My lover, my client

My longtime customer lost his house, moved in with me and then declared his love

By Cary Tennis

Published April 30, 2013 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I am a freelance bookkeeper. I had been seeing one of my clients a couple of times a week at his home office for over 15 years. Over time, we became friends -- having dinner together every once in a while and even going to the movies. He knew my family and was invited to holiday meals. There was never any indication that he had romantic feelings for me even though he has always been very generous and kind. In fact, I always thought he was the best person character-wise that I know but he always has seemed rather cold, emotionally. As an example, there was one time I just naturally tried to give him a hug on my way out the door and he stiffened like I had really crossed a line. It struck me as being very strange. I vowed then never again to be so "friendly." He's never seemed to have any friends much less a girlfriend.

About eight years ago, I advised him to purchase a house as he was making good money and doing so would (and did) save him quite a bit at tax time. He was resistant to the idea and always "teased" that if things didn't work out he would come to live with me. To make a long story short, his business took a dive, he lost the house and had to declare bankruptcy in March of last year.

He lost both his parents -- for whom he seems to hold some resentment -- only a few months before and his two pets died during this time, too. The poor guy had nowhere to go and asked me outright if he could come stay with me. I tried everything I could to find a solution, but honestly, he wouldn't hear of anything else but to move in with me. He was totally broke and really didn't have any choices. I didn't want him to move in, but I felt that as his friend I didn't have any choice, either.

Imagine my surprise when within two weeks he made romantic moves toward me! I resisted for a while because (and I told him, too) I was afraid he was confusing being rescued with feelings of love. He claims to have fallen for me long before. I admit that I had always had warm feelings toward him, and his basic character is impeccable, so I eventually succumbed.

During our first sexual encounter he admitted he hadn't "partaken in acts of the flesh" for about 12 years!!! I assumed his impotence was due to nervousness, but he knew exactly what to do to please me so I assumed things would "perk up" eventually. For the first two months he couldn't keep his hands off me and I was thrilled and very satisfied.

He never got any perkier and his interest seemed to disappear as suddenly as it started. I chalked a lot of it up to depression (understandably). When I eventually tried to talk to him about it, he clammed up. In fact, he clams up, gets angry, and leaves the room about any subject more personal than the weather. I realize -- as I always knew -- that he is a textbook-case emotionally unavailable man.

So, Cary, I feel like I am trapped. I cannot do a thing with him. He seems to think my complaint is about the impotence, but that doesn't matter to me, as there are so many other things we could do, sexually. He's just not interested in anything. He never even gives me a peck on the cheek or a pat on the back. I've told him I feel like I live with a roommate and he lives alone. I've never known someone so bottled up and resistant.

I should mention that we are 62 and 63 years old. I care about his impotence only as far as it may be indicative of a serious health matter. Of course, he will not seek medical help. His excuse is lack of health insurance (he's waiting to be eligible for Medicare) but I know damn well he wouldn't go if he could. Seeking counseling is, obviously, out of the question.

Aside from this elephant in the room, he's pretty easy to live with. He does all the cooking and shopping. He does his own laundry. He gives me complete control over his finances and gives me money without my having to ask. His demeanor is usually pleasant but quiet. He loves my family and volunteers to drive an hour every Sunday to have dinner with my mom. He does her yard work and nobody ever asked him to. I could go on and on about his generosity (except emotionally) and thoughtfulness. And, in fact, I NEED him financially in order to keep my house and eat, too.

I want things to be better but I think that the way things are right now is how it's always going to be. People don't often change even if they're motivated. I can only change myself and my attitude about this relationship. The only way I have been able to deal is to pretend in my own mind that we're just friends, but if I ever told him that, he'd be crushed.

This is already too long, but I'll add that I'm a bit resentful that I burned a bridge with a (fantastic) lover 20 years my junior in order to be in this relationship.  Also he goes to bed at 9 p.m. and I'm up until midnight, at least. He doesn't like that. I used to go to bed with him, but I can't lie there in the dark silence when I'm not sleepy. It makes me feel depressed and angry.

