Sometimes we lose sight of our priorities. Or maybe, we don’t exactly know what our priorities are. Especially when it comes to dating. We can often meet a really good looking guy who lavishes a mound of attention upon us and, poof! Just like that, we forget what we’re looking for, what we need and what will ultimately serve us well in the long run. Worse yet, we can easily get caught up in a fantasy of what we think we want and need. For the sake of immediate gratification, we forget all our values and fling ourselves into what we hope will be the relationship of our dreams.
For love addicts, we tend not to know our values. We tend to have a very immature, superficial idea of love that is not so much based on health, as it is on neediness, an urgency to fill a void, and a desperation to use people and relationships as a way to cope or worse, to avoid the reality of our lives.
But having a healthy relationship takes patience and the courage to say no to the wrong people. It takes a strong sense of self to be able to recognize good qualities in others, and not so good qualities. And above all, it takes the determination to love yourself to the point where you want healthy people, places and things in your life.
So, how do you know good qualities from bad? How do you recognize healthy people versus unhealthy? Well, you look for people who do this…and not that…
- DOES THIS: Asks you out on a date. NOT THIS: Waits around for you to ask him out on a date
- DOES THIS: Calls you and/or calls you back NOT THIS: Doesn’t call you or call you back, and if he does it’s five days later.
- DOES THIS: Makes time for you, wants to spend time with you. NOT THIS: barely has time for you and when he does it’s usually in the bedroom.
- DOES THIS: Lives a clean, healthy life. NOT THIS: smokes, drinks to excess, does drugs, doesn’t face or deal with his health issues, eats poorly, etc.
- DOES THIS: Takes care of himself financially. NOT THIS: Still lives with parents, borrows money, in debt, doesn’t work, or doesn’t have a stable job where he can pay his bills and pay for a roof over his head without depending on others.
- DOES THIS: Communicates well. NOT THIS: Bottles everything up and won’t talk, or communicates only minimally, refuses to face emotional discussion, poor listener.
- DOES THIS: Lives an honest, respectful life. NOT THIS: Cheats, lies, is evasive and deceptive, dishonest in business, in personal matters or with strangers.
- DOES THIS: Treats you (and others) with respect, care, kindness and dignity NOT THIS: treats you poorly, ignores you, avoids you, repeatedly unkind to you, controls you, etc.
- DOES THIS: Enjoys you and likes you for who you are, not what you could or should be NOT THIS: Expects you to be something or someone you are not.
- DOES THIS: Is a genuinely happy person NOT THIS: is a genuinely unhappy or angry person
- DOES THIS: Feels and acts passionate towards you NOT THIS: doesn’t feel or act passionate towards you, withholds sex, love or affection, cold or inappropriate behavior, fear of intimacy
- DOES THIS: Is a grown up and acts like one. NOT THIS: is immature and refuses to grow up.
I just came home from my son’s high school production of Peter Pan–a great show all with flying harnesses and magical light fairies dancing across the stage. But as I sat through and really listened to the characters’ lines, Peter’s and Wendy’s in particular, it was eerily reminiscent of relationships past.
To refresh your memory, here’s a very short plot summary: Peter Pan is the story of a magical boy who refuses to grow up and, instead, lives on the island of Neverland with his buddies, the Lost Boys. All together they get into boyish scrimmages and adventures with a Pirate (Captain Hook) and a band of Indians. One night, Peter visits the nursery of The Darling children, Wendy, John and Michael, where Wendy takes a liking to him and tries to get a kiss from him. Peter has no clue what a kiss is and so he gives her a thimble instead, for which she takes and puts on her necklace as a keepsake. Peter convinces the children to fly away with him to Neverland, which they do, and while there, they determine that Wendy will be their mother. She agrees, under the condition that Peter be their father. He hesitantly agrees, but only if it’s “pretend.” Not wanting to commit to anything more serious, he humors Wendy playing the role, but says he doesn’t like the responsibility of being grown up. At times he even gets angry with her when she imposes too much emotion or responsibility onto him:
Wendy: I think you have, Peter. And I daresay you’ve felt it yourself. For something… or… someone?
