Not Quite What I Expected

Wilson Diehl

Wilson Diehl
Seattle, Washington, USA
March 09
You can find more of Wilson Diehl's work on Babble, Salon, and her blog, She's also published some poems in some places and made a short film called "How to Go on a Man Date." She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Iowa and teaches writing at Hugo House in Seattle.


Editor’s Pick
JULY 11, 2011 11:21AM

How 'Grey’s Anatomy' Helps My Marriage

Rate: 12 Flag

I didn’t set out to marry a doctor. If you‘d asked during my days I would have told you I didn’t even like doctors. They’re bossy, skeptical, self-important, and weirdly nervous about feelings. They’re always sure they know more about your body than you do—and they’re only sometimes right. Also, they have bad taste in shoes.

When I moved to Seattle in my late twenties, I told myself I was ready to look for a mate, a viable life partner. I then proceeded to fall for an illegal Canadian alien, a 22-year-old, a married man, a more-or-less married man, and a guy who lived in Kansas. A woman I’d met at a neighborhood cafe hypothesized over coffee that doctors make “the best mates,” but I had my doubts.

The only physicians in my life were the one at the women’s clinic and the ones on Grey’s Anatomy, which I’d taken to watching on DVD in obsessive late-night marathons around the time I turned thirty. Like any good writer (and, at the time, filmmaker) I was intrigued by the interpersonal dynamics and the minutiae—why did surgeons look down on everyone else? Why were doctors so lackadaisical about condom use? Why didn’t they ever lock the supply closet when they went there to have sex? Taking my cue from the surgical residents themselves, I’d stay up into the wee hours. But instead of trying to chase down the best surgeries, I was trying to chase away my loneliness, my heartache, my worry that I’d never get to get married and have a baby.

As wary as I was of actual doctors, I lusted after the fictional physicians of Seattle Grace Hospital the way a barista lusts after the perfect espresso pull or a Pacific Northwest cat lusts after just-caught salmon. I loved perfect-haired Dr. McDreamy as much as the next person, but honestly—male, female, resident, attending—it didn’t matter. If they could stay up all night having crazy sex and then perform successful heart or brain surgery on a toddler the next morning, I wanted them. Sure, they were bossy—but to each other, not to me—and they talked about their feelings quite a bit. Even when they announced they didn’t want to talk about their feelings, they sat together silently, clearly processing their feelings, which is almost as good. They were smart, sexy, a little wild, and a lot sassy—who cared what their shoes looked like?

That said, they didn’t strike me as “the best mates.” They were always at work, always thinking about work, and always wanting to work. Plus, they didn’t have the best track record, fidelity-wise.

The show’s debut coincided with my move into one of Seattle’s federally subsidized low-income artist housing units. Most of the men I met in my job as a part-time filmmaking instructor and at social functions in our building wore Utilikilts or had Asperger syndrome or claimed to be “born polyamorous”—or often all three. I wanted to branch out but didn’t want to necessarily have to go out. God bless the Internet. I could spend my evenings at home in my favorite leggings with my Grey’s Anatomy “friends” while my online profile did all the loathsome small-talk and weeded out the least suitable suitors.

Given my paltry income, lack of health insurance, tendency to need therapy, and love of all things Anthropologie, I probably should have been dreaming about marrying a real-life McDreamy, but it didn’t occur to me—certainly not consciously. Trader Joe’s Three Buck Chuck wine suited me fine, and I enjoyed making art from junk I found on the street or purchased for 69 cents at Goodwill. Being “Mrs. Dr. Somebody” was not on my radar.

When I met the man who would become my husband, I didn’t know he was a doctor. His profile was brief and vague and revealed only that he had an advanced degree and had attended a Montessori preschool. From one of his pictures in hiking boots and cargo shorts on some sort of large hill, I guessed he might be a high school science teacher—the kind with a fondness for slightly-too-long nature walks and an endearing over-appreciation of the lifecycle of the fruit fly.

Had I known he was a doctor, there’s a chance I wouldn’t have ever agreed to go out with him. I’d met up for drinks and snacks with a doctor once, only to discover that I would be drinking and snacking solo because the doctor ate (and drank) on an every-other-day schedule ever since he’d read a study in which rats who were fed this way lived longer.

