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.
August 12: God! I have never wanted someone to quit his job more than I wanted P to quit his job at the supermarket. It’s stressing me out as much as it is him. He has actually apologized for taking on this job and the stress it’s caused us both. Even though I said, “no need,” I kinda do feel like I should have an apology. It would be validation. It would mean that at least he realizes what a crummy situation it’s put us both in. Basically, this new part-time job has created a man-made wall between “us.” And I can’t help but wonder if in its dysfunctional appearance, it serves a function by playing into P’s increasing avoidance of this relationship. A protection of sorts, sold to me in the following language: “I really need this job; it’s the only thing I can do to pay my bills,” etc. Read More…
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
You know I’m always preaching about availability right? And my most important point is that if you get into a relationship with an unavailable person, you’re the one who is really unavailable. I can’t remember where, but I read a really fabulous article on how we make ourselves available. And one of the best “feng shui” things we can do is get rid of all the guy “friends,” and the “friends with benefits” and the ambivalent ones who haven’t made their move in two years. It turns out we tend to keep characters in our lives like this merely to pass the time and help us wait out the loneliness and boredom until someone real comes along. Trouble is, these types of guys do two detrimental things: they keep you from being 100% available by driving off potential suitors, and they don’t allow you to experience the true sense of aloneness that we all must, if we are to appreciate living a more authentic life.
What would happen if you got rid of these hangers on? What are you afraid of? Let go…
The other big move you can make to be more available is to stop dating or investing your time in unavailable partners. They waste your time, they keep you at a constant “safe” distance and they are unable to commit to a healthy relationship by holding up their end of the commitment. When you date a person like this, it leaves you unavailable for someone who is truly willing to love you and be committed to you.
I’ve had a few conversations this week with readers who find themselves in the common and oftentimes unavoidable trap of believing that “all men are unavailable.” I too thought ALL men were unavailable. I thought that all my life, and no, I never dated one healthy person prior to D. Not one (and I dated many!)
When you live in poverty, you see the world through the eyes of a hungry person. When you live in a crime-infested world, you see the world through the eyes of a criminal. And when you are a love addict, you see the world through the eyes of a person who has a very narrow, desperate sense of who people are.
This is a false belief. And when you have this false belief it gives you the freedom to continue to settle for unavailable avoidant partners. If you believe no one is available, then you will settle for unavailable.
My suggestion: surround yourself with healthy people, healthy couples. Familiarize yourself with what a healthy man looks like. I know that for many years I tried to avoid being in situations where I was in the presence of a healthy couple. They kinda made me want to gag! They made me jealous and feel like my own life was lacking. But the truth is, I needed to learn what to look for in a healthy partner because I had no clue.
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.
So, you met him in your hiking club and he flirted with you incessantly until you finally caved and gave him your number. You thought nothing of it until he called you a mere 8-hours later. With a little timid flirting, you agreed to a first date. You were giddy. Already the wheels were turning. He could be the one.
Your date was a dream and you had three more magical ones, each better than the next. You learned that he’s a physician, he drives an Audi TT, takes annual trips to the south of Spain and is a fabulous lover. During sex (yes, you’re having sex already, of course), you stare deeply into each other eyes with an unmatched intensity.
And then…suddenly, you don’t hear from him. Not even an email.
WTF? You were on the high of your life only to have it all taken away in an instant. It’s killing you to wait to see if he calls you back (maybe there’s a logical explanation), but, on the third day you panic, and reach out. A quick text to say, hey, remember me? He casually responds that he’s working overtime. But, something in the back of your mind says, Nah. You recall a conversation in which he said he didn’t have to work this week. Something inside you twists. Like your heart is an aluminum can being crushed under foot into a flat, discarded piece of metal. You switch from rational to rationalizing. OK, maybe he got called to work at the last minute and failed to tell me.