Peter: Never. Even the sound of it offends me.
[Wendy tries to touch his face, and he jumps away]
Peter: Why do you have to spoil everything? We have fun, don’t we? I taught you to fly and to fight. What more could there be?
Wendy: There is so much more.
Peter: What? What else is there?
Wendy: I don’t know. I guess it becomes clearer when you grow up.
Peter: Well, I will not grow up. You cannot make me!
When she finally asks him about his “feelings” for her he says, “I feel for you like a son feels for his mother…” In the end Wendy chooses to leave Neverland. She asks Peter not to forget her…
While Peter promises to come back each “Spring cleaning” he forgets and time passes. Wendy grows old and the story ends with Peter eventually coming back to take Wendy’s daughter to Neverland.
The story of Peter Pan is, of course, that of the love addict and her avoidant boyfriend. The motherly, doting, codependent grown up woman paired with the fun, exciting, but immature “boy” who, when emotions get too serious, tends to run away. In The Break Up Journal I refer to “P” as a Peter Pan; in fact, I chose the letter P for the parallel of my ex to Peter. When I began dating P (who was 40 at the time), he had never had a serious relationship, never been married, no children, still lived at home, could barely pay his bills and would hang out in the basement of his parents’ house and listen to Grateful Dead records as if no time had passed between now and when he was in high school.
P suffered from severely stunted growth, a bit of narcissism and an intimacy disorder which kept him from being able to truly become intimate with people, specifically women. In retrospect, I couldn’t see him for who he was. I was too wrapped up in how “fun” he was, and how good looking I thought he was. I suffered from a Wendy-syndrome–a desire to attach to Peter Pan and mother him, versus be his equal. Essentially, I had refused to grow up too.
As I sat awestruck at my son’s play, I told my very grown up husband how deeply affected I was by the story. He squeezed my hand and said, “It hits too close to home, I bet.” Yes. I suppose it does. That was my life circa 2008. I was Wendy. I was in love with Peter. But, then I grew up.
Love addiction recovery is like leaving Neverland. It’s about choosing to grow up, whether you want to or not. It’s about recognizing that you cannot change the Peters of the world and letting them remain in their fantasy land while you make a forward leap into reality.
Who hasn’t had this thought pop into her head: If only my boyfriend saw a therapist, everything would be different.
I can’t tell you how many times I wished this exact thing. And why did I wish it? Because I believed that after all the self-help books I’d read, therapy was the answer. Not to my problems, of course, but my boyfriend’s. And if my bf would just go to a therapist, said therapists would back me up and convince my guy that he needs to change, (just like I said he should) or he would risk losing a relationship with me.
Looking back over all the men I dated, only two were willing to go to therapy “for me,” my ex husband and G. Both therapy sessions went horribly wrong.
The first time my ex husband and I went to a therapist he lied about his cheating and had no real interest in changing his behavior. He merely did it to appease me, and probably because he felt bullied by me and just gave in. I was desperately trying to save my marriage, singlehandedly, and the only advice we left with was “You two need to date again.” This didn’t exactly resolve anything. But, it did delay the inevitable. And the inevitable came with a flip flop. It was now me who wanted out of the relationship. And so, the second time we went, it was on his instance to save the marriage. But, by the time I got to therapy, I was completely unable to be “convinced” to stay in the marriage and we divorced shortly after.
When I dated G, I was in therapy because I was unable to accept G’s “flaws” and I was trying to figure out why I was always so frustrated and depressed. He always said he loved me, and he called all the time. What was my problem? Well, my problem was he smoked pot and never wanted to have sex with me. So, I thought if I could get him to meet with a therapist, she would convince him these things were interfering in our relationship and he should change his ways to save the relationship.
