I’D RATHER BE SICK THAN SEE ME
Denise came to the office dressed in short-shorts and a halter top, a somewhat inappropriate costume, considering her 5'7", 250+ pound frame. She seemed distraught and extremely intense, as though she were on a hot tin roof.
“After this appointment, I’m going to the doctor”, she said. “I think I’m bi-polar. I’m up, then I’m down. Even worse, sometimes I think it isn’t worth living, that the world would be a better place if I weren’t in it. I’m not going to commit suicide. I know that because, right afterward, I’ll say, ‘that’s a crazy thought’. But I’ve had those thoughts two or three times in the last four months. I think it’s related to my blood chemistry. The more I think about it, the more I know I’m right. My whole family has had problems with addictions and crazy behavior. Maybe I’m schizophrenic.”
“What’s happened with the boyfriend you had visit me?” I asked.
“He’s driving me crazy, but that has nothing to so with these feelings. I was afraid you’d think that. That’s why I didn’t bring him up.”
“I accept that he may not have anything to do with the problem. But, in the meantime, humor me. Tell me what’s happening.”
“I’m ready to break up. I should have known on our first date, when he told me he loved me, that something was wrong with him. He just can’t get close, that’s his problem.”
“Isn’t that’s contradictory?”, I asked. “On the one hand, he wanted closeness. On the other, you say he can’t get close. It sounds as if he’s an extremely emotionally needy person, but he certainly appeared to want to get close.”
“Let me tell you what happened. I had some doctors appointments in his part of town and I asked him if I could stay at his place between appointments. You know he’s a bachelor and they can be a little bit messy. So, I thought for Valentine’s Day, I’d have several people go over his whole place till it was sparkling clean. Then I got afraid that, if he knew I was home alone at his apartment, he might decide to come over midday with some other thoughts on his mind. I didn’t want to ruin my surprise, so I called and asked if he was thinking about coming over. He said yes, indeed, he was. I asked him not to and told him that I was preparing a special Valentine gift for him and would appreciate it if he left me alone. Do you know what he said? ‘Don’t do anything for me for Valentine’s Day’. Can you imagine that? Here I’m trying to do something special for him and he’s pushing me away. I know why, too. He’s losing interest. He didn’t want me to do anything for him so he wouldn’t have to do something for me. That’s the way men are. They pull you in and push you away. It’s funny - when I first met him, he almost stalked me. I kept creating distance because it seemed creepy that he’d want to get close so soon. I told him it was inappropriate, but he persisted, in a nice way. After a while, I gave in, started to feel something for him, and look what happened. But why are we talking about this? I want to get to the bottom of my problems. I’m even willing to take medication to get myself straight.”
“I hear you and I can see that you’re hurting and under a lot of stress. However, there’s one more question I want to ask. I understand that you don’t see Louis as a major problem, but, for my benefit, would you please rate him A, B, C, D or F, in comparison with other men you’ve known or dated?”
After a pregnant pause, I heard her say, “An A. Probably the best man I’ve ever been involved with.”
‘But you’re breaking up with him?”
“Yes. I can’t stand the turmoil. One day he’s with me, the next day he’s not. I don’t know what he wants, but I need stability in my life.”
“I’m really listening, but I may not be hearing you right. Let me tell you what I think you’re saying and then you correct me. You think you’re bi-polar. We can get a consult and check that out. Also, that your whole family exhibits considerable dysfunction. I agree. But, to me, something else is going on. Number one, you met a man who, in comparison to any man you’ve met heretofore, has more substance and displays more care than you’ve ever known. Granted, his desire for an intimate relationship probably stems from a very needy personality. Nevertheless, he’s a good person, who would be there and accept and nurture you, more than anyone has previously. Is it possible that you’re scared to accept or trust him, emotionally? That the more you allowed yourself to feel, the more you gave him the wherewithal to hurt, disappoint, reject or abandon you? If so, it’s no wonder you’ve chosen to reject him. You can’t afford to experience the potential good, because of the bad you unconsciously anticipate. That being the case, you overreacted to his Valentine statement, and told him to leave and now you’re running scared.”
Objectively, it’s easy to see Denise’s behavior precludes any possibility of her gaining the love she desires. However, this pattern of behavior isn’t new. You can trace it back to her youth, to her drug addiction, which disallowed genuine relationships; her extra hundred-plus pounds of weight, which pushes men away; and the hostility and explosiveness that always seems to lurk just beneath her surface, all of which serve to repel serious suitors. Outwardly, her general appearance and behaviors say, “I’m an emotional time bomb, so don’t come too close, or I’ll push you away.”
Although it appeared that Denise listened intently while I explained my beliefs, my interpretations must have fallen on deaf ears. Twenty minutes after the therapy session, she called my secretary, desperately requesting the number of a psychiatrist with whom she could make an immediate appointment in order to obtain medication. She also cancelled her future therapy appointments.
Denise’s future is difficult to predict. But the example she provides is a striking illustration which explains why so many people who are frightened of closeness repeatedly pick the wrong partner, enter into hurtful relationships, stay with toxic spouses, or escape through addictive or excessive behaviors.