Can you really have your cake and eat it?
This ‘therapy session’ is a piece of fiction I wrote a few years ago. The material is based on facts (but not from a client), and it has been anonymised.
Therapist: What prompted you to get in touch with me?
Pete: Well, I have been unsatisfied with the sex life I have had with my wife for the last 3 years, and I now find it impossible to get aroused by her. Then six months ago, this sexy woman came on to me and I thought, ‘wow! What a stunner!’ We went for a coffee, and one thing led to another, and we started to have a physical relationship. She is absolutely gorgeous, and adores me, which is great. I feel so alive when I am with her, and it’s fantastic fun, too.
T: How do you feel when you’re with your wife?
P: She’s a real turn-off. You see, she has a bit of a health problem, meaning she gets very tired. I find her draining, and she makes me feel like I have to look after her – bloody hell, I have turned into a carer! I look at her body and think: ugh! It hasn’t changed at all in 16 years, but I now think she needs to do something about her weight.
This new woman of mine is so fit!! I just want to jump on her each time we meet, and guess what: I do!! I am so turned on!
I mean, don’t get me wrong: I love Vanessa, my wife. She is good company, bright and intelligent, creative, arty, very patient, witty, and she’s just, sort of, there. But I do feel she’s not attentive enough to me. All I get these days is hum-drum. Sometimes she even forgets the odd word I said in a sentence, which not only drives me potty, it makes me feel worthless. I tell her she has short-term memory loss, probably because of her illness. She can’t help it, poor thing. But I hate it when she dismisses me like that, forgetting part of what I just said, and makes feel low. D’you know, the other day, she had just started to eat her breakfast and was giving me no eye contact at all – not even speaking to me, just sat there chewing her food! I thought, I’m not putting up with this any longer, and I walked out of the room. She’s just not there for me.
I can’t work out whether that’s all about her illness or whether she’s just not interested in me. She’s so wrapped up in her arty stuff or her other work. She should have married her computer.
I must admit I have got rather snappy with her over the last 3 or 4 years. She complains when I have a dig at her about some tiny thing, but aren’t I allowed to express my feelings? It’s as though I‘m not allowed to get pissed off with her: she’s so defensive, and then she turns it round on me and says I’m having a go at her. I wish she’d get angry for a change! She’s so repressed. Anyway, I can’t help my temper: I get it from my mother. I’ve worked on that in therapy and I’m not going to do any more work on that thank you very much. God, I f*cking hate my mother!
T: Why have you stayed with your wife for so many years?
P: Well, it was great at the start and for 10 years or so I thought it was all fine – we were good company for each other. But over the last 4 years or so I have realised that I want more. I am no longer prepared to tolerate being rejected, or my dissatisfaction with the quality of her attention, or the low frequency of sex. I had thought I was content and that you had to take the rough with the smooth in relationships, but I realise I can have more!
T: Have more? You mean by leaving her and going with your new woman?
P: No, by having them both.
T: How does that work? Don’t you have to make a choice?
P: Well, I used to think like that. But through my conversations with one or two close friends I have realised that you don’t have to choose: it’s not about either A or B – you can have everything! I can have all of the companionship with my wife, Vanessa, have all the interesting conversations, the holidays, share everyday concerns, and we can grow old together, knowing that we won’t be alone. We are a good team, after all.
But I can also have Tracy. Wow! I feel so excited just saying her name! You see, she gives me an extra dimension. I need female input into my life.
T: What about Vanessa’s female input?
P: Well, of course, it’s there, but Vanessa is definitely not Tracy! I can never get from her what I can get from Tracy.
T: So, what will happen when Vanessa finds out about your affair with Tracy?
P: Hang on, it’s not an affair!
T: Oh, I thought you were saying that it had become sexual.
P: Well, it has, and the sex is ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC. Better that anything I could ever have with Vanessa. But this word, affair, is so sordid. It’s a special friendship. It’s not just sex – we go for walks and have coffees, and do yoga together. And…
T: But does Vanessa know it’s going on?