This didn’t work. He liked smoking pot and he had an extremely low libido (most likely because of the pot), and he had no desire to change.
So what did these men learn from therapy? Probably nothing. What did I learn? That’s more important here. I learned that just because a well-educated relationship specialist understands what it takes to have a healthy relationship, they could not convince someone to love me or to BE what I wanted them to be. Just because my therapist and I agreed that my boyfriend’s behavior was not acceptable, it didn’t mean he also agreed or even cared. And therein lies the problem.
Therapy doesn’t convince anyone to love you, especially if they don’t want to be convinced. And believing in therapy as a way to “fix” a relationship that is founded on neglect, disrespect, avoidance or any other ingrained behavior is wishful, unrealistic thinking.
Therapy ONLY works when two people are committed to each other and when those two people share the same value in working on the relationship. More importantly, what we learn from therapy is often something we don’t particularly want to learn: that we cannot control or convince others to love us. And the “everything will be different” fantasy typically comes when you ditch the guy who clearly doesn’t love you and replace him for one who does. And, surprise! When that happens, you typically find yourself not needing therapy at all!
Long day yesterday. Spent the morning on the computer. Got the boys lunch and then my sister-in-law was over by 1:30. We were at the airport by 2:30. We waited two hours until they finally cleared customs at 4:30. We didn’t get home until almost 7 due to traffic. We had a quick dinner while Abuelo and Abuela played with the kids. They left by 7:30!
I talked to P a bit at night. We laughed. I tried to just keep things light. He so resists help though. He’s cutting back on cable and I said, “Well, you can always come here and watch TV.” He said, “Or just go down to the bar and watch.” Dear Lord.
I feel like telling him that he is so out of touch with himself. And almost completely incapable of handling a relationship [Irony?!]. It’s sad. It’s sad when a man holds on to…Read More
Maybe I need to stop having fantasy-like expectations of a relationship. I don’t even want to go “there” today—more complaining, more expecting…
How about this:
- I will not try to “win” anyone’s love today.
- I will not seek out C as a resource of comfort, or anything for that matter
- I will not have any expectations of P. I will do exactly as I have been doing, giving my same level of input, and being ME, without any expectations or fantasies. I cannot continue to say and do things and expect certain responses (and then be upset when I do not get the response I want, or that I imagine is best). I just need to be me and allow him to be him.
My man is struggling. He is trying to pay down his debts. It has nothing to do with me. He is not running away from me. Distance is not rejection here. When he’s emotionally distant or unavailable it’s not because of me. It’s something inside him. He’s tired, he’s angry at his financial situation. Whatever it is, he said it’s not me, and I must believe him.
You see, the trouble is… Read More
Last night was pitiful and divine. I read my journal from September 2000 when Liam was born up until we moved into this house. It was triggered by Marie and I talking about New Orleans, so I went back to research my 24-hours there and my rather brief affair with Randy the male nurse when I was separated from R. I had met Randy online playing one of those ridiculous roleplay games that R wanted me to get involved in, but then, basically moved out and dumped me. I was left playing alone until I met Randy.
Reading through those days sickens me. I was a loser. I was married to a loser, and I was dating a loser. The only flowers rising up out of that ugly evil bad world of darkness were my two beautiful sons.
After hours of reading through those pages, I realized I’m sick of men. Of trying to please them, of not being treated with dignity and respect. I’m not sure I will ever get over the trauma that R caused. No one should have to put up with that shit, ever. There is no where to turn for consolation from that sad life, and yet, here am. I am still standing.
But am I? The more I thought about it the more I realized …Read More
I recently read another love addict’s blog online and felt compelled to comment on her post about worthiness. This is basically what I said to her that I would like to share with you:
You only need one reason to be worthy of love. To exist. Nothing more. But here’s something I would very much like to suggest, as a fellow love addict. At first it may sound hopeless, but trust me, it’s not: what if you lived your life and appreciated everything you had in it but ONLY what you had in it now? That doesn’t mean you don’t already appreciate your life. It means, what if you removed the idea that you are complete if only you had a relationship? What if you simply resolved that you are perfect as you are now, and you removed the prospect, the hope, the wish for romance? What if you pretended that romantic love were not a possibility?
