When I was considering getting a divorce, I had an endless list of arguments against this decision. I was in a new country, and it was terrifying to be alone in a very strange new reality. Financially, it would be ruinous. I had grown up in a relationship with this guy (I was 16 when we met) and I had no identity outside of our relationship. I’d learned to think of myself in terms of “we” and the idea of becoming simply an “I” was terrifying. I felt ashamed of becoming a divorcee at the age of 22. Emotionally, I knew that it would be devastating.

There was, however, one very strong argument in favor of getting divorced. Every person deserves to be in a relationship where they feel joyously, ecstatically, overpoweringly happy, I thought. You never know whether you will find that relationship after you get divorced, of course. But at the very least, we all deserve the right, the chance and the freedom to look for it.

Life without love or the possibility of looking for love is a sad life, indeed.

So I got divorced and it was even more painful, ruinous, traumatic and devastating than I’d thought. If you haven’t been through a divorce, then you are not likely to understand how difficult it is. Even if the relationship was completely dead, even if you couldn’t wait to be out of it, even if it was 100% your choice to get divorced, even if there are no children involved, a divorce is always tragic.

I never regretted it, however. Even at the lowest points when it seemed that I was scarred for life and would never get over it, I felt extremely grateful to myself for having found the strength and the courage to leave. As painful as a divorce is, it is always better than the realization that you are doomed to spend the rest of your life – your one and only life! – in a relationship that brings you no joy.

Dating Scripts: A Personal Story

Miriam, who keeps churning out brilliant posts, just wrote an article on whether it makes sense to follow traditional dating scripts:

Conventional dating scripts are being challenged all the time, but they still cling to life in the form of movies, TV shows, Cosmo, and many other bits of culture. They also continue to drive the actions and desires of many people, albeit not of me and the people I hang out with.

Part of the reason for this, I think, is that they make things so deceptively easy. Dating outside of the conventions seems riskier, scarier. But in reality, it’s not. There’s so much joy and freedom in writing your own rules, or forgetting rules altogether. It opens up the possibility of meeting someone who likes to play by the same rules, or lack thereof, as you do.

I agree with Miriam completely and I wanted to share a personal story demonstrating why what she says makes a lot of sense.

N. and I met when he came to New Haven for a summer job. I had been planning to move to Canada for my last year of grad school, so we knew from the start that I would be moving to another country within three weeks. N. couldn’t (and still can’t) leave the US because of his visa issues, which we also knew from the start.

From the moment we met, we were so much into each other that we start living together on our second date. Now what you have to know about me is that I prefer to initiate everything during the dating process. I like to be the one who invites the man on a first date, initiates the first kiss and the first sexual contact, etc. That’s just who I am. It makes me happy. I’m a total find for a shy guy who is afraid of rejection and doesn’t know how to go about such things. N. is the perfect partner for me because he is precisely such a guy.

So I got the chance to initiate everything and we were both happy as clams. Then, the moment came for me to move to Canada. Since the relationship was going so well, I really wanted to move my stuff to Montreal and then come back to New Haven and stay with N. while he kept working his summer job.

Here, however, I decided to adopt the traditional female role of sitting there like a patient little wallflower and waiting to be invited to come back to New Haven. I didn’t do it because I enjoy this role. I actually hate it. And I didn’t do it because N. had given me any indication that he wanted me to be this way. He obviously doesn’t, or we wouldn’t be together still. So I waited to be asked. And he was waiting for me to show that I wanted to come back.

And then we waited some more. And some more.

Finally, when all of my stuff had been packed into the mini-van and I was on the doorstep, resigned to leaving and never seeing him again, N. blurted out:

“But don’t you want to come back and continue being together??”

Of course, I did come back and we hope to remain together forever.

It really scares me to consider that I almost lost the opportunity to be with somebody who was very obviously made for me because at a ripe old age of 31 I suddenly decided to fake being all passive and traditionally feminine. I was afraid that I’d scare N. away by being all pushy, in spite of how clear it had become that he liked my pushiness, which is an integral part of my personality.

