My 72 year old patient wanted to have more gay sex. I didn’t expect his quest to change my own love life.

In our first session, Henry spoke so softly that I had to lean forward to hear him.

I had asked what had brought him to treatment. At 72, dressed in a neat suit and bow tie, he was not my usual patient.

“I want to have more sex,” he repeated, louder this time, raising his eyes to meet mine.

“I just came out two years ago and I’m dating. But I’m 72,” he shrugged, smiling. “Something has to change. Before I die , I want to have more sex!

“Well, then,” I said, sitting back in my chair, taking this moment to calm down. “Let’s talk about what gets in the way of that.”

Sudden life changes were nothing new to me, either in the lives of my patients or in my own. Over the past year, I had ended an important relationship and started another under unlikely circumstances.

I met Ben wandering around the Tate Modern in London on a brief layover. To my surprise, we had stayed in touch, first a little, then a lot. He lived in the British capital with one of his two adult daughters and ran a business there. I was a single mother in New York with two daughters of mine, both still in school. I also had a full-time practice to manage. Neither Ben nor I were about to move, so a long-term future seemed out of the question.

I had always been a follower of the rules: the devoted daughter, the sensible single woman, the mother together. My life had followed a carefully planned course. But Ben was an exception. Even though—or perhaps because—the relationship had no future, there was a freshness, a barely unwrapped excitement. But, like Henry, I wasn’t sure how to let go.

Over the next two years, Henry and I did a lot of work to unravel his story: why he never felt comfortable coming out and how his childhood – filled with complex trauma – had brought shame crippling. He had never been to therapy before, but he was open, vulnerable and honest. As we worked together to reveal Henry’s secrets, I was aware that I had begun to keep my own.

Although my closest friends and family knew Ben early on, their skepticism — and my reluctance to expose my daughters to someone who wasn’t going to stick around — convinced me to take our relationship underground. At first it was surprisingly easy. As the rest of my life progressed predictably with parent-teacher conferences, hastily packed lunches, and scheduled play dates, I met Ben for delicious dates in a hotel room and moments stolen from his many work trips to New York, as well as the vacation weekends we took together, taking time off whenever we could.

“Although my closest friends and family knew Ben from an early age, their skepticism…convinced me to take our relationship underground. At first it was surprisingly easy.

We laughed as we strolled through the Met, took long, sneaky walks exploring New York City neighborhoods, and sat in the backs of movie theaters kissing. Because we existed outside the confines of a traditional relationship, I never worried about whether he would get along with my kids or come home with me to my high school reunion. Over time, I felt the reins loosen in my hands. Those old habits of control, the continuous self-monitoring that I was used to, started to fade.

“What is your goal with sex? I asked Henry one day, realizing as I said it that I could have asked myself the same question.

“I want to get lost,” he replied. “I don’t have much time to try new things anymore. I have spent my life pleasing others; Now it’s my turn.”

Henry couldn’t know how much his words had moved me as I absentmindedly touched my turtleneck, under which I hid a hickey Ben had left in the throes of passion the night before. I let my patient’s words sink in: Could it be that I had a sexual awakening at the same time that I was in menopause?

You want to know what it’s like not to be the giver, I ventured, letting go. He nodded.

When therapy works, past and present are reversed; the same goes for the lived experiences of the patient and the therapist. Henry had learned at an early age to follow his mother’s moods closely. When she flew into one of her tantrums, it was her job to soften the edges of her anger so that her younger siblings avoided the shock. These guarding habits have proven difficult to break. The bumps inherent in personal growth and change reminded him of the chaos of his childhood. So he closed the door on whole swaths of himself while focusing on being the responsible family man. Now, finally, he seemed to be picking those locks.

Like Henry, I felt the backlash of an inconsistent parent. For my father, nothing I did was ever good enough. My perpetual sense of inadequacy resulted in crippling shame and a lifelong habit of putting the needs of others ahead of my own. Wanting for myself became anathema.

