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December 1, 2005

Unmarried Counseling

http://www.jewishjournal.com/articles/item/unmarried_counseling_20051202

My neurosis is like a Ferrari. I can go from 0 to 60 in under four seconds.

One second, I'm nervous I may have said the wrong thing in a meeting; the next I'm convinced that the best way to deal with how horribly I've botched the situation is to toss myself off the Staten Island Ferry like Spalding Gray and be done with the whole mess.

Because of my superior emotional acceleration, I can't take my mind to just any mechanic; I need someone good. And I need regularly scheduled maintenance and premium fuel. But to put the brakes on this metaphor and get to the point: I love therapy.

I've been to a baby-faced cognitive behavior specialist on New York's Upper East Side (where they keep all the best therapists and where a Jew with a few problems can feel at home), a Buddhist in San Francisco got me through my early 20s without any felonies or lasting venereal diseases or suicide attempts. I've been to a "science of mind" practitioner in the Hollywood Hills who only takes referrals and once taught me how to buy a used car. I even went to a child psychologist when I was 8 and saw my cousin nearly drown. She was pulled out of the pool and revived, but I was traumatized. Thus began my trips to Lucy, a kindly older woman with a vaguely European accent who let me play with blocks and listened to me yammer. When it comes to head shrinking, I say, if you need it, go early and often.

Yet only now, after countless billable hours of therapy and multiple broken relationships, have I finally combined my two interests -- men and mental health. Consider me officially "in couples counseling."

That's right, I'm not married, I've never been married, and yet I'm forking over $100 a week to sit on a nice woman's worn leather couch in Tarzana and see if my relationship can be fixed.

I've only been twice but I'm already a fan. I'm not sure it's going to patch up this particular relationship, but if it's going to end, why not orchestrate a mature, gentle, thoughtful exit that doesn't involve tossing someone's belongings on the lawn and saying "good day."

The truth is there are only so many perfectly good guys I can dispense with the second they bother me, annoy me, bore me, aggravate me or hurt me. I'm already on my zillionth serious relationship in life. Yeah, yeah, my parents had a scorched-earth divorce and historic custody battle, but if I want to figure out how to have some sort of "life partner," I better get over it and figure out how to sustain the bad times without bailing. Because as it turns out, there will always be bad times, especially for me.

"You're going to have these problems no matter what relationship you're in," said our new therapist, one of my best ever.

I suspected this, but she was so matter-of-fact about it, as if she were saying something as obvious as "the magazines in the waiting room are three months old."

She also told us that when we fight, he's a 12-year-old and I'm a 5-year-old, so it's no wonder I feel bullied and he seems juvenile. This may shed some light on the fights we have, where he snaps at me and I cry for a couple hours, but the damage may be irreversible. When I sat next to him on the couch, I experienced the kind of rage that makes you light-headed, like you're going to faint, or punch a wall, or roll your eyes right out of your head.

She zeroed right in on the problem, which is part of the spooky magic of therapy: "You're confused. You don't know how much is too much to put up with, what pain is from the past and has nothing to do with him."

Isn't this always the question? When is it time to go?

In my case, the answer has always been to run at the first sign of distress. I leave men, I leave jobs and I leave cities. I take my hand out of the fire before it burns, because that's all I know. Now I have to figure out what happens if I leave it there.

"He isn't a bad guy or I would tell you to leave and we'd have a separation discussion," said the therapist, legs crossed, leaning back in her chair. "He just has terrible communication skills."

After our first therapy session, we drove home feeling relieved, hopeful. Less than an hour later, we had a petty fight when he snapped at me for asking him twice whether he wanted a roll with dinner. There went the fantasy of the quick fix. Pass the butter and a whole new helping of resentment.

It's normal for things to get worse right before they get better, according to the shrink. Of course, things also get worse right before you break up.

Teresa Strasser (www.teresastrasser.com) is an Emmy Award- and Los Angeles Press Club-winning writer. She will be appearing at the University of Judaism as part of "The Gender Smackdown" on Sunday, Dec. 4. For information or to R.S.V.P., call (310) 476-9777, ext. 473.

 

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