The Thousandth Time

By Jerry Sander, LCSW

Back when I lived in New York City, in the days before training to become a therapist, I was typing a book for a well-known therapist. (He’d seen my ad on a lamppost on the Upper West Side. It was the ‘80’s; I charged $1.25 a page and used an IBM Selectric 2 and a lot of white-out; word-processing programs and computers weren’t widespread yet.)

The well-known therapist and I became friends, of sort, as he asked my opinions about the content of his book. We took long walks around Central Park and talked about people, relationships, what makes people change, the impact of family of origin stories, and more.

What really visibly upset him, though, were the published comments of someone else who’d written: “True love isn’t love at first sight; it is love at one-thousandth sight.”

“Nonsense,” my friend thundered. “Those are the words of a disappointed person who’s learned to settle for less and give up passion.” Rather, he felt, the heat and thrill of early love either continues to nurture the relationship forever or is gone and the relationship enters a settling-for-less phase in which everyone is disappointed. Either the fires continue to burn strongly or you are left with cold coals.

I pondered this, as I was particularly bad, in my history, at managing relationships in a way that allowed them to last or thrive and I understood the thrill of first love deeply. I didn’t know what the other guy was talking about (“a thousandth sight”???) because I’d never been in a relationship that long.

It turned out that my therapist friend was particularly bad, as well, at being part of a thriving couple. (I later met the therapist/woman he’d broken up with, after years of difficulty and she’d told me her story. It was a story of escaping the throes of a narcissist.) In holding out for the perfect heat of first-glance thrill, my friend neglected the moments and dynamics that follow, in which the ordinary ups and downs of regular life take over and a large variety of feelings towards our partner take over.

Maybe love at one-thousandth sight wasn’t “settling for” at all; maybe it was the rediscovery of beauty and magic after periods of dullness or conflict. Maybe it was that moment when you realize you are the luckiest person in the world, not only because you met your partner, but because you get to meet them again and again and – just like Spring – we can rejoice in the warmth of the sun again as the world pops back into color.

My friendship with the older therapist didn’t last and – as far as I know – he didn’t have a partnered relationship at the end of his life. He also had no children. I am grateful for all our walks and talks. But the truth is he was a person who demanded that others be appealing to him in ways that he would dictate. That’s a hard way to attract others. He showed me that life could surely be lived alone without compromise. And that there was a different way, in which compromises would be necessary every week, but the rewards obvious: love at one-thousandth sight.