P: Well, that’s the problem…
P: Tracy and I met 6 months ago, and it got physical about 5 months ago, and it all went fine until early December, 5 weeks ago.
T: All went fine?
P: Well, not totally fine. It was bit of a headache keeping it a secret from Vanessa, although my diary was fairly flexible so I managed to hide it really easily. It’s stressful keeping such a secret but it was also very exciting. But for some reason Vanessa must have got a bit suspicious, and one day she just grabbed my phone off me and ran out of the house. ‘You bastard!’, I shouted, but she was gone in a jiffy. She went round to a friend’s house to read all the texts that Tracy and I had exchanged.
T: Tell me about these texts.
P: Loads of sexy stuff, including about sexual positions, masturbation, her fanny, my cock, booking a hotel room, going to York, poems to each other about our undying love for each other, telling each other ‘we are so lucky that we have found each other’, ‘yours forever’, ‘I just can’t stop thinking about you’. Beautiful stuff.
T: It’s all full-on, then, all there in the texts?
P: Oh yes! We text each other each night from our bedrooms – it’s part of our relationship as we can rarely actually sleep together overnight.
T: How did you feel when she found all those texts?
P: I panicked and phoned Tracy. She was very supportive, of course. And I was so angry with Vanessa!
P: Well, yes, for grabbing my phone, for finding out about my affair…er, I mean, my special friendship with Tracy. I thought it could ruin everything.
T: What happened next?
P: I phoned Vanessa and told her to come home right away. So she came back after 20 minutes, but the damage had been done. I told her she’d potentially ruined a friendship. She said she wanted to talk, but I refused, and said I was too angry to talk. I mean, if she hadn’t done this she wouldn’t be so upset about me and Tracy, would she, because she wouldn’t know the details. If only she didn’t know the details we could have just carried on as we were. She’s got her art and her work and her computer, and I’ve got Tracy.
Anyway, I first of all said we hadn’t had sex at all, and that it was just a friendship where we meet once a week for walks and yoga. Vanessa didn’t buy that though, and when she quoted the texts back to me I knew I had to admit to something. So, I said we’d had sex once.
P: Yeah. She seemed happy with that for a while. But over the days and weeks she kept on pressing me about it, so I said, eventually, that it was twice.
T: And the truth is?
P: Well, loads!: in the car, in the office, in a hotel, in other places. I just love what we do! Vanessa wants to know all the details, but that’s not the point. And it’s none of her business anyway.
T: So, how are you handling this situation? I mean, is it sustainable, for you to have both women, each for different things?
P: I don’t know, I really don’t know. But I know one thing: now that I have found Tracy, I AM NOT giving her up! I didn’t have much sex in my twenties and thirties, so it’s time to do it now, and Vanessa can’t give me what I need: she runs out of steam after twenty minutes of sex, which is a real turn-off. What’s the point of getting started if that’s going to happen? I have told Vanessa I am not giving up Tracy – I am NO WAY going to give in to her demands!
T: So, has she told you she wants a decision one way or the other?
P: She’s very demanding: she expects me to choose between the two of them, and I am just not going to do that. So, this is how I have handled it: I have told her that Tracy and I had sex just a couple of times (obviously I haven’t told her how brilliant it is), and the last time was ages ago – about two or three weeks ago. When she presses me for more details I keep saying that I’m not sure about dates etc, and anyway that it’s not a relevant question. Why is she so hung up on whether it’s still sexual, anyway? It’s not all about that! Tracy and I have something special.
Anyway, I have also said that we have decided to stop having sex, and that Tracy was disappointed but understands. I have told her that we now just meet once a week for a walk. She keeps saying that she doesn’t believe me, but it’s certainly bought a bit of time. And I don’t want to hurt her. She hasn’t left me, and I am of course hoping she won’t, but I am really scared that she will leave.
The other day I asked Vanessa to confirm her commitment to our relationship. She did say she was committed, but I’m not quite so sure she means it. God, where is her commitment? After all I have done for her, agreeing her to marry her when I knew really I didn’t want to.
