The Not Entirely Complete Works of Peter Schulman

©2011 Peter Schulman
 

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He Said, She Said

Chapter

Annie

“What an asshole! Look at what he’s done to me. I’ve barely dated since that night. I barely dated before that night, but I was really looking forward to it, especially because of who I thought he was.

“I was so hot back then I can’t even find the words to describe it. But that wasn’t what was special about me. There were a lot of good-looking girls. I knew most of them in my school. I didn’t hang out with them. They were insufferable: Me, me, me, me, me.

“They thought everything was coming to them. They thought they were special because of their looks. They talked about it all the freaking time. I get a headache just thinking about it.

“I could have had anyone. Hell, I could even have had some of the girls.

“I take pity on this nerdy guy and he plays me. He acts all sweet and caring like he’s really interested in me, not just because I’m attractive, but because he likes me as a person. Then he gets his trophy and poof, he’s gone.”

She shakes her head in disbelief that it could happen to her.

“So, if I understand correctly, this happened because you went out of your way to be kind to another person?” I asked. “You took pity on him, generously offering him the fabulous gift of your company?”

Annie sighs deeply. “Can’t you let a girl enjoy a little self-pity, Doc?”

“I just asked a question.”

“Sure you did. You framed the question in a way that told me the obvious answer you wanted.”

I don’t say anything. I write like I’m taking notes on her situation. Maybe I am. I write, “These people ought to sit down and talk to each other.” I’m trying to convey the impression that her answer was insufficient; that she needs to answer me more fully.

“I have no idea what happened. I mean, I know what happened. I just have no idea why. Could I have misjudged him so badly? Am I so obtuse that I have to live my life in fear that everyone’s trying to put something over on me, at least the guys? What’s wrong with me, Doc? You must know. Tell me.”

“So, they’re all the same? He’s like every other guy out there? They all want to interest you and leave you as soon as they have their trophy?”

She frowns. “It sounds stupid when you say it. I thought it sounded insightful when I said it, but I’m guessing not.”

“Not.” I shake my head.

“When a man asks you out, why do you think he’s doing that?”

“He wants to take me out.”

“Why does he want to take you out?”

“So he can get whatever he wants.”

I may have to start answering my own questions to get any of the answers I’m looking for.

“And what do you think it is he wants?” I ask.

“Sex. Power. Prestige.”

“Let’s try a little role play,” I say.

Annie rolls her eyes. She tenses.

“What?” I ask.

“We’re going to play make believe. You’re going to be me being difficult and even more obtuse than I actually am. I will miraculously recognize all the defenses I throw up by seeing you use them and I’ll be cured.”

If their date had never gone wrong they would have been perfectly suited for each other. Who else would have been able to put up with either of them?

“Good. So you’re willing to give it a chance.”

She laughs. “All right, I guess it won’t cost anything, except for your copay.”

* * *

Bart

I had considered several approaches for Bart. I finally decided I didn’t need to pick the best one. I’d try one and, if it didn’t work, I’d try the next one. He was awfully stubborn for someone who genuinely seemed interested in changing. He was awfully stubborn for someone who was so open that he was able to see different possibilities in situations other people had pretty much agreed upon.

I knew he would not be thrilled at being led to a conclusion, but I didn’t care. It would work or not.

“You want to be able to develop a solid, long-lasting relationship. The problem is that you don’t seem to have the tools to make it happen. I assume you’re ready to do the work necessary to acquire them?”

“Yes,” he said hesitantly, as if there were more to the sentence. He was leaving out all the caveats.

“In order to have a meaningful relationship with another person, you have to develop a belief that you’re safe with them. You have to believe that what you allow them to learn about you won’t be used to hurt you. In the business we call this …”

“Trust,” he said.

“Yes. Do you trust me with what you’re revealing?”

“Of course. If you violate the ethical constraints of your profession you could lose your entire livelihood, your right to practice. It’s pretty difficult to imagine a situation in which it would be worth it to you break my trust in that way.”

I smiled. “It warms my heart to know we’ve developed a close enough relationship that you know I wouldn’t risk losing my license or going to jail to do you any harm.”

“I feel the love,” he said.

“Tell me, is there anyone you trust?”

He thought about it. Minutes went by. Finally, he answered, “No.”

“What about your parents?”

“No.”

“Your best friends?”

“No.”

“Your sister?”

“No,” he said with much more conviction.

“Why don’t you trust your parents? Don’t they have your best interests at heart?”

“They do in spirit, but not in practice. They may even identify a goal that is in my best interest, but they see the implementation in terms of the way they’ve accepted that the world works. They don’t see it in terms of how my world works. The result is that if I accepted their direction, I could wind up doing things that weren’t effective for me.”

“That’s too abstract for me. Could you give me a concrete example?”

“When you’re in school, the teacher has made a selection of the textbook. If you do the homework, you should learn the material. The writer and publisher have created the book with that in mind. The educational establishment has evaluated it.

“My parents make and rely on those kinds of assumptions. So, if I took a different approach, they would tell me I was wrong. They wouldn’t suggest anything but a conventional approach to me because that’s how they see the world.

“My view of the world is that a voluminous number of mistakes in judgment have been made over the course of history resulting in a body of conventional wisdom that is not really wise. It’s just a way of getting through the day without having to put too much effort into evaluating why we do what we do.

“So, in the end, if my parents, or my friends, aren’t evaluating how this works for Bart, I can’t trust their judgment. They’re more likely to be wrong than right.”

I gave him a little time, but he was done for now.

“That seems like an awfully hard way to live. You never get time off.”

“You get used to it,” he said.

It didn’t seem like a happy way to live, but I’d never tried it so who was I to judge?

“When you went to the movies with Annie, did you trust her at the time?”

He had a look of doubt, followed by a look of surprise. He gave a big shrug followed by a smaller one. He pursed his lips and shook his head slowly accompanied by another shrug. I wished I knew what he was thinking.

“I didn’t think about it. I thought I knew the situation. I thought I knew how we felt. I just assumed what was going on and it was good.” There were more of those disbelieving head shakes.

“Well,” I said. “It seems you didn’t have trust in Annie.” I smiled. “You had faith.”