From the Couch

Let’s start at the beginning.

Now that it’s typed, that reads like a cliché, but when faced with writer’s block, it’s as good a place as any to start. That’s the lesson — just start. You know me and my tendency toward the paralysis of analysis. You know I once put on my bedroom wall, with not a small sense of irony, a poster saying, “Not to Decide is to Decide.” So this is me deciding on a beginning. It’s a start. You also know I’m here to tell you about the feelings I’ve developed for you. How they might be different than the transference you’ve experienced with other clients is more a matter for you to assess; it’s my intention to share as candidly and objectively as possible, and maybe in some way give you insight into the view, internal and external, from the couch.

Radka Salcmannova, Performance, 2012 | "Hailing from The Czech Republic, Radka Salcmannva creates images invested with “emotional fiction” that transgress all categories and boundaries by mixing painting, photograph and installation..."

I came to you after initial consultation with a few other therapists. One of several reasons I kept coming back was the level of comfort I felt in your office. There was a balance there I needed — not too little, and not too much. The week before, a few miles away, something about another therapist’s space — and manner, and dress, and eyes, and gentleness — unlocked my emotions in a matter of minutes. I felt the tears welling up, my throat tighten, and decades of pain and isolation and need rushing to the surface. There’s no denying they were overdue for release, but I was there because I wanted to find out why at such a late stage in life a confusing and powerful sexual fantasy had taken hold of me — and truth be told, I wanted to be aggressive about coming to terms with it.

Understanding my suppressed emotions may well be wrapped up in that sexual urge, I nonetheless wanted to press forward more directly with exploring the latter, essentially wanting to force myself to either try it and move forward with it, or try it and recognize that it has no place in my life other than as fantasy. I felt more able to talk about it with you than with the person I saw the week before, and I didn’t feel all of my emotional baggage getting in the way as I did when I sat in her perfectly warm, inviting womb of a work space.

And that’s no knock on her. I imagine people in dire need of learning mindfulness, of being in the moment, find themselves reborn in there. I’m not fooling myself into thinking I don’t have the same need. On the spectrum of people who live in the moment, I am at the far end from the goal. I am usually in any other moment of my life than the present — in the past, or in the future, or in the future as I hope to shape it by what I say now, right now, in this moment.

I’ve told you this before, but my first impression of you online and in person was you seemed to be a “cool chick I can just talk to about anything.” Not knowing whether “chick” carries a negative connotation that brands me as someone less liberated than I’d like to think myself, I’ll let the phrase stand anyway, because it’s accurate. It’s what I felt and it’s what I said. And I still believe it, despite the times you had to drag a few things out of me.

So how did you go from that to someone I have feelings for? The answer, as I understand or experience it, is layered — as everything with me, and it’s important to explore because of what it can tell you (more so than what it can tell me). Ultimately, as I share from the couch with you, it’s as much my desire to give back to you and to the mental health community as it is to “cure” myself. As you know, I will write so much more about that in the coming weeks and months, so let’s get back to you.

I can identify the moment things first turned. I was telling you about how in my rush to run an errand during a break in my day, I spilled something on my carpet. That set me back, so not only would I not finish my errand on time, I would not even get to do it until another day. The frustration inside me was irrationally traumatic at the time, and even as I told you the story of how it upset me, I had yet to come to terms with it and move on. There was a look on your face of empathy, an instinctual reaction that could not have been rehearsed, and it tugged at my heart. In that moment, it was so difficult for me to continue, because my body and mind and emotions spoke to me instantaneously.

Part of what they told me was the cravings inside of me were not really about my lips on this woman’s tender parts or this man’s genitals inside my mouth or either one of them bending me over for surrender to something else entirely; they were about everything I felt when I saw your face in that one moment. And I wondered how broken a person has to be, and from what age and what circumstance, to seemingly spend a lifetime waiting for that look — and everything it contains — or manufacturing reason after reason to create the conditions that could lead to that moment, again and again.

The urge to edit that last sentence, to soften it, give myself some conditional outs, is strong. At the risk of letting it suggest too much and pretend to address the motivation behind every important moment of my life, I know I have to let it stand. Just know I feel nakedness akin to how I felt when you finally got me to say things out loud that I had not dared to say in another person’s presence.

Back to you, again. I am stuck once more as I try to write this because I don’t know how much I am allowed to say, and with what words. The last thing I want is for you to feel uncomfortable the next time I sit on your couch, across from you. Yet, I need to say these things and get past them. It isn’t just the look on your face. I discovered you. I read your blog and some of your other writings. I read about how your partner’s choice of what movie to watch conjured feelings of insecurity about your body and how you dealt with that. I read about how uncomfortable you’ve been at times sitting across from a client whose disease puts you in a state of dis-ease. I read about your choice to be who you are instead of being a template, the ideal of the therapist who is appropriately vanilla and neutral and cut from an association-approved mold. I learned you dare to put yourself out there and share some of your most vulnerable insecurities and fears, for yourself and for us. I discovered you put yourself right in the moment in session, even at risk to yourself, and you do it knowing how it can affect you.

