“My brother John said I should talk to someone. He’s a psychologist too. He thinks I’m making a big mistake. You see, I finally got engaged. I’ve been trying for years to get Angela to marry me and she finally agreed. I was really, really happy.”
I look at him quizzically.
He laughs uncomfortably. “I know, what’s the problem? The problem is she says she doesn’t love me.”
“I can see that would be a problem,” I respond, trying to remain neutral, but wondering why Patrick would want to marry someone who didn’t love him.
“But I don’t believe her. I think she does love me and just doesn’t know it yet.”
“How long have you and Angela been dating?”
“About six years. With some short break-ups scattered in there. She’s always said she didn’t love me, that she cared about me, but didn’t love me. But I just think she’s closed off to her feelings and that if she gives me a chance I can get through to her.”
I flash on a man I dated almost forty years ago, someone who told me he loved me in “his way,” a relationship that ended with much pain and heartache. Those were the days I was still trying to win the love and approval of unavailable men who, unsurprisingly, resembled my father.
“She had a pretty traumatic background,” Patrick continues. “Abusive parents, foster care. That’s why I’m sure once she learns to really trust me, she’ll love me.”
“Can you tell me what attracts you to Angela?” I ask. “And why she decided to accept your proposal now?”
“It’s her biological clock. She wants to have a baby before she gets too old.”
I groan internally. Definitely not a reason to get married, nor to bring a child into such a tenuous relationship.
“But why I’m attracted to her? That’s easy, she’s perfect. She smart and pretty and funny and determined. We have the same values, the same politics, the same everything.”
“Except she doesn’t love you.”
“She thinks she doesn’t love me.”
“Can you tell me a bit about your background, Patrick?” I ask, changing gears.
“I grew up outside of Detroit. My father worked for the auto industry. In those days there was pretty good money to be made. My brother is 10 years older than me. When I was three my mother got breast cancer. I actually don’t remember her not being sick. And she was pretty sick. She’d have times when she’d be better, but then it was back to chemo, and days and weeks of being in bed. She died when I was 11.”
“Sounds very painful.”
“Yeah. It was. My grandmother came to live with us, to take care of us, of me really. My brother was in college already. But I hardly knew her. And she sure wasn’t the warm, cuddly grandmother type. I counted the years – the months really – before I could go to college and get out of the house.”
“So you’ve never really had a mother.”
“No, I had a mother. She didn’t die ‘til I was 11.”
“But you didn’t have a mother who was able to take care of you, to nurture you, to love you. Not because she didn’t want to, but because she was understandably involved with her own illness.”
“Yeah. I guess that’s true.”
The connection between a sick, unavailable mother and Angela, who is also unable to fully love Patrick is blatantly obvious to me, but I hesitate to verbalize what might be a premature interpretation.
“I know where you’re going to this,” Patrick says. “John says the same thing. I’m trying to save Angela, when I couldn’t save my mother.”
Thinking that is part of the issue, I say, “And what do you think about that?”
“I say, so what if I am? I love Angela. And if I can help her, so much the better.”
Feeling that something is missing from this story I ask, “Why did you decide to come today Patrick? I know your brother said you should talk to someone, but why did you come?”
Patrick looks at me sheepishly. “Truthfully, once Angela said she’d marry me, I got scared. I don’t know if I got scared that she didn’t love me, or scared that maybe I didn’t love her.”
“So when you don’t feel like everyone else is questioning your decision, you can question it yourself. That’s good. Because you clearly do have lots of questions that we’ll need to look at.”