I had been seeing my shrink for three years when I dumped her. And I did it like a weasel. Living in New York does that to you. This city breeds weasels, because we all have this false sense of being totally invisible. Here was my shrink, Dr. G.: a very short and very round, older Israeli woman. She said my name with a lilt, “SHAAAAY-na.” During the sessions, she’d shift her little legs around cutely, from the floor to a padded ottoman. She was always getting sayings wrong, like: “You sometimes will take one stop forward and two stops back.” I liked that. The first two years with Dr. G. were good. I kicked panic attacks, I learned things about myself and my patterns. I liked my Wednesday afternoons with her. I’d relax onto her futon, look out the windows across a courtyard.
And then something changed for me. I started to feel bored and restless. I felt like she was holding me back. She’d constantly redirect conversations to my childhood- we’d cover the same material over and over. I wanted someone younger, someone less focused on the past. I wanted to speed up the healing process, and her halting and slow manner seemed only to anchor me to my old self.
I dreaded going to therapy. And I couldn’t tell her that. She was a sweet little lady. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
We took a six-week break last summer, at the end of which I was supposed to call to schedule an appointment. But I didn’t. A week later, she called and left me a message. I didn’t call back. Not ever. It was like the perfect crime. At the time, it felt great.
If there’s any place to feel like you can get away with weaseling, it’s here. New York is so big, you can always tell yourself you’ll never see so-and-so again. If I lived in some small town, I’d never have been able to ditch my shrink that way. I’d run into her at the post office, the grocery store, the hair salon. In New York, even if you do happen to see someone you don’t want to see, you can just keep walking, pretend you didn’t see them. Or you can run for the bus, scoot across the street. Moments later, you’re lost in the crowd.
There are strange, lesser forms of weaseling that also thrive here. A friend of a friend of mine (I’ll call her Ann) recently started dating this guy she met at a party. She was shocked by how nice he was, and how interested. In less than two weeks, they had hung out six times. Then she got a call from a girl who said, “Jack can’t see you anymore.” Ann didn’t hear from him after that.
Another friend of mine was working Sundays as a bartender at a Chinese restaurant. A few weeks into working there, she got a call from her boss, who said, “We don’t need you on Sundays anymore.” She only worked Sundays. Clearly he was firing her. She asked him, “Are you firing me?” He just laughed and said, “No, no, of course not. We just don’t need you anymore.” Again she asked, “Are you firing me?” And again he said: “No, no.” To make things even more confusing, he said, “I look forward to working with you again,” and then he hung up.
My roommate will do a slow-burn weasel, spending months letting a guy down gently. Meaning, she’ll always be busy or have to call him back. It doesn’t occur to her to just say, “Look, I’m not interested.”
But the fact is, no matter what you tell yourself, weaseling will come back to haunt you. When I weaseled my shrink, it didn’t take long for me to feel awful about it. A month or so later, I started to notice that I was thinking about her a lot. I decided I should write her a letter apologizing. I put it on my to-do list: Write apology letter to Dr. G . That was in October. It’s now May and I haven’t written the letter yet. What would I tell her? “Hey, sorry.” Or: “Don’t hate me, I was bored of therapy, bored of my childhood. Can we be friends?” Only, we were never friends. It was a professional relationship. But that doesn’t mean I don’t owe her anything.
An old friend of mine from high school, Liz, would spend a lot of energy coming up with the perfect excuses when there was nothing wrong with the truth. If she didn’t want to go somewhere because she was broke or tired, she’d say that she had to get something for her mom at a specific time and place or that her dad needed something done immediately. Then she’d spend the rest of the day feeling nervous. She’d say: “Do you think it was totally obvious that I was lying? Do you think they’ll figure it out?” She’d get so paranoid, she wouldn’t go outside. She was afraid of running into someone who could then, in a court of law, verify that she was not in fact where she had said she was going to be.
That’s the essence of the problem. We’re kidding ourselves, all us weasels. Because while you think you can disappear in New York, you also run into people you don’t expect to run into, in places you’d never think you’d see them. It happened to a co-worker of mine. He’d been dating this girl for three months or so. It was casual-they saw each other once a week. They’d watch The Sopranos together, go out for dinner in her neighborhood in the East Village. Then he went to Italy for 10 days on business. When he got home, she didn’t answer his calls or e-mails. Soon enough he wised up. He’d been weaseled. And for a while, he didn’t run into her. They didn’t have friends in common, didn’t live in the same neighborhood. But six months later, he saw her leaving the apartment building directly across the street from his. Even though she was the weasel, he was embarrassed and dreaded having to revisit their situation. He’s seen her a bunch of times now, leaving the same building with some guy. To avoid her, he speeds up or slows down, appears really interested in his shoes. But the tension is rising. “She must see me, right? I mean, I can see her,” he said to me. “How long can I keep this up? When we do make eye contact, it’s going to totally suck.”
Just recently, I’ve started to worry about running into Dr. G. I mean, sure, I’m just one person in 10 million in this city. But still. We could show up at the same synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. The same play, dinner party, restaurant. I wouldn’t be able to pretend I didn’t see her. I’d feel too rotten about that. If I did see her, what would I say?
If I could, I would do it over. I’d just be straight about the whole thing. And then it would’ve been done, really.
But I can’t do it over. I’m stuck with the guilt of having weaseled my shrink. Dr. G., if you’re reading this, I’m sorry. It wasn’t you, it was me. I think I’ve learned my lesson.