On a visit to my mother in Manhattan, as we were exiting her Upper East Side building, she mentioned that the two female psychologists who had long been conducting their practices out of a ground floor apartment were selling it.

“Why?” I asked.  There was alarm in my voice, though maybe only I could hear it.

She shrugged.  “I’ll have to find out,” she said.

Ordinarily I didn’t display a lot of curiosity about the people who peopled my mother’s life – there were just so many of them.  But the word psychologist was a trigger for me.  I didn’t know who these women were, didn’t know their names, wouldn’t have recognized them if I saw them.  But I had an emotional reaction to the fact that they were leaving.

“It turns out that one of them is retiring,” my mother dutifully reported back to me a few days later.

“Really?” I said. She seemed awfully cavalier about the matter. “But what’s going to happen to her patients?”

I laughed when I said it, and my mother smiled, but I was only half joking. I was concerned.  I was worried.  I was a bit panicked.  I didn’t know these patients – these strangers – so I must have been panicking for myself.  I wondered how this state of affairs had come to be.  How was it that I experienced a fear of separation even from someone I had never met?

“Oh gosh, I’m a transference slut,” a like-minded friend once said to me.  “The minute I hear someone is a therapist I start transferring like crazy.”

Me too.  Maybe that was why some of my best friends were therapists, and why those who weren’t – like the therapist in my book club – I went out of my way to befriend.  Maybe that was why I had attended that psychology conference in the fall: to surround myself with oodles of people I could transfer to.  But why did I want to?  What did it mean to transfer?  For me it seemed to mean finding someone I could idealize, look up to, adore.  Someone perfect; a blank slate I could color with all the qualities I admired.

Which wasn’t to say that I wasn’t constantly trying to get Ronit to reveal her imperfections.  Which wasn’t to say I wasn’t always trying to get her to not be a blank slate, and cross the boundaries she wasn’t supposed to.

“You can find all sorts of therapists,” she’d said to me once.  “There are those who will go to a bar with you; there are those you can meet for coffee.  I’m not one of those.”  Another time she’d said to me, “I’m not your friend,” which stung but which I also appreciated.  I didn’t want her to be my friend.

She was similar to the analyst I’d worked with in New York, who had referred to a previous treatment of mine as having been too gratifying.  I didn’t understand what Dr. R meant at the time, but later I did.  A therapist is not supposed to give his patient what she claims to want, just as a young girl’s father isn’t supposed to say: Okay, fine, go ahead, kill your mother.  Part of the therapist’s skill set consists of being able to resist the fierce entreaties coming his way.  As a therapist friend of mine says, “Being the Oedipal victor fucks you up for life; believe me, you don’t want it.”

When I was in my early 20’s, I showed up one day at my former therapist’s place of employ – a social services agency – and said I was taking a secretarial job down the hall from him.  Former therapist.  Not current.  But was it an Oedipal victory anyway, when a few months later he invited me to have lunch with him at a nearby coffee shop?   In retrospect I understood that this was what “too gratifying” probably meant, even though the gratifying part happened after I was no longer his patient.

During the time I was in therapy with G I would try to get him to talk about himself, but for the most part he wouldn’t.  One time he said, “Listen, I can talk – I can talk a lot – I just don’t think it would be helpful,” and later, as we became friends, I saw that this was true, he could.  Friends.  Yes, over the years G and I became friends.  Idealized love object no longer, and my heart didn’t pound on the occasions when I saw him.  I was happy to hear from him, but I wasn’t dying to.  He’d turned from superhuman to human, from God to good ole regular guy.  Sometimes I just plain forgot about him.

Had I cheated myself of something special by being so successful in my endeavors to win him over?  Had I deprived myself of a precious relationship I would never be able to get back?   Or had I not actually done any such thing?

“Once a patient, always a patient,” Ronit said to me.  Or – in the words of Arnold Rothstein in his book Psychoanalytic Technique and the Creation of Analytic Patients – “. . . it is important to remember that the unconscious is timeless (Freud, 1915b), and that analyses are all, in a certain sense, interminable (Freud, 1937).”

A few years ago, G’s wife became very ill.  Recently she died.  In his email to me, to tell me of her death, G wrote that she was the best person he’d ever known; he directed me to her obituary, and I saw the glowing adjectives he used to describe her.  At my next session with Ronit, I told her that G, in his early 70’s, would now be the most eligible bachelor in New York City.

“What do you think it means that you can’t let him mourn her?” Ronit said.  “That the funeral hasn’t even happened yet and you’re already fixing him up with all the women in Manhattan?”

I blushed.  “I just don’t want him to be alone.  I care about him.”

But this wasn’t totally true.  I blushed because she had caught me not being able to hear how much he loved his wife.  The years I had badly wished that I could be his wife had not disappeared – they had only gone into hiding.