It ought to be easy ought to be simple enough
Man meets woman and they fall in love
But the house is haunted and the ride gets rough
And you've got to learn to live with what you can't rise above...
-- Bruce Springsteen, Tunnel of Love
In my practice, I try to reach out to and help as many people as I can. And, I'm proud to say, they come from every walk of life, so I have a pretty healthy cross-section of clients walking in and out of my office on a daily basis. Granted, many of them have alcohol or substance abuse problems, but others have anger issues; some are trying to work past trauma; some feel stunted or trapped in their day-to-day lives with no real understanding as to why; but they all have one thing in common: a need to connect, to get outside of themselves and feel wanted and adored.
But, what do you do when that need is unrequited or, even worse, when the person you love doesn't love you back?
This is the question that has plagued men and women since the Dawn of Dating. You chase them and they run away. Or, you chase them, you catch them, and then they run away. Or you sit there, they come to you, they catch you, and then they decide -- seemingly without cause -- that they don't want you anymore. I mean, really, with so much pain and loneliness in the world, it's a wonder our species hasn't gone extinct!
But, I think that, in order to understand the dynamics of rejection, we need to look at both parties first. I have a friend who is a prominent divorce lawyer, and I had an opportunity to sit in on a conference call between her and a client she was referring. The client, a woman in her mid-thirties, was hemming and hawing over having to ask her husband -- a successful businessman and the major breadwinner in the relationship since he was the president of the company they'd built together -- to provide her with alimony. She felt shame in having to ask him for support since, after discovering they'd become trapped in a marriage rife with irreconcilable differences, she was the one who'd put the idea of divorce on the table.
"You're not asking for anything," the lawyer interjected, "You deserve it. He had just as much to do with the dissolution of your marriage as you did. It's a two-way street. And, I promise you, if he doesn't understand what half of the blame means, he is going to absolutely understand what half of everything means."
It was a harsh reality, but it made sense. And it got me to thinking about what made every relationship tick. The woman might have had self-esteem issues. And her husband wasn't successful by accident; he was more likely than not, a very aggressive "A-type" personality. Their first encounter was probably like a scenario out of a National Geographic television show. Only he was the lion and she was the lame zebra at the watering hole. But, remarkably enough, that was then and this was now, and our little girl was all grown up and ready to seek fulfillment elsewhere.
But what need had she been trying to fulfill when she'd first agreed to spend the rest of her life with him?
Questions like this drive emotional recovery sometimes. We are encouraged to dig deep and ask ourselves what, exactly, is motivating us or informing our decisions? I know, first hand, of men and women who present as classic love addicts. These people live for the hunt. They pursue and pursue and pursue avoidant, unavailable partners who often times want nothing to do with them. These prospects are almost always emotionally unavailable, which sets up a safety net for the love addict. If they "catch" their "prey" and the relationship doesn't work out, the "hunter" is absolved of any wrong doing and spared the terrifying act of becoming truly intimate. They get to walk away from the relationship and point at the prey and tell everyone, "See? It's not me. It's them. They aren't ready for a truly intimate relationship."
To which the audience nods and applauds the hunter's efforts as they make ready to chase after the next unavailable prospect.
Inspirational speaker Iyanla Vanzant, proposes a compelling argument for the avoider, however, citing a very real truism which states that men and women can only act on the information they have at hand at any given time. She reports that she was raised in a household with a very cold and stoic father who never so much as hugged her while growing up. When he passed away, she was afforded the opportunity to live with and get close to his mother (her grandmother) who lived her life in much the same way.
It was then that Iyanla realized that her father might have truly loved her. He had merely been raised in a home where love had never been demonstrated for him, so he had never learned how to demonstrate it for other people.
Now, I've got to tell you, that right there is a mind blower. And it is a mind blower because it presents a new dimension to relationships. That couple you see arguing all the time -- in public, no less -- are they demonstrating love in the only manner that's been taught to them? The partner who leaves for work every day without kissing you good-bye or saying "I love you," are they merely doing what they watched their own parents do as they were growing up?
Truly intimate relationships are extremely challenging. I think this is why not many of us are in them until so late in life. It takes that long for us to figure out what's been plaguing us for so long on our quest for connection and happiness and get on track with finding someone who fulfills us in ways that are substantial and real.
So, what do you do when you find yourself in a one-sided relationship? You dig deep. And, again, I need to remind you that digging deep isn't always an easy thing to do. If it were, we'd all be walking around as enlightened beings.
No, digging deep means asking yourself the really hard questions:
• Why am I so desperately trying to love someone who doesn't love me back -- am I a love addict who is chasing a love-avoidant person as an excuse for not inviting real intimacy into my life?
• Is this avoidant person someone who genuinely cares about me but can't express love and adoration in conventional ways because these things were never demonstrated for them by the people they loved and adored in the past?
• Why is the pain of being in a relationship with someone who does not or cannot love me preferable to being alone?
• And, Where did I learn that I don't deserve more?
Our real power comes from our ability to nurture and take care of ourselves. It comes from our ability to make very hard, very adult decisions that are informed by what we feel we need and deserve; and this information is born from the collage of a hundred million billion thoughts and experiences, the configuration of which makes us who we are today. But, like snowflakes, every one of us is magnificent and beautiful and brilliant: Every one of us is special.
I promise you, this is a universal truth.
Which is why you should never settle for the lie -- you should always get from that relationship exactly what you deserve.
And, in order to discover what that is, you should always dig deep.