I’ve written about this a little already, but I thought I’d expand on the topic. Be prepared, coz this post is a long ‘un.
Choosing to love the wrong person is something we humans do when we feel the need to protect ourselves: weirdly, we pick the wrong person on purpose.
It’s meant to be a way of keeping our hearts safe from future emotional devastation. But it’s a trap. It only works for so long, if it ever really works at all.
My theory is that it’s the mind’s way of doing what it thinks needs to be done to protect that pesky heart that’s always getting hurt and causing a world of pain for the rest of the body.
But we all know what happens when the mind gets involved in matters of the heart, right? Hint: it usually stuffs things up, no matter how well meaning.
The twisted protection logic goes something like this: if I’m with someone I don’t/can’t really love because they aren’t the right person for me, then I can’t have my heart broken because I’ll never really love them. There’ll always be space between my heart and this person, and so I’m Safe.
If you’ve been hurt before – in that everything fallen apart, life ceases to have any meaning kind of way – then it seems like a sensible idea in theory, right?
Except it’s not.
I can trace the development of this pattern back to the failure of three relationships in a row from my early-to-late 20’s: three men I loved who didn’t love me back.
Although I suspect the groundwork for the pattern was there long before that.
Anyway, I’m pretty sure by the time the third relationship blew up in my face, my heart was broken in a fundamental way. Like, engine fallen out of the car kinda thing.
Let me share some back story on these three loves of mine, then…
Was my fiancé. We met when I was twenty-four and he in his late thirties. I suspect my idea of relationships was already a bit warped. I mean, take a highly repressed and aloof father, a physically and verbally abusive brother, chronically low self-esteem, a terrible first boyfriend, an abortion, and a whole heap of other issues never written about here… my ability to choose the right man to marry was already impaired.
Back then, I was attracted to older men. Men I thought could teach me something. Little did I know what I was really looking for was an honest-to-goodness teacher, but that’s another story.
I’d conflated the idea of a romantic partner with someone I could trust as a teacher. And back then, my standard modus operandi with men was to throw my power at them. To inhabit their life and let them be in charge.
My fiancé btw, was a good and honourable man. Really. I’d thought we’d marry and have kids and be together forever.
But he was just as confused and lost in his own ways as I was. By the time our relationship entered its third year, it was no longer the force of nature it’d once been, and he pulled away from me. Which of course, triggered my paranoia, insecurities and low self esteem.
These days I suspect that things ended because he was no longer “in charge” in the way I needed. Which meant the guy I’d been throwing my power at wasn’t doing what I needed him to do. By the time I was ready to leave, my heart had bled all the tears it’d held and there was no way across the chasm that’d grown between my fiancé and me.
So he became my ex-fiancé.
Waiting in the wings was another man. The second ill-fated love of mine and a mutual friend of mine and Love #1.
In retrospect, it’s not surprising to me that he was in fact, a teacher. Not this teacher, but the person who introduced me to him. He also taught martial arts.
Oh look, how perfect! Someone big and strong AND an actual teacher that I could offer myself to on a platter. Which is exactly what I did.
Having leapt from one relationship to another, I was amazed at how different things were. I chastised myself for almost settling for much less, and I proceeded to fall hard. Harder perhaps, because now I was *sure* that this was The One. Someone much more suited to me.
Except. He had a binge drinking problem. I was sure I could “help” him with that.
And. In the end, he didn’t want me the way I wanted him.
He was honest about this important detail eventually, but I wanted him so much that I ignored that fact and let the relationship carry on anyway. He didn’t exactly say no. Not very often anyway.
It was off and on, passionate, sexy, dangerous and highly destructive to my sense of self. For eighteen months. I had counselling in my attempts to resist him.
When it finally, absolutely ended for the last time, I hit rock bottom. It was very ugly. Crazily, I even intentionally got myself into a fight and let a group of girls beat me up (it didn’t hurt as much as my broken heart).
Then I went overseas, as an absolute raving mess. I had fun, visited far-flung places and came back feeling more together than I had been in a while. I even went to my first Ayurvedic doctor and stated to turn my health around.
With better health, came a better state of mind…
Which is when I met the next guy, via online dating. Which I was only trying because Love #2 had started doing it, and I was actually there to stalk his profile. When was he last on? Who was he talking to?! Ha, so sad and pathetic.
