Breakups are a messy and painful business. Unless both parties are unusually kind, generously truthful, and unattached to the ideal of ‘til-death-do-us-part, the storm of red-faced tears, anger, and self-pity we unleash during de-coupling can obliterate our ability to experience cleansing sobs of grief for what’s actually been lost, and delay the gift of wisdom that comes with perspective.
Unfortunately, I speak from experience. Lots of it.
I can’t count the number of times a guy pursued me, only to dump me weeks or months later in the most hurtful ways imaginable. From the moment we met, I unconsciously created wishful stories about the depth of our connection and potential future together.
The closer to 40 I got, the more desperate and untrue those stories became.
The problem was my ignorance of what I was doing to re-create these scenarios of rejection over and over. After all, I was attractive and fit, intelligent and financially independent. I owned my own home, drove an expensive car, and had no alcohol or drug addictions. I had never been married and had no children. And I was a natural blonde who definitely, ahem, had more fun.
When the inevitable abandonment came around, I felt the shame of “what’s wrong with me?” But rather than feeling my shame and vulnerability, or recognizing my misplaced focus, I blamed the guy, even though a few weeks earlier I would have labeled him “perfect.”
Blame was a temporary salve, a way to absolve myself of the self-defeating behaviors I used to create exactly the circumstances I most feared. I blamed the circumstance for my pain, and as a bonus, corroborated my unwavering story with a declaratory judgment: “Guys are such jerks!”
Until I had the courage to be honest, authentic and vulnerable, my demeanor switched back and forth between impenetrable brick wall and strangling vine—on the one side cut off and invulnerable, and on the other, overexposed, desperate and needy.
It doesn’t take genius-level emotional intelligence to guess what kinds of men that behavior attracted.
Eventually I understood that just because a man expressed interest, it didn’t mean a thing. Of COURSE he pursued me—that’s how the process works. The problem was that I was susceptible to “You-like-me?-Then-I-like-you!” syndrome. I longed to be liked, and grew up believing in the importance of pleasing others.
For much of my dating life, my insistence on recycling the refrain of “But HE pursued ME!” was a source of confusion, which, as it turns out, is actually helplessness that masks fear and impedes self-knowledge. Karla MacLaren, in her book “The Language of Emotions” writes,
“Confusion arises to trip you up when your behavior or your motivations aren’t compatible with your stated purpose in life. Pushing forward from a confused state will almost certainly take you far off your path; therefore, your confusion can be seen as an important emotional barricade.”
Confusion was yet another story I made up to avoid the painful truth that there is no substitute for vulnerability. I only broke through the confusion when I was willing to own my fear and recognize the destructive results of my legacy beliefs about men and relationships. It took a decade of therapy (and a nod and a wink from the Universe) before I met the man who became my beloved husband. My ability to give and receive love in a healthy, lasting way came about gradually, but reliably. It required patience and trust in the process, and a willingness to face the inconvenient truth.
Recognizing what I pretended not to know or feel was the way to learn, grow, and recover.
This is almost always the case: despite the myriad ways that our intuition has tried to get our attention, we wander off our paths to pursue the stories of happily-ever-after, or not, that we’ve constructed. Once we are able to see more clearly how our own beliefs and behavior are creating the circumstances we fear, we can begin the process of creating healthy relationships that last a lifetime.