Women often complain to me that when it comes to men, their picker is broken. They know I can relate; my first husband, after all, was my coke dealer, an abusive psychopath so secretive that to this day I do not know his real name. What can I say? He was charismatic enough to be handsome, and I was young enough to be immortal. Besides, cocaine wasn't officially addictive in the '70s.
If you want one key piece of life wisdom to live by, use this: Never marry your coke dealer.
My choices have improved over the years, thank God, but I still find myself slipping back into "you look like a heartache waiting for a place to happen; come sit here by me" mode more often than I should. Why is my dating navigator set to Do Not Enter? Why am I attracted to bad men who are going to hurt me?
This is what two decades of researching sex and love addiction have shown me: The problem isn't so much that I'm inexplicably drawn to men with big red flags waving over their heads. The problem isn't the men at all. The problem is that, when I am attracted to someone, I become unstuck in time.
Romance, I have discovered, is all about longing for the might-have-been or craving the what-will-be. The old joke about him thinking, "I wonder what she looks like naked?" while she's already thinking, "I wonder what he looks like pushing a lawnmower?" are not far off the mark. If I'm not replaying the past, trying to force a broken love affair to somehow, some way, this time work out right... I am anticipating a future one that will.
My love watch is broken.
Popular culture makes it worse, of course, with its insistence on "love at first sight." I'll give you lust at first sight, but love? A buddy of mine once sighed, watching the swaying bottom of a sweet young thing leave the room, "I'm going to marry that girl." I replied, "Dude, you not only don't know what her insides are like, you don't even know what her front side is like." Sadly, that knowledge rarely stops me from making the same mistake. If I am attracted to a man, I immediately imbue him with the appropriate attractive qualities. Surely, someone with cheekbones that sharp must have an equally sharp wit! I want this vessel, so I justify my desire by filling it with a bounty of imagined wonderfulness: loyalty, sensitivity, humor, good taste, honesty, ambition... if the vessel is good in bed, it earns extra IQ points and loves its mother.
If the vessel -- I mean man -- sticks around long enough for me to get to know him, I will slowly find out that he does not precisely match the elaborate pencil drawing I made of him. He can be a perfectly nice person, but still he will disappoint my expectations again and again. And you know what men hate more than almost anything? Seeing that look of disappointment on a woman's face. After a passive-aggressive tug-of-war over who resents whom more, he usually hits the road and I am left wondering how I could have chosen another jerk who abandoned me.
It's a complex problem with, as it turns out, a simple solution: Reset your clock. The correct time is Now. Be here Now. Fantasy, romance and infatuation may take place in the past and the future, but relationships can only take place in the present.