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We Have So Few Chances to Feel Loved: Online Dating Challenges

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This is about my family of origin, and my willingness to try and out-grow, out-love, some deep wounding in the other person. I don’t look for the wounded person, but when I find them, I should run like hell. 

I Don’t Know What I Need

I don’t know what kind of woman, or what a healthy relationship really looks like. I mean, I’ve read books. I’ve imagined. I’ve written posts and poetry about it until I’ve created my own surreal ideal. But I am clear, I have no idea what I’m talking about.

And since my divorce, I’ve had ONE connection. A few relationships, but one connection that lifted all of my hopes and ideas. And from this wonderful infusion of energy and hope, I constructed pyramids and offerings to the gods of love. Because there was something, some little glimmer, that really turned me on about this woman.

I guess I can say this now because it’s gone. Her fears and objections have finally won out over my optimism, regeneration, and attempts to repair the breakups that kept happening. Okay, so that was a clue that something was not right between us. And the further I launched into “being okay” with her constantly not being okay, the more I moved away from my core truth. The flow has to go both ways.

A Fool’s Errand

And how did I get fooled into thinking a woman, who had done very little “work” on herself post-divorce, was going to heal in my light of love. What a crock. The work ahead for her is for herself alone. And unfortunately, now we both get to move on alone and heal without the rubbing and joy that our “relationship” was causing. The joy was apparent in both of us. The chemistry was hot. The sex… Well, I’ll use discretion and not talk about that.

Coming out of a failed marriage, both partners often feel damaged and depressed. In my case, I was certain that I would never love again. Of course, that was my depression talking, but when you are Sad, you can get pretty dark. So there’s this concept, from a divorce recovery class I took, called the Healing Relationship.

I was determined not to be this woman’s healing relationship. And I worked hard to make myself as flexible as possible. To recede when she needed space. To not share the poems and inspirations I was feeling about her so that she wouldn’t get freaked out.

But you see, the freakout was the problem. And I was not going to be able to fix it, no matter what I did, or how well I behaved. There would simply be another freakout, regardless of how it started, and we would hit the rocks.

During my failing marriage, I got very good at listening for the sirens of destruction (I had done something wrong) and looking for an escape or some heroic journey to fix the problem. Both in my marriage and in this relationship, that was not the right approach. But I didn’t want to accept the warning signs I was being hit over the head with. I didn’t want to accept defeat in my marriage, and in some microcosm of the same role-relationship, I didn’t want to accept that this woman, who I was “crazy about” was going to toss me out because she was afraid.

Fear Is Not the Only Issue Here

Again, it was more than her fear. It was everything.

She was hungry for affection and love. But she recoiled from what she needed soon after she began getting it. She was overly protective of her son, but that’s what single moms do. She was/is still deeply angry at her ex, and is continuously upset by the dickish-ex he has become. And for sure, he is a dick, both to her, and their son. He has no excuse.

On the other hand, she has no excuse either. And actually, I have no excuse. I have no excuse for continuing a relationship that I could see was full of “holy shit, what’s wrong now” moments. But the chemistry was on. And I had not felt chemistry for a long, long time. I might be addicted to hot chemistry or sex, but not getting either for years and years was a harsh form of torture, for someone like me who thrives on touch.

And we touched, but she pushed me off sometimes. And she told me constantly how we would eventually break up, and she mused occasionally about what it would be that would finally do it.

playdates for adults

Breaking Up Is Easy

I must’ve learned in my family of origin, as a little boy, how to repair and attempt resuscitation for bad relationships. I tried and tried to keep my parents together. I excelled at school. I excelled in football and tennis. I was a childhood magician. I worked hard as the mascot or hero-child to keep everyone happy. And when my parents split for the first time, because of my dad’s drinking, I was the one who brought them back together.

I’m not making this up. That’s what I was told, by my alcoholic father. And when the “try” didn’t work and my mom left for Mexico with everyone but me and my dad, I again went into hyper-performance mode to try to make things better. But there was no fixing my dad. And over the next two years, he fought to win me. I think it was more about the money than me, but he liked to tell me he was doing it for me. Of course, he was drunk when he was telling me this, but that didn’t keep it from registering deeply in my 7-year-old heart.

I can’t repair a broken person. No one can. And my first “love” post-divorce was no different. And even as I bucked against the breakups, and saw the signs that this was a deeply wounded person, I was addicted to the … What?

Addicted to Longing and Absence

Was I enjoying the suffering? I don’t think so. Was it familiar? Very. Did the dramatic breakups feel familiar? Yep, right out of the last 4 years of my marriage.

But she would not be healed by me or anyone else. She would only recover from her anger and sadness about her divorce, by going through it, in some sort of therapeutic setting. And I was not that path. I didn’t fantasize that I was the healer, but I DID try to be big enough to contain her thrashing against the feelings towards and against me. These feelings were more about her and her ex than anything I brought to the relationship. It’s sad to see it happening. And I was soooooo connected to her physically. But of course, that’s my obsession.

Well, ultimately the book of poems wasn’t enough. Even with the crowning poem being a direct plea to her, or protestation, or warning… it’s hard to tell sometimes. But the poems were definitely me expressing MY wants and HOPES regardless of what I was seeing in her actions.

In recovery of any kind, it is not for us to fix each other. The support is so that we can find our own path to fixing ourselves. And as we find ourselves in relationships with unhealthy people, it’s is our responsibility to do what is best for our health. And trying to be supportive and loving is one of those things we can do. Trying to be loving enough to get them to change, well that’s the trap right there.

