“Can you believe she’s dating that jerk, again?”
“Why can’t he just find a nice woman?”
“She really is a loser magnet, isn’t she?”
We all know that person. We’re related to them, or perhaps we’re friends with them. We talk about them in passing, and perhaps we gossip and pass judgement. She follows a predictable relationship pattern, and we throw our hands up in the air and say, “There she goes again. When will she learn?”
It’s a shame that we act so confused and perplexed when really, this predictable pattern makes the most sense in the world. Believe it or not there can be a false sense of reason, security, and even safety in something that looks chaotic and troubling from the outside. You see, your friend who dates unavailable men constantly, who goes for the “bad boys” or the married men, might be hooked on the disappointment.
Now, wait a minute. Hold on. I don’t mean “hooked” as in “addicted”, at least in the truest sense of the word. What I mean is this: until we are prepared to take the risk to truly step out of our comfort zone, we tend to follow the same relational pattern that is familiar to us.
If we are disappointed by the unavailable partner, at least we can say we knew it was coming and can quickly pack ourselves up and move forward. It’s easier to move on from something you’ve experienced before. It’s simpler to fall back on a self fulfilling prophecy. It is much more difficult to risk the vulnerability required to forge a deep, healthy connection. It requires us to change our formula completely and try something new. It requires us to take a leap of faith and trust another person. Following this is a deep, lingering fear that if we let our guard down, something terrible will happen and the relationship will fall apart. Our world will come crashing down. We had the audacity to actually believe that we deserved to be in love, and instead everything crumbled. How dare we believe that.
So, what do we do? We avoid this potential heartache. In fact, we go to great, elaborate lengths to avoid the pain we’re so afraid to experience. We enact the same, unhealthy and familiar script. We date the same type of person we always do, even if it never ends well. We go through the same motions, and we hope that this time will be different.
You see, if this time is different, then it will mean that all the pain and the heartache we experienced was worth it. It will mean that all the nonsensical distress actually led to something meaningful.
Is it that we are afraid to be happy? I don’t think so. The real fear comes from change. Being in unchartered waters makes us feel exposed and challenged. It’s big risk to explore something new, so we often decide to stick with what we know. We may even recreate patterns from childhood. Perhaps a parent, mentor, or sibling treated us unfairly, and we can draw strange parallels between this individual and whoever we tend to be romantically involved with.
I used to go through these motions too. I felt so painfully undeserving of love that I consistently pursued relationships with people who were completely unavailable. I was in graduate school pursuing some of the most meaningful and profoundly important work of my life, yet I was dating a selfish and cruel alcoholic who was unwilling to seek help. I dated a drug dealer who was simultaneously involved with a lengthy list of other people. I dated mean people. I dated people I had absolutely nothing in common with. In this way, I could keep them at an arm’s length while reaping the benefits of companionship. As many of us tend to do, I secretly hoped that someone would pleasantly surprise me and make a grand turnaround, but I continued to follow the same disappointing dating pattern for years.
What ended the pattern was the biggest risk I have ever taken in my life. I decided to try something different and allow myself to be truly, blissfully excited about someone without fearing that it would all fall apart.
Instead of dating the guy who I insisted “I would never want to bring home to my parents anyway”, I decided to date the man I would be proud to introduce to my family, and devastated if I introduced him and it didn’t work out.
I decided to be with someone who I truly wanted to be present for, someone I truly wanted to show up for. To truly know someone and build trust with them, you can’t be clothed while they stand before you fearlessly naked. You have to be willing to take the proverbial skinny dip into the water. You have to risk the vulnerability required to fall in love, and you must be willing to meet that person halfway. I always resisted this process out of fear of losing my mind and my heart completely. I tricked myself into believing that I had the upper hand in all those other relationships before, but really, I was making myself far too available for the kind of person who was never right for me. I never had the upper hand, not once.
My relationship is an adventure I want to be surprised by. My partner and I have the potential to explore and create. We also have the potential to betray, hurt, and disappoint. We are not an arms-length from one another, conducting parallel lives without getting too close. I no longer go through the motions of predictable heartache. Instead, I am now attracted to the possibilities ahead, whatever they may be. I am proud to say that I am no longer hooked on disappointment.