Why You Love Who You Love

The following is the 6th installment of a hilarious ongoing series by author and squirrel hunter Amy Bronwen Zemser called “How to Thaw Your Unborn Child.” Start at the beginning here or just jump right in below: All you need to know is that she was married to a man, realized she was gay, got divorced, fell for a woman named Moira (who dumped her after Moira had a baby), and then fell in love with Lynn, with whom she’s now married with three kids:

Back in the day before my mind was cured completely, I used to see this therapist named Jan Schreiber. I’ve seen lots of therapists in my life, some better than others, but Jan Schreiber was one of the greats. Sometimes, if I was feeling particularly tiny and alone, I would move my chair close to where she sat. If I was feeling microscopic, I would move my chair so close that our knees were practically touching.

“Why don’t you just sit in my lap,” Jan suggested once, which broke us both up.  I loved Jan.  She understood what therapy was about.

Jan Schreiber told me a story once about a client of hers that stuck in my mind, a man who was married to a very cold and unaffectionate woman. The man was constantly trying to get his wife to warm up, to be more loving and demonstrative.  After a lot of therapy, she did warm up, but only a little. Jan asked the man why he never considered leaving his wife for someone who could provide more for his needs, and he told her that the fact that she had warmed up a tiny bit was okay. This man had had a very cold mother, you see. Each time he got his wife to warm up a little bit was reparative.

It’s interesting to me how some people are forever in pursuit of relationships where the object of their affection is elusive. This is an actual pathology. If a primary relationship in our own lives did not provide enough emotional sustenance, or if we believe a primary relationship did not provide enough emotionally, then one way we cope is to seek out adult relationships to try and fix them. As we try out different relationships in our lives (hopefully before we get married), we hook up with or get hung up on those who psychically dodge us, those who try to evade, circumvent, or even ignore us emotionally as we desperately attempt to move closer to an object of affection that isn’t really, in my view, the true object.

I wondered if it was ethical of my therapist to tell me stories about her clients, but I was too curious to find out what happened to inquire about therapeutic code of conduct.

“Did they stay married?” I asked.

They did, Jan said. He got her to warm up periodically.  Not a lot.  Just a little.  The tiny crumb of warmth she showed him was just enough to keep him hanging on, but not too much to disturb the pathology.  “They’re still together today,” she said.

“Far out,” I thought.

Whenever I remember this story I think about my own mother — a kind and generous person who read us thousands of picture books and cooked incredible meals and loved her three children enormously. But my mother was the eldest of five, and the last two were twin boys. By the time she came of age she could not wait to get out of the house. My mother’s father worked constantly, and it was my mother’s job — along with her two younger sisters — to watch the boys all the time, which my mother resented. By the time she moved out of the house and got married she’d had it.  She wanted personal space, both physically and emotionally.  So when I came along and grew up to become a highly verbal and emotionally demanding first child, it became clear to me very quickly that my poor mother needed room to breath.  She did not want me in her bed at night.  She did not want me talking at her all day long. She needed physical space and she needed psychic space, which was fine for my brother and sister, but apparently not okay for me.

My spouse Lynn and I discuss this constantly.

“See, you’re not a true homosexual,” she always says.  “You’re just a homosexual because you need emotional closeness with another woman.  You’re trying to fill a gap.”

Lynn and I always laugh like hyenas about this.  If I’m not really a homosexual then we are in a whole heap of trouble.

There is something deeply problematic about trying to figure out why one is a homosexual, by the way, as if being homosexual is inherently aberrant or abnormal, an otherwise regular birth gone terribly wrong.  Nothing went wrong, folks.  Homosexuality is just another variation on a theme, and while I am certain that the reason I need to be with women has a great deal to do with the fact that my mother rarely showed me physical affection or told me that she loved me as a child, there are plenty of women who had removed mothers who are NOT homosexuals.  Not to mention all the homosexuals who had overwhelmingly affectionate mothers.

This doesn’t stop me from pathologizing all my friends, however.

“Stop this,” Leesa said once, over coffee.  “I am not having sex with Skip because she reminds me of my mother.”

I do think an elusive mother or father can compel us towards elusive girlfriends or boyfriends, though. I’m sure this was operative when I chose Moira for a partner [the first woman I had a relationship with after I divorced my husband]. Moira never wanted to be pinned down. She was affectionate, but only sometimes.  If I asked to talk at length about something, she often said she had to work or read the newspaper or get another cup of coffee.

