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I’d been in a coed therapy group for a year and a half when the leader, an experienced licensed clinical social worker, tried to set me up on a blind date. The group had just spent over an hour discussing our wishes to find fulfilling life partnerships. Out of the five of us in our thirties and forties, only one had a significant other. I was forty-two years old and had never been in a serious long-term relationship, though I’d always hoped for marriage and kids.
I thought I’d missed my window for finding love.
I blamed myself: I’d spent my twenties abstaining from romance despite wanting a boyfriend, yearning to share my life with a man at the same time I avoided facing an unresolved underlying issue: the sexual abuse I’d suffered as a girl. It wasn’t until I was twenty-eight, debilitated by anxiety and depression, that I finally sought professional help. At twenty-nine, I was diagnosed with complex PTSD. In my thirties, while my friends were getting married and starting families, I spent my days in individual and group therapy, coming to terms with my past and working to overcome the obstacles that the abuse had placed on the development of my life.
I healed. But I was still perpetually single.
I met men through online dating, speed dating, religious groups, hiking groups, adult education classes, Meet-up groups, and singles cocktail hours. But I never found a man with whom I felt a deep, lasting connection.
When the group session ended, our therapist, Kevin, asked if I’d stay behind. I thought perhaps he wanted to discuss something about insurance or billing, a private matter, but when he shut the door, his lips parted into a wide, nervous smile.
My heart began to pound.
He told me he knew a man, someone in his mid-forties, a writer and history teacher with values, interests, and relationship goals similar to mine. Kevin was initially vague about how he knew him; I thought he was his friend. Later, he’d reveal the man was his client. He wanted to set us up.
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To not break therapist-client confidentiality, Kevin said he wouldn’t disclose names or contact information. But it seemed to me that he was already bending the rules with his plan. He said he’d arrange for this man and me to meet at an author reading at a bookstore and would supply us with the knowledge of a particular physical characteristic of one another so that we could identify each other.
“What do you think?” he asked, grinning.
I studied Kevin’s gray-speckled brown hair, the way it formed a widow’s peak that aligned his forehead perfectly with the bridge of his nose. His eyes were glittery behind his rectangular wire glasses. I’d seen Kevin as a positive male role model, one of the few in my life. I’d trusted him.
I thought his offer came from a place of kindness, yet part of me couldn’t help but draw a parallel between his proposition and the one I’d received as a child from my abuser: if I wanted love, I had to go along with the man in power who rationalized breaking the rules as if he were not breaking the rules, behind closed doors.
“Would you want to do this?” Kevin asked.
Part of me was drawn to the idea as if it were a drug, a cure-all. I felt thrilled, and sick, as I said yes. I went home.
Feeling unsettled, I asked my friends to weigh in.
Most thought it was a strange thing for a group therapist to do, but they said that was his problem, not mine — if it meant finally finding Mr. Right, then why not do it?
A close friend expressed suspicion: “What if the guy he wants you to meet is really him?”
“He’s married,” I said of Kevin.
“So?” he said.
My friend had tapped into something I hadn’t shared: although what Kevin did hadn’t been a pass, it had felt like one to me.
I called it off. I wanted to find someone compatible, but Kevin’s idea was problematic.
For one thing, how would I feel if I dated this man and he told Kevin about our sex life?
At the next group meeting, in front of Kevin, I told my fellow members about his secret overture. Everybody agreed he’d been inappropriate, except for one who thought I should remain open-minded and go on the date. Another member expressed resentment: where was her match? She thought Kevin was playing favorites.
“I think Kevin is mortified,” a male member interjected. “Or else maybe I’m projecting. I just don’t want the group to fall apart.”
But it already had. Kevin had broken my trust.
I met with him several times outside the group setting, with my individual therapist as moderator, to discuss the situation. Kevin admitted that what he’d done had been “in the gray area.”
He explained that he’d contemplated the idea for a couple of months before acting on it. He’d thought about the existence of dual relationships by therapists who practice in rural Midwestern towns. I couldn’t discern if he was justifying playing the role of matchmaker in our New England city, or labeling it as questionable. He confessed he hadn’t wanted to consult with his supervisor before approaching me, because he knew his supervisor would tell him he shouldn’t do it, as it would cross the line of a fundamental boundary. But he cared so much — he wanted to help — that he wasn’t able to stop himself from doing it anyway.
Kevin said he wanted to earn back my trust. He believed he could. If I was in a relationship, and my partner had broken my trust, what would I do? I’d talk it through. So I worked on it with Kevin. But he kept making excuses for his behavior, dodging my questions with vague answers, and responding with increasing frustration at my upset and my persisting distrust of him. After a month, I concluded that the problem ran much deeper than Kevin was capable of handling. His mistake had forced the end of our relationship.
I said goodbye. I left the group.
I felt sad for a while as if I’d gone through a breakup. I’d grown attached to the group, and Kevin, and they weren’t part of my life anymore. Admittedly, I was also disappointed that I’d lost out on a (vetted by a mental health professional) date, a potential life partner. I wondered what would’ve happened if I’d agreed to the set-up. Had I taken an overly high moral stance on dating? Had I missed out on finally meeting “the one”?
Looking back, I can confidently say the answer is no. When Kevin first presented his proposition, I’d asked how my “match” had reacted to the idea. Kevin had said, “he’s all for it.” The guy hadn’t seen anything problematic with the situation. Without even meeting him, I’d learned we weren’t a “match,” on a core level.
And that was everything.