Crystal W's Self-Portrait

Kelly C's Self-Portrait

Group Self-Portrait

When people asked them how they met, they always answered: It was a medical miracle.

Both were patients of the same ophthalmology practice, where they’d been sitting next to one another in the waiting room for close to an hour. Kelly, in workout clothes and a patch over her right eye, was restive and fidgety. When she turned toward Crystal and complained loudly and colorfully about the long wait, Crystal quietly agreed and looked back at her phone. Kelly kept on talking. Finally, Crystal relented and asked what had happened to the other woman’s eye. She’d been hit in the eye with a soccer ball.

Kelly left the doctor’s office with Crystal’s phone number.

The miracle was not only that these two very different women ever met but that they actually got along.

Kelly, then 29, was outgoing, enthusiastic, energetic, demonstrative, always on the move. Athletic by nature and by profession, she was then an assistant coach for a professional women’s soccer team. She loved meeting new people and was active on the dating scene, enjoying bars and online dating. Until she and Crystal had been together for a few years, she’d never really been interested in settling down with one person. She loved the fire of passion, but it was always like a match that exploded before immediately going out.

Quiet, bookish, very shy, Crystal was very slow to open up. Maybe that’s why Kelly stuck around: Crystal was a challenge. Crystal was a freelance commercial artist and website designer, happy to work on her own without the distraction of other people. She read a lot, had a few close friends, liked to stay at her parents’ lakeside home on weekends. Among people she didn’t know, she always found it difficult to be herself.

She loved animals, though, had indoor cats, fed birds outside, petted other people’s dogs on the streets. She revealed her love of animals to Kelly when she first phoned, so Kelly suggested they meet at the café at their city’s famed zoo. After that, it was a full two years before the women considered themselves a couple. Kelly learned to take it slow with Crystal–a first for her, and probably the reason why the relationship didn’t burn out. And Crystal, with Kelly at her side, became more comfortable going out and meeting new people. Kelly enjoyed being the protector. Although she traveled a lot during the team’s playing season, the time to herself was a blessing for Crystal and maybe one reason why she didn’t get scared off.

By the time they moved in together, almost five years after they first met, Kelly had a new job as their city’s recreation director. Crystal turned the second bedroom of the large townhouse into her office. Kelly was out sometimes six days a week, often into evening hours, which was fine with Crystal, who liked to cook, read, watch videos, draw.

Then the COVID-19 epidemic overtook their city, schools closed, all recreational activities were shut down, and Kelly was forced to work from home too. She set up at the small desk in the living room, putting together an online activity program for the town. When she needed computer help, she called out for Crystal to come help. It took Crystal several days to awkwardly express that she didn’t want Kelly intruding in her physical or mental workspace. Kelly said she understood, though she didn’t really. She stayed out in the living room having video meetings for work and more and more to chat with her friends.

Kelly hated being confined to quarters. She joined the online Zumba class that she had made available for the town in lockdown. Needless to say, the music and jumping around upset Crystal. After an uncharacteristically emotional response, Kelly called her hysterical. Crystal grabbed her cats and ran to her car. She just sat there in the driveway for two hours. She could have gone for a drive, but she was so afraid of contracting the virus that she wouldn’t go anywhere.

Both women knew that they were reacting to the extraordinary stress of home confinement. Still, privately, they each began to doubt their relationship. Kelly became convinced that Crystal cared more for her pets than for her. Crystal just wanted Kelly to back off and give her some space. She got so depressed that some morning she couldn’t get up, and when she finally did, she went immediately to her office and closed the door. She didn’t want to talk about it. Kelly was furious. She ordered hand weights and worked out in the living room to loud music.

A fight that resulted in tears for both of them broke the emotional impasse. They cried, they even laughed. The next morning, over breakfast, they felt better about each other. They also knew they couldn’t go on like this.

Kelly suggested counseling–online. Crystal demurred. She wasn’t a talker “like that,” she said. Kelly offered that at this point they had nothing to lose. She already knew where to turn, to a mental health and counseling service to which she had provided a link on her own town website. That’s how they came to take The New Personality Self-Portrait and to create a Group Self-Portrait together. The counselor recommended it as a tool they could work with to visualize where their conflicts were coming from.

As Crystal began to open up, the more she understood that who she was not her “fault.” She was highly Sensitive to what people thought of her, Serious in a somewhat dark outlook, safe and comfortable and happiest by her Solitary self. That was her nature, not her “problem.” Kelly, for her part, saw how she must overwhelm Crystal with her Dramatic love of socializing and being the center of attention, her Mercurial emotional fire, all combined with Adventurous predilection for risk, and her Aggressive desire to protect Crystal while running the show.

They were most similar in Conscientious style, and this shared strength gave them a place to begin the work. Conscientious style, is, indeed, all about work, and doing the right thing. Sometimes highly Conscientious couples each have a competing sense of what’s the right way to achieve something, but when working on themselves as a couple, Kelly and Crystal agreed to accept this challenge.

For Crystal, the counselor suggested a telemedicine consultation with a psychiatrist to evaluate her for depression and anxiety. Alleviating the symptoms exacerbated by this crisis could help their work together. And in any event, to survive the stay-at-home requirements, they would both benefit from the counseling during the short term.

It’s a start. They’re feeling better as they learn more about each other. Whether they have a future they will find out.



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