I’m super excited. My baby – my youngest child – is going to have a baby. I think of her, full of anticipation, with her blooming, rounded belly. Can she really be old enough to experience the extraordinary relationship between mother and child? I feel nostalgic for those early childhood days and anticipate my day of sessions ahead. All the clients have relationship issues, with lovers, children, parents, or friends. Will we ever get it right, this relationship thing? Is our struggle with relationships what keeps the clients coming?

‘Of course it is, Lizzie,’ Boris* pipes up. ‘Life is all about relationships.’ ‘Relationships are overrated,’ counters Mrs Danvers.* ‘What really matters is that one works hard, earns respect, achieves one’s potential and has self-control.’ ‘Have you never been in love, Mrs D?’ asks Boris. Mrs D glowers. She was, obviously, absolutely infatuated with Rebecca (in the novel by Daphne du Maurier), but was that love or obsession? Did she want to be the woman behind the woman? The trusted companion, the stand-in mother, the closest thing she could be to someone with whom she could never have the intimate relationship she desired?

My first client is Clare: attractive, accomplished, in her 40s, and distressed by her obsessive love for er… um… ‘An unsuitable man,’ says Mrs Danvers. ‘Ooh, a bit judgmental,’ says Boris. Well, I’m with Mrs D. He is unsuitable really because he’s married with two children. Clare is looking strong and haunted at the same time. ‘He’s not messaged for two days,’ she begins. ‘It’s their wedding anniversary, so she’s probably insisted they go away together. I know he wouldn’t go if he didn’t feel he had to.’ Amazing, the stories we tell ourselves.

Clare continues: ‘His wife is so needy, and he’s incredibly dutiful.’ Mrs D, Boris and I engage in a mutual raising of eyebrows. ‘The thing is, when I don’t hear from him, I can’t get him out of my head. I’m checking my phone, emails. I ache in my belly. I can’t focus on work. I try to block him out, but the thought of him creeps back in. I know I’m obsessed. It’s an addiction.’ She stops with a startled expression. After a pause to allow her to reflect on the impact of hearing her own words out loud, I ask: ‘What is it that you are addicted to?’

‘The sex,’ mutters Boris with a smirk. ‘Carnal desire,’ whispers Mrs D, with disdain. ‘Everything about him,’ Clare continues. ‘He’s handsome, super bright and successful. We argue a lot, but the sex is incredible.’ Ah… my mind wanders to my current relationship. There’s been a distinct lack of sex recently. Lockdown fatigue? We’re also not arguing, surprisingly. On the contrary, we’re rubbing along in a rather bland way. You know, watching TV together, munching chocolate, dressed in last year’s pyjama bottoms and T-shirts, which should have hit the bin once they began discolouring last Christmas. 

I wonder if Clare has fabulous lingerie. A vivid but disturbing image flashes in front of me. ‘For goodness’ sake, Lizzie, focus!’ Mrs Danvers is frowning, while Boris is checking out M&S underwear on his phone. Note to self: prepare for seductive Saturday night by engineering a row on Saturday afternoon. I learn so much from my clients. Apparently, the universe sends you the clients you need.

‘Can I show you a photo?’ Clare asks. I should probably say no, but I’m curious. And there he is, somewhat disappointing. I was expecting George Clooney and got Donald Duck. But, hey, who knows what attracts one person to another? Power has something to do with it: this man has wealth and status. He’s also unavailable. What’s going on for Clare? It’s time to explore whether it’s safer for her to date a man she knows she can’t have. It must be easier to obsess over someone you can’t have, than someone you can. After all, if Rebecca had fallen into Mrs Danvers’ arms, she might not have ended up dead. And Mrs Danvers wouldn’t have needed to be obsessed anymore, and may have ditched the ciggies she uses as stress relief.

Obsessive love, addiction, infatuation, whatever you want to call it, carries a powerful energy, or so I’m told. I explore with Clare her relationship history, from her father to her current chap. Her father was her first unavailable, powerful man. Her lovers have been either a mirror of him, or the opposite – somewhat dull, no drive. None have lasted more than a few months.

‘Can you bring in a photo of your father, next time?’ I ask. We need to go there. ‘Oh, OK, I’ll try and find one,’ Clare responds, looking puzzled. She gets up to leave and turns and says, ‘But you haven’t told me how to cope with this relationship.’ I look at her face. Should I tell her to give up the great sex with the unsuitable man? Advise her that, even if he leaves his wife and marries her, that only leaves a vacancy for a new mistress? ‘Tell her relationships are overrated,’ says Mrs D. Mmm. Boris hands me his phone. He’s selected some seductive lingerie. Maybe I’ll just go for new PJs and concede to my significant other’s TV choices. I think I’ve gone up a size anyway.