T: But, I wonder if your, er, relationship with Tracy is making it hard to give her commitment to you?
P: I don’t see why that should be a problem.
T: I mean, you have told her that you are not giving up Tracy, haven’t you?
P: Yes, but I have also told her we don’t have sex anymore, the sex is all over, but that I need female input: she’s always said she’s fine with me having female friends, in fact, she’s encouraged it.
T: But, Tracy isn’t a friend.
P: What?! Of course she is a friend!
T: Well, she’s a friend that you have regular and exciting sex with.
P: But my point is, Vanessa doesn’t know that!
T: But don’t you think that she suspects?
P: I am just sticking fast to my line that it’s now gone platonic.
T: But, even without any concrete evidence, won’t she pick up in your body language when you are lying?
P: Hmm, that’s a worry. Actually I am a terrible liar. It’s just written all over my face when I am lying, and she often picks up on it. I just cling on to my line though, and it’s worked so far.
T: It’s worked?
P: Well she hasn’t left me.
P:…er… I take your point: I am running a big risk here. But I am being very nice to her – Vanessa – giving her lots of smiles, kisses, and I have told her I am going to see my therapist – you. And, I keep telling her how much I love her, that the love I had for her in 1995 when we met is still all there for her. Sometimes she just does not appreciate that.
T: But aren’t you being somewhat manipulative, or at least cunning, telling all these lies about your contact with Tracy, and then telling her you love her and still want her as much as ever, when you’ve told me that she’s a turn-off?
P: No, I don’t see it like that: I’m being perfectly honest about my wishes, and I’m just hoping that she’ll choose to stay with me: LOOK, I’M RUNNING A BIG RISK HERE! I don’t know if you realise that! ….But it’s so important to follow your heart: I am fed up with all this head-stuff: Vanessa over-analyses everything, stays in her head, and I’ve been doing that for years. Well, I’ll tell you this: I’m just not going to do that anymore! It’s time to live in the present!
T: Despite the cost.
T: Do you think that Vanessa knows more than you think she knows?
P: Hmm..that’s another worry. I just can’t work out when she’s trying to bluff me into an admission, or whether she’s somehow got some firm information that I don’t know about. Maybe she’s been following me about or something. She sometimes sounds so convincing when challenging me about my cover-ups. Has she got some kind of ‘evidence’? That’s when I blush and look like I’m lying…But still maintain my ground. If you tell a lie, I think you just have to stick to it like glue.
T: Have you covered your tracks on your computer etc?
T: Well, deleting your electronic trail of enquiries, contacts, emails, internet browsing history etc plus your paper diary.
P: I hadn’t thought of that. I’m useless on computers, but she’s knows her way around one. God, maybe she’s found out about my wanting to book a Travelodge in Leeds this week, and the golfing holidays I have enquired about for me and Tracy, and the cheap trips to caravan sites we have talked about. I suppose I could just say it’s all for Vanessa and me… Yes, I’ll tell her that and stick to it. She can’t prove otherwise.
T: So much for the details: how is Vanessa feeling about the whole thing?
P: I feel awful about it. It’s so hard seeing her feeling absolutely devastated, doing lots of crying. She keeps saying she’s lost me, but she HASN’T! I’m still here! I wish she would just realise that.
T: Can you be ‘here for her’ if you keep seeing Tracy?
P: Oh yes! But she just can’t see that. I mean, most of the time I am here.
T: If you are saying that you either see or talk to or text your lover each day, isn’t it then Tracy and not Vanessa who occupies prime place in your heart?
P: This is where I disagree with you. You don’t have to make that kind of choice or distinction: my heart can have both of them in it, in different ways – I love them both for who they are, two unique individuals who bring different things to me.
T: Does that approach of yours cause Vanessa to feel insecure?
P: If she feels insecure, that’s her responsibility: it’s not because of what I am doing, or not because of what I am ‘officially’ doing, anyway.
