Trying to find a notebook with some space in it I come across a scribbled line which looks like a quote but, the more I stare at it, the more it feels like my own original thought, borne from experience.
“The qualities which create love, stifle desire.”
As successful romantic relationships require a balance of certainty (love, trust, care) and uncertainty (passion, spontaneity, excitement) it makes sense that too much of either will create a problem.
So why is it we are so often drawn irresistibly to the extremes?
Growing up with warring parents I felt unsure of my own value. First because so much of their emotional energy was flowing away from me and into their fights with one another. Second because, in an effort to try and keep the peace, I was constantly determined to be a “good boy” and act in ways which would please my mother. I was desperate to make sure she didn’t leave us.
If you search for emotional safety through people pleasing, your safety is built on abandoning yourself, and that isn’t safety at all.
What resulted was decades of anxious attachment.
My younger years were riddled with relationships in which I either felt I was punching above my weight, in which case I behaved as if I was and therefore ensured that, even if I hadn’t been previously, I was now. Or relationships in which there was the potential for me to feel safe and secure. These mostly saw me running for the hills, unable to accept a feeling of security which I didn’t know and didn’t trust. Consequently, I spent a disproportionate amount of time trying desperately to hold onto women who either didn’t really want me or, even if they did, found that they didn’t once they came to realise what a needy jerk I could be.
In an ironic twist, these experiences served to consolidate my own already fragile sense of self-worth and cleared the way for me to constantly repeat the same pattern thus, tragically, proving my own worst fears about myself.
As much as I wanted to be with someone I could relax with I was only familiar with emotional tension, so I kept seeking that out instead. After a while, craving for what we have no knowledge of can come to feel even more frightening than the pain of remaining in a discomfort we already know.
So I went looking for uncertainty.
I knew what it looked like. At a deeper level, I could sniff it out. I was drawn to emotional uncertainty like a moth to a flame, and time and time again I would find myself in a union which offered a scarcity of emotional stability.
I fell in love with girls who were already in relationships. I was pulled into futureless liaisons by women years older than me older bored of their stale marriages. I fell for foreign women only here temporarily or not here at all, and women who wanted things I couldn’t offer.
At every turn I was making choices which would, at some point, confirm my unlovability.
That’s why we constantly choose to be with the wrong people. It’s nothing to do with them and everything to do with us. These ill-fated relationships are a reflection of our own faulty self-image. We try to fix the problem by attempting to tame a disorderly lover when really we have to sooth the wild desperate soul of ourselves.
Until you have made yourself feel worthy of a healthy love you will never accept it, and if you cannot accept a healthy love you will always choose the wrong people.
In the end, I realised that the quote in my notebook wasn’t mine at all. It belongs to renowned psychotherapist and relationship expert, Esther Perel.
So perhaps I’m not as wise as I thought I was when I came across that quote. But it doesn’t matter that I didn’t articulate the problem. My own experience shows that understanding something to be true and having the ability to identify it when it happens means nothing, without the wit to change it when it persists in hurting you.