If it’s happened to you, keep reading. If it hasn’t, keep reading anyway. It happens a lot.
It begins with the standard set-up. You feel trapped. Hate your life. Nerves shot. Self-esteem shredded. You know the drill: biglaw.
That’s when the dæmon lover appears. It doesn’t end well.
There’s biglaw hanky-panky and biglaw sexual harassment. There’s also biglaw romantic infatuation. It’s the one you talk about least because you least feel like talking about it. Once you reemerge on the other side and wish it never happened, you never feel like talking about it again.
It’s no coincidence life-crushing, soul-annihilating infatuations collide on a regular basis with the lives of young associates – any more than cars colliding with deer on an expressway is a coincidence if you locate the expressway in the path of the herd’s migration. Life-crushing, soul-annihilating infatuation is the logical outcome of life-crushing, soul-annihilating law firm existence.
The firm swallows your life, denies you sleep and vacation, works you into the ground, and subjects you to an endless stream of criticism. You got there in the first place because you’re a pleaser – the kid who earned “A’s” to please teacher. Now you can’t please anyone.
Enter the dæmon lover. He gets you when you don’t love yourself – when you hate yourself. That’s infatuation – not falling in love, but hating yourself so much you try to escape your own identity by merging into someone else.
For some reason, he’s British. I’m not saying he has to be British, but three of my clients – by some stroke of fate – ended up obsessed with British guys at their firms. Oh, and I did, too. So we’ll make him British.
If you’re American, there’s something about a British guy that says…here’s someone smarter, more tasteful than me. The accent conveys it. You pick this message up watching tv and movies. In a romantic comedy, when the guy meets a dream girl, she’s always tall, thin and white (this is Hollywood)…with a British accent. If he’s a dream guy, he’s Hugh Grant, with the British accent telegraphing effortless, jovial confidence. Oh, I’m sorry – I didn’t mention I’m Prime Minister/a billionaire/a genius CEO entrepreneur? How curious – I feel a perfect fool! Did you know, by the way, that you have the most beautiful eyes? Oops! I’ve spilled my canapé down your cleavage! Let me fetch something to tidy that up…
Superior. Cool under pressure. Charming. Confident. Everything you aren’t six months into your saison en enfer. And he’s so…approachable. A tiny life raft, an unflustered, un-freaked out, un-panicked bit of flotsam on which to cling once the ship’s prow sinks beneath the waves. Think back. Remember unflustered? Un-freaked out? Un-panicked? Recall a time when you slept through the night? When you went out with friends in the evening? Enjoyed “weekends”? Remember back when people used to be nice to you? Your little Hugh Grant impersonator represents a lost world – the antidote for your now.
Okay, deep breath. Before I continue to limn the romantic nemesis destined to toss your heart into the workbowl of a Cuisinart (equipped with the slicing blade) and press “pulse” – let’s talk about how embarrassing this is. Especially in retrospect. You might call it the final humiliation. You’re adjusting to having your ass handed to you by a sociopathic partner each and every day, and grasping that you’re in debt up to your eyelashes and cannot escape the worst job you’ve ever experienced. Then – one evening – you go home, settle in bed…and you’re smiling a little at the thought of that cute English guy you keep eyeing in the firm gym.
It turns out his office is down the hall from yours. He’s short-ish, with a snubby nose and hair that flops in his eyes. He smiled at you at the CLE training. Today you had lunch together and he winked while you tried to concentrate on blathering about law firm gossip. He’s so…terrific. He seems to like you.
Maybe life will go back to being worth living.
I wonder what it would be like to kiss him.
Yeah – it’s embarrassing. Recounting this stuff makes you feel a little more useless, stupid and pitiful – more nauseous, retarded and pile-of-vomit-like – than before.
Fast forward to emails and texts exchanged at all hours, mostly about nothing. You grow accustomed to two-finger typing silly messages at 1 am, giggling in your office like a fifteen-year-old. There’s one almost sort-of kiss.
Then somehow you awaken from the anesthesia and realize he’s got a girlfriend – or a boyfriend, in my case – so he’s not yours. In fact, you’ve made a fool of yourself – or was he leading you on, or torturing you, or what? Something happened – you’re sure of it. But now he’s acting all innocent, like he never realized you felt that way about him. He’s pulling away. Then he isn’t. Then he is again.
You hate him. You love him. He’s an asshole, a psycho. But you need to talk to him. You’re not going to text him. Then you do. He doesn’t reply. Then he does. Then he doesn’t. You think about him – a lot. You’re always thinking about him. You miss him. You need him.
Somewhere in this mess you realize if you can’t have him, you need to be away from him, so you can remember who you are – or were. It’s hard to remember life on the other side of the looking-glass.
His office is down the hall from yours.
Incidentally, he succeeds effortlessly at the firm – or appears to. You’re sinking like a lead balloon.
It doesn’t end well.
You leave the firm at some point. Or he does. Probably you. And you never see him again, or you do, but it’s a glimpse as he’s crossing 34th Street at Seventh Ave and you only think it was him. In any case, he was with a girl. Whatever.
I’ll skirt over the hours passed lying in bed staring at the ceiling and wanting to die. The wondering if you can tell your friends – the friends that remain, post-the-law-firm-killing-off-of-your-social-life. You know what they’ll say. They will only put up with this crap for so long.
So you go see a therapist, and find out how infatuation works, and why life at that god-awful firm stressed you and regressed you and left you vulnerable to seduction by a rejecting love object – someone a bit like your father – in fact, a bit like the firm.
Years later, maybe, you’re doing something satisfying and interesting for a living – something that speaks to who you are. Your life partner actually loves you – digs you, vibes on you, “gets” you and adores you. You return the feeling.
Then the thought sails out of nowhere and slams you like a body check: How could you have hated yourself enough – forgotten who you were sufficiently – to cling to someone who only used you to stroke his ego? And suddenly it’s perfectly clear. You didn’t want to be with him – you wanted to be of him, to appropriate him – to step into his skin and his life and his self-confidence and escape to a place where you didn’t hate every day, fear everything and fear everyone.
On the spot, you make a solemn vow: Whatever happened years ago with the dæmon lover – it won’t happen again. You’re a different person now.
This piece is part of a series of columns presented by The People’s Therapist in cooperation with AboveTheLaw.com. My thanks to ATL for their help with the creation of this series.
If you enjoy these columns, please check out The People’s Therapist’s new book, Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning
I can also heartily recommend my first book, “Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy”.
(Both books are also available on bn.com and the Apple iBookstore.)