T: But it looks like she has a pretty good idea about what’s going on, about the depth of your connection.
P: That’s an assumption, and I hate assumptions. Vanessa does that all the time… pisses me off. She makes all these assumptions that I am so close to Tracy, and see her each day, and that we have great sex, and…
T: Hang on a minute, her ‘assumptions’ are correct though! They are actually accurate perceptions.
P: Are you trying to guilt-trip me? I feel guilty enough about what I am doing without you adding to it! Don’t you think I told myself that I was doing something wrong when it all kicked off?
T: Seems I’ve touched a nerve.
P: No, I am just fed up with people telling me what to do, just like my mother does, and I am not putting up with it any longer. That’s all.
T: Do you sympathise with Vanessa? I mean, what she’s going through?
P: Well, yes, I hate seeing her hurt. But she wouldn’t be so hurt if she hadn’t read the texts in the first place.
Anyway, I gave her all the messages over the last 4 years that I wasn’t happy, but she just didn’t listen.
T: What’s her view on that point?
P: She agrees, and she’s very, very sorry. She feels terrible that she got complacent, took me for granted, ‘stopped watering the plant’.
T: Sounds like she is very remorseful and wants to start afresh with you, patch things up. When you heard her say all that, did you think of ending the affair?
P: Well, of course I thought about that, but it’s just too late: I have tasted Tracy haven’t I? … and in more ways than one! As I said to you and to Vanessa, I am not going to give her up – why should I?
She’s told me that I have to make a choice between her and Tracy, and that I can’t have both. That’s of course why I have let her believe that the sex is over. In fact I sort of agreed 3 days ago to end all contact. She said: ‘end it all with Tracy: all contact – no coffees, no texts, no phone calls, and no sex, otherwise you and I are through, finished.’ She was pretty angry, and I was scared she meant it. I said, ‘hmm, OK, you get what you want, as usual!’ I was a bit resentful, as I meant it at the time, but since then, I have thought ‘no way! I’ll just carry on the contact but be discreet about it, maybe reduce it a bit.’
T: It now feels like we’re going round in circles: you won’t give up Tracy, you require Vanessa to commit to you, and you don’t see any need to make space for only one special woman in your life.
P: Is that really how you see it? I was hoping you’d come up with a better way of looking at things than that. After all, you’re a humanistic therapist aren’t you? Aren’t you all about following your heart, realising your potential? I don’t want my vision to be undermined by you. In fact, you’re beginning to sound like my dad: he was always talking about ‘being realistic’, ‘delayed gratification’ and ‘serving others’. I am not putting up with any more of that shit: I’m for LIFE NOW!
In fact, sorry, but I think I’ve had enough of this meeting…
T: Before you go, there’s another angle we could take. You’ve three times mentioned your parents in this meeting, each time with some pretty strong feelings. It could be useful if we can agree to explore some more about your connection with them and how it might be affecting your current situation.
P: OH NO! NO WAY! Do you know how much therapy I have had? Nine years, with four different therapists. I have done a lot of work on all that and I am not going there again. I am not some therapy novice, you know. Anyway, I AM a psychotherapist myself, so I have a pretty good grasp of what can be changed and what can’t. MY mother’s inside me and I hate it, I hate her!, and nothing’s going to change all that, including you.
T: But if we talk about it now, it might save your marriage with Vanessa.
P: That’s up to Vanessa. I can’t change. It’s up to her to change, and then I’ll see. Anyway, I never wanted to marry her in the first place – it was fine when we were just partners.
T: Why did you agree to marry?
P: Let’s just drop that.
T: Well, it’s time to end this meeting. I suggest you come back for another meeting to see if we can take this further.
P: I’m not sure about that. I’ll get in touch if I need you. I’m not really sure about what I am doing, and I am scared. But sometimes, you just have to follow your heart, come what may! FOLLOW YOUR HEART!
(Pete gets up and walks towards the doors, almost trips up, gives an uncertain and somewhat worried look back at the therapist, and leaves.)