And, what if you were not so much worthy of love, as in, you should be given something that is owed you because you are worthy of it, but rather, what if you were simply perfect as you are now, not owed anything, just alive and grateful within yourself for that life?
Losing the hope of romance or finding someone may sound completely depressing, but for love addicts it’s a fear we all need to face in order to truly find ourselves and heal. For some of us, it’s our greatest fear. I know it was mine. The thought of dying “an old maid” horrified me. It made me scared to be alive. It made me chase after anyone I could get my hands on. And yet, when I finally faced it, it had the opposite effect that I assumed it would have. I didn’t die. I didn’t collapse into oblivion. Instead, a deep sense of relief washed over me. The searching was over. The against-all-odds effort that went into longing and hoping and wishing and dreaming was finally over. It had all been so draining. It had all been so life-zapping.
Accepting my life and only what I had in it at that moment in time–and being grateful for just that, and removing the wants and the needs for all the things I didn’t have– was enlightening.
Seem impossible? Well, swap out the longing and perseverance for love with, say, money or fame? Could you imagine if your biggest and most important dream was to be a millionaire? Or to be famous? That, as the law of attraction states, if you think it, it will be yours? And if you don’t achieve that goal you don’t feel alive? Fulfilled? Accomplished? What kind of a fulfilled life would you have if you couldn’t achieve this goal no matter how hard you worked at it? Sure, you’re worthy of being a millionaire, sure you’re worthy of being famous, but will it happen?
What if it doesn’t? And if it doesn’t, can you be happy anyway?
The lesson is this: happiness is in the now. Not in hoped for outcomes. Be the best YOU you can be, and whatever the universe gifts you, be grateful for it. Work hard. Live. Challenge yourself. But remove longing. And use hope in its intended purpose–as the potential for possibility, not the guarantee of it, and not as a crutch to support your loneliness or dissatisfaction with life. And worthiness doesn’t mean we receive something in return for our worth (love). It means we recognize that we have value and we live our lives according to that value. And, if someone doesn’t recognize that along with us, it means we value ourselves enough to move on.
If you’re frustrated that your “partner” seems unavailable, it might be YOU who’s unavailable. Think about it. When we are truly available and ready for love, we choose partners who are also available and ready for love. When we are available, we seek out people who are not afraid of commitment, intimacy, and responsibility. So look closely. Not at him, but at YOU.
In The Break-Up Journal this week (July 19) I talk a bit about distance between couples…
I started reading “A Fine Romance” the other day, by Judith Sills. Despite it being a little hard to understand in the beginning, it has some major good points. For one, it describes this woman who considers closeness to equal love, and distance to equal rejection. And any time her partner would become distant, it would trigger her fears of neglect. But the writer says that part of the courtship dance is, in fact, about distance. That just as we move close, we naturally move apart too, for breathing room, to regain our sense of self, to reconsider, to adjust, to think, and to simply revisit who we were prior to being a “couple.” But her biggest message was…don’t take it personally. It’s not about you. It’s about the nature of dating. Wow! I was blown away and very happy to know that I could view my situation with P in this light. I really needed to read this. –The Break Up Journal
The way we interpret situations and behavior in early dating has a lot to do with the success of our relationship. If we, like this woman in the book, consider closeness to equal love then we might think that distance coming from our date is the absence of love. And if that is how we feel, we may be inclined to respond as if we were being rejected. We may increase our attempts to make contact, withdrawal inward,feel hopeless that another date has lost interest in us, even get angry and attack. When we don’t recognize that a certain amount of distance is necessary and naturally built into the courtship process, we run the risk of responding in unhealthy ways.
