I am astonished by the number of years I spent chasing after people who could care less about me. Not just hopeless love affairs, but also friendships or professional connections with people whose response to me was rejecting, cold, competitive, controlling, diminishing, defeating, cruel, or even outright abusive. If there is one thing I have learned from endless hours of field experience with fatal relationships it is that there is nothing worse, to rephrase a famous Groucho Marx saying, than wanting to be a member of a club that doesn’t want me. Here are a few useful corollaries: Never pursue anyone to the point of frustration or breathlessness. Give your energy to people that love and care about you. Look for open doors, open hearts, open arms.
This does not mean that you will want to or be able to respond to every offer from every friendly face. What it means is that when pursuing friendship or love it is essential to choose from among people who are positive, loving and easy to be with and forget the rest.
When you think about it, it is truly rather absurd to want friendship or romance with someone who rejects you again and again. And yet this practice is so common that it is a staple of popular song, movies, theater, literature. Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night’s Dream elevates this conundrum to a farcical extreme. Billie Holiday lays it out in song after blue song: “Unrequited love’s a bore, and I’ve got it pretty bad, but for someone you adore, it’s a pleasure to be sad.”
Loving an impossible person is at the heart of the neurotic condition known as codependency. It is a familiar sad story to the spouses and lovers and children of alcoholics and drug addicts. In its extreme, it can manifest as the perilous even fatal love of an abusive or violent person.
I have been in love with more than one alcoholic, and loved more than one emotionally or verbally abusive person. I have spent years in therapy examining why I chased after, and held onto, so many rejecting boyfriends and friends in general.
The reason for this pathology is usually rooted in patterns set in motion during childhood. Exposure to a remote, unavailable or abusive parent or caregiver is all it takes for a child to learn that love is something you have to work for and that love comes with a heavy dose of neglect, abuse, hurt and rage.
Alas, this was a message that I carried away from my own childhood, due to an unfortunate choice of a caregiver who for a number of years kept me in an atmosphere of punishment and terror, which regrettably escaped the notice of my good natured but busy parents. By the time this unfortunate phase ended, I had become chronically anxious and insecure and my paradigm of love was very twisted indeed.
One of the miracles of midlife, however, is that one finally feels entitled to shed bad patterns and shrug off dysfunction. For some reason there is an inner voice that encourages us to move away at last from childhood programming and childhood hurts. How astounding, in one’s fifties, to be tiptoeing away from one’s childhood as if one at any minute could get a spanking or be sent to one’s room. The good news is: Mommy and Daddy aren’t in charge. They might not even be alive. You are an adult and have been one for several decades and you truly can with no risk walk away from any cruel and punishing things you have tolerated for half a lifetime.
Moreover, you don’t have to wait as long as I did.
I believe the legal age of adulthood is 18, and by 21 there is no doubt that you are entitled to drive your own bus. So get moving and don’t look back until you reach the door to the club that wants you, the lover who is not wrong but right.