Being yourself in a new relationship
Photo: Jonathan Barkat
I had been divorced for 14 years and had three children off on their own—a daughter working in Europe, a son in graduate film school, and another daughter in college—when a woman I met on a ski lift in Aspen offered to set me up with a psychoanalyst practicing in New York. I'd seen my share of shrinks professionally in my lifetime (with questionable success), but I'd never dated one. I didn't hold much brief with them as a group, but the first date with Bob had gone reasonably well, so I agreed to a second.

We drove out to Long Island on a weekday afternoon. It was a sunny and clear day in October, the kind that has the exquisite melancholy that comes to the beach in autumn. Bob was recently divorced and refinancing his summer house; the plan was that he'd take care of the paperwork at the bank and then we'd play tennis, take a walk at the shore, and eat a lobster dinner before driving back to Manhattan.

In Southampton, he went to the bank and I drove into town. I thought I'd walk around for a while and look in the shop windows. I parked the car and locked it. I was feeling happy. The drive out had been fun. Bob had talked all the way, told me the story of his life, dropped a palm over my kneecap. Things were not uninteresting. I stood on the Southampton street and slung my bag over my shoulder and was about to walk off when I became aware of a naked feeling, an emptiness that signaled I was missing something important. That's when I realized I'd locked the keys in the car. I looked through the grimy window and saw them glittering on the old red vinyl seat like diamonds that had dropped through a sewer grating. The windows were shut tight. My heart began to pump quickly.

I was parked in front of an old-fashioned hardware store on the main street of Southampton. I scurried to the back where a clerk made keys and pulled him outside to look at the car. We stood surveying it and he poked at the windows. No, the wire hanger trick would not work. He jiggled all the doors. Locked. We both stood with our hands on our hips, staring. The car was old, a secondhand Chevy that Bob's daughter had used in law school. It was grimy with New York City dirt and had masking tape wound around the front fender, presumably to hold it together. I'd first seen the car nestled among the gleaming Saabs, BMWs, and Mercedeses belonging to the other doctors when we rendezvoused that noon on the street outside Lenox Hill Hospital; it looked like a punch-drunk boxer picking itself up off the mat. Bob had once owned a Mercedes and lived in a wealthy suburb, but those days were over, he'd said; he was paying for the divorce and didn't have much spare cash. The car was so flimsy that I had the fantasy I could turn it over and jiggle the keys out, but of course that wasn't so.

I was experiencing a kind of panic. At that point I wasn't sure how I felt about Bob, but I was utterly certain of what I wanted him to feel about me. Being a twit wasn't among the possibilities I would consider. My kids joked that I couldn't leave the apartment without returning for something I'd forgotten. "Don't worry. She'll be right back," my son told a friend who'd said he was sorry he hadn't said goodbye to me before I went out. Soon I'd reappear—looking for my gloves, a letter I needed to mail, or the name of the restaurant where I was headed for dinner. The woman who introduced us was dating a friend of Bob's, also a therapist, and they'd both warned him that we'd have a great time together for a while but our romance would be brief. Aside from being too picky and commitment-phobic, they'd said, I was flaky. Now I'd proven them right, and even sooner than they'd predicted.

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