Sex and the Ivy

What Sarah Saw

Filed under: Depression, Mental Health, Sarah, Therapy — Elle January 10, 2007 @ 3:53 pm

Everyone needs to have their defenses broken down sometimes. It’s the only way to figure out what you’re really after, why you’re not happy, and whether you’re running down the path of life in the wrong direction with the wrong company. The problem is that we have defenses for a reason and most of us aren’t comfortable living unprotected. For me, therapy is a safe space where I can be vulnerable, own up to my insecurities, and admit my faults. My hour with Sarah is the only time when I feel normal at Harvard.

I’ve been seeing Sarah since late October. To be honest, I made a snap judgment the second she shook my hand at our pre-screening. I didn’t think we’d click. And at first, we didn’t. Our first meetings consisted of talking on my part and nodding on hers. There wasn’t anything particularly insightful I gleaned from the biweekly sessions. But recently, I’ve realized that what she says about my personality and inclinations makes sense. Maybe it’s because she’s making more accurate assessments with time. Maybe it’s because I’m more willing to listen.

If I were Sarah, I wouldn’t like myself very much. There is absolutely nothing to pity about my situation. No one died. My grades are fine. It’s not even like I can complain that much about my love life. I just can’t get my emotions under control when crisis strikes, boo-fucking-hoo. In my initial sessions with her, I pretty much gave a list of hang-ups and expected her to form an accurate diagnosis. Typical Friday morning inquiries would go something like: “So Sarah, what do you get if you combine an eating disorder, predisposition for addiction, impulsive behavior, alcohol dependency, promiscuity, and unhappy childhood with an overachieving, extroverted Type A personality?” I went in with the attitude that I was overachieving at life — whatever my problems were had to be chemically induced. I wasn’t particularly helpful, just demanding. Pills? Electroshock? Lobotomy? I was game for anything — just fix me in time for recruitng.

Obviously, I’m a handful. I’m no different when it comes to Sarah but that’s okay. With her, I unload all my baggage and I don’t feel guilty about it. My friends don’t have time to deal with my depression, but my therapist? It’s her job. So I let my pals finish their problem sets and let Sarah listen to my problems. Mental Health Services is highly underutilized, and therapy is highly underrated. Not unlike promiscuity, it is at once taboo and trendy. Thus, it’s easy to discount its real value. But even for me — someone whose writing depends on introspection — I find myself making revelations every time I go in.

The morning after I hurled something at Aidan’s head, Sarah asked me about my father. In the midst of my most recent heartbreak, I had never thought to ponder my first. My dad was the first man to disappoint me: divorce, neglect, irresponsibility … I could go on for days about what my father didn’t do and what he screwed up at.

“I know he loves me because he’s my father. And I love him,” I told Sarah. “But he was a man who just wasn’t very good at fatherhood.”

I started talking abeout my family dynamics and was in the middle of ranting when she cut me off to ask the obvious question of what this meant for my romantic interactions. Sarah wanted to know what I was looking for in my relationships with men. Though mid-tirade just moments earlier, I suddenly found myself at a loss for words. It was the first time since I started therapy that there was silence in the office. Several seconds after my prose broke off, I finally managed to speak.

“I just want to be loved.”

I said it quite simply and half-shrugged, shaking my head, my eyes welling up. It was a moment of clarity, and I was almost shocked. I didn’t expect to make any revelations — certainly not one as seemingly simple as this one. It was the closest I ever came to crying with Sarah.

Two nights later, I finished in my dorm room what I started in her office and cried in front of Aidan. It was appropriate. He was the only person other than Sarah that I’d been as honest with this fall. At the moment, I couldn’t stop sobbing and I thought that it was because he hurt me. In retrospect, it was 19 years in the making.

I am so far from perfect in a place where perfection is the minimal expectation. Yet I get the feeling that very few people ever meet that self-imposed standard and that perfection is a poor substitute for happiness. I don’t think I will ever quite be good enough, but for the first time since just about ever, academic performance and professional success are not what matters.

It was in therapy that I finally realized neither made me happy. It was in therapy that the void in my life stopped being something I thought Harvard could fill. And it was Sarah who stripped me down to the most vulnerable I’d ever been. It was her who saw that at the core of this ambitious young woman was really a girl who just wanted to be loved.

15 Responses to “What Sarah Saw”

  1. Rez Says:

    What’s this? No sycophantic pats on the back for Ms. Elle? Really now, this self-piety is unbecoming of you. “But, but, but my Daddy never loved me” Take a page from McVeigh – “In the fell clutch of circumstance - I have not winced nor cried aloud - Under the bludgeonings of chance - My head is bloody, but unbowed.”

  2. M Says:

    Really, Rez? McVeigh? That quote is from William Ernest Henley.

    And as The Beatles so eloquently put it, all you need is love. I hope you find it, Elle :)

  3. Rez Says:

  4. Real Truther Says:

    Excellent! You’ve discovered something very important–each of us responds to the opposite sex in a manner detrmined by our first important relationship with the opposite sex–our parent of opposite sex. If you have a sibling of opposite sex that you were close to then that also counts. The idea is that your knee-jerk reactions and emotional reflexes are conditioned by this most important first relationship. Now you know, but knowing is only half the battle–can you deal is the question. Deal with separating the hole left in you by your father without jeopardizing your relationships with other men. Finding men who excel where your father did not may help.

    As for McVeigh, what does he have to do with anything? Did you know he wasn’t even responsible for most of what happened that day? See and learn some real history, not the kind of crap they feed the masses who can’t be bothered to check the facts for themselves.

