When I logged onto Jdate, I was stunned to see my therapist smiling back at me. Her enlarged profile picture indicated a strong match.
“You can click on it if you want,” she said at our next session, when I mentioned it. “I can’t stop you.”
“What if I fall in love with you?” I joked.
“We’d discuss it. Don’t worry, your feelings don’t frighten me.” She was a beautiful, 40-year-old Jewish Upper East Sider with a PhD in clinical psychology. I was a 41-year-old uptown word processor with an inferiority complex. (A "word processor" is someone who sits at a computer and formats documents in Microsoft Word all day long. Law firms use them.)
We attended the same parties, shared Facebook connections, and lived by the rule "thou shalt not acknowledge each other in public." The intersection of our lives was startling, yet her psychological expertise also made her the ultimate dating coach. I was the luckiest neurotic in the city.
Until I found out I was seeing her close friend. “I know her,” my lover said one morning after I’d let my therapist’s name slip. “You can see her apartment from my window.”
“Relax, Dave. It’s no big deal,” she told me. But it felt like one. We’d met in a lindy hop class the previous month. I was smitten, yet terrified of being rejected. My fear seemed justified -- she was established in her teaching career, while I’d drifted into my coma–inducing word processing gig when it turned out my jazz saxophone chops weren’t Village Vanguard-worthy. It was becoming harder and harder to leave my misery at the office. I came home at night to send out resumes, with no luck. Sometimes I sat in my apartment and cried.
I had a history of losing myself in love, especially in breakups. They transformed me into a hysterical nebbish, searching incessantly for proof of my own guilt. A cycle of obsessive phone calls begging forgiveness followed, which naturally made my rejector never want to talk to me again.
I needed my therapist more than ever -- I didn’t want to screw up this new romance.
“I knew the entire time and couldn’t say anything,” my therapist said when I told her I’d figured out the triangle. “I can’t give you the best help anymore. We’ll go for a month more. Then we have to stop.”
I gasped. I'd been afraid my lover would dump me, not my shrink! I asked if it was my fault.
“I knew you’d blame yourself. Trust me. I’m doing this for you.” I’d been with her for five years. It was as if a secret romance was ending. I left the session despondent.
Later, my dance partner called at work and asked to meet. “It’s not you, it’s me,” she said over drinks. “You’re amazing, but my clock is ticking. I need someone who’s ready to have kids now, and you’re not settled in a career.”
I laughed pitiably. I was getting dumped by two female friends ad-libbing from the same breakup script. It was a nightmare.
When I saw my therapist again, I expected her to know about the separation, but she and my rejector hadn’t spoken. I thought about asking why. Instead, I told her about my determination to move on from the breakup. Never mind that I’d spent every waking moment fighting the urge to phone my dance partner.
“Stay on track, and you’ll be fine,” my therapist said. I couldn’t, though. Our final session was approaching. I didn’t know which separation was making me more desperate. I was like an addict fighting relapse. I stuffed my face with Haagen Dazs every night despite my lactose-intolerance, and sent my ex a dozen “I miss you” texts while fretting about losing my beloved shrink.
Finally, I caved and called my former lindy partner. “You don’t have to do this,” I pleaded. “We can make it work.” It made no difference that I was pining for a woman I’d known less than six weeks, who’d talked kids on date number four and warned me she was on the rebound.
“I need someone who’s ready now!” she cried.
At our last session, I couldn’t bid my therapist a happy goodbye. She was the most supportive person I’d ever known, and I was still torturing myself by contacting her friend. It was beyond separation anxiety; I was in the throes of double abandonment trauma.
Conventional wisdom would attribute my ridiculous behavior to my childhood. “Sometimes I want to leave and never come back,” my mother would say during the fighting years of my parents’ marriage.
“I’m really going to miss this,” my therapist said. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would miss this insanity. She was also single and forty; was I the mirror image of her?
“You can call me with good news," she said. "But socially, let’s keep to the old rules.”
I phoned her twice in the weeks that followed. The first time she sounded thrilled to hear my voice; the second she was more formal. After that I left her alone. It took months, and a new shrink, before I found another dance class and stopped calling my ex-lindy partner.
I tried to look at what happened as another crazy dating experience and moved on.
Two weeks ago, I walked down the aisle of a nearly empty cross-town bus. There sat my former shrink and my ex-lover, probably on the way to a party in the neighborhood. I’d received an invite through Facebook ... and declined. I was glad I did.