So I agree with Miriam: all of these traditional behaviors and dating scripts are bunk. It makes no sense to force oneself into a role that one doesn’t enjoy. And what’s the point of attracting a partner by acting fake? It isn’t like one’s true nature won’t come out eventually.

Towards a Happy Personal Life: A Step-by-Step Guide Out of Loneliness

I believe that in order to repair one’s personal life, it is first necessary to find out where the problem lies. Some people are lonely because they never meet anybody they like. Others meet plenty of people who interest them but their feelings are always unrequited. There are those who don’t have these issues but can never get past the second date, those who get abandoned right after they first have sex with a new partner, those who have many short-term relationships but can never translate them into long-term ones, those who keep getting cheated on, those who keep cheating, and so on. All of these folks have completely different issues and should look for completely different solutions. Lumping them all together under the umbrella label of “lonely” is not productive.

So here is the algorithm of how to define where your specific problem lies:

1. Do you meet people who attract you on a regular basis? If yes, move on to question 2. If no, ask yourself the following questions:

Is it possible you are depressed? Do you have serious health issues? Is your sexual drive OK? Are you taking any medication that depresses sex drive? Have you experienced some serious trauma (physical or psychological) recently? Are you a victim of sexual violence? Was there any form of sexual abuse in your childhood? 

These are all very serious issues that need to be addressed, confronted and resolved before you can expect to proceed any further.

2. Do the people you find attractive normally find you attractive, too? If yes, move on to question 3 (that will appear in the next post in the series). If no, consider the following:

A tendency towards unrequited feelings means you have a severe reluctance or fear of being in a relationship. Only you know where that comes from. I had this issue for a while and, in my case, it was a terror that any form of a mutual interest would lead me into a very serious long-term relationship I wasn’t ready for. This is why I kept choosing “impossible men.” They posed no danger for me. If your situation is at all similar to mine, giving yourself a permission to have many short-term flings in rapid succession really helps.

Just remember: this isn’t bad luck or coincidence. This also doesn’t mean that you are unattractive and nobody ever wants you. All that this string of unrequited episodes means is that you are choosing people who will not want you on purpose. There are tons of folks who are attracted to you right now but you are not seeing them. You are fulfilling your need for rejection. And only you can know why you have this need. The moment you figure out why you do this, you will immediately discover all of those people who do find you very attractive.

And we all still remember that there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be single, right? These posts are aimed only at those who don’t want to be single and are interested in exploring how they could improve their dating lives.

I will continue the algorithm in the following posts in the series.

Towards a Happy Personal Life: Learning to Be Happy on Your Own

Let’s now continue the fascinating discussion started by blogger Miriam:

Similarly, people are expected to be “happy on their own” before they can be dateable. That’s preposterous. If you’re 100% happy being single, why would you need a serious partner in the first place?

As we discussed in the previous post in this series, wanting “a serious partner” is in itself deeply problematic. Wanting to have a serious partnership with your boyfriend James or your girlfriend Lisa is, I believe, the only healthy approach. Nobody can be expected to be “a” partner for you. A desire for a partnership or a relationship should not come before a desire for an actual human being. If it does, you are not ready for a relationship. At least, not for a healthy one. You can, of course, find another seeker of “a serious partner” and get involved with them. I can guarantee, though, that within a very short time you will drive each other nuts with endless demands, nagging, sulks, fights, etc.

Now, let’s address the issue of whether you should learn to be happy on your own before becoming ready to date. In my opinion, yes, absolutely. Looking for a person to solve your psychological issues and fill a vacuum in your life is wrong. If you do that, it means you are planning to use a person before you’ve even met them. Another person can never solve your issues and fill your vacuum. No matter how much they give you, it will never be enough.

Recently, I quoted a post by a young woman who met a man of her dreams. They were very obviously made for each other. However, she had severe emotional issues she tried to resolve through him. As we can all guess, they are not together any more. Using one’s partner as an emotional crutch, a psychotherapist, a parental figure, or a wet-nurse is never a good idea.

I maintain that the best-case scenario is one where you are having a great time being single, then fall in love with a person, and have an even better time being partnered with them. A moment comes in one’s life when you say to yourself, “I have so much, why not share it with someone?” And from there a healthy relationship will grow. If, however, you say, “My existence is so incomplete. Let me get what’s missing out of another person (whom I’ve never even met but whose role in my life is already defined by my unfulfilled needs)”, I can’t see happiness ensuing as a result.

