I Went to Couples Counseling Alone — A Completely Untrue Story
Take 300 Milligrams of Hope and Nudge Me In the Morning
I haven’t been on a date in a while. The last time I went out with someone, American politics were more of a testy family reunion than a dumpster fire, and people were saying “Chipotle is some good shit!” in a very different context.
Dating is difficult for me. I wrote recently:
“Initiating any romantic encounter requires initiative, methodology, and resilience. And as a young adult all of my initiative was canceled out by the absence of the other two.”
— Christopher Daniels (Notorious DCI) “Awkward and Rudderless: The World’s Lamest Virgin”
I’m hapless. Women respond more warmly to passive aggressive criticism from their mothers than they do to my approach on dating apps.
I wanted to change my fortunes. I had to uncover the reasons why a potential relationship did not seem to be in the offing. So I decided to sign up for couples counseling. Yes, couples counseling. Bear with me.
I drove up to a small office tucked inside a strip mall on a Thursday afternoon. I’d taken the day off of work, allowing me to arrive a full half-hour before my appointment time.
“Just fill out these two forms and the top section of the last one,” the young lady behind the desk instructed me. “We only have your name on the schedule. Can I have your partner’s name?”
“Do you have a crystal ball?” I laughed.
“I guess we’ll just have to wait until she arrives,” I said vaguely, putting air quotes around “arrive.”
“Oh. Is she running late?” she nodded.
“By a couple of decades,” I said looking off into the distance.
“Is the traffic that bad?” she laughed. “Ugh. It’s such a mess. They say the President’s in town.”
“Perfect. Turns out the ‘care’ in the Obamacare doesn’t apply to my heart.”
“Awwww,” she said, drawing a frown on her face with her fingers then patting her chest. “Speaking of which how will you be paying today?”
I waited while the couple in session finished their hour. After about 20 minutes the door opened, and a couple in their early thirties emerged, followed by the counselor, Jean.
“Just remember Mark,” Jean said smiling. “Sarcasm is a tool for the weak-minded.”
“Don’t worry Jean,” the woman said, poking Mark in the shoulder. “I’ll remind him every day.”
“Oh, that sounds like fun,” Mark shot back, and they all laughed.
Jean walked to the desk and picked up a set of papers from the front desk. She looked at me.
“Are you Chris?”
I stood and shook her hand.
“Are we still waiting for…,” she stopped and flipped through the papers. “Aida to get here?”
“We’re gonna have to start without her.”
“I’m sorry,” Jean’s brow furrowed. “That’s not usually how we…”
“Trust me. Once we get started I can explain everything.”
Jean looked at me warily, but welcomed me inside to her office. The decor was like your favorite aunt’s sitting room — from the patterned couch to windows tall and bright. Jean sat across from me in a Victorian chair.
“So why are you here, Chris?” she began.
“Well it’s really about her. I’m trying to figure out what’s in her head.”
“You mean Aida…,” she looked down at the paper and her brow furrowed once again. “Aida Noe. Is that her real name?”
“She goes by many names, Doc. The last one’s name was Carol. She said I looked fatter than my profile pics.”
“Okay, first I’m not a doctor. Is someone joining you here, Chris?”
“Yes, I got your joke the first time. Are you even with someone?”
“That’s the magic question!” I laid down on the couch. “I just don’t understand what I’m doing wrong. Why isn’t she into me?”
“Chris, you’re going to have to be specific. Who are you talking about? And please take your feet off of the couch.”
“All of them, Doc. I just don’t get them. And they don’t seem to get me.” I removed my shoes and returned to a prone position. “Can’t you get us on the same page? Isn’t that what you do?”
“Well a key component is that there be another person.” She stared at my feet propped on a pillow with some sort of family crest embroidered onto it.
“I can tell you all about her.”
“So there is a her?”
“Women in general, I mean. The ones I like. They’re all roughly the same,” I said, kicking the pillow for room.
“They’re attractive and smart.”
“That’s rather vague.” Jean shook her head.
“And they’re not interested in me. Romantically. There ya go, Doc. Fix it!”
“How are they interested in you, if not romantically?” Jean began writing.
“More as a curiosity. Not like Circus Freak. But more like do you think has friends or you think he’s ever kissed a girl or I bet he watches Cinemax…”
“Have you heard people say these things about you?”
“Not technically. It’s more like subtweets.”
“What’s a subtweet?” Jean shook her head in confusion.
“They talk about you, Doc. They troll you and gaslight you and Dumbledore you.”
“Okay, I actually understood that. You’re using two of them wrong, and the third isn’t even a form of online harassment. It’s a wizard.”
“No one wants my Elder Wand, Doc.” I curled into a ball on the couch, crying into the family crest as Jean winced.
“I see on the form where it asks about your current medications you wrote 300 milligrams of hope.”
“Three times a day, and never on an empty stomach,” I smirked as Jean took a deep breath.
“Well Chris, as interesting as this has been, I’m going to have to end our session,” Jean stood and extended her hand. “I counsel couples. I understand that you’re looking. But you need a different type of counselor.”
I took Jean’s hand and, holding it tight, began singing the opening bars of “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story.
“I’m going to give you a number,” Jean yanked her hand free. “Actually I’m going to give you a few numbers. There’s…” She looked me up and down. “There’s a lot going on here.”
Just then the door cracked, and the receptionist’s face popped in.
“Jean, I’m so sorry to interrupt,” she motioned to me apologetically. “But Penny’s here and she says it’s an emergency.”
“Ask her to wait outside. We’re almost finished. It’ll just be a minute.”
The door closed and Jean handed the slips of paper to me — a therapist, a psychiatrist specializing in behavioral disorders, the address of a local church, and a book recommendation: “How to Own ‘Alone’: Why Punish a Good Person? Just Stay Single.”
But before I could leave, the door burst open and a young woman ran in, cheeks red and crying hysterically.
“Mom! Mom, I have to talk to you!” she managed while hyperventilating. “David broke up with me. I don’t know what to do.” She fell into Jean’s arms, crying on her shoulder.
“Oh no, honey, I don’t believe it. I’m so sorry. What happened?”
“You seem to have your hands full, Doc,” I jumped in. “I’ll just get out of your hair.” I started toward the door.
“I’m sorry,” Penny wiped her puffy yet still glassy blue eyes. “I’m so rude. I interrupted your session.” She turned to me. “Hi, I’m Penny,” she forced a smile, extending her hand.
I reached for hers and immediately felt the electricity. It was as if megajoules were traveling up my spine. Was this fate? Had I come here today to find this amazing woman?
I would never know, because the electricity wasn’t from Penny. It was from “The Gladiator” — Jean’s industrial grade stun gun which she had pressed firmly against my ribs.
I fell to the floor, drool pooling on the fine pattern of the area rug. As I began to pass out, the last thing I heard was Jean screaming to her 30 year-old daughter, “Run, Penny, run! Stranger danger! Stranger danger!”