You are going to laugh. I haven’t had a boyfriend for years and don’t have one now. On a few occasions I’ve tried to find him, but no one made my heart sing. And the effort it takes to find THE ONE didn’t seem worth it. I was too committed to building my business ALIGN. So, what motivates me to even write this blog?
It hit me when I was reading a client’s Tarot cards. She wanted to know if she was going to get back with her boyfriend, with whom she had had three major arguments. All three involved her being the target of physical abuse. After the third one, she called the police.
During the reading, my client shared that her father had left her mother when she was in utero. Never having a father, especially in the formative years, leaves an indelible, life-long scull-and-crossbones on one’s heart. The issues it elicits are complex. I can speak to this with some authority, even though I had a relationship with my father until age ten, when he died of cancer.
Abandonment is like a plague upon the land. When the father disappears, it drops a pall over one’s spirit, especially when the grief of loss is not dealt with. In my case, I couldn’t get out from under that pall.
My father’s departure set me up to choose unavailable men. The men whom I found wildly attractive either lived out of town, were already involved with someone else, or were not emotionally available. I kept searching for a relationship that worked, but I could never find one.
And those who did express interest in me never met my rigid standards of what a suitable partner should be. I rejected them outright. In hindsight, those standards were a defense. Those men were probably quite suitable.
My Tarot client opened my eyes. When I mentioned that her longing to resume her abusive relationship might be an issue of low self-esteem, she responded with “I have a good job and good friends.” I suspect low self-esteem never factored into her equation of being in an abusive relationship—a relationship that touches her on a deeply intimate level, where job and friends do not gain admittance.
This is an important point that took hundreds of conversations with therapists and friends to gain a foothold in my awareness. Thoughts like, “My father left, I must not be worthy. If I were worthy, he would have stuck around, watched me grow up, been there to support me through the trials of adolescence and young adulthood.” took up residence in my subconscious and ruled my most intimate judgments.
Because my father died of an illness he couldn’t control, getting angry at his leaving didn’t seem legitimate. I had no idea that his early departure affected my relationships with men, or more importantly, my choice of a partner.
My most intimate, emotional development had arrested at age ten. I kept choosing men who weren’t there for me, but who were safe. They were safe because I unwittingly blocked their entry into my heart. My father’s departure turned into a benchmark for all my boyfriends. In my unconscious state, when I met a prospective boyfriend, I suspect my subconscious self would rant, “This man is eventually going to leave, just like my father, so be sure this one will make his get-away, and if he gets too close, you bolt.”
This is where it gets complicated. Low self-esteem is such an insidious, wily character flaw. By choosing a so-called partner who wasn’t committed to having a mature healthy relationship with me or to working through issues on a deeply intimate level (because I wasn’t willing to do it either), I could continue to pursue the father who left me.
Even though the relationships I have had improved over time, they never got to the point of a mature trustworthy, long-term commitment.
If certain relationships looked like they might go farther than I anticipated, I would help bring them to a crashing end. And if they looked like they were going to leave, I would preempt them and end it before they could. Since I didn’t have an opportunity to work out the complex psychological issues that occur between a father and his daughter when my father was alive, I used my boyfriends as my lab rats. Believe me, I was not doing any of this consciously, and I don’t mean to be disrespectful.
My Self-Esteem Barometer
My client helped me see how our choice of partner reflects our own level of self-esteem. If he treats me badly and I allow him to treat me badly, then I probably feel I deserve to be treated badly. In other words, I am not worthy of the loving, kind behavior I believe I want and deserve. Like most abused persons, we keep going back to the abuser, thinking we can get what we long for or if we work hard enough, maybe we can even change him/her to love us the way we want and deserve.
We have to move on. That’s why I’ve decided that my next boyfriend will be my barometer. I will pay close attention to how he responds to me when I voice concerns or when we disagree. I will be alert to how easily I can express myself and how honest I can be. When I feel I can trust him and myself, then, maybe, just maybe, I can open my heart and with his hand in mine invite him in. When that happens, my self-esteem barometer will have reached an all-time high, and I’ll be sure to congratulate myself for hanging in there long enough to witness my own monumental growth.