”

Now it was his time to stare. He took off his glasses, rubbing his eyes. “Gambling and spending addictions are among the hardest to overcome, and it sounds like you have a bit of both. If you don’t mind me asking, is the sex addictive?”

“It’s okay. Honestly, she’s a little skinny for my taste.”

He laughed. “Yes, young, thin, and willing, men hate that.”

= = = = =

“I love this hotel, I’ve always wanted to stay a night here,” she says, in between eating grapes on the bed.

“I thought a weekend out of town would be fun. Last night was.”

“Let’s go shopping today.”

She sees the look of reluctance on my face.

“Maybe I can persuade you,” she says.

She does.

Session 2

“Hello, Sir, it’s nice to see you today,” she says to me in a cheerful, professional voice. “Doctor Ibis is running a little behind. If you don’t mind having a seat in the waiting room, he will be with you as soon as possible.”

She smiles at me fleetingly, returning her gaze to her computer screen.

The hint of her perfume reaches me, and it reminds me strongly of our last few hours together, three days previous. I return to the waiting room, where even the depressing sight of four year old Sports Illustrated’s and Ladies Home Journal’s in the waiting room can’t dampen my suddenly elevated mood.

Some minutes later, engrossed in an article on how long the Jimmy Johnson / Cowboy dynasty would last (he’d been fired years before) I hear her say “Sir — the doctor will see you now.”

The door closes.

“So how was your week?”

“Not too bad.”

“Any episodes?”

“No, none at all.”

“Did you do the exercise I set for you last week?”

“Yes, I thought of all the ways I could think of that love is shown, then tried to figure out if I was using the most appropriate ways to show it.”

“And what did you come up with?”

“Here, I wrote it all down, and brought you a copy,” I say, handing him my notes.


WAYS TO SHOW LOVE (OR AFFECTION):

  1. Kind words
  2. Physical affection
  3. Doing things for others
  4. Gifts or presents
  5. Giving people time and attention

WAYS I SHOWED LOVE (OR AFFECTION) THIS WEEK:

  • I called my parents and talked to them for an hour (category 5)
  • I helped my elderly neighbors change their air conditioner filters (category 3)
  • I spent a few hours with category 2, no details
  • A (category 4) gift or two might have been given at the same time as the immediately preceding bullet

It seems to me each one of these was appropriate for the situation. I also guess I didn’t have any kind words for anyone. I might want to work on that.


He put the paper down after reading it. “I see you’ve read ‘The Five Love Languages’,” he said.

“Yes.”

“Are you seeing someone?”

“Yes.”

“You never talk about her.”

“No.”

“The first person you’ve dated since your divorce?”

“No.”

“Why are you reluctant to talk about her?”

“She’d rather I didn’t, I think.”

“How are your parents doing?”

“Great. My dad’s about to retire; my mom retired just this year. They plan to do as much traveling as they can.”

“Do you often help your ‘elderly neighbors’, as you call them?”

“No, I don’t, because I’m horrible at fixing anything. But installing ceiling filters I can do. And they’ve been really good to the boys and me.”

He decides to go back to the earlier subject. “You do know that sex and physical affection are two different things, right?”

“They are not coterminous,” I say, reverting to my own form of professional voice, “but sex is arguably a subset of physical affection.”

“Or can be,” he corrects.

“Or should be,” I assert.

We return to the subject of my parents for the remainder of the session. They had high expectations for me that were never really met…

= = = = =

“How long can you stay?” she asks from the other room.

“I need to be at work early, so, maybe… two or three hours,” I say, unbuttoning my cuffs and sitting down on the chair in her bedroom.

She comes in and lays down on the bed. She looks overpoweringly beautiful.

“You should be with someone your own age,” I say.

“So should you,” she says. “Now get over here.”

Session 1

“So, why do you feel like you have to buy people’s love?”

I hate therapists. They are always asking questions like that.

“Strange question, given that I have to pay you to talk to me,” I say in response. He smiles, faintly, but won’t be deterred. He continues to look at me, fixedly.

“I don’t think I’m that different from many people, many men. My value to people is in what I can do, or provide. No one’s every liked me for my looks; I was never the guy women wanted to meet just seeing me. I had to impress them somehow. With age, though, I’ve gotten less impressive, so, money works better.”

He continues to look in my direction, encouraging me to keep going.

“My mother asked me the same question when I was nineteen. I had just bought a friend of mine an expensive going-back-to-school dinner. ‘Why do you feel the need to do that?’ she asked me. ‘He’s already one of your best friends.'”

“What was your answer?”

“I don’t remember really having an answer.”

“And you still feel the same way?…”

“Yes, and no. I’ve learned that no one gets appreciated by others quite the way they might want. That people with good looks want to be known for their minds. That people with steady loves want flaming inconstant passion instead; that people who play the field want permanence. We’re all insane, really.”

“Do you really think that last part?”

“That we’re all insane? No, I suppose not. Only if you compare our actions with our stated beliefs about what constitutes a good life.”

“Do you have a good life?”

“Yes, absolutely,” I say.

“Which brings me back to the original question: why do you feel you need to buy people’s love?”

Now it’s my turn to look at him. I take a long sip from the water bottle I brought with me.

“If I can help people, I will. It’s not so much buying love as showing it. People did it for me, when I was younger, and when I couldn’t possibly pay them back… Look, I know myself at heart, and I am as selfish as the next guy. All of us work from the same set of motivations, at least in part… I’m not trying to gain anything; I’m not trying to get in women’s pants, and I’m not trying to buy affection or whatever it was you said.”

He looked away from me, clearly unconvinced.

“Do you feel your illness makes you lesser than other people?”

“At times, yes.”

“Are you willing to accept help as easily as you give it?”

I could tell he thought he had me with that question by the slight smile on his face.

“Yes, actually. I don’t mind people doing for me, or giving to me. It’s not a power thing.”

“Hmmm,” he said, frowning slightly. “I think we’re at the end of this session.”

I take my keys and water bottle from off his table and rise to go.

“I want you to think this week about ways people show love,” he said, walking across to open the door. “Determine for yourself if you feel like you are always acting the most appropriate way for how you are feeling.”

“I’ll try,” I say, walking out into the reception area as he closes the door behind me. The receptionist looks up at me from the desk outside, her bright eyes showing even through her glasses, her dark hair shining under the fluorescent lights.

“What time are you coming by tonight?” she whispers.