A day after that, you decide to push. You call him and gently tug at him to come out with you and your friends to a party. You think, If I’m casual about it and just pretend like I do this all the time he’ll bite. And he does. After a bit of coaxing, he comes out, looking as hot as ever, but something’s off. It’s not the same. He seems distant and this is the fifth time he’s checked his phone. He apologizes and says, “Work.”
You decide to confront him. What you’re really doing though is looking for reassurance. Do you still like me, you ask. He smiles. For a second everything feels weirdly awkward. “I really think you’re amazing, but I live with someone. We’re kinda broken up. But, she wanted to get back together, and, well, I told her no. It’s all good,” he says. “I just want to be up front with you.”
Instead of seeing this for what it is: a huge red flag of unavailability and narcissism, your mind is racing. All logic has been thrown out the window and your emotional brain has hopped in the driver’s seat. What does this mean? He said they broke up. He said, “It’s all good.” Does that mean he’s free to date me? You play back his every word. He thinks I’m amazing. He smiled. He did, after all, come out. You also play back all those hot scenes on dates one through three, the deep kissing, the passion, the intensity, the laughter. He’s so hot. I want him. We’re perfect for each other, you think.
But, here’s where you need to get your head out of the clouds. He’s not perfect for you. He’s not even partly acceptable. He’s completely, unequivocally Unavailable. And instead of hanging on to only the positive information you’re receiving from this guy, you need to be a big girl and see the whole picture, which means looking at the real, not-so-pretty, fantasy-busting facts he’s feeding you. You need to acknowledge the following signs and start to understand that these signs typically mean UNAVAILABLE.
- His impulsiveness to date you
- The intensity and rapidity with which your relationship started
- The sudden disappearance and or lack of interest in you
- His excuses for not calling
- Catching him in a lie, or not being able to back up what he says one day, versus the next
- His ambiguity and lack of attention paid to you
- Constantly checking his phone
- His ambiguous, confusing story that seems to leave too many open-ended questions
- The fact that he probably lives with his girlfriend who most likely doesn’t know he’s out with you.
In a sea of romantically passionate and fantasy-fulfilling moments, these several negatives don’t seem to weigh too heavily. And yet, they weigh heavier than you are willing to give them credit.
An unavailable man or woman may come on strong and show great intensity, but they are not emotionally invested in the relationship, nor do they plan to be. And while they may see you every day, or call you, or be slightly more available than the guy described above, there will always be something keeping the unavailable individual from committing fully.
Unavailability also looks like a lot like avoidance. An avoidant may verbally commit to a relationship, but then avoid intimacy, conflict, romance, communication, whatever triggers him to “avoid” and seek safety by turning inward. You then feel “neglected.” An unavailable person, on the other hand, typically does not verbally commit, but instead, may be more prone to engage in sex, communication, and romance, but only partly, thus leaving you feel confused, with mixed messages, as though he is only marginally invested in the relationship.
Unavailable people have myriad ways in which they remain unavailable. They could live far away. Work, family or other responsibilities might keep them from ever being able to move closer. They could have a job that keeps them from going out on dates, or they could live with someone, be married, or be in a previously committed relationship. Subtler but no less significant signs of unavailability might be that they blame you for having a trait or a lifestyle or a habit that makes it impossible for them to commit to you. I once dated a guy who told me after a year of us dating that we could never be more than just lovers because I made too much money and it made him feel “emasculated.” Whatever it is that keeps him from getting closer, it’s usually an insurmountable obstacle that he will not be able to overcome in order to be with you.
In The Break-Up Journal this week P’s unavailability is getting more noticeable, and yet, I only seem to mention it as if it doesn’t relate to me. I don’t yet see how staying with an unavailable person makes me unavailable also.
You heard right. The important thing to understand about unavailable individuals is that if you continue to pursue one or stay with one, YOU become unavailable as well. Why is that? Because you cannot be willing to fully to commit to someone who only half commits to you. If you are serious about love, intimacy and relationships, it means that you are willing to find a partner who is equally interested in love, intimacy and relationship.