Looking For Love in All The Wrong Places
This is for anyone who chooses bad relationships, whether that's friends or love interests. The reason I'm writing this is because I'm in love and I want everyone else to be too. Know that it exists, for you and everyone; it just takes a bit of learning and time to get to the point you're ready to meet them. I will go through a few of the most common bad relationship personality types and why they are the way they are. Hopefully that awareness will give you insight into your why so that you can change who you look for, moving forward.
If you prefer to listen, here's the podcast version of the article.
Before reading on, I invite you to think about what you're attracted to others and write it down. What is your Achilles type? When you picture the kind of people you're drawn to at parties, what is it about them that usually draws you in? Is it usually because they like you and pursue you? Or are you attracted to a specific kind of person? When it comes to your intimate relationships, what are any patterns that come up for you, again and again? In past romantic relationships, are you the one who ends it or is it pretty even? Basically, ruminate on your career in relationships with others.
Know that the bad choices you make are not your fault–it's likely you cannot see the patterns in your choices because they are encoded into your fabric and based on your family and upbringing. It's all part of your "love map"–basically the foundation of your model for love, commitment, marriage, cohabitation, etc.
Because these are so engrained, often you have to circle the patterns with a fat, red marker so that you can spot the trait in your own love map that is attracted to a specific trait. Once you see the pattern, then you take steps to manually tweak the part of you that is unknowingly choosing unhealthy types.
Along with the different personalities, I have included some of the behaviors they demonstrate, plus a few potential reasons you are drawn in by them.
1. Commitment Phobes
How they act in relationships:
They pursue you intensely and when you come close, they push you away. Their phobia of commitment will show up in other areas of their life, for example, they won't be able to stay put in a city, job, or even unpack their moving boxes. They also will not commit to plans in advance, even if it's as small as a party. The reason they push you away and then pull you immediately back again is they fear commitment in both directions: being with you and being without you. It's crazy-making, not to mention emotionally painful, because you are never considered and your needs are never met.
Commitment-phobic people are also very self-centered. They won't know what you're thinking or wanting or feeling at all because they're so emotionally withdrawn from the relationship. They will never get close enough to who you are to truly know you or understand how you feel. If you've been burned by one, know that you have very little to do with the situation. It's not about you at all.
They're attracted to people who don't like them or play hard-to-get because when you're far enough away from them, they can safely "love you." It's only at this distance that they will feel safe. At a courtship stage, commitment phobes will woo the crap out of you: they are charming, seductive, highly romantic, and will often throw out carrots of marriage and kids and how serious they are about finding "the one." Yet, once you're into them, they run for the hills until you start to walk away.
If you do end up in a relationship with a commitment phobe, know that it will likely only last until it gets "serious." While in the relationship, they will think you're trying to set traps for them and manipulate them into a formal commitment. Any normal need you might express will be blown out of proportion, as they will feel you're attempting to trap them. Because of that, they will make it your fault that the relationship is failing. You might hear that you're too needy, too demanding, moving too fast or asking too much.
Why are they like that?
It's because their love map is damaged and they never went to therapy to work on it. Early on in life, they were traumatized by the idea of a relationship and commitment– their parents' marriage was likely very unhappy or they fought a lot, or had a very unhealthy relationship.
Why did you choose them?
It's safe. If you've been hurt before in a relationship, a commitment phobe will be the least stressful type of person to date because they're always at a safe distance. You feel "okay" getting to know them because it never gets intimate or goes too fast. The other person will also not make you look at yourself or come too close to getting to know you, so you're protected from being too vulnerable.
If you ended up with a commitment phobe, they likely pursued you intensely, then immediately played hard-to-get. You might have assumed they were waiting for someone extra special and that's why they're still single, even though they've had a series of short relationships. But you think you're different because of how much they obviously like you. And why wouldn't you? You're awesome. Trust that a bad track record is not going to be different just because you are as awesome as you are. If there's a pattern like that, it's for a reason. Trust it and walk away.
2. Giant children or people who need to be fixed.
How they act in relationships:
They are troubled, falling apart, a mess, and seem to want to stay that way–like giant children who just "can't deal" with cleaning up their mess. They speak as though they'll never be able to change; they just "are this way."
Why are they like that?
