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Sorry, Your Time Is Not Up


I like the fact that she's fluent in pop culture, that she tells me directly if she's seen certain movies or plays (God, how that saves time), and that once, when I mentioned an office party at Marylou's, she responded by noting (correctly), "Ah, yes -- Jack Nicholson used to go there."

I also sense that she's very well adjusted. I cannot tell you how much this matters. As a listener, she's unencumbered; very little of her own shit comes into that room.

But there are problems, as there are in all relationships. Occasionally, she disastrously misspeaks, Ginsu-ing the English language into a George W.-style julienne. For someone who writes, this can be very disconcerting. And I don't think she's terribly intellectual. She's intelligent, definitely, and competent, certainly; she clearly has a lot of experience. But there are times when I feel like we're both muddling together, racing in circles, missing the point.

To break this impasse, analysts will often recommend that you see another analyst, a meta-analyst, someone who can help you evaluate your relationship with your own analyst.

Yes, I know. It made me laugh, too.

"It's a very dicey business. What would it mean if we were two people talking about the unconscious and didn't fear we had no idea what we were doing?"

But I did it. I went to see the woman who recommended my therapist to me -- whom I hadn't seen myself because her practice was located in an inconvenient neighborhood.

It was a very strange experience.

After just three sessions, she told me in a confident, declarative sentence that I should stay with my current analyst.

Three sessions? Three sessions! I've spent months -- years! -- on the couch, wondering aloud whether to stay with various boyfriends, and my analyst has never uttered anything even remotely resembling an opinion on the subject. Yet this woman was willing to assess my relationship with my shrink -- a relationship as complex as any other relationship in my life -- in just 135 minutes?

It seemed like an appalling double standard to me. I tried to get my regular shrink to explain it. Her response was a strange mixture of metaphysics, genius, and nonsense.

"Well, relationships with boyfriends are relationships in real life," she said.

My shrink wants to discuss this story again. She thinks I'm writing it because I don't have any faith in psychoanalysis.

Well, duh, I say -- possibly in those words.

We're both quiet for a second. Usually, after such an outburst, she lets me go first. Not this time.

"That's not what I mean. You're pessimistic about a lot of things. You don't think you're ever going to get married. You think your boss is going to fire you. You think you're going to have sleep problems for the rest of your life. I'd like to point out, you didn't come out of the womb this way. So don't you think your skepticism about psychoanalysis is connected to a more general feeling of hopelessness? And that we ought to be looking at why you feel this way?"

I say nothing.

"Somewhere along the way, I think you developed the conviction that you weren't capable of changing."

Then she brings up a story I've told her before, about something that happened to me when I was 6. It was an interesting connection. At the time I'd repeated that memory, I'd had no idea what it meant -- it had just heaved to the surface, drenched with uncertain meaning, as I was lying there on the couch.

"I think," she finishes, "that despair is at the root of a lot of this."

I continue to say nothing. When I finally do, I realize I'm trying not to cry.

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