I was reminded of this story by an exchange with a friend today.
Dealing with the end of an intense romantic relationship is painful, regardless of the terms on which that relationship took place. Whether an unrequited obsession or a marriage, the adjustment to life without that one other person on whom you were so focused for so long is very difficult. And especially when we’ve had a hard time seeing a lover’s flaws, recovery may call for a period where we zero in on nothing but those shortcomings.
Many years ago, during one of my intermittent attempts to get sober, I went into analysis. Yeah, old school analysis, four days a week for an hour at a time. My psychiatrist, who had gone through the Los Angeles Psychoanalytic Institute, had me on the couch in his Pasadena office for nearly two years. My grandmother footed the bill. But when we made the family decision to put me through the famed Freudian process, it was my mother who told me about a dear friend of hers — another psychiatrist — whose own daughter had gone into analysis (with another doctor, of course, not her mother.) My mother’s friend had told her daughter, “Boopsie, at some point during this process you will realize that you hate me. Don’t worry, the hate won’t last. But it’s a necessary stage in analysis.”
“Don’t be silly, Mom, the day could never come when I’d hate you!”, Boopsie replied.
Six months later, the phone rang. When my mother’s friend answered, she heard her daughter’s voice: “Mom”, Boopsie said, “I just want you to know… it’s that day. I hate you.” Click.
Several weeks later, of course, the phone rang again. “Mom, I just want you to know, I don’t hate you anymore”, Boopsie announced with pride. Her mother laughed with her, and they cried together.
And yeah, I went through the same thing with my own mother.
But it’s not just Freudian analysis with its high price tag that produces this process of progressing from idealization to angry contempt and then on to loving acceptance. It’s also part of a good breakup, as I discovered not long after I began the analytic journey.
As I’ve often written, early on in my teaching career I went through a period where I dated and slept with many of my students. Though all these relationships were consensual, at least in the legal sense, they were also deeply unethical. And while some were one-night stands, some lasted on-and-off for months, and in a couple of cases, over a year. One of the latter relationships was with a young woman named Tanya, whom I slept with on and off from late 1996 to early 1998. I was a complete jerk to Tanya, not only because our relationship had started when I was her professor, but also because she was someone who wanted an exclusive romantic relationship with me, something I had neither the willingness nor the ability to give at that turbulent and self-absorbed point in my life. As far as I was concerned, Tanya and I were “friends with benefits”. And yet my conscience wasn’t so drugged and numbed that it didn’t know damn well I was taking advantage of her feelings for me.
Finally, in early 1998, Tanya told me that it was too painful to continue to sleep with me when I could give her nothing more than sex, affection and conversation. If I couldn’t commit, she told me, she’d need to stop seeing me altogether. She also told me she was starting therapy, and was excited about where that would take her. Since I was, at this point, on dear Dr. Levine’s couch Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoons, I was all about therapy, and told Tanya I was pleased for her. Continue reading