Dr. David J. Hellerstein’s patient Greta had made great strides in the time she’d been seeing him for weekly therapy sessions. Her medicine was working, her panic attacks were gone, and she was feeling stronger and more assertive at her Wall Street job. Now her trusty therapist had just one more problem of hers to address: making her more fuckable.
Greta wasn’t ugly, per se. She just didn’t try the way Dr. Hellerstein likes women to try. She had “Good Housekeeping hair” and wore a “frumpy skirt and too-sensible shoes.” But Dr. Hellerstein could change that.
The only area of her life that didn’t improve was romance. Not that she didn’t go on dates, but they typically were one-off events. There never seemed to be a spark, much less a flame.
One day, after a bit of hemming and hawing — I knew it would be a sensitive topic — I raised the obvious: Had she considered getting a makeover?
Greta, the ungrateful patient, was offended by the suggestion and said she frequently dressed up to go out on dates, thankyouverymuch. But Dr. Hellerstein wasn’t convinced:
Over time, though, I began to wonder. I couldn’t really imagine that Greta underwent a major transformation on weekends. Plus, her dowdy persona Monday through Friday couldn’t help but decrease the odds of a fortuitous encounter with a future romantic partner during the week.
This “staunchly dowdy patient” of his caused Dr. Hellerstein great personal turmoil. No matter how he approached it, he did not feel that he could communicate to her that he found her unattractive, and thus the entire world must find her unattractive. Surely the only reason she wasn’t landing a man was her refusal to put on makeup — any other issue that could be blocking her from entering into a relationship had already been solved. Eventually, he came to realize that it was his failing, not because he was projecting unfair beauty standards onto a female patient, but because he had failed to help her achieve them:
The real problem was that I didn’t know what to do in this situation. Years of psychotherapy training had given me no guidance in how to deal with the staunchly dowdy patient. Maybe a female or gay male therapist would have had an easier time addressing this topic with Greta. But for me, as a straight male working with a straight female patient, every option seemed blocked. Basically, no matter how I tried to put it, I would be saying, “I find you unappealing.”
The story does not end well. To this day, Dr. David J. Hellerstein still finds Greta unfuckable.