I am sleeping with myself. It’s happened four times now. I’m with my boyfriend, Ben, mid-coitus and I close my eyes and picture, well, me. Naked and doing it. Girl on girl. When I open my eyes, I see him, but not completely. It’s still sort of me—an imagined, hybrid of the two of us. The me-Ben, doing me.
It all started when I took my 27-year-old, WASP boyfriend to meet my even WASPier grandmother, Betty. Ben and I were three years into our relationship and blissfully shacked up in a Park Slope studio. I wasn’t nervous bringing him to my grandmother’s, but I should have been. “You know,” she said, eyeing the two of us over her requisite cup o’ gin. “You two look alike. It’s uncanny, really. You might be related.”
It didn’t take a particularly keen observer to note the physical similarities between Ben and myself. In this city of full of “individuals,î we were anything but. Ben and I are both tall (he’s 6-foot-2 and I’m 5-foot-8) and, at the time, in our mid-twenties. We’re both blond, pale and blue-eyed. We have cheeky baby faces and are round in parts. Ben’s a bit more round overall, and I’m round in three choice locations: my face, stomach and butt. We’d often joked that if I popped out a baby that was anything other than blond, big-assed and chipmunk-like, it would be no secret that Mommy was a tramp.
So, at first, I let Grandma Betty’s comment slide. But as the days wore on, her words kept popping into my head. The visualizations started: over dinner, in the shower, kissing on the couch. Crisis set in. Google (and tequila) provided much-needed relief by establishing that I was not, in fact, screwing my first cousin. But it wouldn’t stop. Then, I had my first Ben-as-me sex moment: I looked at him, sweating like a pig and furiously going at it and—saw me. I jumped out of bed, citing a sudden bout of nausea—not entirely a lie—and we left it at that.
It took a week for Ben to get into my pants again. When he finally managed it, I found myself examining him with the same mercilessness I used when critiquing myself. He kissed my neck and calves; I eewed and icked over his lumps and errant hairs. I began calling him “moobs” (man boobs). It was gross behavior, and I wasn’t proud. But I couldn’t stop. Hello, my name is Catherine, and I’m a bitch.
I hit rock bottom one Sunday during brunch. My friend Zach pointed out that Ben and I showed up dressed like twins, and I burst into tears. I called my sister, Molly, and made her rush across town. With my nose dribbling into a glass of red wine, I explained everything.
“You know what you’re doing, right?” she asked. “You’re being Mom. You are doing what she does with us.” She was right.
Our kick-ass, lawyer mother is a fantastic role model and intensely proud of her daughters. Really. You’ll get no complaints from me. But she does pick on me about the small, physical stuff. You should wear your hair this way, or, you’ve put on a few pounds. I always forgive her because I know those jibes are really about her, not me. How I, as her daughter, show her something about the kind of woman she is. I’m a walking, talking mirror that my mother can’t escape. So her nagging is forgivable, but it’s not behavior I’d hoped to mimic. Unfortunately, I apparently had a real knack for projection—to the point of actual hallucination.
“Yes, it’s true, you’re probably insane,” my sister said. “But now that you’re aware of it, you can try and stop yourself.” Was she right? Could I stop myself? I desperately wanted to, but I wasn’t so sure.
Ben finally confronted me about our non-existent sex life. “What the hell is going on?” he asked. I explained as gently as I could and watched as he tried to take it all in. “So, you’re upset because you’re picturing yourself as me, and that’s a bad thing?”
I deserved to be dumped. Or institutionalized. But I assured him that I really wasn’t harping on his flaws; I was harping on my own. Ben wasn’t perfect, but he was very handsome. I wanted him. I always had. “Because I’m so hot?” he asked.
“Because you’re so hot,” I said. He laughed, looked utterly bewildered, and told me I was nuts. I agreed and we haven’t spoken of it since.
I still picture me during sex, and I still struggle with it. At least now I know I’ve got more important things to worry about than seeing myself as a big, teddy bear type—like Ben. I have to deal with my own insecurities before (fingers crossed) he and I make those blond-haired babies and I start projecting with a new generation. So for now, my goal is simple: get over myself. Literally.
Catherine Pearson is an editor and freelance writer. She lives in Brooklyn.