Waiting for the Other Person to Change

So I wanted to change her. No doubt about it. I could say it with a straight face, full-well knowing that I was nuts. I wanted to blow her wide open with stability and love poems and clarity of intention. But… As the story goes, every. single. time. there is no fixing the other person. And the more we work towards or wait for them to change, the further we get from our own integrity.

At the core, it is my healing that is at stake with the break up of this relationship. I felt deeply for the first time since my divorce. I had moments of hope, “wow, this is amazing, she is amazing, we could be amazing.” And then the red flag, more like a red bazooka would blow a hole in my theory of love in the time of recovery.

For someone to be loved they have to love themselves. And that loving cannot come in the form of caring for another person (a child, for example) or by going through it while IN a relationship. No, in my understanding of recovery, in general, the recovery has to take place in the individual, regardless of the support or lack of support in their surroundings.

There was simply no way I could love this woman enough. She was not mine to fix. And I knew this. I still know this. But the pain of losing a “loving feeling” is also hard. I would’ve continued to heal, retry, reset, over and over to keep the physical connection. But I was covering up the disconnection that had nothing to do with me. And that disconnection is what was my own healing that still needed work. I wanted to be loved. I wanted things to be ecstatic. And I was willing to toss my own instincts and knowledge down the tube for a while, in order to feel or not feel this sense of being loved.

Am I Seeking a Soul Mate?

I don’t believe we have a soul mate. I believe we have connections. And for me, for a connection to occur there has to be chemistry. But the chemistry, while essential to the growth of a real relationship, is only a small portion of what is required to develop a relationship. And that’s really what I want. I want a relationship. I don’t want a recovery project. I don’t want to fix someone. I want them to come to me healthy, happy, energetic, and done with a good portion of their baggage.

Well, that’s not who struck my heart with a warm glow. But that’s who I now recover from myself, as I return to working my own issues out, again. I have to walk away from my own issues in this relationship, in hopes of being a whole and ready man when the next potential shows up.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Kelly

    Hi John,
    I enjoy your blog and this post in particular. One thing I struggle with (as I mourn the end of my own long term relationship) is determining how much “baggage” is ok for my partner to have or when I’m venturing into codependency. I recognize that I am a flawed individual with my own pains, fears and quirks, so it’s unfair to expect my partner to come into a relationship blemish-free. Part of what makes being in a loving relationship so rewarding for me is to help each other through tough times and overcome challenges as a team. I’ll admit I’ve too struggled with the idea that love can conquer all. I fear being too dismissive of people if I run once there are signs of trouble. But for me, I often fall into a deep love with someone before the cracks begin to show. I guess for most people, when you are infatuated you tend to look past or not see any potential red flags. And then it can feel selfish to leave when this person loves you (and you love him).

    I sure wish it were easier, but I do believe we need to hold out for happy, healthy, energetic people instead of “settling” for a fixer-upper. Being a nurturer, as it seems you are (and I certainly am) can make it difficult to put our own self-interest first. But we need a whole person to love and to love us back.

    1. jmacofearth

      Indeed, happy and healthy are the key. How much baggage you can accept in another person of course is individual and case-by-case. But codependency is easier to spot. I’m trying to slow things down a bit, so I’m not as drawn into the sexual and chemical infatuation before understanding the deeper issues that the relationship might uncover. That’s what got me divorced in the first place. Good luck, keep going, and thanks for your comment.

  2. Brenda

    From what you’ve written here, it sounds like you were the caretaker in your childhood (trying to keep your parents together). That trauma has played out in your adult relationships and you keep trying to take care of the other person in your life. Maybe (I’m not an expert, but I myself was a caretaker prior to therapy) if you start taking care of yourself (and your kids) and let go of taking care of anyone else, you’ll find a better more whole partner. What do I know? It’s just a thought. I appreciate your honesty, your candor, and your willingness to open yourself up and expose your truths. So refreshing!

    1. jmacofearth

      Thank you Brenda. I’m doing my best at all the things you describe.

  3. My Arrival Year

    As I was reading your post, I suddenly thought that perhaps my BF “Spidey” had written this post about our relationship about 15 months ago. We had great physical chemistry. I felt like a mess and was angry at my dick-ish ex. I have a son. He was/is the caretaker in his family of origin.

    He tried to keep me when I said I needed time and space. When I swore that our mutual co-dependency patterns would be the death of us eventually and therefore we should quit while we were ahead.

    Our stories aren’t the same, and you aren’t my Spidey in disguise, but I understand your story. Divorce baggage is heavy.

    In my case, I fell madly for a much younger man and had an amazing love affair for a while. My Spidey and I stayed friends and I continued to swear it would not have worked. Until one day, when he convinced me. (Sorry, can’t share that here since it’s part of my story that is yet to be told on my blog!)

    But I just wanted to say hey, I hear you, and this shit is hard. I hope you find what you are seeking, and as a woman who used to be much like this woman you love(d), every growing period happens in its own time.

    1. jmacofearth

      Arrival, Indeed, everyone’s healing happens in time. And if the timing is off, there’s not much you can do but move along. Good luck on your blog and your next relationship.

  4. Natalie

    This article is what I needed to see, right now in my life. I’m getting out of a really bad relationship where I lost my SELF. However, i didnt realize until recently that I have been in “somebody want me, somebody love me” mode. Pathetic, really, so dating has just brought out a lot of anxiety and self doubt.
    Reading your article gives me great determination to get right with myself before I entertain the idea of finding the RIGHT kind of man that I want to have in my life. Your words make me see how very very important it is for me to focus not only on my business, but on healing Natalie. I’m off to write my goals and steps on getting there.

    1. jmacofearth

      Well done, Natalie. That’s the most important part. Getting right with yourself first.

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