Little girls love their dads. And if they’re lucky, their dad’s love them right back in a healthy, safe, abundant way. And so, when girls grow up and go out into the world of dating, they look for that man. It’s the only man they know, really. For a very long time. And whether he be the perfect guy or not, compatibility-wise, it doesn’t matter. That’s the guy every girl wants. Eventually, if a father and daughter have a healthy relationship, the daughter will feel safe enough to realize that her dad’s not going anywhere, he’ll always be there for her, and so, she is free to find someone that suits her personality and type a little better, without the guilt of feeling like she’s abandoning her dad. And so, she stops looking for her father in everyone she dates and that gives her the freedom to find a heathy partner.
That, to me, is the ideal if you had a healthy dad. But what if you didn’t?
What if, like me, you had a father who was neglectful, avoidant and also addicted to drugs and alcohol. Who was a narcissist. A gambler. And a sex addict. A man who was more into making money and becoming rich than having an adult relationship with his children.
Well, you love that man too! How could you not. He is the first, the only man you know. And so when you grow up, you go out into the world and look for that type of man. BUT, what if you had a mother who warned you incessantly not to find a man who was an alcoholic? You’re getting two messages and you are open to choosing which one is right for you. So, without feeling like you are betraying your dad, you go out and find men just like him, but who don’t drink. Problem solved, right?
Because now comes the point where a healthy person would say, “I love my dad, but in spite of that, his personality doesn’t mesh with mine, and so, I need to let him go because he’ll always be there for me, and this will allow me the freedom to find someone who is more compatible for me.” But YOU can’t say it. Because you know that if you abandon your dad, he will not come back. You know if you find another “type” of guy, your dad will disappear forever and that scares the crap out of you. So…whether your dad’s type is good for you or not, you try to find him in every man you meet.
I did this myself for years, without realizing it. Almost every guy I ever dated was avoidant or addicted or just plain weird. And when they weren’t, they scared me to death and I ran. And despite the fact that they never looked like my dad or drank (I thought I was so clever) they were indeed treating me the same way he did.
Eventually, when I started to do a lot of soul searching and recovery from love addiction, I realized something: as children we have no choice in what parents we get. We get what we get. And whether that person be a loving father or an avoidant, mean, abusive or neglectful father…we STILL LOVE HIM, unconditionally. Until, of course, we get older. Then we get angry and withdrawal if he wasn’t all that great etc. But the child in us simply LOVES people no matter who they are, and as adults, if we do not grow up with loving parents, we learn that it’s OK to love avoidant, neglectful, drug addicted people because, heck, we’ve been doing it all our lives. That it feels frustrating to us is just part of the equation!
But, it doesn’t have to be!
We need to realize that it’s OK to let dad go. And that he will still be there, just not as we would like. He will still be the neglectful, avoidant dad you always had, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Except this: find someone who isn’t like him. To begin to make this change, it has to come from your brain and the way you think, more so than from your heart, and the way you feel. You have to start to believe that it’s NOT OK to accept avoidant, neglectful people in your life. It means that YOU yourself must be committed to higher expectations (even though that’s scary). And it also means that, while a child cannot choose her parent, an adult CAN CHOOSE what mate he or she has. Being with neglectful people doesn’t feel good! It doesn’t make you happy! You didn’t like to experience when it came from your parents, so why drag that yucky feeling into your adulthood?! Why on earth would we CHOOSE the same kind of character as an avoidant parent if it didn’t work for us as kids? That sort of frustration and loneliness does NOT go with the territory of love. It may have been what you learned, but I am telling you, you had bad teachers.
But why do we keep finding ourselves attracted to the same character over and over again? Simple. Because we look for what we know and what we recognize as love. If you had an avoidant parent, you will search out an avoidant parent in your adult life because it is what you know. And more importantly, you are making choices with your heart, not your head. So, how do we CHANGE this dysfunctional pattern?
It’s easier than you think…
We start by making decisions with our head, not our heart. The child in you inherently believed it was OK to love your parents unconditionally, no matter what they did to you. A child loves unconditionally for survival. And because she doesn’t know any better. But as adults, we cannot love this way or we’d always be in grave danger. For example, most of us have the condition that we will not date anyone who has murdered someone else. That would be preposterous, right? And yet, we tend not to think of it as a condition of a relationship, but it is. Just an extreme one. Subconsciously, we know, “I will not date an axe murderer.” Easy. But what about something a bit more ambiguous? What about the condition that you will not continue to date someone that hits you, or cheats on you or is married? Not as extreme as murder, but now we’re getting into an area where more people would overlook that condition, while others wouldn’t. How about the condition that you will not continue to date someone who ignores you? Ouch. Most love addicts lack this condition. It is here where we say to ourselves, “I need to love him unconditionally.” This belief in “unconditional love” is 100% FALSE. We all have conditions, some of us just don’t have enough!
We must set conditions (I also call them values, or expectations) for everyone we meet. You have them already and probably don’t know about them because you never gave it much thought. But the truth is we learned from our parents how to set our conditions, our values and our expectations of others. And if your parents were neglectful, abusive, unloving, you learned to accept those conditions. Well, guess what, if you want to get healthier, it’s time to add a few more conditions. For more on this read More on Values, and Unconditional Love.
Lastly, I am glad that you realize that you’re own sense of availability is at play here. When you grow up with an unavailable parent, there’s little to no expectations put on you for intimacy. You didn’t learn it and others certainly didn’t expect it from you. If that’s the case, all the meditation and mindfulness in the world won’t help. You need to, instead, take an inventory of your friends and start to see what kind of friendships you have. Are they longterm? Solid? Loving? Intense? Short-term? Happy? Fraught with difficulty? Are they intimate???? However your friendship are, that is a window into how your romantic relationships might be. If you’re not happy with the state of your friendships, it’s time to work on them. If you are happy with your friendship, it’s time to put your romantic expectations on the same level.
Lastly (really lastly this time), when we are addicted, when we are obsessed, when we ruminate, it’s not so much as a way to “cope” with our relationship as it is a way to avoid ourselves, avoid our fear, avoid growing up. All that drama and obsession and hyper-focus on the relationship or the person, does what? Does it bring you any closer? No. What it DOES do is DISTRACT you from your crummy, lonely, sad, unfulfilling life. And that is what this is all about. The void you think you feel and how to fill it.