The Not Entirely Complete Works of Peter Schulman

©2011 Peter Schulman
 

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He Said, She Said

Chapter

Annie

In the entire time of my practice I remember only two clients who told their story as flowingly as if they were doing a one-person show: Annie and Bart relating the details and their interpretations of the meaning of their date.

“When we walked toward the door which separated us from the seats, Bart was on my left. As we neared the door, it occurred to me that the tickets would be a perfect memento of our first date. I was prepared to enshrine them. I held out my left hand to him to ask for them.

“He mistook my intention. He took my left hand in his right. It felt very nice but I wanted to make sure I secured my memento. I let him know that I wanted something to remember this date.

“I said, ‘No. I wanted the tickets.’ I wondered if he could appreciate how important a moment this was for us. Boys rarely do. He handed me the ticket stubs and I secured them safely in my pocketbook.

“We watched the movie in silence. He was still too shy to make any further move. No hand. No arm around my shoulder. He didn’t even lean toward me.

“No harm done. There would be plenty of time for that. I didn’t feel the need to be forward at this stage of our relationship.

“When we left the theater something felt different. We hardly spoke. He seemed to be reverting to his initial shyness. For some reason he drove me directly home.

“I was confused. What had happened to change him? We had seen a movie and driven to my house. I thought about asking him if something was wrong, but decided against it. If I was mistaken, I would appear to be insecure. If I was not mistaken, surely he would tell me what the problem was at some point.

“He made no attempt to kiss me goodnight when he dropped me off. I was very disappointed. I had really been looking forward to our first kiss. Perhaps I should have taken the initiative, but disappointment clouded my judgment. The unfulfilled expectation left me dispirited and indecisive. I said goodnight and went into the house.

Annie’s voice sounded very sad as she continued.

“My parents were up and they must have seen the unhappiness in my demeanor but they had the good grace not to question me. I went to my room and came very close to crying.

“I never saw him again. He never called.”

Her eyes were misting. She gulped the emotion back.

“The days dragged on and soon it had been so long that I hadn’t heard from him that it was too late to call to try to find out the reason.

“To this day I have no idea what happened. Did he date me on a bet? That didn’t seem possible. I don’t think I said, or did, anything to offend him. Was there some fatal flaw in the conversation on the way to the theater?

“The tickets turned out to be a sad reminder of the unhappiest date I ever had. I think maybe that’s where my trust issues started.

“It seems inconceivable that I should have been so profoundly affected by such a brief relationship, but I will never forget that shy boy. There was something about him I found so compelling.

“The tickets are still in the bottom drawer of my jewelry box.”

These stories are brutal. I almost feel the urge to cry. Two teenagers have a simple misunderstanding that tortures them both for fourteen years. It makes them incapable of having a caring, trusting, lasting relationship with adults of the opposite sex.

One ambiguous phrase sets them off on a spiral of ineffectual behavior. A few well-chosen words from me and I may be able to fix it. I can make both of them whole and happy for the first time since their last date.

Except, I’m not allowed to.

* * *

Bart

It was simple. All I had to do was to get Bart to understand emotionally that, whatever the dynamic behind his first date, the very next one could be the start of a life-long loving, trusting relationship. What could be so difficult about that?

At least we had the time to try a lot of things. Maybe something would work.

“Let’s try an exercise,” I said cheerfully.

His face pinched in pain.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I’m not that big a fan of this kind of exercise.” He put up a hand as if to hold me away. “I’m sorry. I’m anticipating. Finish what you were going to say. I understand the trouble you can get in making assumptions.”

If only he understood that about her request for the tickets.

“You go out on dates, don’t you?” I asked.

“Sure.”

“And when you go out, you expect to have a good time?”

“Of course.”

“You pick someone you’re attracted to; someone with whom you can have a nice conversation; someone who might share some of your interests, don’t you?”

“Pretty much any other approach would be counterproductive.”

Does he analyze everything?

“Okay, next time you go out on a date - “

“Yeah, this is essentially the kind of exercise I thought you had in mind. This is the kind I have trouble with.

“If we do an exercise in my class we make pretend. We set up some parameters, break up into teams and allow the players to make various choices to see and assess the kind of results we might expect from such a situation.

“It’s make-believe. We know it’s make-believe. While everyone may get competitive as if it were real, we know it isn’t.

“You are going to place me in a real situation and basically tell me to pretend it isn’t real. The whole time I’m playing I’m going to be thinking, ‘but it is real,’ because it is. I don’t know how to get around that.”

Oy. This man is not easy to work with.

“I can see the look on your face, Doc. I know what you’re thinking and you’re right to an extent. Usually, you can’t play out and understand the dynamics of an exercise in your head. I agree that it is generally less accurate than doing the exercise and having the empirical results to evaluate. But I’m awfully good at predicting how something like that will go.”

Okay, I was going to say that. Does this add any support to his I-can-imagine-that hypothesis?

“I have a fair amount of experience with this, Bart. I’m going to initiate it in such a way that, trust me, there will be benefits to actually doing the exercise.”

When I reached the word “trust,” his face tightened and his eyes closed.

“That’s my biggest weakness, Doc. I’m very bad at giving trust. And I’m truly woeful at having faith.

“Even with long-term friends, I really want to trust them, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. And when someone says, ‘Can’t you just take it on faith?’ my answer is, ‘Absolutely not.’”

“So, all we need to do is get you to learn how to trust,” I said.

“Yeah, that’s all.”

“And learn how to have faith.”

“Pretty much,” said Bart.

“No problem.”

We both laughed.

“I know you believe what you’re telling me, Doc. You’ve had the training which tells you to look at things a certain way. You’ve had the experience using the training and it produces the results you expect. That confirms for you the validity of the approach. It makes you believe the outcome will meet your expectations.

“But suppose your way of looking at it is incorrect. The flaw in your view of the way things work also produces a flaw in your view of how things worked out. They appear to work out from your way of looking at things so they confirm the correctness of your view.

“Let’s look at it in math. Suppose you were to say that everything divisible by three is an even number. You test your hypothesis. Evaluate the number thirty: you can divide it by three so it is an even number. It just so happens that by what we all understand and the conventions we’ve adopted, thirty is indeed an even number.

“You had a way of looking at things and it accurately evaluated the problem, so you grow to expect that being able to divide something by three proves it is an even number. You can test it out on six, twelve, eighteen, twenty-four and thirty and it unfailingly shows they are even numbers.

“After a while nobody even questions it anymore, because you were taught how things work and you saw them working in practice.

“But just like all those even numbers that coincidentally happen to be divisible by three, maybe your way of looking at things psychologically just happened to hit all the even numbers. You may, not unreasonably, be convinced of the truth of something that is absolutely false. Then, like the Catholic Church confidently told Galileo, ‘Trust me. The sun revolves around the earth.’”

“You must have been an absolute delight in school.” I said. “I’ll bet your teachers were just filled with excitement when they saw you come into class.”

“That’s where they used to play make-believe. When I raised my hand, they pretended they couldn’t see me. Sometimes they just pretended I wasn’t there.”

“Hard to believe,” I said.