“I think you’ve gone from being a devoted son to a devoted father,” I once said, omitting how familiar it sounded. I could see the tears flowing. I continued softly, “You were always in control. Now, well, maybe it’s time to try something else.

He wiped his eyes. “Maybe it is.”

Was I ready for this too?

Henry signed up for Grindr and had some short-lived flings. He learned all about the differences between Cialis, Viagra and Levitra. I helped him decide if meeting a man on a bus and asking him out for coffee constituted a date. We discussed how to convey that just because he was masculine didn’t mean he was a “top”.

“I’m definitely not a bear,” he once told me, as if he had just solved a difficult riddle.

“You are not a bear, but are you a bear hunter?” ” I answered. He burst out laughing.

In my patient, I could closely follow what it was like to give up clinical remote control. But in my own life, the same thing seemed dangerous and dizzying. My doomed relationship with Ben sparked a desire – a desire that I had always pushed away. Like Henry, sex promised a way out of my self-sacrifice, a way around the shame of desire. Sex with Ben became increasingly primitive and adventurous, closing the distance between pain and pleasure. I felt like I was being swept away by a strong ocean current, tossed and turned by the waves, until I finally came to the surface.

But as our relationship grew beyond the year, I discovered that the desire I felt for Ben could no longer remain confined to sex. I wanted to wake up next to her in the morning, be my plus-one at weddings, my reluctant sidekick at business functions. The secrecy around our relationship was no longer exciting; it was degrading. Yet, educated to ignore my own needs, I continued to pretend that the relationship did me no harm.

“What are we supposed to do, Sarah?” Ben asked with genuine bewilderment when I mentioned my displeasure. “That’s what we have – can’t we just enjoy it?” Is it better to lose everything? Hungry for more time, I accepted his logic, even though I knew deep down that it meant giving up once again on what I realized I wanted most: sharing a life. But like all rationalizations, this one only lasted a limited time. A year and a half into our relationship, I finally started to recognize that I wasn’t just lying to my loved ones; I was lying to myself.

“I found that the desire I felt for Ben could no longer remain confined to sex. … The secrecy around our relationship was no longer exciting; it was degrading. Yet learned to ignore my own needs, I kept pretending that the relationship didn’t hurt me.

One day Henry sat on the edge of his chair for our session, a mischievous expression on his face. “I met someone, doc,” he told me, beaming. “He’a librarian.He paused, gauging my reaction. “A very, very sexy librarian.”

“That’s lovely,” I said. “I take it you do a lot of reading?” »

“I have a new respect for books,” he laughed. “Seriously, I feel like for the first time I’m really letting myself go, not just sexually but in life. Like, completely. It’s kind of sad that it took me to the mid-70s, huh ?” He frowned sadly.

“Not sad.” I fired back. “Brave. You got there by letting yourself be willing. That was the first step and the most terrifying. It’s a strength, not a weakness. A lot of people never get there.”

I swallowed hard. I knew then that what was true for Henry had to be true for me too. My relationship with Ben had run its course. As my patient, I had allowed myself to let go and was surprised at how emotionally deeper I was as a result.

But unlike Henry, I always chose men who made me dream. As hard as it was to end a man I really loved, something genuine would be better than something inauthentic. While I had allowed certain appetites to surface with him, a fundamental denial of my own desires had remained stubbornly the same. It was time to fully admit that I wanted to know the parts of him―and us―that a long-distance relationship didn’t allow.

“You taught me not to be afraid of my own needs,” Henry said, his voice cracking.

As my eyes filled with tears, I knew Henry’s fearlessness had done the same for me.

Names and details have been changed to protect the privacy of those mentioned in this story.

Sarah Gundle is a psychologist living in Brooklyn with her two daughters. In addition to her private practice, she is a faculty member at Mount Sinai Hospital. She is currently working on a book about breakups.

Do you have a compelling personal story that you would like to see published on HuffPost? Find out what we’re looking for here and send us a pitch.




huffpost

Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
Back to top button