The waitress comes by and refills my glass. As she turns I follow her movements with my eyes, eager for any diversion that takes my mind off myself. When she has passed from view, my mind stores an image of the tight white shorts and the thin firm thighs and buttocks that seems as palpable as if they were before me still.
The vision passes, and I turn my gaze once again to the sunset. Secure behind a pane of glass and absorbed in my own feelings, I can sit passively witnessing a spectacle of miraculous proportions almost without seeing it. Why am I here again?
They say that those who cannot learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Of course, in order to learn from history you must recognize the current pattern that matches a pattern from the past. It sometimes seems that if my memory for faces was as good as my ability to recognize patterns from the past, I would have to wear a name badge so I’d know whom to shave in the morning.
I should be far far away by now, but somehow I have returned. History. History. History. A year ago I would have bet all I had that this place now longer existed. I was with Chrissie then. We had met by accident, as is usually the case, but from the first moment I made up my mind to do whatever it took to get closer to her.
She was extremely attractive, although at first I pretended that I wasn’t concerned with her physical appearance. Other men, I found, had more trouble staying calm around her, but in those first magical moments I saw an independent, alive, self-assured woman who seemed to embody everything I had ever looked for in a woman.
As we stood together in the middle of the room, I felt that certainly all eyes must have been upon us, and I wondered how I would get a moment alone with her to ask for a date. I wanted so badly to be with her that I assumed every other male in the room felt the same way. Whether or not that was the case, it took forever to wait everybody else out. I asked, and she accepted immediately with no trace of apprehension about what my secondary motives might be.
I kept busy for the next two weeks, and although time seemed to be flying for me I soon realized that it might not be doing so for her. I called, and yes, she remembered me. No, she wasn’t offended that I hadn’t called sooner.
It wasn’t until two weeks later that I had some free time, so when I called this time it was to schedule a luncheon date. We went back and forth on a couple of days, then finally settled on one that required only a little calendar shuffling for both of us. At her request we met at the restaurant.
Since meeting her, I had found out that she was a psychologist specializing in marriage, family, and child counseling, and that she was married. This last piece of news was somewhat puzzling because I had distinctly remembered that was not wearing a ring of any sort on either hand. However, my confidence was running so high that I felt I could afford to wait … to delay judgment … on a great many things. First, I had to find a way to spend some time with her. The rest would be easy.
Like most people, I’m sure, I grew up thinking that psychoanalysis or mental therapy of any type was for crazy people. As a result, I would never submit to any form of analysis whatsoever. As we talked during that first lunch, without realizing it I had taken the position that no matter how good she was (and I suspected that she was quite good, indeed), I would never go into therapy. I was perfectly healthy. In fact, as I inquired politely about her work, inside I felt as if I was engaged in a deadly game of power and control with her. A game that I would win, even if it meant that she would have to see the error of her ways and give up her practice.
At first, I didn’t see the effect she was having on me, or the way she was relating to me. I could, however, see the way she related to other people. She was so patient and so caring and so truly concerned that I was at once worried that she was not well and that I had horribly missed learning how to dealing with others.
After a couple weeks of seeing each other off and on, I was completely hooked. Physically she was my ego-ideal, intellectually she was far above any other woman I had ever met, and emotionally/psychologically she might as well have been from another planet compared to the way I was brought up. I was so awash in the tidal wave of new emotions and new ways of looking at life that after trying briefly to hold on to the niggardly emotions I had called my own I gave myself over to her.
By this time, I found out that she was not married, but claimed to be in order to be left alone. I could see why. What I had at first thought to be me projecting my emotions onto others turned out to be reality. Other men, seeing only the physical side of her, were overwhelmed by her.
I wanted to be in love with her so badly that when she would probe my past I would tell her everything. I wanted to trust her as a lover and I respected her skills as a clinician, and I babbled like an idiot about whatever memories I could call up from the past.
Because of this she came to know me so well that whenever we would have a quarrel she could convince me that it was my fault, based on what I had told her about myself. Each time this would happen, I would feel completely lost, and become stuck in my own emotions. I knew I wasn’t perfect…far from it…but while we were fighting I would feel uncomfortable in the relationship because my needs weren’t being met. Yet she would be able to convince me that it wasn’t right for me to have the feelings I was having, and with the tools she had for keeping the relationship together, it was her play all the way.
Eventually, it began to dawn on me that in spite of all my flaws I had legitimate feelings, and that she was not always right. As the honeymoon period ended and my needs were still not being met I began to notice that she had flaws, too. Our quarrels began to be more frequent and more serious.
By this time, however, my self-image was near an all-time low. I had ascribed so many good qualities to her and so many bad qualities to myself that I couldn’t see parting with her. I could see her physical beauty, her intelligence, and her independence, and I simply couldn’t bring myself to leave. She appeared to be everything I had ever wanted in a woman, and I couldn’t walk away from her.
It wasn’t until I finally told her that I had to be out of the relationship that I found out that I was only 50% of the problem in our relationship. During the last throes of our relationship, she had an acute psychotic break that once and for all brought to the surface all the things that were controlling her in her life, and thus controlling our relationship. Had I been less in love with her, it would have been easy to see it coming. As it was, I continued to deny that she was sick until the very end, when she made one last desperate, gargantuan attempt to reassert her position of control over me.
I walked away from the relationship stunned that I could have been so blind. And yet, because of all the struggles I had gone through, I knew I was much more insightful than I would ever have thought I would become. With my new-found self-awareness I resolved to rebuild my self-image and put the tools I had gained to good use in future relationships.
Over the next few weeks I stayed to myself, trying to become more centered after the months of craziness. In the natural course of day-to-day life I met Danielle. Like Chrissie, she was mature, sensitive, and independent. It was such a relief to find her that at first I denied that it mattered to me that as attractive as she was, she was no match for Chrissie.
After talking on the phone a couple times, we made plans to get together on a weekend and enjoy the beach. As we strolled along the boardwalk talking, however, I realized that I wasn’t giving her my full attention. It started gradually, then got worse. It got to the point that I couldn’t (wouldn’t) stop myself from looking at other girls.
Feeling disoriented and embarrassed for being so discounting towards her, we stopped for a drink. As we sat at our table, I tried in vain to figure out what was happening. I was with an attractive, intelligent, caring woman who seemed to think a lot of me, and I was unable to pay attention to her. After finishing our drinks, I walked her home and then lied about having some work to do at home.
Instead of going home, however, I returned to the restaurant, choosing a table on the patio where I could be by myself to sort things out. I wanted to be in a relationship, but I didn’t want to be in the wrong relationship. I felt as if I had two huge, powerful magnets that were constantly changing polarity. When I thought about how much I wanted to be in a relationship, it felt as if I was trying to force the magnets together against their will. When I thought about how afraid I was to start another relationship that might not be “right,” it felt as if the magnets had changed polarity and I was now having to fight to keep them apart against their will.
Throughout it all, my self-examination would periodically be interrupted by a waitress or a passer-by. They all looked so young, so cute, so desirable. Why was I expending so much energy to deny the many wonderful qualities of Danielle, while at the same time so eagerly wanting what I felt I didn’t deserve to have? How could my self-esteem be so weak that it could let my ego to chase after more and more beautiful women for the satisfaction of living out a fantasy? And the hardest question of all, how could I ever hope to attain my life-long goal of having a bonded relationship with one woman when I was so unable to so myself love, or to accept love from that woman when I met her?
I left the restaurant to take a walk in the balmy night air. Perhaps with the breeze in my face I can pretend that the wind is cutting through my clothing and chilling me to the bone. Then again, perhaps I won’t have to pretend at all.