We were in the middle of session five of couples therapy. The topic: Should I go on medication?
DR. SELMAN: Not everybody gets side effects, and there are things that people take to ameliorate the side effects.
HILLY: Just knowing George, I don’t know.
GEORGE: Can I try to bring something else up? I understand that this is part of the problem, my mood swings, and the relationship would be better if I was not irritable. That’s established. There’s one other thing: I need to be reprogrammed about being in a relationship, period. I need a different outlook on that. Remember when I mentioned status quo? I mean that in all areas of my life, I have this part of me that doesn’t want to go to the next level with anything. I still want to be 22. You know, my apartment looks just like it did in college, and I like that. I like to be the exception to the rule. I don’t want to have to do all these things everyone else does because they’re a certain age—
HILLY: Like go to weddings?
GEORGE: I want nothing to do with any of that. I want to be unprofessional and weird. I like that. I know how that sounds.
DR. SELMAN: How does that sound?
GEORGE: Immature. But it’s worked for me. In my job, for one. And I don’t want responsibilities, have to do stuff and make plans. You’re asking me to go to Hawaii this Christmas—I can’t do that. I mean, we can go to East Hampton this weekend; we can go there tomorrow. If I’d told you that two days ago, that would have led to depression. I don’t want to have to change.
DR. SELMAN: How does that make you feel depressed, though?
GEORGE: It just does.
DR. SELMAN: Can’t it be possible it’s the other way around? You know, people who get depressed are in a certain mind-set of depression and nihilism, and they want to run away. Is it possible that your mood is affected by all these other attitudes?
GEORGE: Well, I just know when I don’t have to do anything, and there’s no plans, I feel great. Ahhh—I can be spontaneous. When I was in college, I used to go out by myself and I would have no idea who I was going to run into—and I can do that here. I love it.
DR. SELMAN: You like to be impulsive.
GEORGE: And spontaneous. And the idea of that being taken away, that just makes me feel tired and weary.
DR. SELMAN: [to HILLY] How do you feel about all this?
HILLY: Why do you feel it’s going to be taken away? I mean, I understand with certain circumstances. We’ve talked about this stupid Hawaii thing. Basically what happened is, the other day, Delta sent me this e-mail. They send it once a week, with whatever special fares they have, and they sent one this week, and they happen to be selling round-trip airfare from New York to Hawaii in December for an incredibly low rate. I already have my ticket—I’m going with my parents alone. I know that you had mentioned maybe going to see your family there, and that’s why I just forwarded it to you, thinking you could save a couple hundred bucks. Why not?
GEORGE: I’d rather decide a week before and pay 10 times as much.
HILLY: I won’t send you those again.
GEORGE: Going back to all these new things that we’ve done recently—the zoo, you teaching me about music—that would really help reprogram me ….
DR. SELMAN: You also made a point of saying that on one of those days, there was no drinking going on.
GEORGE: You’re right. We’ve established that; that’s a fact. And it probably has something to do with my mood right now—I had another late night. But can I just try to get this one point out? Breaking the routine, doing anything new, really helps. I had another late spinout night, two nights ago, to the big fashion show. That was kind of fun, right?
GEORGE: And the after-party—fun, too?
HILLY: Mmm-hmm. Then we went to some club and another club. It was fun.
GEORGE: But then I kept going. My friend Will started talking to these two, um, floozies, and we went to another after-party.
DR. SELMAN: The five of you?
GEORGE: Four of us.
DR. SELMAN: You weren’t there?
HILLY: No, I left.
GEORGE: I went to some party in Tribeca and got home at 7:30 a.m.
DR. SELMAN: Who were the floozies?
GEORGE: They were very cool, interesting, late-night party girls. “Floozy” isn’t a very nice word.
DR. SELMAN: That was your term.
GEORGE: That was the word that came to mind.
DR. SELMAN: So again, how do you feel, Hilly?
GEORGE: There was nothing—
HILLY: Well, especially Will, his friend, is always trying to get his bang on with someone. So I kind of expect that to happen whenever he’s around.