Towards a Happy Personal Life: Is It Unhealthy to Want Someone?

I have received many grateful messages for my series of posts on dating. This makes me think I should continue discussing issues people may confront as they attempt to build their personal lives. Today, I am inaugurating a new series called “Towards a Happy Personal Life.”

Blogger Miriam makes the following observations on her blog*:

Similarly, people are expected to be “happy on their own” before they can be dateable. That’s preposterous. If you’re 100% happy being single, why would you need a serious partner in the first place? Why is it considered unhealthy to really, really want someone to share your life with?

I believe that addressing these concerns is crucial for anybody who is currently on a journey towards personal, romantic and sexual happiness.

Let me start with the last of the questions Miriam poses:

Why is it considered unhealthy to really, really want someone to share your life with?

I am one of those people who considers this unhealthy and who always fled at a fast pace from folks “wanting someone to share their lives”. It is wrong to want “someone” because nobody wants to play the role of “someone” in your life. People normally hope to be wanted not in the capacity of just someone but, rather, individually. Wanting a specific, concrete John, Anna, Daniel, or Pepita is healthy. Imagining a relationship and then trying to massage live human beings you meet into this vision of what you want your personal life to look like scares people away.

In the course of my long and eventful dating life, I met quite a few folks who were looking for someone, for a relationship, for marriage, for commitment. Every single time, these people turned out to be completely toxic as romantic partners. They were incapable of caring about me, a specific, concrete human being with a multitude of issues, problems, distinctive features, etc. They needed a “someone”, an actor to play the part of a romantic interest in the scenario they had created for themselves. This made them completely incapable of loving another person. They loved the idea of having a partner. The actual partner, however, was a lot less exciting to them.

So here is my advice: stop wanting “someone”, stop creating scenarios of relationships in your head. Look around yourself, identify a specific Jill or Jack you like and concentrate on wanting them. If there isn’t anybody like that and hasn’t been for a while, this means you have a serious problem that you need to address.

* None of this is supposed to be a personal criticism of Miriam who is a blogger I highly respect.

(To be continued. . .)

Why Are People Attracted to Jerks?

Ozymandias42 at the great NSWATM blog has written a long post that attempts to answer this question. I usually like everything this talented blogger writes. In this post, however, nothing resonated with me as even remotely true or useful. The post offers a collection of extremely superficial explanations that people use to hide from the real reason why jerks attract them like a magnet.

The real answer – albeit one that many people try to avoid – is that some of us get attracted to jerks for exactly the same reason that some get attracted to adoring, caring, amazing partners.

As we grow up, we observe the couple that is the closest to us and learn what it means to be in a relationship from that couple. If what we see is a jerk who is abusing, insulting and victimizing the adult (parent, relative, grandparent, guardian, sibling) we identify with, we will spend our entire life enacting and reenacting this pattern with the jerk and abuser of our own (or, more likely, a string of jerks and abusers). If, however, we saw the adult we identify with being adored and worshiped by his or her partner, we will spend our entire life being idolized and loved by the partners we choose.

As a result, we often see two groups of people forming. One consists of firm believers in the “all men are jerks” or “all women are bitches” philosophy. And they are right in a way. The only kind of men (or women) their early experiences conditioned them to meet are, indeed, jerks (or bitches.) Members of the second group have only seen wonderful things from the men (women) in their lives and are spoiled enough to believe that their partner has victimized them by forgetting to bring them flowers one week.

There is, of course, an entire spectrum of possibilities between these two extremes. Each of these possibilities, however, relies on the relational model one absorbed while growing up.

Every statement of the “all men ( women) are /  want / prefer/ believe XYZ” can be deciphered as “the significant adult I observed when I was growing up was / wanted / preferred  XYZ, so now I have to believe all men (women) are this way because that is all I know.”

