I didn’t really want to go out with him. I didn’t feel drawn to him or jazzed up about him but my friends and I made a pact to be open to whatever ‘opportunities’ came before us so I did it. And I accepted the date because I am an optimist. You never know, right? Or do you…
When I tell people that I am a therapist, I often get a reaction of “Ooooh, don’t analyze me!” or they go into stories wanting my input on a situation or recount stories of their experiences with therapy.
I don’t mind any of it typically, it is just predictable.
I am sure every profession has some sort of stereotypic reaction. When I go further (or someone says it for me) and tell them that my area of research is sexuality, it opens up a whole other can of worms. It is easy to tell who treats me like a freak show and who is genuinely intrigued or respects what I do. It is also easy to tell who is drawn to me for self serving purposes and who wants to connect with me as the person I am which happens to include being a therapist and sex researcher.
When I was single, this was either a fun series of lobbing quips or really annoying, ‘he may have an erection now’ responses. This guy later proved to be in the latter group.
We met at a restaurant; we did the polite ‘hellos’ and ‘how was your day’ sort of things and ordered. Once the server was gone, we hit the weird zone.
Turns out he didn’t want a date, he wanted a therapy session.
Before I come off sounding totally cold hearted and bitchy, I want you to know, I typically enjoy having these kinds of conversations. I would SO much more prefer to have a deep, meaningful conversation with a stranger than chit chat fluff with people I kind-of know. And I really don’t mind holding space or giving ‘therapy-type’ space to someone who is hurting or is seeking it genuinely. I do it all the time. When you love what you do, it is part of the core of who you are and that doesn’t change when you are grocery shopping, sitting at your kiddo’s football game, walking in the woods or having a drink at Starbuck’s.
But I don’t looooove it on a first date.
His opening line was “So, here’s a story I bet you haven’t heard before.” Although I bet I have, I do like an opener that grabs my attention so I’m listening….. and he proceeds to tell me all the problems he has with his mother. I listen, I play along and share that space with him. I get it. And some of it was sad and I could see how it was all weighing on him. And making him feel better to get it off his chest. I was glad to provide this container for him.
But this was in the first 7 minutes of meeting him. Come ooooonnnn!
That story led to his work problems. Which led into a problem with his roommate. Which led into his dating issues. I’ve eaten my meal, refilled my water glass three times and am now sleepy. I’ll add the detail that our server was adorable and he flirted with her every time she came over and he kept looking around and staring at women as we are talking.
Correction, as he was talking.
I sat back in my chair and was running out of steam. I had already sat through a full workday of therapy sessions and now had entered an unexpected evening shift. I felt for this guy, I did. But this wasn’t so much fun for me.
And he’s jazzed. Liked hyped up. Like how you feel when you are really vibing with someone. He’s smiling and wringing his hands and looks at me with this pretty captivating smile, puts his hands behind his head clasped together and says with a tone of satisfaction and happy anticipation,
“So…..how do you rate me?”.
I was ready for the question to be “So where should we go for a drink?” and had my excuse all ready. I was not prepared for that question. His demeanor was like out of the scene in “Father Of the Bride 2” when Steve Martin is looking at his son- in- law and realized that this announcement of their pregnancy meant the son-in-law had had sex with his daughter and for a split second his sweet son-in-law looked like a menacing, playboy predator. That’s what this guy looked like in this moment.
Now this woke me up. Rate? Hmmmm…on what scale are we rating?
(Diagnosis? Prototype of ‘Hot or Not’? Customer Service?)
I really sat with this one. What is the best response to it?
It hit me that I was being way too polite and putting his needs over mine and had done it for too long this evening. It helped motivate me to move this along.
And I admit—the bitch seeped out of me as I responded matter-of-factly: “What is my last name?” Didn’t know. “Where do I work?” Guessed the wrong university. He really knew nothing about me. We’d spent almost two hours together.
“Well I’ve never been asked to rate a date by the date himself, so I’ll just wing this. I’ll give you a 7 in presentation, an 8 in follow through for asking for the date, a 2 in conversation, and a 3 in concentration because you really seemed to have a hard time not staring at every woman in this restaurant. I think that leads us to a 5 which is higher than I would have thought based on the time I had tonight.”
I stood up, put cash on the table for the bill and thanked him for asking me out for dinner.
He looked sadly at me and said “Oh that sucks. I was going to give myself a 8.”
I stopped in my tracks for a split second thinking, “Did he really say that???’ and then just carried on.
I walked out and wasn’t sure if I had done the right thing and was sliding down from ‘empowered woman’ to ‘regret that I was a bitchy bitch’ until I passed the window and he was still sitting there. With one of the girls who was sitting near us. They were smiling and laughing and she wrote something on a paper and handed it to him. My self-doubt stopped at this point. I walked to my car with a smile on my face and excitement to go home and watch a movie.
About what I wanted: I was finding that the way into my heart was to listen to me, to ask me about me and my thoughts, to notice if I wasn’t speaking about myself or offering much of my inner world back. This was just a first date so I didn’t have a lot of expectations of a deep conversation but it got me thinking. I realized I craved to have someone ask me about me because so much of my life and career was listening to others. I wanted someone who wanted to know my inner world and didn’t accept my diversion tactics and habit of not offering much from my inner world. I also wanted to be with someone who saw my skills as a therapist as a bonus but didn’t overuse it nor activate it in me repeatedly.
About myself: As a therapist, I needed to watch how much I gave in my profession so I had part of me left to give my romantic partner and family and friends. I bet this is true for a lot of professions. How do we balance doing our best at work but not spending so much of our reserves that we have little to give to our loved ones? I’m an introvert and a therapist. With those things combined, it sometimes makes for a huge need for quiet and alone time. My son, who was young at the time, was a huge extravert with tons of energy and he needed me to be present and active and talking and listening to him. When I was working full time as a therapist and part time as a professor, it gave me little time to find that space. So when I had weekends that I didn’t have my son, I needed to rejuvenate and fill up my soul cup with activities and people who filled me not those who drained me. That time was precious and crucial and I needed to protect it. And that was on me. My responsibility. (I made a plan to start looking for another job or job setting and put that intention out there in the world. It took more years than I hoped but eventually I found a better job fit and the difference it made in my personal life is extraordinary.)
I learned I needed to have a few cute but clear responses when the therapy or sex researcher thing came up. Not off-putting or defensive but humorous and putting it to rest. No harm no foul. I needed a fun way to put ownership back in my hands with accepting or declining this in my off-duty hours.
I also realized that I needed to push myself to talk more. To not be a victim in a date like that. I was complicit in the dynamic. I didn’t really let on how miserable I was. I was acting polite instead of being polite. I didn’t offer up things to say about my interests or myself. He didn’t give me much of a chance to . . . but I also didn’t make an effort. I needed to put myself out there more and see how my date responded to it rather than sitting back and expecting him to read my mind. I also could have handled the whole rating thing with a bit more grace.
And truth be told, I’d probably rate myself a ‘5’ on that date too.