It’s time for another installment in my “Year of Divorcing Dangerously” series about the misadventures of one married couple as they decide whether or not they should, in fact, be married. Yes, Neal said he was okay with it as long as (a) he didn’t have to write it and (b) I didn’t use too many em dashes — a promise I have no intention of keeping but we’re still married, SO THERE.
There’s little doubt: if your relationship hangs in the balance, you find a competent, caring couples counselor.
But we are very IN-teresting *sweeping hand gesture* and have IN-teresting unicorn problems *sweeping hand gesture*.
And so no competent caring counselor would do. We needed someone special.
Neal and I had been down the couples counseling road before and had been thwarted by the expense, the scent of eucalyptus candles, the demands of having a new baby, or the other person winning. But this time we felt as if having someone to
shame my mate declare a victor adjudicate act as a neutral but constructive facilitator was necessary. And so we researched: ratings, ages, academic backgrounds, cool-sounding-names, and settled on the one person who would accept my insurance.
Enter Dr. Feelgood.
We received some immediate cues that Dr. Feelgood wasn’t your garden-variety therapist. For one, she worked in an unmarked building made of hope-inducing vomit-yellow cinderblocks with a bizarre steeple on top. As if someone had kidnapped Captain D and made him redecorate and hang out a shingle as a couples counselor. Once you found the waiting room–why is everyone getting on the elevator sobbing and stabbing each other?–you could not signal to Dr. F that you were there. No bells. No receptionist. No dumbwaiter. She would just sense you and eventually wave you inside.
Our next tip that Dr. Feelgood might be…er, more informal, was that at our first visit, after explaining her co-pay and fee schedule, she accepted our crisp twenties and immediately began counting a large stack of money. Not the two bills we gave her. A towering stack of paper money she produced, seemingly, out of the cloudless sky.
Our accounts differ slightly. I firmly believe that she wore a green visor and sleeve garters.
Neal remembers her more like so:
“Hey,” we thought, “Who are we to judge? She’s probably a genius. Geniuses are quirky. And she probably doesn’t get paid in stacks of cash because her last client looked like this:”
So we looked past her quirks and let her begin her treatment. We each dubbed her a miracle-worker…on the weeks in which WE WON and the other person was exposed as a Marital Saboteur who REALLY COULD STOP GOING FOR THE CHERRY JOLLY RANCHERS ON THE THERAPIST’S COFFEE TABLE BECAUSE MAYBE THEY’RE MY FAVORITE AND ALSO IS NOW REALLY THE TIME FOR CANDY?!?!?!
But despite her hit-or-miss gifts for helping us communicate, there were more quirks. Teeny tiny red flags we could not ignore.
- She changed into her running shoes during every session. Early in every session. Like seven minutes in and typically when I said something she didn’t like. As if she worried she might have to run from us screaming, “They can’t be helped!”
- Sometime she didn’t say hello or “‘Sup?” or “You first.” She just stared as if she was about to kick off Thunderdome.
- She would complete other people’s paperwork while meeting with us.
- She routinely became distracted by a shiny object on her shelf.
And, oh, the small matter of her inability to remember Neal’s name.
In the first session, she called him, “Neal” once. God as my witness, I heard the woman. But from that moment on, he was “Noel.” “Noel has a point.” “Noel, I think what Molly is trying to tell you is…” “Noel, help me count my money.”
I swear, you have no idea how frequently a therapist says your name in the space of an hour until she’s calling you the wrong name. And here’s a pro tip: if you don’t get in front of that mistake the very first time, you have to live with it. And then there you are, terrified that you will giggle. Certain that she will realize her mistake. Wondering how “Noel” (pronounced “nohl”) could, so quickly, stop sounding like it was ever someone’s name. Considering, momentarily, that Dr. Feelgood might actually be a therapeutic genius when she started to call him “Neal” but then said, “I’m sorry. NOEL.”
I will say, though, that the extreme comical discomfort of sitting on that sunken sofa waiting for her to say “Neal” was a bonding experience that Noel and I had not had in a long time. The last time may have been squeezing the life out of each other’s hands while a strange man who once stole clothing from William Katt told us “it [was] a secret but he was totally fifth runner-up to play Robin in the George Clooney Batman movie.” Or maybe even in the delivery room, looking at each other over a new baby that we were expected to feed and not lose.
There were useful moments in our therapy with Dr. Feelgood, but none so helpful as her refusing to learn Neal’s f—ing name. And so, when after a few months we realized that we’d gotten what we came for, we called Dr. Feelgood to tell her we wouldn’t be back.
“I’m sorry to hear it,” she said to my voicemail. “I’ll look for the final co-pay in the mail. Cash, please. Good luck to you and NEAL.”
You win, Dr. Feelgood.