Cary, I knew what I was in for (except for the lack of sex and affection) before he moved in -- I was just unable to stop it. Now what do I do? He's not going anywhere. I don't think I really want him to. Plus I do love him. GAH!!!

Frustrated To The Max

Dear Frustrated to the Max,

One reads stories about people and how they ended up together and one thinks, That only happens in stories in magazines. One says, I read this short story in a magazine about how a freelance bookkeeper's client fell in love with her and she advised him to buy a house and he did but he lost it and then she felt responsible for him and let him move in with her, and then she found out he was in love with her.

And then you wonder how it ends.

Right now, there is tension in the story because the man, the client, seems to have some problems and does not seem completely stable and reliable. Tension is good in a story; you want tension. The woman also provides tension because the choices she made do not seem wholly tough enough; one suspects she is vulnerable to being taken advantage of. But one also suspects that -- and this might be what the author is getting at --  each person unconsciously wanted exactly what happened, that the man failed in business and the woman told herself she had no choice but to help him, because each secretly wanted exactly this scenario.

That's the beauty of it.

The resulting situation is of course hard to manage. There are clumsy love scenes and lots of silences. We feel bad for the woman who is not getting the romance she wants. She settled for an arrangement whose practicality outweighs its emotional value; it feels sad. Of course it is sad. But it is also beautiful. Those of us who are merely observing can afford to say it's beautiful, like an autumn sunset seen through maple leaves.

We do not feel so keenly the pain of the characters in the story because we have our own sadness. Yet this is your story. It is real. It's just that it feels like a piece of bittersweet fiction.

Certain things would provide more tension. If the man declines mentally and begins to act like a madman, that would place her in danger and thus provide more tension.

And certain scenes are full of beauty: We see him raking her mother's leaves. We see him handing her money. We see him fixing things. We can see it as a movie. Imagine the story conference:

What we want is some joy. Maybe there will be a big dance scene at the end, with all of them dancing in the kitchen after he rakes the leaves. Or maybe he will be dancing with his rake in the kitchen and will knock over a family heirloom and we will understand that necessary breakage is occurring. We need to sense some joy between them, as well as companionability and shared longing. If we feel that, we will feel satisfied.

What makes the story interesting is the way that situation is itself a character. We are more accustomed to romantic love playing against situation. But here, situation has been a willing accomplice in love. That makes it interesting. Maybe that's what they talk about in the story conference. Then, even though it then becomes a movie based on a fictional story in a magazine, advice columnists and psychologists will weigh in as though the characters were real, and discuss whether the man is just sad and grieving or whether he is depressed or maybe psychotic.

This is not fiction. This is your life.

So he probably is just grieving and it will pass. But if he is experiencing complicated grief then you may want to revisit your assumption that "Seeking counseling is, obviously, out of the question." Likewise, if he is clinically depressed, your life is going to suffer because of it and that is not fair. So protect yourself. We are worried for you.

You say you believed you had no choice but we feel everyone in America has a choice. Everybody in America has an inner hard-ass that we call "being realistic."

Some might say you both wanted this relationship and so you found a way to back into it without admitting it was what you really wanted, in a clever and circuitous way characteristic of the unconscious. What concerns us and gives the story tension is our worry that when things go wrong in other ways he will self-destruct again to force you to rescue him again.

If he does not bring his impulses to a conscious level, what will you rescue him from next?

If he is grieving, there are a lot of things you can do to help.

Does he talk about his parents' deaths a lot? What about the deaths of his pets? Does he talk about that? He might want to talk about that stuff with other people who have had such losses -- he might want to join a discussion group.

But if he is clinically depressed, then he needs professional help the same as he would if he needed medical attention.

How do you make that happen? You have some authority. You may just tell him he has to do this. When people are lost and looking to be rescued, sometimes they won't do things on their own but if they are told to do something they will do it, because it lets them be the child.

You know you can't change him. If you want to throw it all over and start a new life you can always do that because this is America. But it would be painful and difficult and costly. And things might not really be that much better in the end.

As it is, this is kind of sweet. And when people ask you how you met you have a good story to tell.

Cary Tennis

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