You take yourself with you was a sentence I heard frequently from my father when I was growing up. He said it, among other times, during my sophomore year of college when I was agonizing over whether to transfer from Brandeis to Barnard, my primary goal being to flee my ambivalent boyfriend. But making a change in my circumstances might not make me happier, I understood from my father, because I would still be me.
I had been thinking about this issue a lot lately, as I debated changing therapists. Would I be taking my same overly-sensitive self to another therapist, only to run into the same problems I was now having with Ronit?
“I don’t recognize myself in your portrayal of me,” she said one day after I finished telling her that I thought there was something sadistic in her behavior towards me. I had brought up the incident of her saying, “You didn’t hear the bell ring?” even though it had happened a while back. After a moment of reflection and recollection she said, “I think I was sharing my discomfort with you, about the balagan with the office arrangement. Maybe I was asking you to share something I shouldn’t have asked you to share.”
I felt simultaneously relieved and confused by her response. “So I’m crazy?” I said. “For jumping to the conclusion I jumped to?”
“Not crazy,” she said. “No. I can understand it. But I think it’s worth exploring why you assume that my intention is to hurt you.”
“Because it keeps happening,” I said. “You know me well enough by now to know the kinds of things that hurt me. So if you keep saying them, you’re sadistic, and if I keep coming back for more, I’m masochistic.”
The latest thing that had hurt me was this. In my effort to find a way to both continue with Ronit and also suffer less, I suggested that maybe I should start coming once a week instead of twice. Coming less frequently would lessen the intensity, I explained, and would offer the further benefit of getting rid of the Thursday problem.
Ronit looked perplexed.
“Whenever you and I run into trouble,” I said, “it seems to happen on a Thursday. I think it’s because Thursday is so close to the weekend. I have bad associations with weekends. As a child, I couldn’t wait to get back to school. I hated weekends.”
We talked about that for a few minutes, about what exactly it was that had been so dreadful for me: my father’s anxiety about returning to work on Monday, for one thing, which manifested itself in his relentless bugging and needling of those around him on Sunday.
But then Ronit said, “I have to insert some ‘reality’ here. If you do decide to come once a week, it would be Tuesday we would give up, not Thursday.”
“Oh,” I said, recalibrating. So she too had begun thinking of eliminating a day; of commuting to Jerusalem only once a week. Amazingly I digested this piece of information without too much angst, and perhaps because I did so, it seemed to her a good time to segue into a broader discussion of logistics. It had now been a little over a year since she moved to Tel Aviv, and not long before this discussion, she had mentioned how she would eventually be closing her Jerusalem practice. Eventually, it turned out, was sooner than I thought.
“I’m going to drop the Jerusalem clinic,” she said to me, “probably around Rosh Hashanah.”
Yes, she had actually used the word “drop.” English was not her mother tongue, I reminded myself, and in moments of nervousness – like this one, when she had to deliver delicate news to overly-sensitive me – she sometimes chose the worst one.
“But as we’ve discussed,” she went on, “you are welcome to come see me in Tel Aviv.”
You said you’d be here for as long as I needed you were the words that ran through my head right then. But they weren’t the only ones, nor even the most predominant ones. Strangely, I felt a kind of relief. I suddenly realized that ever since she’d first told me she was moving, I had been waiting for this announcement. Finally it was here, and I didn’t have to worry about it anymore. Also, I had begun to feel guilty about her commute. On bad-weather days I knew it took hours to drive back and forth from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And recent terrorist attacks, which had led to lengthy security checks at the central bus station, made traveling by public transportation a challenge. It was time for me to do my part. It was time for some reciprocity.
“So are you dropping me?” I said, but I said it coyly, with a smile. I didn’t actually believe she was. I believed that she really would welcome me in Tel Aviv; after all hadn’t she only a short time ago persuaded me not to let this relationship die? But perhaps I was looking for that little extra something to hold onto.
“No I’m not dropping you,” she said, also with a smile.
But then it happened. As if she had never met me before, as if she had absolutely no idea how the following sentence would affect me, as if she were talking to somebody who had never expressed fears about being pushed away, pushed out, or encouraged to leave before she was ready to go, she said to me: “Of course, another option is to use this time to work on separation.”
No. She didn’t. She couldn’t have. It was impossible. What could have possessed her to say such a thing – to me? A second before, I’d been totally on board. A second before, I’d had visions of myself sitting on the Tel Aviv beach; strolling down tree-lined Rothschild Boulevard; meeting a friend for coffee in Neve Tzedek; making a day of it around my appointment with Ronit. But her sentence changed everything.
After a long second I managed to say, “Wow. That is really painful.”
“What is?” she said.
I didn’t answer. Could she honestly not know? It was almost the end of the hour, but for the first time ever I didn’t wait for her to be the one to indicate so. I got up, said, “See you next week,” and left. Over the next few days I tried desperately to puzzle out what had happened. I traced the course of the session. Could it be that she had felt me distancing myself from her when I suggested cutting back to once a week? Could it be that she felt guilty about closing her Jerusalem practice and, to alleviate her conscience, told herself that it was I who was ready to separate? Could it be that she was simply trying to be considerate and not impose on me a commute that she herself had grown weary of?
I was growing weary too: weary of having to ask myself these kinds of questions. When I finished what could only be called a full-fledged weekend of mourning – of intense distress at the thought that this relationship might actually be coming to an end – it occurred to me that maybe the superimposed deadline, and the dialogue it generated, was a blessing in disguise. Perhaps Ronit was not so different from my ambivalent boyfriend at Brandeis. One session she was wooing me back to the consultation room – telling me that human contact was too precious to let go – and the next she was offering me the option to separate.
Was it time for me to take myself with me and leave? I still wasn’t sure. My long-ago transfer to Barnard had been a net gain, not least because putting 200 miles between me and the ambivalent boyfriend had enabled me to meet the unambivalent man I’ve now been married to for 28 years. But were the two situations really the same?
What if I was misreading Ronit?
Would she have recognized herself in my portrayal of her?
Did it matter?