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Jennifer Lehr

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Ill-Equipped? (Who Isn't?)

Posted: 10/05/06 09:41 PM ET

Jennifer Lehr answers your questions about sex, love, and relationships.

QUESTION: I am a "nice guy." My problem with women is that I treat them as human beings and not objects. We begin as friends and later if I grow attracted to them, I share my feelings with them. Almost without fail, the next thing out of their mouths is . . . "You are such a great friend. I would never want to do anything to jeopardize our special relationship." Which in reality means she is in no way attracted to me sexually. Nope, nyet, not gonna happen.

So I ask myself if I truly value this person's friendship I should swallow my pride and continue to be her friend. I have done this several times in the past and I just don't have the heart to do it
anymore. I have a job, I am considered "cute" by most standards. I am nice and fun and actually respect women and enjoy their company. I am tired of being alone but almost ready to give up! I am desperate and angry and frustrated and all alone. Help! -- Marvin, 42

ANSWER: Good news, Marvin! You've successfully identified a pattern in your life: You pursue women who aren't attracted to you. Your predicament has nothing to do with respecting women and not treating them like objects (which would be a ridiculous thing to do anyway). Rather, you keep trying to get new results with the same situation. Why do you keep doing this? Believe it or not, it has to do with the "tracks" in your brain.

"What the hell are you talking about Jennifer?" you're probably asking me.

Well Marvin, I was in a similar situation. I was perpetually attracted to boys/guys/men (that's how long this went on!) who were still hung up on another woman and thus not interested in a real relationship with me--despite the strong attraction between us. The guy--be it Gary, Adam, Jeff or Tom--and I really hit it off at first, but he was never willing to commit because he was still pining after someone else. I'd never be number one in his eyes and like you, Marvin, I felt desperate, angry, frustrated, and alone. It sucked.

What did I do? I went to therapy and talked. I talked about my parents. I talked about growing up. I talked about the men in/not in my life. I talked about their stupid, not-as-great-as-me exes that they were still talking on the phone with even though we were sleeping together. And I
carried on like this for a couple of years . . . frustrated, wondering when therapy would finally "work." Then one day in therapy, the light bulb in the closet of my brain was yanked.

I realized that these triangular relationships I was having with these guys who loved some other woman more than me, strongly resembled the relationship I had with my parents. You see, my dad and I saw the world the same way. We were two peas in a pod. And we'd get frustrated with my mom when she didn't see things the way we did. We'd gang up on her--telling her (not in the nicest way!) why what she thought wasn't right. And then I'd take it too far and my dad would turn on me, getting mad at me for hurting his wife, my mother!

This scenario with my parents played out over and over again throughout my youth, creating what my therapist called a "track" inside my brain. My therapist went on to explain that because we're naturally drawn to a previously hacked-out path, I was always attracted to guys in the
same situation.

Well, I'd never thought to think about relationships like that before! I couldn't believe this was the way the human mind worked--let alone therapy. Okay, fine, but what was I supposed to do now? Date someone I didn't connect with? To whom I wasn't attracted?

Exactly! Kind of. When I met my now-husband John, I couldn't have been less attracted to him. As a matter of fact, with his long hair, I thought he looked like a troll. My girlfriends, however, assured me that he was cute. But, I didn't see it. Why? Because I was only attracted to guys who put other women before me!

I couldn't believe tracks had such a transforming power on attraction. It was like light on color. Color isn't intrinsic, it changes with light. Likewise, looks aren't intrinsic, they change with tracks. So what did I do? I forced myself to date John PRECISELY because I wasn't attracted to him. I learned that that chemical, light-up-my-insides feeling meant CAUTION: TROUBLE AHEAD. It was such a relief to be dating a man who wanted to be with only me. And soon we did fall in love, but
that's a whole other story.

Around the time that I was struggling with this whole issue, I found this poem by Portia Nelson that was a huge help:

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
by Portia Nelson

I.
I walk down the street
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost...I am helpless
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find my way out.

II.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in, again.
I can't believe I am in this same place.
But , it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III.
I walked down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.
I still fall in...it's a habit...but,
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V.
I walk down another street.

So you see, Marvin, you're still walking down the same street with the deep hole. Right now, you ARE seeing the hole, but you're still falling in. At some point you'll get so sick and tired of falling in the hole that you'll walk around it. Perhaps discovering why you are attracted to women who aren't attracted to you will help. (But for that you'll probably need to go to therapy. It can be hard to figure out that stuff on your own.)

I know how hard it is to walk down the street, see the hole, and NOT step into it when your whole body is saying, "Get in that hole! You'll love it down there!" Here's what you should do, Marvin. If you meet a woman you like, DO NOT befriend her. You have plenty of women friends already! ASK HER OUT ON A DATE right away. I think you'll like walking down this new street. Believe me, it's a much better neighborhood.

----

About this column:

I called my memoir Ill-Equipped for a Life of Sex because that's exactly how I felt -- ill-equipped . . . not only for a life of sex, but for love and a relationship.

In high school I was a late bloomer and then found myself sleeping with the wrong boys for the wrong reasons. Things got worse in college. Tormented by my lack-of-love life, I endlessly wondered if I'd ever find someone who loved me, who I not only loved but loved sleeping with. It's no surprise that my fancy undergrad and graduate education were of no help when it came to these super-important parts of life. Where was the course on attraction, communication, love, commitment, sex, finances in a relationship?

It took hitting rock bottom at age 28, when I was constantly fighting with John -- the man I loved, with whom I was barely screwing -- to create my own ad hoc Relationships 101. I decided to do whatever it took to make our relationship work. My efforts to equip myself, as it were, landed me in therapy, in double sessions of couples therapy for three years, at a Making Marriage Work class, and in the self-help aisle of the bookstore. Almost ten years later, John and I are still together and I'm relieved to report that I feel pretty well equipped. (But now that I'm a new mom, I have a whole other area to feel ill-equipped about!)

So if you too are feeling ill-equipped, please e-mail me your questions at Jennifer@jenniferlehr.com and I'll do my best to be of some help. I look forward to hearing from you.

-- Jennifer Lehr

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