GEORGE: I was just going along for the ride.
HILLY: I think that’s good, that he can go off and I don’t have to be the old ball-and-chain. I went home because I was tired and I had to get up and go to work the next day; he didn’t. Why shouldn’t he stay out and have fun? It’s not like we could have had some fascinating, scintillating conversation if we’d gone home together. It was 4 o’clock in the morning. So that’s fine with me.
GEORGE: I wish I had gone home with you. Yesterday was not hellish, but very difficult.
DR. SELMAN: George himself admits that these late nights, this drinking and partying, adversely affect his mood. Then he says, “I should have gone home earlier or not gone out at all”—and rather than encourage him to actually go home earlier, maybe go home with you, you say, “Well, it’s good that he’s able to go out.” So why not take a position?
HILLY: I actually did that last weekend, the day that I cried, Saturday. Will called, and George asked me if I wanted to go out that night, meaning a long night, fun parties, late night, lots of trouble. And I actually told you no, because I knew you had that story to work on. And then he said, “You’re exactly right,” and I said, “I’m perfectly happy staying here reading or doing whatever.” Then I even offered to go home a couple of times, because I thought maybe you were in a bad mood and needed to be alone to work. And you said you wanted me to stay there. Bottom line is, you didn’t get any work done that night or anything, but you didn’t go out. But you were still irritated. [HILLY laughs.]
DR. SELMAN: You were together that night?
HILLY: Yes. Maybe you can go to a moderation management meeting some time. There is some kind of a 12-step program that teaches you how to stop after five cocktails, but it’s not that easy. Basically, they have this theory that at a certain point, men are allowed 12 drinks a week, and you have to decide when you’re going to have them: two each day or all in one big bender, and you can’t have anything else for the rest of the week. I read about it on the Internet.
GEORGE: I’ll see if there’s one I can go to.
DR. SELMAN: Well, there are also medications that can decrease your cravings for alcohol.
DR. SELMAN: That’s another possibility.
GEORGE: Maybe I’ll try the mood stabilizer and the anti-drinking drug.
DR. SELMAN: Whatever it would be, I’d want it to be one at a time; whatever condition you have, alcohol is only going to make it worse.
GEORGE: Would you recommend marijuana over alcohol? If it came down to one or the other?
DR. SELMAN: [laughing] Come on.
GEORGE: Marijuana’s better, right?
DR. SELMAN: I would recommend neither.
GEORGE: I’ve been doing that more lately, the marijuana.
DR. SELMAN: [to HILLY] So where are we headed with this? I see two approaches that could bear fruit, and you’re not really supportive of either one of them. One is his abstinence from late nights out—drinking with, or without, other women. Or his taking medications to improve his mood. You’ve been skeptical; you don’t want him to have side effects, whatever it is. So both of those approaches could, let’s say, help George in his moods—which then would have a positive impact, seemingly, on the relationship. Yet you’re not too up on either one of them.
HILLY: I just don’t want George to start taking some pill that gives him a manic rash all over his body and blame it on me.
GEORGE: I will do anything to avoid having to take these drugs.
DR. SELMAN: You’re already taking drugs!
GEORGE: O.K., I’ll do anything to avoid taking those drugs.
DR. SELMAN: Why are these drugs any worse than—
HILLY: What’s the deal with the rash? That doesn’t happen with Prozac.
DR. SELMAN: You know something? I could give you a list right now of a hundred other drugs that have that side effect. You remember when everybody was afraid of anthrax? Well, Cipro can cause that exact same reaction. Nobody seemed to care about that.
HILLY: The rash, though.
DR. SELMAN: What I’m saying is, this is something that just became associated with this particular drug—much more common in children than adults, and if you go very, very slowly on the dose, as I said, you can avoid it happening. It’s something that doesn’t happen more than one out of 1,500 to 2,000 people who take the drug. It’s not a common thing. And if you do develop the rash, you can stop using it.
GEORGE: Can I change the subject?
DR. SELMAN: It’s your dime.