So if you are a “Nice Guy” who is constantly used and discarded by women (or the female equivalent thereof*), remember that analyzing the motives of the women (or men) who consistently mistreat you is a huge waste of time. Their motives for treating you badly are exactly the same as your motives for pursuing those people who are the most likely to treat you like garbage.

And I really hope that my readers are enlightened enough not to need a reminder that this is not a gender issue. Discussing it as if it were is an avoidance strategy. Such childish avoidance bores me, so I hope that people don’t bring it to my blog**.

* You can see that female equivalent rendered beautifully in Sex and City. Women who gather in groups to repeat like a mantra “we are so fantastic, smart, stunning and successful, so why does nobody want us?” are the equivalent of the proverbial Nice Guys. Both groups have absolutely no interest in being in a relationship. All they want is vent their grievances towards an offending parental figure through the medium of “all men” or “all women.” Both groups are heavily homosocial and have no use for the opposite gender (except as a pretext for bonding with their own gender group.)

** The reason why I put this disclaimer in the post is that I tried reading the comments to Ozymandias42’s post. Oy, people. And once again, oy.

How to Provide Emotional Support for an Unemployed Partner, Part II

5. Now, this is very important: unemployment does not mean that your partner gets to check out of any aspect of the relationship. Being supportive does not equal tolerating snappishness, moodiness, aggression and rudeness from your partner. You are not their therapist or their wet nurse. Adults address their psychological issues without using their partner as a punching bag. Never let such behavior slide and if you are tempted to do so, remember, you are not being supportive. You are just being condescending. Taking on a parental role towards your partner is never healthy.

I hope I don’t need to mention that subjecting an unemployed partner to your moodiness, depressive moments and aggression is just as wrong.

6. I do not recommend that household duties be renegotiated because if unemployment. If the division of chores in your relationship is unfair, it definitely needs to be renegotiated. But not during the time when your partner is weakened by unemployment.

If the distribution of duties is fair, then there is no need to change anything during unemployment. I suggest preserving as much as possible from the pre-unemployment lifestyle because that will make it easier to return to it once your partner finds a job.

7. Most importantly, I wanted to mention that once an unhealthy patterns sets in, it’s extremely hard to change it. We all hope that unemployment will not be protracted. It can, however, stretch out for a long period of time. And if you expect that after your partner finds a job things will immediately be restored to their pre-unemployment state, you couldn’t be more mistaken. A relationship doesn’t go to sleep during a jobless period. It grows and develops. And after unemployment is over, you will have to live with the results of this development.

Moral Support

Jennifer Frances Armstrong writes:

If I try to think back to my own situation of needing others’ help, which was a very long time ago, the one element I was always craving — but never actually got — was simple moral support. The one form of academic training that just about undid me in terms of effectively combating any form of abuse was philosophical idealism, which was taught very strongly as a form of moral solipsism that we were all obliged to embrace in order to be properly intellectually trained and psychologically well-adjusted.

I think the issue of moral support is very interesting, so I wanted to discuss it here. I’m very fortunate in having a person who will always provide unwavering support and understanding for me in any situation. That person is my sister. I know that no matter what situation I find myself in, I can share it with her and she will say, “I love you and I’m always 100% on your side, and nothing will change that. You know this, right?” And after that she will offer a very direct and honest opinion about the situation, without mincing words and trying to dance around the issue. If she thinks I’m being a blathering fool, she will inform me about that in great detail and provide many thought-out arguments in support of that opinion. Then, we will talk about the situation for as long as I need and as many times as I need until I find a solution.

It is really great to have somebody who will always tell you their honest opinion and will discuss anything that bothers you at great length.

Many people, however, have a completely misguided understanding of moral support. They think it consists of pandering to your self-esteem with facile asseverations as to how you are right about everything and things will be great with no effort on your part.

Recently, for example, I shared with somebody that I thought I was messing things up in a certain important area of my life. “I think I’m making XYZ mistakes,” I said, “and that always comes back to harm me.”

“Oh no,” the well-wishing moral supporter objected. “You do everything perfectly well. There is absolutely no problem you have here. You are wonderful and everything you do is right.”

I found this to be the opposite of helpful. I felt like my serious concerns were dismissed and I was being shut up.