So…the object of the game in early dating is this: recognize that distance is part of dating. It’s not personal. And, just as two people have the desire to come close, we also naturally have the desire to hold on to our individuality (distance).
But a word of caution: don’t confuse the natural phase of distancing with avoidance. The difference is subtle and lies in an individual’s personal degree of closeness and distance. Is it extreme? Is it constant? Do you increasingly feel the need to push the relationship forward? Are there other signs of avoidance present? When you sense the normal “retreat” phase, it’s time to be aware, not push. It’s time to have patience and let the other person have his or her space. And while you may instinctually press for reassurance that he or she is not going anywhere, it’s time to accept that you cannot have that reassurance. Just yet. It will come either way. You will either know that he/she wants to be closer and move forward, or that he/she doesn’t. And so too must you listen to that voice within yourself. You have your own degree of intimacy, closeness and distance that you need to be aware of and know where it’s coming from.
In The Break Up Journal, I am clearly trying to determine at this point in the relationship if P’s inward retreat is a normal healthy part of our courtship, or if I am dealing with the first glimpses of an avoidant personality. In reality, I know deep down that it’s avoidance. And yet, I don’t exactly want to accept that just yet. I am still holding on to hope that his behavior changes, and this is just a phase. Ho hum. You definitely can’t fault me for hanging in there. But I am reminded of the Rudyard Kipling poem, Gunga Din. Gunga Din is a scrappy Indian soldier, with great spirit, who continues to help the other soldiers recover and drink water, even after he’s been shot. And while that’s pretty valiant of good ‘ol Gunga Din, I don’t want to be that kind of person. So…don’t keep pursuing and pushing and having high expectations of someone if you sense distancing OR avoidance. Allow the relationship to happen or not happen. You don’t ever have to “fight” for what is essentially yours. And besides, letting people distance themselves and come closer (within moderation) is how you love YOURSELF.
Ever find yourself hanging on to certain people and just desperately needing their attention? In most cases, we become clingy and needy with people who tend to keep us at a distance or avoid us. How can you test this theory? Well, I’m betting that you are NOT needy and clingy with other needy/clingy people. Think about it. Think about someone from your past (a friend, an ex, a family member) who showed you lots of love and never let you out their site. How was your behavior then? Probably not clingy. Maybe even a little avoidant?
The world works in yin and yang. It works to balance out loss or gain.
Even if you have no example of that type of situation in your past, where the tables were turned, we still exhibit clingy, needy behavior when we feel avoided. But how do you change that kind of behavior? Most of the time people think this type of behavior comes from loneliness. They say, just learn to do stuff on your own! But that is not exactly the answer. A better approach is to surround yourself with people who give you a good amount of attention, love and kindness. When we improve our self worth, and believe we are worthy of time and attention, we automatically attract better quality individuals.
If that, however, is still not enough, you are very possibly trying to “fill the void” with other people. In that case there are two approaches:
1. Start to fill your (imaginary) void with things that are important to you. Hobbies might not cut it. You might need to search for what makes you passionate (hint: leave people out of the equation and search for ideas, beliefs, career paths etc.). My all time favorite advice was “work with your hands.” When you do that your brain becomes focused on something other than meandering thoughts. It becomes focused on the task (at hand).
Or, better yet….
2. Stop believing there is a void. Allow people’s attention and friendship to be “ENOUGH.” Whatever it is they are willing to offer, it has to be “enough.” Practice “enough.” The next time you are with someone and they go to leave, let them. Practice being OK with that and saying, “Thanks for hanging out,” or “OK, bye.” NO matter how much it pains you. Don’t try to push or force the situation. When they leave and you are once again alone, allow yourself to feel that emptiness and aloneness, but don’t equate it with a VOID. It’s not a void. It is simply you growing and learning what “enough” means. Like hunger pangs to someone on diet…you are merely attempting to shrink your stomach and readapt to a smaller portion of whatever it is you think you NEED.
Here’s more on “filling the void“