Prior to the beautiful and wonderful wife I have now, every friendship of significance in my life had been with women, but platonically. They consisted of: girls I worked with, friends of friends, or someone I dated briefly before discovering that this kind of relationship for me worked better. Without sex and romance to muck things up, I was free to talk about my feelings and be who I was without fear of judgment. Many of these girls had boyfriends or husbands who had either checked out or were in the process of. I was "the hang out guy," "the buddy," "the wing man" before that term became ubiquitous and annoying. Sure, I had male friends. But those were where I heard a whole lot of: "C'mon, dude, grow a pair!" And I had girlfriends, too. But those were knotty unions mostly (but not predominantly) because I hadn't a clue what I was doing. I just never got a handle on being in a relationship. For me it was just mostly easier and safer, more fun and less complicated, to have girl friends, rather than a girlfriend. But as I barreled towards 30 years of age, I came to the conclusion that this needed to be addressed.
Anxious, male, Jewish, comedy writers need to be in psychotherapy. It is in fact the law in some jurisdictions. So I went out on the hunt for someone with an acronym after their name who would, in exchange for money, help fix me. And so it made perfect sense that I would seek out a female psychotherapist.
Our first contestant was Carol who had been my friend Francine's shrink. She had to ask Carol first just to make sure there were no ethical issues with taking me on. And since my name had made only a cameo in their sessions for it to be a problem, an appointment was made. Carol was warm, very low-key, but never, ever, laughed -- ever -- never, ever -- a real blow to my ego. She was, I learned later, a sufficient "starter shrink." Ultimately, though, I realized I could be miserably unhappy anywhere. So I decamped Los Angeles and moved back east.
Now living in New York and married -- Yay! Not so fast. -- my wife and I were treading water -- closer to the end of our marriage than we were to the beginning. She was driving us both daffy obtaining a PhD in Clinical Psychology and had her own shrink. There was, around the apartment, a lot of trying to figure out who we were. A whole lot. "I think you need to see someone," she said and I knew what that meant. The trend of women in my life pushing me in the direction of psychotherapy continues.
Next up was Julie, or Julia, she answered to either. She was brand spankin' new, minutes out of NYU, eager, and worked on a sliding scale. But we moved offices three times, the last one back to the original. Then she announced she had lupus and canceled the next 54 percent of our sessions. Someone I no longer speak to now told me at the time: "better with the wrong shrink than no shrink at all." So I stayed for another year. Finally, I got a nice writing assignment and blew my fee on a change of scenery in Spain for a month. When I returned I called Julie (or Julia) twice. I never heard back from her. She did me a favor.
All of my friends were getting married and making babies, some not even in that order. I was prominently and habitually single and dreadfully self-conscious about it. I felt like I was always walking underneath a giant spotlight. And if everyone wasn't actually thinking, look at the pathetic single guy? I certainly thought they were. More than half my life had been spent dating and I knew no more about them than I had when I had started. Laying on my living room floor one afternoon my friend Angela told me I needed to go back, thus completing in my life, The Hatrick of Polite Psychotherapy Interventions. She knew about a place on 57th Street where shrinks go to be retrained. There'd be plenty to choose from there. So I made the call and completed a written intake. What followed was a conference table of educated and experienced psychotherapists deciding who might be able to, finally, mercifully, help figure me out.
A week or two later my phone rang. It was a woman, she was Asian. English was definitely not her first language. I only understood about 40 percent of what she said. She offered to meet me to see if we were a match, I think. Or she asked me if I had a good Brussels sprouts recipe. Who knew? What the hell happened? On the intake my exact words were, "suffering from neurotic comedy writer-of-middling-success syndrome." I just assumed they'd set me up with some harsh, opinionated, older Jewish woman. She was Korean. "North or South?" I asked but she didn't get the joke. Her name was Hea-Kyung. But I kept mispronouncing it. "Hi Kwon." "Ho Kyung." I butchered it all the way to Tuesday, so she told me to call her, "HK." I made an appointment.
HK was sweet, had a beautiful smile, and an air of confidence which made me feel like she knew what she was doing. But when she spoke there was a lot of: "Can you repeat that?" "Excuse me?" "Huh?" I needed closed captioning. But something about her and it and us compelled me to make a third appointment.
After the requisite banal pleasantries, HK started with an odd question I didn't see coming. I wasn't sure why she was asking me this. Maybe she knew where this might lead?
What kind of business was your mother's family in?
ME: They owned a pawn shop in Poughkeepsie.
HK: Tell me more.
ME: My mother would drop me off there on Saturdays to play.
HK: (leaned in) You played there?
ME: Yeah. There were lots of interesting people. And musical instruments. I played the drums until somebody'd yell at me.
HK: (getting excited) There was music? What else?
ME: Everyone was nice to me. I got to see how business was conducted. People came in, did their thing, then left.
HK: You didn't think it was inappropriate to see this?
ME: No. I loved it.
HK: (almost jumping out of her chair) This is very important!
ME: It is?
HK: Yes, I think many of your problems with women begin here. Because at a young age you were exposed to this lifestyle.
ME: At a Pawn Shoe?
HK: Yes, Porn Shop.
ME: (misunderstanding her) Yes, a Pawn Show. They sell things there.
HK: For the porn?
ME: (confused) Yeah, wait, no. It's a Pawn Shop.
HK: Porn shop.
ME: (finally understanding her) Not a porn shop. A 'Pawn' Shop.
HK: Porn. With sex.
ME: No, sex! With jewelry, and electronics.
HK: They sell jewelry at a porn shop?
ME Not porn, no sex! Pawn! P-A-W-N.
I explained to her what a Pawn Shop was and for the remaining 12 minutes we laughed.
I made another appointment, and another, and saw HK for a couple of years. The language barrier got easier, thankfully. There was a no-nonsense aspect to her approach. She had -- like a good shrink should -- a remarkable memory for names and situations. She also had a bit of a Tiger Mom-ish thing going which I responded well to. And like the question about the business my mother's family was in, an unusual tact that ultimately brought some surprisingly good results. And she laughed. Three was a charm!
As I had suspected all along, but couldn't quite figure out who or how, it took a woman (albeit an Asian women who I had a slight language barrier with) to help me figure out my problems with women. I finally, as my former wife used to say when quoting one of her favorite professors, "found a reason to not go to therapy anymore."