Anyway, out of that came a welcome surprise in the form of an email from someone very interesting.
If Loves #1 and #2 had bowled me over, I wasn’t prepared in any way for Love #3. He was around my age (the first one in a long time who was), gorgeous, intelligent, gentle, charming, sweet and genuine.
We shared many things in common and the attraction was mutual and instantaneous. On our second date, we both agreed the line “where have you been all my life?” was appropriate for us.
True to form, I let myself fall in love quickly and deeply. This time I was VERY SURE I’d met The One. It had to be, right? I’d had two (three actually), terrible and failed relationships only to meet my knight in shining armour, with his sunny demeanour and adventurous nature.
He was so attentive, calm and wonderful. He’d Christmas with his relatives in Canberra and then drove to Melbourne to pick me up from my parents’ place so we could slowly 4WD our way back to Sydney. We had New Year’s in Jindabyne and I was so happy.
Until January, when he took me to see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and ever-so-respectfully dumped me. In public, so I couldn’t cause a scene. He wanted to be friends however – really wanted it – and in fact, we are good friends to this day.
But for an entire week after he dumped me, I felt myself shutting down. I was quietly sad. Despairing. I couldn’t imagine someone more perfect for me (or so I thought) than Love #3. I couldn’t believe my rotten luck and I’d no idea what was so wrong with me that no one wanted to be with me.
My heart, I’m pretty sure, was packed up neatly into a shuttered wooden box. Surrounded by layers of bubble wrap and duct tape.
It’s good, they say, to be friends with your exes. This is sort of both true and false. True, because people you’ve loved (and who’ve loved you back) are still in your life. False, because unless you’re the one doing the dumping, there’s a good chance you’ll still be in love with them and wanting more than they can give.
I was in love with Love #3 for years, and most of that time I was in denial about it. I analysed his every word and action even as we hung out (skiing, motorbike riding, camping, 4WD-ing, hanging out with friends who declared we looked like a couple). Even as we took more long cross-country trips together.
Neither of us dated, and we might as well have been together except for the lack of sex.
It drove me crazy. Why? WHY? Why didn’t he want to be my boyfriend?!
Eventually I started dating again. However, Love #3 and I still hung out AND I was still hung up.
THIS was the beginning of choosing men I had no chance of falling for…
It wasn’t conscious, not entirely anyway. It was a survival mechanism. My mind overrode my heart because it knew I couldn’t withstand any more heartache.
And so I continued… the loser friend of my cousin’s boyfriend; the weird Persian student; the sweet guy I was never into; the tall, dufus-y baseball player; the dorky ex-air force guy who insisted on a relationship I never wanted…
Which is one of the problems, with this whole “protection of the heart” pattern, no?
Not only do you end up wasting your time and the time of the people you date when you should’ve said no… but one of them could turn out to be a secret sociopath with a penchant for hitting women.
And, because you’ve been busily tuning out your instincts about who you should be with, you lose the connection to that gut feel which tells you NO.
So you miss it, and you’re unprepared. And then your world breaks into tiny little pieces.
Which is really just the Universe presenting a wake up call to you in the strongest possible language. Because there’s only so far you can go while wilfully ignoring your own path in life.
And being with the wrong person is DEFINITELY ignoring your own path.
It’s taken me all these years to piece this understanding together. Of what happened and how things got to where they did…
And now I’m doing what I can to undo this pattern. Which isn’t as easy as it sounds.
For the longest time, I simply didn’t want a boyfriend. Until I did. But even then, men remained scary.
Actually, men I have no interest in romantically were and are fine.
But liking a guy and wondering if he might like me back? A massive risk. Terrifying, even. Something that until fairly recently, left me feeling disempowered, goofy and maybe all of thirteen, all over again.
Around cute guys, I still feel like a kid with no social skills but like many things in my life, I relate this re-learning curve to yoga.
Specifically, to something I often tell my students:
You’ll never be able to do the poses you find difficult if you never do them. So practice and enjoy them, even when they aren’t perfect. Even when you fall over. Because one day something will change and you’ll find yourself able to do the thing you told yourself you never could. All because you kept up your practice.
So right now? I’m practicing. Flirting. Confidence. Noticing when men notice me. Noticing men and not feeling shy about it. Being able to be attracted to men without losing all sense of reason. Making eye contact and holding steady.