A few years ago at a restaurant, an unknown man interrupted the self-help author Karen Salmansohn's conversation about yet another bad boyfriend. "Excuse me," he began, "the man you're with sounds emotionally abusive, like a classic control freak with sadistic tendencies, and you are a masochist since you are choosing to stay, but the good news is masochists have the most hope for change because they always blame themselves! So think deeply about why you've chosen him, and your responsibility for it, and get out while you can!" This man was a psychotherapist, and from this wakeup call, Salmansohn wrote her 30th self-help book, Prince Harming Syndrome: Break Bad Relationship Patterns for Good/5 Essentials for Finding True Love (and they're not what you think!) [QNY; September 15, 2009, 224 pages].
According to Salmansohn, a Prince Harming is a guy who is either "trouble or troubled." He's hot, fun, charismatic, smart, and successful, at first. But, he inevitably turns toxic.
As a single girl in New York City who recently turned 30, I saw this syndrome in my own life. And like Salmonshon, it takes me a while to learn, but since she is currently engaged to her Prince Charming I thought I'd give it a try.
When I moved to New York from Philadelphia five years ago with a pit-stop in Tokyo, I went from being a serial monogamist to a serial dater. With years of Prince Harming serial dating under my belt, I fit the masochist card. As a former philosophy major I was intrigued with the book's mix of Aristotelian philosophy and cognitive therapy. As a self-help addict I was excited to tear off the paper bag cover and delve into fixing the problem.
Salmansohn re-defines such difficult concepts such as "entelechy", as your intended seed personality and "mightiest human being self" and "mimesis" as the groundwork for creating vision boards, which I later tried. My first step was to cut out relationships that wouldn't lead to commitment.
She jokes that while you may have to kiss a lot of frogs there is no need to kiss pigs, dogs and jackasses. I busted out my logic course and then identified my recent bad attitude towards dating as an incorrect syllogism. All men are frogs since my last five years of emotionally unavailable, manipulative, or just plain not interested were. I decided to try her step-by-step approach to see if it could fix my own "enterpaining" love life.
Step One: Eliminate Relationships of (just) Pleasure. I was in a clear zone there, but that would have ended "Zohan", my Israeli lover, and a few committed suitors I kept in my phone. I renamed them "teacher" instead, as Salmansohn said to do, though she seemed to have one main teacher and I had quite a few. It also explained why my prior affairs with non-committed men ended in screaming matches after two months. But with my six months of born-again celibacy I was good to go. Perhaps I needed to get over my "appearance centricism" and look for an unexpected package, after all, "Good looks fade but a bad personality is forever."
Step Two: Eliminate relationships of convenience: Then I'd have to rid myself of the advances of my bed and breakfast weekending, grocery shopping, codependent pseudo boyfriend who just recently met my parents. His critical comments would land him in Prince Harming territory as would his penchant for dating other women. I told him we could be friends but never more. There was no more time to waste.
Step Three: Aim for relationships of shared virtue. This of course is what I want, but how do I get it?
Step Four: Apply a rational checklist to suss romantic potential. I didn't have a real Prince Charming crush but I ran through potential partners. Salmansohn asks that I ask myself the following questions about these imaginary men. I used my past.
a. Does he want to be in a committed relationship? When I added the words, "with me", the answer always equaled no. I cut the committed-to-others present suitors.
b. Does he value growing as a person? I do, maybe I can meet this new man at the Positive Thinking Course I recently signed up for or at a yoga class.
c. Does he understand a relationship serves two functions: pleasure, and growth? Pleasure earned a check from the men I was dating in the past, growth, a blank.
d. Does he make you feel safe in relationship potential? This has been a huge problem. My prior serial monogamies always ended in heavy snuggling while my hot flings were fueled on lust and danger. Feeling safe, usually made me want to fall asleep or hold hands. Salmansohn said I was too focused on the dichotomy and should strive toward a relationship of sensual shared virtue. Is your man happy?: As long as we are striving towards growth, I think it'd be masochistic to demand perfection, but I did want an optimist, who wanted me.
So, what did I learn?
I made a "mimesis" vision board from an InStyle magazine and focused on what I really wanted: a new apartment, a higher paying job (I threw that in for good measure) and a man to cuddle me at night and light my fire in the day. He wasn't yet in my immediate vicinity, though I will stare at my picture of happy couples until he comes. I cut the non-Charming suitors. And if I take Salmonsohn's advice about ignoring external packages for my Prince, he may well be unexpected. I also thought about all the checklists I'd been hearing about and realized that in other ways, I was being too picky! I had lost at least five potential relationships through the years on my surmise it'd be impractical or not lasting. Of course, that was why I was abstaining, but so long as they passed the non-harming test,what if I had given them a few dates first, and those Harmings were no longer in the running.
What Karen Salmansohn gave me was hope, and that is much appreciated.