On Friday night of Valentine’s Day weekend, I found myself on the exact same block where Slim and I saw a lesbian couples counselor for several months in 1995. What a weird déjà vu to be thrown back here alone, not for therapy but for a Speed Shrinking book party tossed by my straight colleague. Now instead of being preoccupied with making it work with my former partner, I was figuring out how to succeed without her.
The Speed Shrinking events were organized by Susan Shapiro, who published a comic novel with the same title. The concept was modeled after speed dating, except you saw each therapist for three minutes. The quirky event had received lots of publicity and become popular. To help her students, Shapiro expanded the concept to include editors and agents.
I had attended one last summer when her book came out, but I socialized with my friends. As one said, “I don’t want to get shrunk, I want to get drunk.”
But tonight I planned to make the rounds of these love and relationship gurus. I was already in therapy, so this felt like cheating, but maybe a pressure cooker environment could produce instant enlightenment.
As I approached the lobby, I practiced my pitch speech so I could get it out fast: “Hi. I’m Kate. I was in a 26-year relationship with another woman that ended badly a few years ago. I spent a lot of time reconstructing my life — everything is going well — and now I want to meet someone. I’m going out, but nothing’s happening. I had a few first dates, but that’s it. What do you suggest?”
I ran this through my head as I found my way to the main conference room of the Washington Square Institute. I was early but knew from past experience these events filled up fast. The hall looked festive with sparkly white lights and tables filled with soda, water, wine, chocolates and pastries. I sipped a glass of wine and chatted with former writing students and people from my weekly workshop.
As the agents and editors sat down at tables on one side and the shrinks settled into the other side, I grabbed a seat opposite a therapist. Shapiro introduced the guests and the two timekeepers. I knew the drill. I didn’t like the woman who screamed, “Move bitches!” I thought that was crude.
When the male timekeeper yelled, “Start shrinking!” I was ready.
Shrink #1 was an attractive woman in a red power suit. She was billed as a relationship expert who specialized in sex therapy. I raised the possibility that I was too critical when I went out and dismissed people for superficial reasons.
“What are you afraid of?” she asked. “Maybe you are not allowing yourself to see the positive qualities because you are defending yourself against possible rejection.”
That line made sense and if I kept judging women based upon their appearances, I might not get to see any positive qualities. Maybe that person dressed blandly was smart with a great sense of humor. I’d never discover that if I didn’t talk more to her.
This session reinforced the idea that I had to be more open, get beyond surfaces.
Shrink #2 was a relationship advice columnist for a popular Web site.
“Ask your close friends for feedback about how you present yourself when you go out,” she advised.
So far, the only feedback I’d received was that this cute woman I dined with was afraid to date a writer. Since Shrink #2 was also a writer, we discussed how she handled that. She said she told guys that she never wrote about them unless she asked first. But what if they said no? I’d already decided I wouldn’t date anyone unless I could write about her or us. Was that limiting?
I mentioned what my shrink said about my having “a guard rail around my heart.”
“Who doesn’t?” she snapped back. “If everybody waited until they didn’t have any baggage, no one would date. There is no perfect time to start.”
She was encouraging and spunky and I could see why readers enjoyed her.
Shrink #3 was the only openly gay person on the panel. I liked that he helped people with coming-out issues. He was a friend of a friend and I knew a little about him because he was a character in her memoir.
“You know my partner died,” he reminded me. “When you’ve been hurt and then you go out, part of you is there and part of you is not.”
I knew exactly what he meant, but I’d made progress in that area and felt whole now.
I didn’t tell him that I thought betrayal was more painful than death. We talked about the mourning process and keeping a positive attitude.
“When I go to an event,” he continued, “I say to myself, ‘Maybe I can meet my next lover.’”
I liked the gay male therapist and wanted him to meet someone nice.
Shrink #4 was a petite woman with offices in L.A. and New York. She was a relationship counselor and professor of human sexuality. She exuded empathy.
“It’s hard to get back out there,” she said. “I hope you congratulate yourself for doing that.”
I told her what my therapist said about me being afraid to open my heart because I was enjoying my independence and didn’t want to lose it, as I’d done before in my long-term relationship.
“It’s possible to be independent and open up your heart,” said Shrink #4.
I was working on this in my 50-minute sessions but it was nice to hear from another source.
“You are doing all the right stuff,” she reassured me.
Shrink #5 was a Jungian psychotherapist and an astrologer with a magazine column.
I told her I’d seen another Jungian astrologer who’d read both our charts after the breakup and said we had this horrible Pluto-Venus thing that occurs every 240 years and the relationship could not survive this messy configuration.
“Yes, Pluto may have caused resistance,” she agreed. “But this weekend is a new moon, so make a list of your intentions.”
Interesting. My hair cutter had said the exact same thing to me that afternoon.
Shrink #6 was the only one I did not like, probably because he immediately asked me, “So have you been dating any men?”
“Huh?” I said. “I told you I was with another women all those years.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t hear you.”
I let it slide because the room was very noisy. I looked at his card. He was a psychologist and a wrote for the Web site of a popular self-help magazine.
“Are you depressed?” he shouted at me.
“No, I’m not depressed,” I shouted back.
“Then unguard your heart,” he ordered as I spilled my story. “Try a strategy involving numbers. You may have gotten spoiled being so independent.”
I gathered he was telling me to go out more frequently, but I had shut down because his style seemed so aggressive.
Shrink #7 was a medical doctor and an Indian. He reminded me of Deepak Chopra.
“What do you enjoy doing?” he asked. “Stay in touch with stuff you are passionate about.”
I told him I was into yoga and chanting and taking workshops related to spirituality.
“Go to places like Omega. Direct your energies.”
“I love Omega,” I said.
“But when you go there, are you always looking? If you project that too much, it might be off-putting.”
I liked this doctor’s approach and totally agreed with him.
That was it. Twenty minutes and I was speed shrunk. I’ve had over 25 years of therapy, and yet I was surprised to come away from this experience with renewed hope and feeling positive that I’m on the right path. I was recharged and ready to amp up my dating energy.
Kate Walter is an award winning columnist who teaches Personal Essay Writing at NYU/SCPS. She is currently completing a memoir which she describes as "Eat, Pray, Love meets The L word." Her work has appeared in many publications. Her website is www.katewalter.com.