Once I dated a girl who would habitually let me down at the last minute leaving me feeling undervalued and unloved. I would respond like a child because it triggered feelings from childhood in me. I wanted more certainty that she was willing or able to give. Every moment I spent in that relationship was reminding me of something unresolved, but my frustration was pointless, because it had always been plain what was on offer. I blamed her for something which was broken in me.
My need for a greater feeling of safety in that relationship wasn’t just influenced by what I might have considered “unreasonable” behaviour from my partner, it was supercharged by my own terror at being hurt. Fearful that I would end up feeling worthless I inadvertently guaranteed that I would by allowing my neurosis to accelerate the dismantling of a relationship I should never have got into in the first place.
As lovers we are stuck in a perilous spot. We want the dependability, trust, stability and love that helps us to feel safe. But we also want the excitement, passion and spontaneity which reminds us that it could blow up in our faces at any given moment. Just enough of each brings a union which is indescribably beautiful, but too much of either and we’re either bored or verging on a heart attack from all the stress.
We are drawn back towards what we are used to, even if it was emotionally disastrous.
I often wondered why I seemed to make the same mistake in picking partners? I came to realise that I was simply repeating destructive patterns from my past. Having experienced emotional scarcity I was attracted back to it like a moth to a flame. I lived so long with an uncertainty of love that I was pulled towards it with depressing insistence. I was certain in my terrible uncertainty.
This basis of dysfunction would play out in one of two ways with my girlfriends. Either I would destroy the relationship with my deeply unattractive neediness, or I would grow bored with the relationship because it offered me a healthy certainty that I did not trust and so could not accept.
All the while I looked at the woman wondering what was wrong with her when, really, I needed to be looking much harder at myself.
For so long, every perceived illustration of neglect, each missed phone call, every unreturned message, did nothing more than fan the flames of my desire. The more uncertain I became the more I chased. The more certain she was through my chasing the less interested she became.
The balance of certainty and uncertainty we want is unique to us. It comes about because of who we are and the lives we have lead. Nobody can tell us we need too much of one or not enough of the other, but our choices about who we want to spend our time with, and who we are safe to open up to in an intimate relationship are absolutely critical.
I learned that sometimes I need to hurt myself to avoid really hurting myself. I learned that only I could make the adjustments that I needed to make, and I learned that it happens slowly, incrementally and often painfully. The discomfort on the way was all mine. But I learned even that can come to feel wonderfully cathartic.
When I left that damaging relationship it was because I understood that I needn’t be a victim in situations that I didn’t want to be in. I always had a choice about whether I remained in a burning building or left it, no matter how much of value I had mistakenly once imagined I was leaving behind.