  5. Curiousity's Cat Says:

    It seems, from previous posts, that you’ve actually made this epiphany before. And it seems like you’ll keep making it again and again until you decide whether you would rather be the persona Elle, overconfident and uncommitting, or someone looking for a relationship. Basing a blog on how sad it is that you want the latter while continuing to be the former is self-pitying and attention-seeking. If you choose how you’re going to balance the two, but admit that you’re making the decision- you might feel like your life is more under your control.

    BTW, Real Truther, I thought you had practical advice about anti-depressants and such, but drop the wiser-than-thou attitude. You’re not going to be taken more seriously just because you’re patronizing and smug.

  6. Real Truther Says:

    I don’t act patronizing and smug to be taken seriously. I simply am a patronizing and smug person. Whether or not you take me seriously isn’t really something that keeps me awake at night. But seriously, methinks you’re taking what I said to Rez as something more than answering a snippy twit with a snippy tone. Or maybe you just don’t like people who have insight by virtue of hard learned lessons and can convey them with confidence. But then your own comment was similarly insightful and-let’s not deny it-a bit smug, so maybe you were just projecting. :)

  7. Elle Says:

    To each his own, I’m tongue-in-cheek. You’re patronizing and smug — as is Rez.

    As for Curiousity’s comment: I don’t think that having an active sex life and being able to commit are mutually exclusive. In fact, I feel like plenty of men balance both in their lives. I’ve never been labeled a commitment-phobe either, not by my friends nor my therapist nor the men I date.

    My decision to keep a blog is also a personal one and I think a lot of people might label what I write as self-pitying and attention-seeking when I’m merely recording my feelings — negative as well as positive — in a journal-like fashion. It just happens to be in a public, accessible forum.

  8. Real Truther Says:

    whoa, elle–are you saying that men who fool around (and women for that matter) can be considered otherwise committed to their partner? This is a key concept–are open relationships doable? My best friend (since our days at harvard) is in a committed but open gay relationship, but I always thought that it was different for hetero couples–much more difficult. I think while men can understand each other’s need to get off once in a while with someone different, in hetero couples you have the problem of women not being as sympathetic (not understanding how hopelessly horny most men are)and men having issues with sharing their women, maybe because unlike men, women are “flight risks”. Then again, maybe it IS the healthiest thing to remove sex from consideration of what makes a desirable partner. You pick someone you really like and agree to satisfy sexual needs elsewhere if necessary. I don’t know. Sex with love is the best sex, and you have to be comfortable enough and happy enough with each other to allow for the occasional illicit tryst and not worry that your partner will not come back because of it. Then there are those annoying, impossibly happy monogamous couples whom no one can understand. I think maybe their tendency to have kids right away pretty much ends up killing them off as potential swiners–kids’ll do that. Anyway, so much of life is about feeling comfortable in your skin, and NOT depending solely on escapism to be happy. Keep introspecting and you’ll figure out what part of your skin is the problem, then just cut it off. So to speak. You have to be happy with yourself before someone can be happy with you I think. Then, once youre happy with yourself, you’ll find that it meant accepting certain things that you can’t change, like you might just be patronizing and smug, and finally happy knowing it and not fighting or denying it. Only then will you have a chance of meeting someone who can love your patronizing and smug self in a healthey manner. I mean, MY patronizing and smug self. ;)

  9. MWR Says:

    Although your “breakthrough” seems like a simple, even simplistic insight, the brain is sometimes shockingly uncomplicated. Do you feel like you kind of knew it all along? Do you feel like your insight helps you, on a daily basis, to understand how and why you react to things?

    I doubt it’s uncommon for academic achievement to stand in for love for those of us who found academic achievement to be very easy. My big epiphany during sophomore year was was that people might like/love me for something other than being smart. Amazingly, that really did hit me like an epiphany.

  10. editrix Says:

    I encourage you to keep writing, study writing with skilled communicators, and think about the basics of making sense.

    “If I were her I wouldn’t like myself very much”,

    means something far different than you intended.
    Good luck with your burgeoning craft.

    PS: It is obvious you do not like yourself very much. Tacitly or explicitly, expressions of low self esteem are your primary subject. Embrace it — your writing can grow leaps and bounds from such introspection.

  11. Roxy Says:

    It’s funny how our relationships with our parents affect our relationships with and interests in others. My dad wasn’t involved at all, and he’s been a bit of an a$$ to my mom. But he loves me and my sister despite all of our mistakes and has completely taken care of us. I still want to be taken care of, and I want unconditional love… but I worry about dating jerks. Could be the reason I’m the a$$ in relationships.

  12. Rody Says:

    Editrix, that’s the biggest bunch of crap. Elle’s subconcious thoughts cause grammatical errors in her writing? Please.

  13. junio Says:

    Rody, Editrix’s statement about writing mechanics is separate from that discussing her subject matter. The stories and reflections themselves reveal very low self-esteem, not the grammar.

  14. editrix Says:

    Rody, I did not point to grammatical errors in the text. The error is in communication, the ‘mechanical’ element of conveying meaning failed.

    Another way of stating what was written is, “If I were Sarah, I wouldn’t like myself very much.” I assume what was meant was, “If I were Sarah I wouldn’t like Elle (my patient/client) very much.”

    What is written is actually an unflattering slam on the therapist, instead of the self deprecation of the writer.

    As far as crap, the failure to comprehend what one is reading does not qualify anyone to make critical comments about respondents and their comments. Reading comprehension is an essential skill that is lacking in far too many ‘readers, and writers’. Regardless, none of the thoughts discussed are “subconscious,” tacit and explicit are far different concepts.

    I sure hope you aren’t an Ivy Leaguer Rody, that would be a very bad sign indeed.

  15. Elise Says:

    I think I posted almost this exact same thing on my livejournal. There is some barrier between randomly hooking up and being in a real relationship that I cannot get over, and even though being in a relationship and being cared about in that way may be what I want, my self-esteem and relation to other people. I’m glad I found your blog!

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