Like most Jewish neurotics, I go to a shrink once a week. I started seeing her a few months before graduation, and surprisingly, it was first time I had entered a therapist's office. Clearly, I had matured later than most of my Jewish friends, who had realized the benefits of psychological help years earlier. But among neurotics, I had always thought that I was relatively sane. However, when my friend died of cancer and the man of my dreams broke it off with me in the same month, I figured it was time to find out what I had been missing.
From the start, I liked Dr. Cohen (Cohen wasn't her real name; her real name was Weinstein, but for the sake of protecting the innocent, I'll call her Cohen). Anyway, Dr. Cohen -- a lanky grey-haired woman of about 55, whose two front teeth were smeared with red lipstick -- seemed to get me right away. "You're a very unique person," she told me during our second session. "You're really great." I wasn't sure why I was paying someone to tell me something I already knew. But perhaps I suffered from high self-esteem.
By our third session, I was really getting the hang of things. My friends would have been quite proud. I greeted Dr. Cohen as though she were an old friend; I recounted my anxieties, paranoia, and irrational thoughts from the past week like a natural. This time, however, Dr. Cohen wanted to probe deeper into my psyche.
"So tell me more about Tom," she said.
Tom. I could have talked about him for hours. In fact, since he stopped seeing me, I was basically one-note Charlie, or I should say, one-note Tommy. My mother actually calculated that I had spent a total of one hundred and fifty-two hours lamenting about the situation to her. Then again, my mother's motto is "Never let the truth interfere with a good story," so maybe her calculation wasn't all that reliable.
"He was everything I had always wanted," I told her. "He had this amazing hair and a great smile, really well-toned arms -- basically an all around perfect body. And...well...did I mention I was crazy about his looks?"
"What was the problem?" she asked.
"It was a small thing really. I think we could have overcome it."
"What was that?"
"He didn't like me that much."
"Ah," she said, sitting back in her recliner and crossing her legs. "I can understand why you might think that that would be an issue."
(Was she implying that Tom's lukewarm feelings had somehow affected his decision not to be with me? The thought had never crossed my mind.)
"What exactly are you looking for in a man?"
I shrugged. "Well, I don't have a checklist or anything. But I'm a serious student, so I don't think I could deal with a guy who didn't care about school. Also, I'm very close with my family, so it would be hard for me to hear him say he hates his mom. Of course, it would be great if he were Jewish, so my grandma would come to the wedding. But, I guess the most important thing that I realized -- after Tom -- is that I need someone who knows he wants to be with me and isn't afraid to shout it from the rooftops. You know, a feelings guy."
She sat straighter in her chair. "I know exactly what you mean, Kate." Then, she added with a wink, "And I know a person like that exists, because I happen to have one."
"I beg your pardon?" I said.
"Well, I have a son," she whispered. "He's a year older than you. He's a Princeton grad and he just moved back to Ann Arbor. He's really sweet, Kate, and he plays the French horn."
I was flabbergasted. Was I hearing things or did my shrink just tell me that she wanted to set me up with her son? I sighed with relief. I guessed this meant I wasn't crazy after all.
After a few moments of awkward silence, Dr. Cohen prattled nervously, "Oh God, this is so unethical. This goes against pretty much every rule in the book, but I can't help myself. You're a fantastic girl, Kate, and I just know you and my John would hit it off."
"Wow," was all I could think to say.
"I know," she continued to blabber. I was starting to think that she should be the one on the couch. "This is a little weird."
True. But then, I thought what did I have to lose? Wasn't it possible that he was a great guy? After all, I had never met a French horn player from Princeton that I didn't like. Maybe he was the one I had been waiting for. Kate Cohen -- it had a nice ring to it. Plus, we'd have a great conversation piece at cocktails parties. "So how did you two meet," I imagined someone asking us. "We were fixed up," I'd say, sipping my martini. "His mom was my shrink."
"It is a bit weird," I admitted to Dr. Cohen. "But I have to say, I kind of like weird."
"Good. That's very good," she said, as though I'd made some sort of breakthrough. "Actually, you've seen John before. He was sitting in the lobby the last time you left."
Thinking back to our last session, there was only one person I recalled seeing in the lobby. When he glanced up from his magazine, I had caught a glimpse of his pudgy face -- fully bearded, except for the pink, blotchy cheeks -- and his long, unkempt hair that made him look liked he'd just come from an unauthorized Woodstock reunion. Not that I'm obsessed with appearances or anything. Of course, underneath it all, I think that most human beings are basically shallow. But in my own circle of shallow people, I believe that I have quite a bit of depth.
"I'm not sure if I remember anyone in particular," I lied.
"Oh," she said. "Well, in that case, hold on one second."
She got up and walked into her private office, presumably to retrieve her favorite photo of John. In that moment, I said a little prayer that the guy I remembered was not Dr. Cohen's son -- that when I left last time, I hadn't noticed the Brad Pitt look-alike sitting in the corner.
With a wide grin, Dr. Cohen handed me the picture. After taking a deep breath, I stared at it. There he was -- the heavyset bearded man leaning against an ivy-covered Princeton tower.
"I know he's a big boy," she said, "but is he cute enough for you?"
"Oh...yeah," I stuttered. "Very cute."
I flashed her a quick smile, but somehow, I knew she wasn't buying it. I had never been capable of disguising my true feelings, except for when I resisted telling my friend that her fiancé was a lazy sack of shit. That one time, I had been fairly convincing.
"You know," she said, clearly reading between the lines. "I have another son, who's a year younger than you. He's extremely good looking. But, he's an asshole."
I laughed. It was somewhat strange that my therapist was calling her own son an asshole, but she made a valid point. I shouldn't judge a book by its cover; looks were only one part of the equation. Still, I had my reservations.
"So may I give John your number?" she asked.
"Um," I said, with hesitation. "I'm very flattered, Dr. Cohen, but I'll have to think about it."
I thought about telling her that it often took me weeks, months even, to make a decision. After all, I was neurotic.
For the next few days, I mulled over Dr. Cohen's proposition. I thought about my alleged "ideal man" checklist. I reaffirmed that I did want someone smart and sensitive, someone who could really commit to me emotionally. I reminded myself that Tom was a hunk, but he hadn't made me happy. Maybe John was the answer. Ultimately, however, I decided that I couldn't do it. It was just too weird, even for me.
The following Monday, I told Dr. Cohen that I didn't think it would work out between John and me, but how about the asshole? Was he single?