As adults, generally we either recreate our own childhood experiences or seek to create the opposite of them. That's Psych 101. At about age 24, I became more and more cognizant of how the patterns from my childhood were playing out repeatedly in my adult life. It was then that I chose to seek out therapy in an attempt to reprogram the faulty patterns and, ultimately, to begin a journey to create the life that I want. Up until that point, I had been a victim of my own choices and broken thought processes. (Read more about those in my upcoming memoirs.)
The first step in creating the life that I want was to identify what I don't want. That part was easy. I didn't want a life like the one I had growing up and I didn't want to be like my mother. Don't get me wrong. I got some of my most beautiful characteristics from my mother: a humanitarian spirit and a desire to volunteer, tolerance and respect for all people, music appreciation and musical ability. But she was also extremely broken and destructive. Sadly most of her suffering was self inflicted, but none-the-less, it was a model of how NOT to be.
“The only way to get what you really want is to let go of what you don’t want.” ~Iyanla Vanzant
With a clear picture of what I didn't want, I then focused on the things that I did want in my life. I narrowed in on these by recognizing the areas where I felt like my childhood circumstances fell short and areas of my current life which were unfulfilling and/or destructive. Who did I want to be and how did I want to be seen? What would I need in order to create a better life for myself and to be a better person for my own children?
A clean, safe, stable home
Opportunities for self-exploration (sports, arts, activities, summer camps, travel)
Support and encouragement to pursue self-exploration
A life-long focus on education and learning
Support and encouragement to pursue and achieve in education
Having and maintaining peers and friends
Having and maintaining the respect of peers and friends
Building and maintaining traditions
Though I wasn't really conscious of it until a friend pointed it out, when I'm evaluating potential suitors, I am really looking for examples of this lifestyle and these life priorities. I was subconsciously checking off points on a resume. The list is not exhaustive, but with a cursory glance at a potential date's "resume," it seemed like enough to get me in the ballpark of the life I wanted. (Note the crazy in that thinking. I said, the “life” I wanted. Not the “partner” I wanted. Oh silly girl.) So I would meet someone, stalk them on Facebook, chat-up his friends, then ultimately make a snap-judgment on whether it was worth my time to continue to accept/pursue his company.
For example: If he's ivy-league educated, then, presumably, education is important. If he's got a prestigious career, then financial stability is more likely. If he is well traveled and skilled in sports, arts or other activities, then obviously he had those opportunities and will hopefully value those things for his own family. If he has a close, intact family, then building and maintaining family traditions is probably already established.
I’m not proud of this surface level judgment. But subconsciously, I have always sought out guys who embodied some of these things anyway. (Because that was what was missing in my own life.) It took a good friend pointing out the lack of depth in my screening process to make me pause and evaluate how effective it really was. Using this criteria, I didn’t want a partner. I wanted to date a resume. Ugh.
Turns out, due to Psych 101, I was also seeking guys who embodied the brokenness, inconsistency, and neglect of my mother. (Because that was what was familiar in my own life.) Possessing both sides does not make for a very stable relationship.
Who cares how rich or educated you are if you're unstable and inconsistent?
Who cares how close your family is if they are affected and invalidating?
This Sex and The City clip pretty much sums up my major dysfunction in dating life: not seeing the forest for the trees. (The best quote starts around 1:30, Enjoy!)
Fast forward a few years and I was still, for better or worse, ending up with the same types of guys who did not match up with what I said I wanted. Another good friend lovingly observed,
“BorneBackCeaselessly, maybe you shouldn’t ignore or write-off the quieter guys who take their time to get to know you first before they make a move. Perhaps you shouldn’t always go for the ones that are so obvious.”
Hmm, and yet another flaw in my process. I’d been so busy seeking to meet my own pretentious check-list, that I hadn’t even noticed the less obvious choices observing me. Suddenly a whole world of options opened to me. I was no longer limited to the guys who asked me out first. I was no longer limited to the guys who everyone else said was great. I was no longer limited to the ones most attracted to me. I had a ground breaking moment of realization where it occurred to me: I had the power to choose the one I was most attracted to.
Ok, ok, stop your laughter. I get that this should have been obvious.
To the rest of you, stop your eye-rolling, I get that I have little room to complain considering I was getting asked out at all, when many girls do not.
It’s just that no one ever told me how to date. No one ever showed me what it looked like to be respectful of your own preferences and choices. No one ever told me I was worth more than superficial attention. And no one had EVER told me it was ok to choose none of the options.
This is not to say my resume chasing is all bad. That quick, subconscious logic game of "if X, then Y" has served me well in narrowing down potential partners. And I don't think it is so stringent that it has limited my number of potential matches. I mean, I get by. But at the same time, I now see and can value the more intangible traits which are even more important to being a good partner.
Is he a good man? Honest? Righteous?
Does he value me?
Does he value himself?
Can I handle and love his good, bad, and ugly?
Can he handle and love mine?
“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also If I am to be whole.” ~Carl Jung
My current ambition in dating, as you may have guessed by the fact that I have embarked on an around-the-world voyage of discovery, is to work on myself and let the relationship come to me. I am learning to identify the things I don't want more quickly so as not to end up with the "crazy" that seems so familiar to me. But I'd like to think that, as a result of my many failures, I'm getting better at honing in on the things that I do want in my life - and in my partner - too.
The process of healing from past hurts and broken patterns is a long and arduous one. And the healing cannot occur in the past so we must always carry the scars. But I assure you we are healed in the present. And in our wholeness we are made new.
Time will tell.