I… sort of have a history of destructive relationships, and last Father’s Day I felt a sudden bitterness towards my own father for abandoning me that led me to do a lot of reflecting.
My father left my mother before I was born, and we’ve spoken a total of, like, 3 times. Last time was about 8 years ago.
I always feel like I had a very healthy and whole childhood. I had people who loved me, and I never felt like I missed anything by virtue of not having my father around.
My relationships with men, however, are a different story. I broke up with my last real boyfriend because I felt he was too engaged, too interested in being in a more serious relationship. We had a bunch of other issues that I don’t think were any less important, but at the heart of it, I knew I wasn’t in it for the long run and it was just best to walk away.
My subsequent relationships have been casual, where I try to keep a distance and not be too involved. And I know I seek out men who aren’t all that good to me. I find a certain thrill in the chase of seducing a man and being the one who draws lines and says the whole thing is casual and uncommitted… Then I turn and feel abandoned and rejected when they are casual about me.
I don’t want to think that all my self-esteem issues and insecurities come solely from my father’s abandonment. Everyone has insecurities, even if they grew up in married parent’s homes. But lately I’m starting to think that it did affect me more than I ever thought it did.
In the end, if I don’t know what being in a healthy relationship looks like, how can I be what I didn’t see?
-Yep, Daddy Issues
Dear “Yep, Daddy Issues,”
You already know I L.O.V.E. this question… And not only because I wrestled with the very same confusion for years and consequently put it at the heart of my latest book, “The Care and Feeding of Sex Symbols,” but it’s also a perfect question for Father’s Day weekend! Go us!
“How does one create a loving relationship with a man when one was never given a proper model?” It’s an all too common problem among us women with similar backgrounds. But don’t fret, in addition to making my book free for you this holiday weekend, I’ll also share with you here another trick that will help you break free from any bloodline filled with crappy relationships so that you can receive the loving one that’s waiting for you on the other side.
To begin with, it’s important to understand that for a very, very long time you’ll have at least some level of attraction to guys with negative traits similar to your father. Ugh. I know… As the renowned creator of Imago Relationship Therapy, Harville Hendrix, points out, those, often not-so-obvious, similar traits are actually what subconsciously draw you to a person in the first place. It’s what we call chemistry. (For more on that and why you like the guys you like, and play the games you do, I highly recommend checking out Hendrix’ book, “Keeping the Love You Find.”)
So from here on out, accept the notion that its only until after you’ve burnt out of dating guys who aren’t good for you that you’ll be fully committed to learning to like the ones who are. That’s right, in order to achieve the loving relationship you want, and be content in it, at some point you’re going to have to go against your current nature until it becomes your new nature.
Now, let’s say you are tired of the B.S. and ready to create that loving relationship. Well good! I didn’t devise this three-part plan for my health! Lol. Here’s what I recommend you do.
First, drumroll, please… Turn your crappy dad into the perfect wingman. And by that I mean to use his crappy behavior, and how it made you feel growing up, as your guide in picking out guys who are good for you. Had a dad who was distant, unreliable, controlling, neglectful, disloyal, mentally, physically, verbally, or emotionally abusive? Well, thank your crappy dad for showing you what sh*tty behavior looked like so that you can give your attention to guys who only display intimate, communicative, reliable, supportive, devoted, emotionally available, kind, and loving behavior.
At times you’re going to have to play some Jedi mind tricks on yourself to have the conviction necessary to walk away from poor behavior, and here’s a good one: In “The Care and Feeding of Sex Symbols” I said to never listen to what a wolf says, just watch what he does; and now I’m adding that, upon observation of his actions, ask yourself, “Would this be okay if he did it to my child?” Sure, you can wait around forever for him to show up, but would you want your kid to?
Even if you don’t have or want kids, use it as a reminder of what you deserved when you were a kid, and don’t settle for anything less now that you’re an adult and have a choice. There is no need to keep emotionally, physically, or mentally abusing or neglecting yourself. “You’s free now.”
So use your father’s unloving, contrasting behavior of what you don’t want to point you towards a guy whose behavior is something you and your soul do want. “Thanks, wingman.”
Now, don’t worry, I still remember what you’re up against: Nature. And she can be a stubborn b*tch. She’ll cause you to only be genuinely attracted to the distant/elusive, controlling/demanding, or unfaithful, etc. wolves, while the ones that are good for you will struggle to maintain your attention. After all, their “good deeds” can only get them so far before they start to feel boring, smothering, or creepy AF.
So here’s where the second part of the plan comes in: When you start to feel uncomfortable with the “good guy,” don’t fight the guy fight the discomfort. Sit with the uncomfortable feelings and acknowledge them to yourself. Write about them or talk with someone you trust. Remind yourself that what you are feeling is normal and to be expected. After all, the changes you’re making will have a generational impact akin to changing your DNA, and that’s no easy, pleasant feat. If it were, the generations before you would have bypassed all the suffering their choices caused and just done it themselves.
Then, allow yourself to focus on all the wonderful qualities the guy you’re interested in has, and the life you two can create together as a result of sticking it out. With that said, you don’t have to stick things out with every nice Tom, Dick, and Harry who treats you well. This isn’t a guy you date just because he’s nice and you’re tired of dating jerks, you date him because you feel drawn to him. If you feel good, safe, and like you can be yourself with him, fight through the moments of doubt, boredom, fear, etc. If you’re looking up “101 ways to fake your death” before your dates together move on. He’s not the one. (And for more on picking a guy check out this question I answered.)
Finally, the last step in attaining this loving relationship you never saw is to not only fully accept and appreciate the “good guy” you get for who he is, but to support him in who he is. Now, it might take you a thousand guys to get this step down, but it’s essential. Here, you resist the urge to play games and behave badly in a subconscious effort to try and change him into the jerks you’ve found more attractive. You also don’t test him in ways that’ll make him prove to you he won’t abandon you just like your dad. If he’s really a loving person, he’ll love himself enough to not put up with your abusive behavior and leave because of that.
Instead, treat him the way you want to be treated. Mimic his openly loving, kind, and generous behavior. Support him, even when others take advantage of his nature, and know that in a world that can be very harsh you two have something very special. And why? All because of your sucky, wingman dad. Best of luck!
Note: As this column is designed to be a judgement-free zone, only those who have been, (or know someone who has been), in a similar situation are invited to comment; especially if the question is unorthodox or hard for one to relate to. And for even more relevant insight, those seeking answers are always encouraged to go within.