It seems like people are so terrified of hurting anybody’s feelings that they often resign themselves to completely shallow, superficial relationships. In any profound, honest relationship, there is bound to be rawness of sentiment and even pain. Don’t we rob ourselves of genuine human contact when we see moral support as nothing but a string of platitudes aimed at distancing ourselves from a person who is facing problems?

It is very easy to respond with, “Oh, you are so great and everything is fantastic” whenever a person tries to share what bothers them. But doing that destroys the possibility of a worthwhile relationship, leaving instead a faked connection that has no depth to it.

“You matter enough to me that I am willing to risk angering and antagonizing you with my honesty,” a friend once said. And that’s how I knew he was a real friend to me, not just somebody who wanted to ingratiate himself with me by faking complete acceptance where, in truth, there was nothing but indifference.

Husbands and Video Games

I know that dumping on people who enjoy playing video games and branding them as immature, useless slobs is fashionable, but this is really going too far:

A Utah woman became so annoyed by her husband’s addiction to video games that she put him up for sale on Craigslist. Kyle Baddley, 22, spent so much time playing the recently released “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3″ that wife, Alyse, warned her mother-in-law: “I’m going to sell your son on Craigslist.” The 21-year-old soon made good on the threat, according to ABC News, by posting a classified ad on her local version of the website. “I am selling my 22-year-old husband. He enjoys eating and playing video games all day. Easy to maintain, just feed and water every 3-5 hours,” her post on the Logan, Utah, Craigslist site read. Kyle Baddley’s future home “must have Internet and space for gaming,” the ad continues. “If acceptable replacement is offered will trade.” . . .

Kyle Baddley’s father Scott said his son has since cut down on his “Modern Warfare” time and was planning a Thanksgiving trip to Florida with his wife.

Contrary to popular wisdom, people who play video games are the opposite of immature. Video games are a powerful compensatory technique for people in stressful situations. Those who play video games engage in psychological hygiene that allows them to release their anxieties and frustrations onto a game instead of onto their family members.

The wife in this situation is the immature person because she hasn’t learnede to cope with her frustrations in a productive way and decided to ridicule and shame her husband publicly instead. This kind of tells me exactly what it is he is escaping from through his gaming.

Looking Good for Your Partner

Reader el writes:

Imho, paying *some* attention to one’s looks after finding a partner is necessary. I don’t mean surgeries. I mean may be the same hair creams to strengthen and make hair shinier one used before, watching one’s weight (not extreme, not working crash diets, but healthy food and some exercise), etc. Marriage is a sexual relationship too and trying to look attractive to one’s sexual partner should be a no-brainer. Especially in a marriage, where, unlike in one-night stand, you want the other side to be attracted tomorrow too.

I think we all know by now that I’m very much into makeup, pretty dresses, beautiful shoes, and cosmetics. However, my partner in life is the only person in the world who never even notices what I wear or how I look. He stares at me with the same adoring gaze whether I wear my best clothes and perfect makeup or lie in bed sneezing and coffing with my eye infected and gunk pouring out of it.

I remember how once we spent the entire day at the beach. I usually feel very content whenever I look at myself in the mirror. On that day, though, I saw my reflection and recoiled in horror. My hair was filled with sand and looked like a hornet’s nest. My face had acquired an unappealing red color. My eyes were piggishly small. Freckles had appeared out of nowhere and were covering my entire face. Even I had to recognize that I was no ornament to humanity on that day.

And then I saw N. staring at me. “God, you are beautiful!” he gasped. “You have this Biblical beauty that makes my heart stop.”

If you look at my photo on this blog, you will see that only a completely besotted individual would see anything Biblical in my appearance. This was when I knew that N. really loved me.

Since then, we have nursed each other through flus, stomach bugs, pericarditis, depression, very significant weight gain, etc. And in the midst of all that, each of us was always the most beautiful and desirable person the other had ever met. It is a great comfort in life to have somebody by your side with whom you are unafraid to be not pretty. We all have beautiful moments and ugly moments, both in terms of our appearance and our actions. The only partner in life worthy of the title is, in my opinion, a person who wants to be there by your side, and nowhere else, through beauty and ugliness alike.