“Psychoanalysis is about what two people can say to each other if they agree not to have sex” is the opening line in a book called Intimacies by Leo Bersani and Adam Phillips. It is a line that, for me, goes hand in hand with, “The modest proposal behind The Intern is that for both men and women, the sexiest thing in the world is to be heard” (from an article in the New York Times, about film director Nancy Meyers’ latest movie). And also this: “The erotic is at the heart of unconscious fantasy life. The infant, born from the erotic encounter of the parents, will find his or her earliest experiences are enveloped in the pre-Oedipal eroticism of mother and child” (from David Mann’s Psychotherapy: An Erotic Relationship). Just replace “mother and child” with “therapist and patient” (which the author does) and the rest is commentary.
I was thinking about all this as the 480 bus flew towards Tel Aviv on a recent Thursday morning. I was on my way to my first meeting with Ronit in her new Tel Aviv clinic, and was engaged in the kind of zero-sum thinking I often tended toward. How was it fair that the bus I was on got to zoom past all the cars in the lanes to my right? I knew there were perks for public transportation users — one of which was traveling in the fast lane — but still. Wouldn’t there inevitably be some sort of fender-bender just a few cars ahead, preventing the forward motion of all vehicles, public or private, in this skinny little lane with its skinny little shoulder? Just to equalize things? The point is, I wanted very badly to get to Tel Aviv and therefore felt sure that I wouldn’t. My chances of arriving — finding Ronit’s new location, being on time — seemed inversely proportional to how much I wanted to.
I was also thinking about the word “dynamic.” In one of my final Jerusalem sessions, I had entered Ronit’s office feeling good — I’d finally made peace with her move — only to find that after a few minutes I felt bad.
“I was fine when I came in here,” I said to her. “Now I’m not fine.”
She seemed unsurprised. “Whenever people are engaged in conversation,” she said, “it’s dynamic. Things change.”
Dynamic. The sheer movement forward on this bus felt dynamic. I was going somewhere. Things were happening. I was moving.
I was trying to find the bright side in this new wrinkle of my life, trying to find the good in a commute that had for three years taken me five minutes and was now going to take me half a day. Well, one good thing was that it seemed an opportune time indeed to put some space between me and my adopted city, what with morning newspaper headlines announcing “Clashes in Jerusalem,” and urgent emails in my in-box from the U.S. Consulate: Recent clashes in East Jerusalem and around the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif compound amidst calls for a “day of rage” mark an increase in tensions in and around the Old City of Jerusalem . . . the U.S. Consulate General reminds U.S. citizens to exercise a heightened sense of situational awareness at all times and to monitor local news sources.
On the other hand, it had only been a little over a year since the Tel Avivians themselves were running down to their bomb shelters, and right now it seemed very likely that they’d be doing so again. Already, right beneath “Clashes in Jerusalem” was a headline that read “Sderot hit by first rocket since war.” Israel was small. There was no place to run. No place to run, no place to hide. South, north, west, east — none were good options, all were problematic. Would the day come when I’d be heading to Tel Aviv and the air raid siren would sound and the bus driver would slam on his breaks and the passengers would hurtle out the doors and we’d throw ourselves down on the pavement, arms over our heads? Or maybe I’d actually be at Ronit’s, sitting in my chair, in the middle of a sentence, and she and I would be forced to go running down to the protected room, together. This had already happened to her. The summer before, she and a Tel Aviv patient had had to do exactly that. She had told me so. It was a scenario that easily fit with others that my daughter and her friends had come up with: for them, being in the middle of a bikini wax ranked number one in terms of awkward places to be during a siren. But not for me. For me number one would have been during a session with Ronit.
My relationship with Ronit, even three years into it, was not reality-based. Instead, it lived in some heady idealized romanticized place where only strong passions existed; it lived in that place where new romantic relationships lived, before the two parties knew each other well, grew comfortable with each other, became irritated when one forgot to pick up a dozen eggs, the other was late getting the kids from school. No, the minor daily irritations were not for us to suffer; those were for husbands and wives, for parents and children, for friends. We were there for the major ones.
“I had a dream about you last night,” I said to her now, having arrived safely and on time for my appointment, amazingly. “But I can’t remember anything about it except the word ‘pretend.’ I woke up feeling we were both pretending at something. Like there’s something we’re not acknowledging.”
Ronit waited. Unlike the reader, who might be thinking back to the first paragraph of this blog post, who might be waiting for me to make some big dramatic sexual confession, she was waiting for something else. After all, the idea that, in her words, any time you had two people working intimately together you also had sexuality — regardless of the two people’s genders — was an idea that had been acknowledged between us long ago. No, it was something else, something that to the uninitiated might seem far more banal and less exciting.
“You didn’t warn me,” I said. “You never said what it would feel like to see you only once a week, after all this time of seeing you twice a week.”
And then I got right down to it. “Why did you have to move?”
I told her how my analyst in New York had been at the same Central Park West address for at least 20 years, suggesting by implication that Ronit was the lesser of the two.
“You’re forcing change on me,” I said, “but what if I don’t want change? I’m mad at you for this. I want to go back to how it used to be. I want you to move back to Jerusalem.”
From Intimacies again: “We live our lives forward but we desire backwards.”