GEORGE: We have seven minutes. I wrote down here that I had two moments of irritability not long ago: the bath-pillow incident and the waitress.
HILLY: Oh, I remember the waitress. We went out for burgers, and while George was paying the bill, she was looking at me and asked me if everything was O.K. and thanked me, then walked away. And he got so mad that she didn’t look him in the eye. And that’s happened before. When we went outside, he said, “What, is there something wrong with me? Why didn’t she look at me?”
GEORGE: I think there’s something right with you, because don’t you have this face …. What do you call it?
HILLY: I always call it a Muppet face. Little kids like to look at me and smile. And people always think that they’ve met me before. I just have a familiar face. And then the bath pillow—years ago, I got George one because he loves to take baths. So I got him this fantastic bath pillow, and he loved it, loved it so much. And then, the night when he told me about his affair with his little evildoer, I went into the bathroom, and I had a Sharpie, and I drew a lewd picture of her on the pillow. So then he was sort of sad and he missed it, because I ruined it.
GEORGE: I didn’t like either bath pillow.
HILLY: The first one you liked, and then I bought you two other ones.
DR. SELMAN: [looking confused] What made you think of this now?
GEORGE: ’Cause then she got me another one—
HILLY: When he was on his recent trip, I had it waiting for him when he got back, because I thought, “Well, maybe this was closer to the original.” And he was in the bath and the door was shut, and then all of a sudden I heard this thud and he shouted, “I hate that fucking bath pillow!”
GEORGE: She also got me race-car sheets and pillow cases like a little kid would have. On my bed right now are race-car sheets and race-car pillow cases.
HILLY: You told me you wanted them!
GEORGE: [to DR. SELMAN] Please share your interpretation of the race-car sheets on my bed.
HILLY: He wrote a story about a car race, and then your birthday came around and I asked you what you wanted, and you said, as a joke, “Race-car sheets,” and I thought it would be funny, and I found them and they’re kind of chic.
GEORGE: Yeah, I like ’em.
DR. SELMAN: They feel good?
GEORGE: I like ’em. But it doesn’t make me feel like a grown-up. Makes me feel about 7 years old. Here’s something I wrote down: “Become a more serious person. More serious, less jackass.” “Leave New York.” “Kids in New York City, they’re so awful and snotty, yecccch.” I never would want to have kids here. Maybe the Midwest or Texas. Maybe Connecticut or Long Island.
HILLY: That was funny—actually, last week, when we were talking about ideas of stuff to do, and he had just run into his friend Tom and his wife, and I guess they sort of had a baby a year or two years ago ….
DR. SELMAN: How do you “sort of” have a baby?
HILLY: They had a baby.
GEORGE: She’s hesitant to talk about this sort of thing.
HILLY: Anyway, I suggested to him, I thought what would be fun is—especially since we’re so infantile with each other—it would be funny, a funny experiment, if we offered them to take the kid for two hours or something, so they could do something—
GEORGE: Tom would never let me alone with his kid in a million years.
HILLY: Well, I would be there, too.
GEORGE: No way. How do I explain it? He has seen me in jackass mode. One time I went over there extremely drunk with some lunatics, and one of them tracked in mud and pretty much destroyed the white carpet in the living room. I broke a glass, too. Hilly, they wouldn’t let me into the apartment.
DR. SELMAN: And look what happens to your cats.
HILLY: Well, we need to end the session with some positive reinforcement, something to think about before the next one.
DR. SELMAN: All right, you have any suggestions?
GEORGE: [to DR. SELMAN] Now it’s your turn.
HILLY: Yeah, it’s your turn.
DR. SELMAN: All right, instead of George staying out late one night and you going home early, why don’t you go home together and have sex? How would that work out?
GEORGE: Yep. We did do that, that one night—we had the make-up sex, right?
DR. SELMAN: Something to enhance your relationship and your intimacy.
GEORGE: That’s a good idea. I should have done that the other night, gone home with you.
DR. SELMAN: Instead of hanging out with the floozies.
GEORGE: No kidding. They were so boring.
[to be continued]
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