The Montessori guy took me out for a picnic dinner—of which we both partook—and at some point between the BLTs and homemade lavender shortbread I coaxed out of him the fact that he was an academic emergency medicine doctor. “Like in Grey’s Anatomy!” I chirped, displaying my vast knowledge of the American medical establishment. He was quick to inform me it’s “not like that at all.”

Of course not! A real neurosurgeon would need a nap between the crazy sex and the brain surgery.

Then it dawned on me that this guy might be my own personal Dr. McDreamy. It didn’t matter what a teaching hospital is like on television—this guy could be my own personal portal. The longer we dated, the more I would learn about the interpersonal dynamics and the minutiae.

I’d always thought my feelings of distaste for doctors was mutual. They always seem stubbornly wary of my stubborn wariness—like by declining their samples of Prozac and asking for a recommendation for an acupuncturist, I’m calling into question the foundation of their livelihood. Which I only sort of am. But this doctor wanted to keep seeing me—over and over.

Even though he’s bossy and weirdly nervous about feelings and argues with me when I claim to have a symptom of something (You don’t have a migraine, just a tension headache… You’re not getting a cold—you’re probably just tired… You’re not PMSing— you’re just insane), I fell in love.


Three years (and one baby) later, I still know almost nothing about what it’s like to be a doctor. It turns out that working in the ER all day is as exhausting as it looks on TV, and the last thing you want to do when you come home is to talk about it—especially about how you feel about it. Is it really that hard to tell someone they have cancer? Is it really that gross to disimpact someone’s bowel? These questions do not need to be asked.

But there is a distance between my doctor husband and I—a distance created by the psychological difficulty of telling someone they’re rapidly dying, the terror of pulling a knife out of someone’s skull, the profound sadness of the heroin addicts, the entrenched alcoholics, the inexorable march of time.

I want to know about these things, what it feels like to be immersed in them every day, but I’ve learned to hold my tongue—not because it’s the “right” thing to do but because peppering my husband with questions gets me nowhere good. When he comes home from what’s obviously been a hard day, I now offer him a drink and suggest—not unkindly— he go to bed early. I then don my favorite leggings and curl up on the couch to watch some other Seattle doctors provide a portal into my husband’s life.

And sometimes the next morning over a cup of strong coffee he tells me what’s on his mind—unasked. The best kind of mate.

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screwing in supply closets of hospital is neither interesting nor sexy
I teach narrative/writing to med students, theoretically to help them to engage feelings and subjectivity, to tell and hear stories, etc. Of course we face off with one another--scientists v. artist--with the utmost wariness. I watch GA to cry gratuitously. I watch Mad Men to obsess over narrative and character. Mad Men is no good at all for my marriage.
As one who dated a few doctors, I could understand so much of your story. But yours had such a nice "happy ending." Great work.
Fun post. I've never dated a doctor, nor have I ever watched Grey's Anatomy, but I think I'll give it a try now (the latter).
This is so well done, I feel I know you almost as well as Meredith and Cristina, who evolved into women in solid marriages until this season's finale. Seems you have too. Hope your wisdom, and your marriage continue to grow.

It's so interesting we used Grey's Anatomy in such totally different ways...
Lovely, both the writing and your marriage.
I'm a retired M.D. I only remember one doctor who got caught screwing in a supply closet. His partners asked him to leave town - which he did - and the young woman in the closet lost her job. I think of Grey's Anatomy as "Dr. Kildare meets Trailer Trash".

Many of your perceptions about doctors are true. They suppress feelings because empathizing with everyone you give bad news would just be too painful, and because objectivity is essential to being a competent physician. They are self-absorbed and incredibly boring for the most part.

None of my personal friends were doctors. I've been to plenty of cocktail parties where all you heard were conversations about interesting patients.

I, too, married an artist. I have imagined it was an attempt to get in touch with my right brain.
Oooh....I hope a lot of attractive girls read this. It'll do me a power of good in a few years.
Married to a doctor from medical school on through age 56...almost 33 years. Happily sometimes, but not ever after. He is a good man, even though he left me for his nurse.