Several years ago I decided to take a good ol’ stab at group therapy.
As a former actor turned full-time writer who was now permanently residing inside the lonely four walls of her ever-demented mind, I missed sitting on the floor of a black-box theatre baring my soul to a group wildly sensitive thespians. Wasn’t group therapy the next best thing to the theatre?
Plus, every descent talk therapist I found on the great Isle of Manhattan was at least $400 an hour and definitely did not take insurance.
Also, there was something that seemed very chic to me about group therapy. I mean, what is more classic Manhattan than group therapy?
After a head-first, deep dive into the dark and stormy waters of the internet, I had not only unearthed affordable group therapy — I had found affordable lesbian group therapy. I was f*cking thrilled. I had thought lesbian group therapy was an Upper West Side urban legend! I even got over my generational fear of the phone and called up the shrink to make sure the whole thing was indeed real and not a dark ploy to get emotionally fragile gay women to audition for seedy adult films.
Not only was the group real, it was in Soho — the most fashionable neighborhood in New York. I felt like I was living my deepest “The L Word fantasy, if “The L Word” had more Tri-State reared Jews and was directed by a lesbian Larry David. I envisioned myself sitting on a shag rug, cross-legged in black skinny jeans, empathetically listening to a power lesbian melting down as she wept over the paralyzing stress of balancing her love life with the immense pressure of running a fortune 500 company. I saw a room sprinkled with diverse dykes warmly spilling their deepest, darkest secrets in the safety of a modern penthouse apartment, the kind that is full of so much natural light that there is no need for lamps (gag), and when the sun sets, the whole room glows bubble gum pink. In my mind’s eye, I saw a fierce shrink evangelizing us on the importance of self-care in all her silver-foxed intellectual glory as she drowned in an oversized cable-knit sweater!
Group therapy turned out to be a far different show than my wild imagination had initially curated, but it was still cool. It was full of women like me; millennial queers on a budget trying desperately to find a glimpse of clarity in the blur of booze, bars, sex, love, mental illness, and career. The room smelled like mothballs and radiator-cooked skin and bore one teeny, tiny window that overlooked a bleak, gray building. In lieu of shag rugs and a pink sunset glow, it was stained carpeting and the kind of yellow fluorescent lighting that makes pale skin look sickly and jaundice.
It wasn’t glamorous — it was better than glamorous. It was raw. Unhinged. Messy. Desperate. Beautiful.
Though the group was made up of all millennial lesbians like myself, they were not women I ever saw out and about, carousing the dyked out streets of the West Village Thursday through Saturday. Most of my therapy cohorts worked in the city but lived and loved and drank and f*cked on Long Island or New Jersey.
One night, I was finally set to go on a date with a girl I’d been talking to for weeks on Tinder. Her name was Gwen, and she was super sexy and just my type: witty and bright with a face that held court to cheekbones so high, just looking at them sparked up my fear of heights.
We both had crazy schedules and the stars never seemed to align for us to meet in person, so the intensity of the buildup had created a fantastic sexual tension that was palpable through the screens of our phones.
“Where should we meet?” I typed.
“Stonewall. 10 p.m.”
I was relieved. Most of the girls I’d been talking to seemed to keep recommending annoying first date ideas like walks in Central Park and SoulCycle classes. Maybe a workout or an innocent stroll is an ideal first date for *some* women, but not I’m not that guy, babe. If I don’t know you yet, I require a strong cocktail and dim lighting to lubricate my shy personality.
And the fact that Gwen wanted to meet at Stonewall — the gayest bar of all gay bars in the nation — at the sleazy time of 10 p.m. on a school night proved my instincts were correct: Gwen was a f*ckboy. And I was in no mood to meet someone I could fall in love with. I craved a cold-hookup — empty, flirty text-messages.
I craved a f*ckboy that could hold a candle next to my f*ckgirl.
I was a little buzzed from a work party when I arrived at Stonewall. Stonewall was full of baby dykes; you could hear them loudly chirping all the way down Christopher Street. I smiled as I watched 21-year-olds take down shots and shoot their competition dirty looks from across the bar in their faux leather jackets and nose rings and tattoos so new they raised against their skin. I was lost in the epic theatrical performance that is baby gays freshly released into the concrete wild jungle when Gwen appeared.
“Hi, are you Zara?” Gwen asked pushing her long dark bangs out of her twinkly eyes.
“Yes,” I said studying Gwen’s lips, which were so soft and so pillowy that they were hypnotic.
Her energy was soft and tough, an irresistible, dangerous combination that makes me mumbly and nervous. I took a $3 swig of my $7 cocktail. My clammy hands slipped against the cool glass.
Within ten minutes, we were ferociously making out.
