It turns out that saying that you’ve politely dismissed your couples therapist is like saying you washed your hair once with the special shampoo and now you don’t have lice any more: you can say it, but it doesn’t mean that it’s true.
You see, couples therapists are tenacious creatures. What, you think that you don’t need a couples therapist just because you’re no longer a couple? How terribly naïve of you!
He said we should have one final session because “it’s very important to have closure.”
That was our first mistake. That was agreeing to have tea with the gallant stranger in Istanbul who gave you directions to the Hagia Sophia and then ten minutes later you’re sitting in his uncle’s carpet shop.
Because then, yesterday, during the “one final session,” he said that normally closure takes at least four sessions. Also, the next weeks are going to be really hard as we figure out the dynamics of co-parenting while not being a couple. So, really, we need him more than ever now. Hmmm. It kind of made sense.
This was the moment when He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved and I exchanged looks that said, in effect, well, maybe just a small kilim?
Sometimes I think my psychiatrist is just fucking with me. She looks so innocent but I increasingly suspect that beneath that wholesome exterior there lurks a really twisted sense of humor. I also suspect she has own blog called Fucked-up Stuff I Recommend To My Patients With a Straight Face Just To See If They’ll Do It.
Today I was talking to her about feeling increasingly alone; about how I feared that I would alienate everyone whom I loved; about wanting someone who could just hold me while I cried. She was moved and her own eyes filled with tears. She said that she was sorry that I was so lonely and I could tell that she really meant it and that she wanted to help me.
Is there a possession you have that reminds you of your parents? she asked me gently. Something tangible, something you can hold, that reminds you of being a child? I shook my head; not really, I said. Not a stuffed toy from childhood, she asked? Err, no, I said.
She paused, nodding.
How would you feel about going shopping for a stuffed toy, she asked me. I sighed and explained that I’d be happy to do it if I thought it would have any effect but that I just didn’t think a stuffed toy would give me any comfort.
She asked if when I was a child I had had a transitional object. No, I explained; I had never needed one. We were a co-sleeping family; I shared my parents’ bed till I was about ten. And, perhaps for that very reason, I had never had a special stuffed toy that I liked to go to sleep with. I always preferred a warm body over a stuffed toy, I explained.
Well, she says, totally deadpan, there are inflatable warm dolls that you can buy. Maybe that would help.
I’m trying to imagine the expression that crossed my face in response to this suggestion. Amused-repulsed-incredulous?
Yeah, I don’t think so, I said.
Why not? She said, again totally deadpan, as if going to bed with an inflatable warm doll is just a normal thing for a 40-year-old woman to do.
Here, I will pause to say that I’ve also had the thought that Dr. F doesn’t make these sorts of suggestions to all of her patients, but only to me, because it’s such enormous fun to wind me up. I’m extremely predictable in this way. If you ask me just the right sort of absurd question in a sufficiently deadpan tone, I’ll work myself up into a lather explaining to you why what you’re suggesting is completely and utterly preposterous.
So, in this instance, when Dr. F asked me evenly, “why can’t you just buy an inflatable warm doll and go to bed with it, duck-rabbit?” I was positively stammering and tripping over myself in my eagerness to distance myself from her horrific proposition. I just couldn’t get the words out quickly enough.
“Why? Why? God, I mean, ugh, it just seems so, so, so dystopian, you know? It’s like, like AI, you know, that movie AI? Where the parents have that creepy robot child, or whatever he is? Or, like, like you know in Her, when he starts a relationship with his operating system? I mean, it, it, it just feels like that to me,” I end weakly.
Throughout my rant Dr. F. surveys me impassively.
“Well, you know the reason that they make those movies is because there are already versions of those sorts of surrogates that give a lot of people a lot of comfort.”
I am just shaking my head at her.
She sighs. Well, how about hug therapy, she suggests.
Hug therapy? I say, what is that? (I feel pretty sure that I already know exactly what it is and want no part of it.)
“It’s where you pay someone and they’ll just, you know, hug you for an hour. I know they have it San Francisco …”
This is where I start to get the I-think-you’re-fucking-with-me feeling.
“Are you serious?” I ask.
“What do you mean?” she asks, coolly.
“I mean, are you seriously, as a therapist, recommending this to me? Don’t you think, as a therapist, that paying someone to hug you is not actually going to alleviate your loneliness in any meaningful way?
She looks completely unmoved by my derisive tone.
“There are studies showing that after cuddling for an hour, your blood pressure is lower, and other symptoms of stress are alleviated …”
“That may be, but I feel that sleeping with an inflatable warm doll and paying some random person to hug me would make me feel so much worse. Like, this is how sad and pathetic I am. I am so sad and pathetic that I pay a professional hugger to hug me.”
She’s still looking at me with that expression of neutral curiosity that drives me bananas so I just continue ranting.
“Do you really not know what I mean? I mean, I feel like there would be all the same internalized shame that someone must feel paying a prostitute … Except, it would actually be worse (now I’m getting really worked up), because paying someone to hug you is actually more pathetic than paying someone to have sex with you because who can’t get a free hug???”
Now she sighs, wearily. Look, I’m not prescribing anything, she says.
OK, I say, with some relief.
We sit there for a moment in silence.
I’m just saying it’s an option, she says.
As soon as I get home I Google hug therapy San Francisco and all of the hits that come up direct me to this place, a cuddling service that offers cuddling sessions for $75 an hour (I can tell you right now, readers, that that is much, much cheaper than non-cuddling therapy) founded by one Travis Sigley.
An article about him in the Wall Street Journal notes that “cuddle entrepreneurs” “call Mr. Sigley a pioneer in the field here. The long-haired former psychology student and onetime stripper says he launched his San Francisco business, Cuddle Therapy, because he felt frustrated by restrictions against touch between therapists and their clients.”
I’ve tried out and then deleted as inadequate various sentences here. Because, honestly? Nothing can follow that description of Mr Sigley. Any commentary would be simply redundant. So, instead, I’ll just repeat it again for your reading pleasure:
“The long-haired former psychology student and onetime stripper says he launched his San Francisco business, Cuddle Therapy, because he felt frustrated by restrictions against touch between therapists and their clients.”
It’s an option.