They're not ready to look at pain that's buried inside; usually the effects of a trauma, bad parenting, unstable family relationships, or overall feelings of low self-worth. Because they believe that they are truly just "unlovable," they don't feel like there's anything to debunk about who they are. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, and one they will live out again and again with every future action. The drama they create will suck you in because you are the capable one: they will promise and then disappoint, then apologize again and again, feeling shameful and disappointing just like their definition of who they are. Once you live a role like this, the experiences compound as an identity: it becomes their "shtick." People like this often wear it as a badge or tell it as a romanticized war story.
Regardless of how it appears, they are, in truth, quite depressed because they are living like they're already dead: they have chosen to not invest in their lives and its potential. Because of this, they are choosing not to save themselves and act responsible or even "capable" of normal things like a job, commitment, or even living a long life.
Why did you choose a person like this?
Likely because you are the one in control and because of that, you feel comfortable and soothed. You also feel safe to feel flawed because next to this person, you're a star. It's very comforting to not feel challenged by someone else's confidence and accomplishments; to feel like you are loved as you are and you don't have to try to be better. A person like this might make you feel you are loved unconditionally and because of that it feels more intimate: no matter what you do, you're still going to be loved. There's no spotlight on what you might have going on inside that's not pretty to look at, and because of that, you never have to work on yourself.
Choosing people like this is a symptom of co-dependency–you are attracted to people with issues that demand your focus, which means you're likely uncomfortable having the focus on you. Not wanting focus on you is usually a sign that you have not dealt with issues and you refuse to look at them because they hurt too much. It's also because you likely are a great caregiver, very capable and good at helping others manage pain. That's the great side to this personality trait, but it must be kept in check. If you chose a person like this, it's likely because you shared past experiences, and negative ones. Moving forward, know that you should never choose people based on that–even though it feels comforting and familiar, those experiences are not what defines you. You should choose people based on what you love about yourself and what you want to foster more of in your life. Even if they don't have all the same negative experiences, you will have common ground in the parts of you that you choose to grow. Choosing people based on shared damage will strengthen the parts of you that you don't want to have.
If you feel that you will never be able to be with someone who wants to shower you with love and attention, know that it's going to take practice but it will eventually feel good and then great. I know it feels uncomfortable to be the focus if you have not been that type for a great many years, but it's not healthy to be that way in relationships because you are unknowingly negating your needs. I think you should work on yourself a bit more before getting into a relationship because there's likely more stuff that needs to be addressed. Once you confront what's going on inside, you can learn to allow others to do things for you, and not feel uncomfortable. Know that one day, it will reward you much more in the long-term because you need another person who treats you just as well as you treat others. Even though you are extremely capable, it doesn't mean it's good to take care of everything without support. You deserve an equal half who can take care of you when you can't do everything all by your self. Life is a long and bumpy road and one day that time will come when you need a partner who can help. Choose people who share your best traits and what you want to bring out more of in yourself, because then you will rise to a higher bar and not the opposite.
How do they act in relationships?
Confident, above others, and pompous, but will come crashing down hard when they perceive any personal failure because they are hiding feelings of worthlessness. They are very manipulative and controlling because they need to keep you attached: you will be asked to prove your love and dedication to them constantly. They lack empathy for others because they are so self-centered, and will go to any length to make you do what they want. If there's ever an issue, it's always about them and not you: how your life makes them feel. They'll do things like overreact to what you didn't do that makes you a bad friend or fall apart about how much they need your love and help. It's always a dire need that comes before your life, almost like a hostage situation.
Often cannot handle it if you show too much independence because they need you to stay beholden to them first, for them to feel secure.
Why are they like that?
They swing between loving themselves and hating themselves. It comes from feeling worthless and unlovable at a very young age. They likely had a bad parent who made them feel desperate for attention, never loved and worthless at their core. They have to feel like they are the center of attention-adored and super stars, because deep down they feel worthless.
Why did you choose this kind of person?
You may think it's because they posed a challenge to you: they are often very successful, but it's likely because they keep you away from feelings about yourself. It's a double-edged sword of a personality trait because you are gifted in helping others and feel rewarded by being needed, yet a relationship like this is abusive and one-sided. Plus, the fact that you are not getting good treatment in return makes you feel under valued and endure more abuse than you should.
It's a soothing tactic you likely grew up with: you had to focus on someone else's needs as a young kid so that you could have control over a situation where the situation was too scary and the pain, too overwhelming. Maybe there was instability in your home and you took on the role of the caregiver for a parent or a sibling. When you soothed them, that's how you coped: through this other person, you demonstrated to yourself that everything was okay and under control. Even though you are great at it, now it's working against you so you've got to effort to work on protecting yourself.
