"The New Year - Part II" is another of my attempts at a follow-up session. Here the therapist struggles to remain non-judgmental as her patient tries to become someone she's not in order to avoid the pain of a breakup.
As I open the door, I am surprised to see a smiling Heather waiting for me. Quite a change from just three days ago, I think.
Once comfortably seated in the chair across from me, she says, “Not the person you expected to see today, right? Rob and I got back together.”
“How did that happen?” I ask, while silently thinking, oh no.
“He called. Said he made a mistake and wanted us to be together. Turned out that Brad was actually living with another man and Rob decided he couldn’t deal with the free-wheeling gay lifestyle.”
I struggle with whether to remain silent or share my concern. While deliberating, Heather says, “You don’t approve.”
“It’s not a question of approval, Heather. I just wonder why you were so quick to take him back. He told you he wasn’t in love with you and you certainly know that you can’t choose who you’re attracted to.”
“We had great sex after the breakup. I remembered what you and I talked about and tried to be more aggressive. It was terrific. We didn’t tie each other up, but I tried to do more to him, like … umm …. doing oral sex and … I’m not sure I can say this …”
“Like putting my finger up his ass. I thought I’d be grossed out, but it was okay.”
“So you’re saying that you tried to be what you consider more masculine.”
“It’s like what you said last time, you thought if you could be more of a man you’d be good enough.”
“Why are you trying to take this away from me?” Heather asks plaintively. “I was so miserable; I felt so shitty. And you can see how much better I feel.”
“I know that breakups are horribly painful, but it seems to me that you’ve put yourself in the position to be hurt all over again. If Rob is gay, he’s going to find another man he’s attracted to and …”
“No, he told me he wouldn’t.”
“Okay,” I say, asking myself why I am pushing Heather so hard. Why am I trying to protect her, rather than looking at the underlying dynamics that have led Heather to return to this relationship? Am I re-enacting something in her family dynamics? Something in my own?
Backing off I say, “What do you feel would be helpful for you today?”
“Oh!” she says, obviously surprised. “I don’t know.” Pause. “You just stopped. You didn’t keep badgering me. My mother never did that. She didn’t talk to me much, but when she did she was always trying to convince me to do what she thought I should, even if it made no sense.”
“So what do you want to do?”
“I want to stay with Rob, see what happens, and try to be more assertive.”
I think of all the rejoinders to her comment, but decide that confronting her directly will only feel like her old arguments with her mother. “And what would you like me to do?” I ask.
“Hmm. I’d like you to help me be more assertive.”
“So perhaps you’re being assertive right now, by telling me what you want me to do.”
“I guess, but it’s easy with women. Like I pretty much did what I wanted regardless of what my mother said. But with my father, there was no way. I toed his line.”
“So we’re talking about the power your father had and how being male was prized in your family.”
“And last week you talked about not feeling good enough to keep a man because you weren’t male enough.”
“Yeah, weird as that is.” Pause. “So I guess I’m saying that I’m going to try to be more male.” Pause. “I guess that’s okay.” Pause. “What do you think?”
“It depends how much you’re twisting yourself into someone you’re not, vs. how it flows naturally.”
“It doesn’t flow naturally.”
“So are you saying there’s no hope?”
“Depends what you’re hoping for. If you feel you to need to be a man, there’s certainly no hope for that. If you’re talking about keeping Rob, I’m dubious – although I could be wrong – because I think it’s about him, not you. But there’s certainly hope that you can give up feeling your womanness is inadequate and feel that you’re more than enough for a man.”
“Right now I just want to make it work with Rob.”
“I hear you. And I’ll be with you in any way I can.”