My therapist and I had been together for three years, but I felt it was time to move on. I liked her, but every Tuesday afternoon our 50 minutes would just come and go.
I hated the diagonal commute, from my office in the East Village to hers on the Upper West Side. Two trains, or a train to a crosstown bus. I’d go into her building sweaty, with a half-eaten sandwich in my hand. The doorman would give me an irritated glance. Up in her office on the 12th floor, I hated the sight of the New York magazines on the table.
One day, I got up some courage and told her I didn’t like trekking all the way up to her neighborhood. I told her I lost two hours out of my workday, and the whole time I was thinking about how much work I had to do. I told her that maybe I needed a break from therapy.
“Resistance,” she said–then continued munching on some fat-free pretzels.
But it was more than the commute. She seemed kind of distracted with me. She said my social and familial network was too large for her to keep track of. I suggested she should make a family tree or a chart–but maybe three years into a relationship is too late for family trees.
A typical interaction: “So, I had the strangest dream about Michelle.”
She looked at me blankly.
“You know– Michelle , my stepmother. My dad’s third wife.”
“The one with the redheaded 14-year-old daughter who plays soccer.”
Finally, a flicker of recognition–but I had lost my momentum.
More and more, I began to imagine what it would be like with someone new. My friends wanted to set me up. I carried around the phone number of one therapist for days. Eventually, I called and left a message. She returned my call immediately–a good sign–and we arranged to meet the following Tuesday.
That gave me some time to break it off with Therapist No. 1–but I couldn’t go through with it. Tuesday arrived, and our session wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was nice. She laughed at my stories and said I was actually making progress. I began to appreciate her closet full of snacks–the fat-free pretzels, the butterscotch candies–and she was maternal and attentive. Even the air conditioning in her apartment, which I usually hated, felt all right this time.
I was supposed to meet Therapist No. 2 that very evening. Back-to-back appointments? It didn’t feel right. So I canceled with Therapist No. 2, leaving a quick apologetic message on her machine.
The next Tuesday came. Once again, I went to the Upper West Side. Once again, I didn’t let on about Therapist No. 2–even though Therapist No. 2 wasn’t out of my life. I had rescheduled with her for later in the week, in fact …
Therapist No. 2′s office was on a tree-lined street close to where I worked. I arrived late, out of breath and embarrassed. She had a mop of springy, curly hair. She wore flowing Eileen Fisher-type clothing. Purple toenail polish poked out from her sandals. I liked her immediately. In the 25 minutes that remained, we talked mostly about Therapist No. 1.
“I like her a lot,” I said. “I just feel like she’s not totally there .”
Therapist No. 2 nodded a lot. She understood! But as the session came to a close, she said, “I think you should come back again for another consultation. I’m not sure you’re ready to leave your other therapist yet. I mean, you canceled your very first appointment–and then you showed up 25 minutes late today. I don’t get it.”
Here was someone who could be perfect. She was young, she was nearby–and already I was sabotaging it.
In the next few weeks, I saw both therapists, and it was tricky. I felt guilty with No. 1, so I overcompensated, babbling away manically. “I have so much to tell you!” I said. I tried to make her laugh. I wanted her to enjoy our last sessions, so that if I left her, she would at least feel she had been entertained.
Meanwhile, on the tree-lined street downtown, No. 2 was getting a bit impatient.
“I still haven’t told her,” I said after another late arrival. “I think she’ll be upset.”
Therapist No. 2 nodded and then she said: “It seems like–and correct me if I’m wrong here–you have very high expectations of people, but you don’t tell them, and then you get disappointed, let down.”
She was onto something. She was offering a fresh insight. In just our second session, she was detecting patterns. Patterns! But toward the end of the hour, Therapist No. 2 said, “Let me ask you a question.” She leaned forward in that very involved way. “Before we move ahead, you and I, is there something about me that you can tell already that you’ll have a problem with? You should probably tell me now.”
It suddenly dawned on me that she probably imagined me going from therapist to therapist to talk to each one about her predecessor. She thought I was obsessed with therapists.
“No, I’m not like that,” I said. “It’s not like I’m looking to find faults with my therapists.”
She didn’t look convinced.
“I like you,” I said. “You seem great.”
We stared at each other in silence.
I was off to a terrible start with Therapist No. 2, and it was no longer possible for me to proceed in an honest way with No. 1. I had alienated both of them.
So I decided to end it with Therapist No. 2 and go back to Therapist No. 1. After two or three more sessions, I told her I had seen someone else–but it was over now.
She said it was normal for me to look around a little. Especially since I was dealing with so many new things in my life. But she was glad I was back and wanted me to stay with her. As one session bled into the next, I tried to pretend things were fine … but deep down, I still thought something was missing.
On a Tuesday in December, I backed out of an appointment. Then my therapist and I both went away for a few weeks. When we got back to New York, I called her and said I needed to take some more time away from her.
Then I called Therapist No. 2.
It was snowing and cold on the morning I went back to her tree-lined street, but I was on time and ready. We discussed real things in the session and I was feeling good.
“What ever ended up happening with your other therapist?” she said.
“Oh, it’s over,” I said.
Therapist No. 2 and I decided to give it a shot. But I was 15 minutes late for the next appointment. “I am so sorry,” I said as I rushed in with my coat half-off. “Work was terrible and–”
“Sit down,” she said.
I stared at her black velvet pants.
” What’s going on? ” she said.
We spent the next 15 minutes of the 30 that remained discussing why I was late and what that meant. Annoying.
So I don’t know if it’s going to work between us. I just hope Therapist No. 1 isn’t reading this, because I may have to go back to her.
Or maybe it’s time for Therapist No. 3.