I don’t even know how it happened. It was one of those moments where one second you’re looking at each other shyly and the next minute your legs are draped over each other’s legs and you’re publicly kissing like war-torn lovers who haven’t seen each other since that first bomb dropped a decade ago.
As our tongues intensely explored the interior of one another’s mouths, I decided right then and there that I did NOT want to get to know anything about Gwen. I didn’t want to see pictures of her dog. I didn’t want to know about the first time she got bullied in middle school. I didn’t want to know her favorite color. I didn’t want her to be human, because I didn’t want to catch feelings. And I certainly didn’t want to share anything about my life with her. As long our blood ran cold, we could remain in the safe, shallow stream of sexual bliss.
After about fifteen minutes, it was time to come up for air.
“You’re a good kisser,” Gwen purred. I could feel her eyes burning into me. I stared intently at my drink.
“OH. MY. GOD. ZARA!” Screamed a familiar-sounding voice. “OH. MY. GOD. ZARA!”
I swung my head around to find the quietest girl from lesbian group therapy, a meek bank teller named Mia, hurling OH. MY. GOD. ZARAS! at me. Her voice was so loud the wallpaper curled in quiet protest.
“How do you know her?” Gwen whispered, lightly raising both eyebrows.
Before I had the chance to answer, Mia cannonballed over to us and threw her skinny arms around Gwen.
I felt the kind of embarrassment one can only feel when one is stupidly attracted to a person come up behind me and tickle me right in the vulnerable curve of the waist. I detest that feeling. So out of control.
“HI!” Mia said, falling all over Gwen. “I know Zara from THERAPY! We go to group therapy together. Zara is really cool. But like, don’t break her heart, please. She’s really sensitive.”
“Mia,” I begged. “Stop.”
Mia ignored me. She cupped Gwen’s face with her drunken hands as I slowly died inside. “You’re the girl she’s been talking about, huh?”
“WHAT GIRL? I HAVEN’T BEEN TALKING ABOUT A GIRL!” I screamed into the ether, because I had been talking incessantly about a girl, but it was most definitely not Gwen — it was my ex that I was still madly in love with, hence my longing for a COLD, NEAT HOOKUP.
“Shhh, Zara. Yes, you have. You’ve been talking about the girl who crushed your heart. I know it’s her. Listen up, SADIE!” Mia shouted, using my ex’s real name. “I know you’re still in love with Zara. Zara talks about it all the time.”
Gwen laughed nervously. “I’m not Sadie. I’m Gwen.”
Mia’s eye grew from beady little slits to giant regal saucers in one short breath. “OH SHIT!” She looked at me with astonished, Bambi eyes. “SORRY!” she squeaked before diving into the sea of sweaty baby dykes on the dance floor.
“I’m so sorry.” I willed my higher power, Lana Del Rey, to let me disappear.
“It’s OK. That was wild! That’s a first,” Gwen chuckled.
“I promise to forget everything she said. That shit was personal! She shouldn’t have said that!”
“It was funny though.”
And that’s when it happened.
It was a giant, cleansing laugh. A great laugh for all of womankind. A laugh that made up for all the times I didn’t laugh when something funny or strange or humiliating but also hilarious happened to me, because I was trying too hard to be something for someone I didn’t even know.
We spent the rest of the night making out and laughing and sharing embarrassing stories. We stayed at Stonewall until the bar lights switched on and we were kicked out.
On the cab ride home, I told the cab driver the whole story.
“You’re probably soulmates,” he said, in a thick accent I couldn’t quite identify.
“No way,” I answered, suddenly certain that I would never see Gwen again.
And it hit me in the back of a taxi cab, where most great epiphanies are bound to happen. You can have an embarrassing, intimate, cringe-worthy, soul-baring moment with a woman. You can kiss all night. You can kiss like you’ve known each other for one hundred years. You can talk about real shit. Exchange sacred secrets, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to fall in love with her. Love is a force that’s so powerful no amount of armor will protect you from it anyway, so you might as well just be yourself and expose yourself and laugh at yourself and makeout and stare into each other’s eyes with reckless abandon! You might as well connect, because connecting is the greatest feeling in the world, and a connection that only lasts for the duration of a bar kiss is amazing, even though it’s fleeting.
I never saw Gwen again, but I never forgot about that night. I’ve retold the story a million times. It’s showed up in stories I’ve written. It reminds me that little isolated moments in life can be as colorful and as rich as a giant love affair that ends in heartbreak. It reminds me to goddamn laugh, even in the presence of someone hot and slick.
Mainly, it taught me that sometimes the safest places, like group therapy in Soho, aren’t nearly as safe as getting lost in a hot stranger’s kiss for hours and hours on end.