My girlfriend argued no man could be treated by a female therapist because complications due to sexual desire would impede every discussion
One night less than two years ago, intoxicated on cheap wine and infuriated by a long fight, I lay naked next to Clarice, my girlfriend at the time. In my opinion, the cause of our argument was ridiculous. Earlier in the evening, Clarice had made the claim that no man, under any circumstances, could be treated effectively by a female therapist. I asked how come. "Because the man will always," she said, "want to fuck her brains out."
Complications due to sexual desire, explained my girlfriend, would impede every discussion. A man would never be able to tell his doctor the whole truth, either by exaggerating his accomplishments or by abridging his mistakes, because he would want to present himself in the best light possible. The therapist would be trying to get in his head while the man was trying to get in her pants.
I'd been seeing Dr. Phillips, a female therapist, for a little over a month. It was my first attempt at therapy. Despite the large number of people out there who currently see a psychiatrist, I considered my decision to get help particularly courageous, mainly because I was raised in the South, where psychotherapy is, by some if not by most, considered akin to snake oil. My mental problems were more than legion. Not only had I suffered anorexia in an earlier period of my life, but I'd recently been coping with an anxiety disorder. I had issues with self-esteem. I had issues with substance abuse. I had issues with depression. Therapy was a big step toward getting healthy.
That's one of the reasons I got so angry with Clarice. I wanted Dr. Phillips to fix my brain; I did not want to fuck hers out.
Another reason I got so angry was that one of the most frequent topics of discussion with the doctor was my relationship with Clarice. Now I faced a dilemma. Should I tell Dr. Phillips about the argument? On the one hand, telling her might compromise the integrity of my treatment because, possibly, she would wonder if I really did want to sleep with her, and on the other hand, not telling her might compromise the integrity of my treatment because, definitely, I would be lying to her by omission of the complete truth. The funny thing is I had thought about that very same issue before I was forced to deal with it.
* * *
Shortly after I began treatment, a few friends, members of my writing group, said something over dinner that took me aback. All three of them agreed to its veracity. Even when I expressed shock, telling them my situation was different, my friends repeated the statement with odd disregard, as if explaining the humorous nature of the Pope's headgear, the defecation of bears, or the constructive material of Howdy Doody's testicles.
"Everybody lies to their therapist."
Such a thing, ironically, seemed insane. Lying to your therapist discredited the whole point of therapy. In her book, Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession, Janet Malcolm ventures the claim that her titular subject, the first practice to be called "psychotherapy," has had the biggest cultural impact since Christianity. The comparison to religion seems apt in light of what I was told by my friends at the restaurant. No one likes to think of something so influential to modern society as having been founded on lies.
Until the fight with my girlfriend, I had been totally honest with Dr. Phillips, especially about my relationship with Clarice. I'd told my therapist about the hotel room where my girlfriend tried to slit her wrists with the tines of a room-service fork because of my own childish inability to confront our emotional straits. I'd confessed about the night I passed out during a blow job, and I'd admitted to having later claimed it was only me faking it. I'd told my therapist about the clinic where my girlfriend listened to those sucking sounds while holding her sister's hand instead of mine because of my stupid need to maintain distance. Only after I claimed to be honest with my therapist did I become dishonest with her. I never told Dr. Phillips what Clarice had said about us.
* * *
Doubt began to corrupt my belief that I did not want to sleep with Dr. Phillips. Although I had been aware of her physical attractiveness since the beginning of my treatment -- if only she had been some wrinkled, gray-haired lady creeping toward retirement -- I now found myself doting on all of my therapist's attributes, her slim figure, her long limbs, the way she daintily tugged a cardigan around her delicate shoulders.
Soon enough I questioned everything I said to my therapist. Would I have catalogued my sexual partners from throughout my life if her belly were stratified with fat rolls? Would I have referenced my publication history in such detail if her face were perforated with acne scars? Therapy started to drive my crazy.
In addition to wondering whether, during our sessions, I treated my therapist like a woman I was trying to seduce, I also wondered if I had, in the past, treated women I was trying to seduce like therapists. Could I have been not a womanizer but a therapizer in my love life? My girlfriend in college, Lara, once tried to break up with me, claiming I wasn't "complicated" enough for her, after which I told her about the time in junior high when I dropped 45 percent of my body weight. We got physically intimate for the first time that night. My girlfriend in grad school, Tatum, could not commit to our relationship, saying she was too "damaged" for someone like me, after which I told her about the time my father drunkenly almost killed my mother in a car wreck. She called me her boyfriend for the first time that day. Although I believe my motives were far from malicious -- I genuinely cared about those girlfriends and simply wanted them to care about me, too -- I'm still compelled to question my past relationships as well as my recent ones. Did I manipulate Clarice into loving me?
* * *
Clarice and I met through an online-dating service. Our first date was at a bar called Spain. The athletic build of a former college soccer player and the cup size of a former high-school cock tease, Clarice struck me as outrageously beautiful, but what I found most attractive were her physical imperfections, hair a bit on the frizzy side, voice a little hoarse, skin a touch dry at the joints. Every man loves that one crooked tooth.
At the bar that night, doubting my own good fortune, I got to know Clarice while the bartender, wearing a prim, red tux jacket, served us cheap drinks and free tapas. The stories we told each other about our lives gradually progressed beyond the anecdotal type. I must have managed to muster a modicum of charm -- sometimes I can do magic, but I am not a magician -- because soon we were sharing a cigarette on the sidewalk. She told me about her ex-boyfriend, and I told her about my ex-girlfriend. She told me about her family's troubles, and I told her about my family's troubles. Each of our hands glanced the other's thigh. Outside of the bar, crouched on a stoop and hunched from the cold, I kissed Clarice for the first time, her tongue as grainy and floral as pear pulp.
That night I did not therapize my way into her pants. We waited until the second date. Some people think of that as being a gentleman. I think of it as letting the woman dictate the terms.