And I felt this incredible I-don’t-know-what-to-call-it for you.

In no particular order, I realized other things. What I feel about women is never enough. Friendship is never enough. Making love — as if I can remember what that’s like, it’s been so long — is never enough. A second or third time is never enough. The next woman, and the one after that, is never enough. So, I am not fooling myself about some unfulfilled longing when it comes to you. I know that line cannot be crossed, and I understand the reasons (although not as well as you must). I have seen the failed logic of “If only this person would be with me, everything would be OK” too many times to trust it for longer than the initial euphoria of the crush and I-don’t-know-what-to-call-itness.

But there’s something there. At the risk of my blog post becoming a chapter, please allow me to continue. This is leading somewhere.

It probably won’t shock you to know, as plain and vanilla as I look, that I’ve never been a fan of tattoos. I don’t understand them, except a little bit in an intellectual way, but my palpable experience of them is usually to be turned off by them, and not in a trivial way. Once, a long time ago in upstate New York, I saw a waitress who had the perfect exotic look for her all-over tattoos, and I was fascinated. But typically when I see a tattoo my reaction is, “Ugh… why would you go and do a thing like that?” I tell you this because when I discovered you online, I noticed your tattoos. This was a relief to me, because I thought, “This is perfect. I won’t be attracted to her. I can focus on my therapy. How lucky is that?”

Ha. The joke’s on me. Because something happened over time, when I came to you and saw you, with your different blouses from late spring into summer, and exposed skin and, yes, tattoos. You became, to me, a woman who once was a girl who had insecurities like I did when I was a boy, a woman who is now a mom, a woman who is bravely making her own way into the world, perhaps more bravely than I am, with all of my hiding places and expertise in hiding — not only the act itself, but hiding my real self from the world (and maybe from me). You became, to me, someone who is who she is and doesn’t apologize for it, an iconoclast of sorts in your field, a challenger of conventional wisdom, a literate soul, someone who isn’t just a professional who writes about her field, but awriter in every sense of the word — with maturity and insight and much more in her writing. You became to me the person I am writing to and about in this piece.

As the weather turned cold, you put on long sleeves and more layers, covering up most of you. There was suddenly little skin across from the couch. Yet there you were, pulling your long sleeves past your fingertips, covering up even your fingers, and sitting with your legs sideways on your chair, and it was the most adorable thing I have seen in a long time. For a moment, I wondered whether part of you knew I might express my feelings for you, and perhaps as protection, you curled up on the chair into a little ball, a self-contained therapist and her force field.

In reality, I eventually suspected, you may have simply been cold. But yes, with all of the above, including that empathic look on your face, the sacrifices you made so I could continue to see you while in crisis, and in so many other ways, the real person you became — she became beautiful to me, tattoos and all. And now I (get ready for the world’s longest hyphenated verb) I-don’t- know-what-to-call-it every part of you, including your tattoos. People love to write “I heart” such-and-such. Sometimes they put the actual heart symbol in the sentence. When I figure out the symbol for the hyphenated verb “I” and “every part of you” in that crazy sentence, I will put it there.

After not seeing you for weeks recently, I happened upon a photo of you on my Twitter scroll, and I had a visceral reaction. If it were a sound and not a look, that sound would read like “aww.” It was, I suspect, not unlike the look on your face that turned things for me. It hit me on a gut level. Even now as I try to re-create that look, I know you will never see it — but I hope there are still moments in your life when the special someone(s) in your life gift you with it on a somewhat regular basis.

In addition to knowing the professional boundaries in place here, I understand in another way how my feelings about you are not so much about your face and skin, your body, or how you might smell or taste or feel in the ultimate intimate context. It has taken me a long time to realize that not every feeling about every person has to lead to physical or sexual manifestation, although I do recognize there is a sexual and physical component to almost every interaction we have as people. What I am beginning, slowly, to understand is when you strip away what makes you a woman and what makes me a man, we are part of a larger cosmos where we are all the same on some basic level — and that if we explore deeply enough, we discover we are all simply scattered pieces of the same oneness, and our journey is about finding our way back home.

All of that is a long way to travel to get to this point: that in the end, it’s about finally loving myself.

And that’s why I’m here, on the couch. I know that. As you know, I just get easily distracted and lost along the way. Thank you for being there, helping me find my way home.

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