If your relationships are one-sided and you are the "fixer" you're likely getting hurt a lot and being constantly disappointed by your relationships. To remedy this trait, the simplest step you can take is to start getting madder at the things you should be mad about. Retrain yourself to be angry when people hurt you and voice that hurt, even though it will feel very awkward and icky. Begin to set boundaries based on what you don't like in your life and then enforce them. Do not reward bad behavior, meaning–if someone messes up, do not forgive it or explain it away. Just "because you understand them and their problems" doesn't make it okay for you to tolerate it. A partnership is an equal give and take. It's not a good relationship if it's one-sided.
4. The "not looking for serious" types
How they act in relationships:
They keep it like a regular relationship with all the perks, but minus the promise and loyalty. Basically, they play house with you and experience the fun and intimacy of love but without the agreement to be "together." They will act dismissive of your relationship when it comes to "the rules," even though you are pretty much living and acting as one as it is. They will intentionally keep it vague and cloudy as they like what they've got: why would they call attention to it and mess it up? You might assume things are different because that's what the reality of your life reflects, yet when it comes down to commitment they are not even close to the same mindset.
Why are they like that?
They're waiting for their superior. They mess around and play because they can. These types are often looking for someone who's going to be a tough win, a self-protective and self-honoring type because it's the only kind of person who will "keep" them. They almost want to feel "safe" with someone who can keep them in line and not allow the worst of them to surface, lest it threaten the relationship.
If a person you were with said they didn't want to commit or be serious, it's very likely they were only this way because you didn't demand it, especially if they really liked you. They would probably be committed to another person who demanded it and nothing less.
If you accepted them regardless of their request, you were showing them you were not "the one." It's like revealing a sickness to their primal senses. You tell people how they can act with what you allow.
Why did you choose this kind of person?
If I put myself in your shoes, I would guess you wanted them so badly that you said, "Screw it–I'll settle for no commitment because I just want to be with them so much." If you're choosing to settle for less than what you want, my guess is it's because you feel it's all you can get or it's all you're really worth. That is the detail you have to examine before you get into another relationship.
Start to work on your relationship with yourself and strengthen your confidence—basically get happy flying solo. Once you're happy about who you are, dealing with a person like this will just come naturally. You will never be another situation like this again. It's all about acting as the person who deserves to be pursued at any cost.
Go back to what you wrote about the first questions: What is your pattern? Why did you accept a partner that's less than what you deserve? Once you identify your habits, you can spot the void in you that is somehow being attracted to these types. Before you find "the one" it's likely that there is something in you that needs a manual tweak. Once you spot the pattern, you have to decide to choose better for yourself which can take a bit of retraining and forcing yourself to enact a new kind of muscle memory. All it takes is practice and awareness–at first it will feel awkward but soon, it becomes a part of who you are.
This is all about what you want for yourself. Decide to be sick of this stuff and get to the good part of your life. Who wants to waste another couple of years with someone who's going make you hurt? What are your priorities? Is love one of them? If you haven't found love before, you might not believe it exists, but it does–when you're ready for it. Focus on becoming the person who is capable of receiving that love by loving yourself. Once you work on yourself and get to a point of really liking yourself, you are ready to be loved and love in return.
If you feel like you are ready: you're happy, together, feel great about who you are deep down, then get your love list together. Get specific and declare who it is you want and deserve on a piece of paper. Then, put yourself out there and say no to anyone who doesn't align with what's on your list. Go back to working on being your best "you" and just BE PATIENT. Think of love like finding the perfect color shoes for a very specific style of vintage costume gown. It would take you quite a while to find the shoes, especially with the right heel and in your size, and that matched your price point, in the precise color. Now times that by your soul mate–it will take a while for the stars to align. Just be patient and be ready, because you've got to be there when those paths finally cross.
If you're kicking yourself because you've had every bad relationship in the book, know that you've got to get through the bad ones to get to the good ones. Sometimes you've got to collect all of the lessons so that you can become the person who's meant to meet the person of your dreams. It wasn't all for nothing, as long as you learn your lessons the first time. You get to choose the quality of the rest of your life and the one you will stay with every day of that life. Choose love!
Happy Sunday, lovely people!!
Sarah May b.
Featured image via Flickr