“I never thought I’d be seeing a therapist. And certainly not for this! After all, it isn’t a problem. It’s what everyone does. Everyone my age, anyway. But here I am,” Samantha says, looking at me expectantly, brushing her straight blonde hair away from her face.
She’s been speaking at me rapidly for several minutes although I still have no idea to what she’s referring. I look back at her and wait.
She sighs deeply. “This is harder than I thought. I guess it kind of feels like talking to my Nana. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Nana but …”
I smile inwardly. “But you wouldn’t want your Nana to know about whatever this is. ‘
“Exactly,” she says brightly.
“Well, I’m not your Nana, but it would be helpful if I knew what’s troubling you or, if it’s easier, you can tell me a little about yourself.”
“I’m 20, a sophomore in college, actually born in Florida, from Daytona. I have two younger brothers. My parents are divorced. My Mom’s a nurse, my Dad owns a car dealership. I told them I wanted to go into therapy because school has me stressed. Which is kind of true.” Pause. “That’s about it. So I guess I better tell you.” She takes a deep breath. “I assume you know about hooking up, where you just go on your phone and make a date to meet for sex, no strings attached?”
“Certainly,” I say nodding.
“Well, I do it quite a bit. Started in high school, much more in college. Like I said, no big deal, just lots of fun. Sometimes great sex, sometimes just so-so, but it’s a fantastic way to get lots of experience without having to worry about it getting messy.”
I now feel like Samantha’s Nana. It’s hard for me to imagine the pleasure involved in totally anonymous sex. But I hope to keep my judgment to myself. “So what about hooking up is becoming a problem for you?”
“I can’t not do it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, used to be I’d only do it on the weekend, sometimes with four or more guys, but still only Saturday and Sunday. Then it was also Friday night. And then maybe a couple of other nights during the week. But now I can’t not do it! I can’t sleep if I haven’t hooked up with at least one guy, sometimes more. Sometimes I try. I pace the floor, I drink some wine, I take a Xanax. Nothing works. Sometimes I end up hooking up at 3, 4 in the morning. I’m driven. And I know, it’s like being an addict and no kind of addict is good. My Dad’s an alcoholic and my Mom used to be addicted to pills. She’s clean now. But I know. It’s not good. Right?”
“No, Samantha, it’s not good.” Corroborating Samantha’s assessment doesn’t feel judgmental, but rather supportive of the stronger, less impulsive part of her. “But tell me what hooking up does for you? What about it makes you feel relaxed when nothing else works?”
“Like you said, it relaxes me. I guess part of it is just the physical release. Although I know that can’t be all of it, because it doesn’t work if I … uh … if I do it myself.” Pause. “I guess it fills me up, makes me feel less alone. And I like being wanted. Like the guy can’t have enough of me. Or the guys. They just all want me. It’s a high. Just talking about it makes me want to run out and do it.”
“And if you don’t. If you sit with your feelings right now?”
“I guess I feel blah. Yeah, blah. I feel ordinary, like a nobody, kind of lonely, like no one wants me. Yuk! I don’t like it. I don’t want to feel like that.”
“Can I ask you, Samantha, are the feelings you just described familiar? Did you feel them when you were a child?”
“For sure! First there were the two younger kids, boys at that. Then there was the booze and the pills and the screaming and the divorce and more screaming. I thought they might fight about who had to take us, but I guess that was the one non-issue. My Mom got us, no questions asked. Except they kept screaming because my Mom wanted more money, my Dad said no way. I don’t have much of a relationship with my Dad. He has lots of women. We kind of get in his way.”
There are so many interpretations to be made here, all related to Samantha’s feeling unimportant and insignificant, whether in relation to her brothers, her father, her father’s women or her parent’s involvement with their own lives and addictions. But there’s no rush. If she can tolerate her feelings, I suspect Samantha will be in treatment for some time.