My fiance broke up with me over the phone at the beginning of my senior year in college. He called me from his apartment 3,000 miles away to tell me he didn’t love me anymore and that the wedding was off. I never saw him again. After losing eleven pounds, and making daily to-do lists that consisted of one continuous task – “breathe” – I decided I needed help and called the campus counseling center.
The receptionist on the line asked why I wanted to be seen and was it life threatening. “No,” I told her, “but I’ll take the first available appointment.” She told me there had been a cancellation and had an appointment available for that day, at 4pm. “You’re in luck, hun. He’s the best.”
I thanked her and hung up, focusing on breathing. I had never seen a male therapist before. I was wary, considering my all too recent heartbreak. Men weren’t at the top of my “to trust” list. But, I figured talking to a professional male might actually be beneficial.
At 4pm, my name was called and I followed the receptionist down the hall to my new therapist’s room. Walking in, I was greeted by a tall, blond, ruggedly handsome man. He was boyishly adorable, with a shy grin, worn corduroys, and had framed artwork of Jackson Hole on his walls. A mountain man meets sensitive therapist.
Here was my dream man. It was all too much. I had signed up for therapy expecting a certain type of therapist. A mother figure swaddled in scarves, with an office stocked with tissues, homey furniture, and chocolate. All things girl.
But here he was. All things man. Breathe, I told myself. Just give him an hour session. Then you can switch therapists.
We started talking, and I was unnerved at how easy it was to open up to him. It felt natural from the start. When he handed me a tissue, I realized I was crying. I relaxed into the armchair and told him about my ex-fiance. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “Men can be so heartless.”
The hour passed quickly. At the end of the session, he asked if I wanted to schedule another appointment. “Okay,” I said. Maybe talking to a young, sensitive male would help restore my faith in the opposite gender. Besides, he’s wearing a wedding ring.
Our next few sessions were even better. His gaze was calming and uplifting. I found myself divulging more, revealing more. He asked about my sleeping and eating habits, praising me when I was able to sleep for four hours straight and eat something other than fruit. I stopped writing “breathe” on my to-do lists.
I found myself looking forward to my weekly sessions with him. His office quickly became my safe-haven. Everywhere else and everything else reminded me of my ex. In his office though, it felt right to cry. He always made me feel okay.
I stopped crying seven months into our weekly meetings. He noticed my emotional shift, and complimented me on it. He started talking more. Or maybe I started asking him questions.
I learned he was 32, married for nine years and the father of one, with another on the way, due in late spring. He was from out west, loved everything outdoors, and a runner. He met his wife in college and had proposed at her graduation. She missed the west coast. He loved the northeast.
I told him about the slew of men who had cheated on me, my high school boyfriend who told me he was settling for me. He had gotten visibly upset. “I wish I could line all of those guys up and tell them how stupid they are. You’re an amazing woman.”
His flattery initially caught me off guard. I wasn’t used to a man being so understanding. He’s a therapist, I told myself. It’s his job to make me feel confident again.
Spring arrived, and I welcomed the warm weather with sundresses and sandals. I’m dressing for the weather, I’d say the morning of therapy. But I knew I was dressing for him.
His attention became my full concern. I craved our sessions and was growing frustrated with the one-hour weekly time limit. It was never enough. “I want to be friends with you, Hannah,” he finally admitted. “I don’t know if we’re allowed to hang out, but you’re someone I could imagine myself being with.”
I lived on those words for weeks. I knew he was married, and I knew his wife was weeks from delivering his second child. I also knew it was a crush, and one that I’d never act on. It felt safe flirting with him because he was my married therapist. I trusted that our relationship would never be anything but that.
One day in therapy, he told me he had spent the previous week locked in his office, watching our sessions. “I can tell you’re flirting with me,” he said. I didn’t know he had been videotaping me. “It’s procedure, but I’ll stop if you want me to.” I told him it made me uncomfortable, and he consented to stop taping.
A few weeks later, he admitted that he hadn’t stopped. “It’s for my reports that I have to write. I go back and use them solely as a reference.” I hesitated, but tried to be understanding.
We took a month hiatus from therapy, because he was taking paternity leave. I thought about him constantly, wondered what he was like outside of his office, what he was like as a husband and a dad.
I ran into him on campus a week before our sessions were due to start up again. I was with my sorority sisters, and he was with his wife and two children. We didn’t publicly acknowledge the other, but I could feel his eyes on me.
The following week, we could barely contain ourselves. “I missed you so much,” he gushed. “I couldn’t stop staring at you that day. You seemed so effervescent.” “Your wife’s really pretty,” I replied. “So are you,” he said.
My friends noticed the change in me. I was back to my bubbly self, and I couldn’t stop smiling. I confided in my best friend about him.
“You have to stop seeing him, Hannah,” she warned. “He’s married.”
“Oh it’s harmless,” I assured her. “It’s not real.”
A few sessions later, he asked me if I found him attractive. “Of course I do,” I told him. “You have everything that I want. You have a loving family and a successful career. That’s what I hope to have.”
“No,” he said. “I didn’t ask if you were attracted to my lifestyle. I asked if you were attracted to me.”
I started to feel uncomfortable. It was becoming too real. I fished around for the right words, but didn’t know what to say. “You’re an attractive man,” I admitted. “I’m so attracted to you, Hannah,” he said.
My restless nights returned. Flirting with him wasn’t giving me the same rush anymore. I knew I had to say something to him, but there was something about him that was too appealing. Besides, summer’s almost over. Then he’s moving back west with his wife.
I started to be incredibly cautious during therapy. Every gaze was monitored, every hand gesture was controlled. I realized I wanted to return to being his patient.
In July, he confessed. “I’m in love with you, Hannah,” he told me during therapy. “You’re the perfect woman.” I didn’t know what to say, so I smiled and watched the clock tick down. It was the first time since meeting him that I wished for time to speed up.
That night he emailed me. “I told my supervisor about us,” he wrote. “She wants us to come in for couple’s counseling. She doesn’t think I should be alone with you anymore. Please come to counseling with me. I need to see you.”
I didn’t respond. The next day, I called the receptionist and cancelled my session. He wrote me again that night. “I miss you. I’m so confused. Please come to counseling.”
You’re confused!? I wanted to shout at him. I’m the one who came to therapy because my fiance left me. I didn’t expect to end up in couple’s counseling with my married therapist!
“I can’t see you again,” I wrote. “Please don’t contact me. I’m sorry.”
At the end of the summer, he moved back to the west coast with his family. I never heard from him again.
A few years later, I found myself heartbroken from another failed relationship. I decided I needed a professional, but I hesitated while dialing, thinking about him.
While on hold, I wondered if he was still a therapist. I wondered if he was still married. The receptionist came back on the line and asked me if my situation was life threatening. “No,” I told her, “but I only want a female therapist.”