Lynn is about as similar to Moira as a carburetor is to jasmine rice. Lynn could talk for hours.

“That’s interesting,” Lynn would say, when I brought up Carl Jung’s theory of anima and animus, or the four Aristotelian plot structures.

“That’s fascinating,” she would say, when I suggested the Boston Terrier had gas from breaking into the refrigerator and eating my leftover kimchi. Her favorite thing to say was, “What do you think?” and then we would slice and chop and simmer and marinate for several hours.  No stone was unturnable; no hair uncombable.  She could look in and she could look out. She wasn’t afraid to talk, but she wasn’t effusive, either, which I appreciated. Being effusive is my job.  I didn’t want that position usurped.

Lynn also knows a great deal about matters entirely and embarrassingly foreign to me. Constitutional law and the Supreme Court.  American national government.  Why Tootsie is actually a movie by and for men, and how a president could win the popular vote but still lose the presidency.

“Shh,” she’d say in social groups where colleagues were present.  “Don’t ask that thing about the electoral college.  That’s an inside question.”

“Right,” I’d whisper back, fiercely proud.

Nonetheless, it was a rocky beginning. We fought more in our first year together than we have in all the subsequent ones. Although Lynn had dated a few women briefly, I was the first real relationship she’d had with a woman.  This meant she had to practice the art of emotional immediacy, something that didn’t come up very much in her ten-year marriage to a man.

A friend told me a story once about a woman who had been with women all her life, but then decided to begin dating men.  As she was walking along the street holding his hand, she asked him suddenly, “What are you thinking about?”

“I’m not thinking about anything,” he replied, cheerfully.

“And he really wasn’t!” the friend exlaimed.

This is a huge stereotype about men, obviously, but it’s amusing, so I’ll take the heat.  And I certainly know my share of women who get exasperated with their male mates because they are the strong (or weak) silent types.  This drove me crazy when I dated men, although it also drove me crazy when they got all emotional. Like my Uncle Danny’s girlfriend Wendy, for instance, who I recall looking on in disgust as Danny sobbed his way through E.T.  while moaning, “I can’t stand it, I just can’t stand it.”

Women process more than men. This is not the place to explore whether there are biological or environmental roots in a woman’s need to talk (I am of the mind that it is exclusively environmental, by the way), but I bring this up to make note of the fact that Lynn had to learn how to be in a relationship where real love was at stake, where what she said and the way she said things mattered.  She also had to cope with coming out as a homosexual. I, on the other hand, needed incessant reassurance that I could be a needy, messy pile of insecurities and exhortations for intimacy, and still know that she wasn’t going to bolt, as Moira did.

Lynn admitted that she saw my profile a few months before actually writing to me.  She knew I was the right person for her as soon as she saw my first headline, but she waited a while before making contact.

“I knew you were the right one,” she always says.  “But I wasn’t ready for all that.”

I find this detail fascinating.  If you knew you had found someone on paper that you would end up spending the rest of your life with, why would you not want the rest of your life to start right away?

I figured I should date a lot of women, she said.  I was afraid to make that kind of commitment.

We fought constantly.  She pushed my hand away in a movie theatre during the early stages of her coming out phase, and I felt so outraged and rejected I ran out with her credit card and came back to the apartment with an entirely new wardrobe. She made me feel bad for things she had no idea would make me feel bad, and I needed to analyze every exchange to make sure that she still loved me.  Sometimes she compared me to her ex-husband in a way that seemed unkind.  I can’t help it if I’m no good at tennis.  Or that nobody in my family ever drank a cocktail before dinner.  I don’t think either one of my parents knows the ingredients of a single cocktail.  My mother says alcohol gives her a headache.

The solution to all our problems, dear readers, was easily found in the bedroom.  The palliative for sickly feelings was sex.  Psychic pain and never-ending discord?  We simply hopped in the hay.  We had sex, more sex, and then we had sex again. We had sex constantly.  We had sex as if our lives depended upon it . . .

Read the next installment of “How to Thaw Your Unborn Child” here.

Amy on coming out, homophilia & sexual identity:
My Husband Has No Penis