For most of my life, I was the real problem in each of my romantic relationships. Every failure was ultimately mine.
I didn’t know that at the time, of course. If you had suggested it to me back then, I would have been aggressively defensive. I would have gotten angry. I could have explained clearly and reasonably why I was always blameless.
It wasn’t until I had gone through a lot of therapy — in bits and pieces, over a decade or so — that I finally came face to face with the demons that had stalked my life and shaped my actions.
I hadn’t been a bad person. I hadn’t been abusive in relationships. But the emotional demons within caused me to sabotage my relationships with poor decisions. And those demons gave me every excuse in the world to blame others.
I still live with those demons today. They still influence my thinking. They tell me I’ll never be good enough. They tell me that nobody will ever really love me. They tell me that I’m worthless unless I’m perfect. I now know these are lies, even though I have to keep learning that over and over.
What I’ve come to understand lately is that I need a woman who’s confronted her demons, too. That doesn’t mean I want a “perfect” partner. In fact, I’m not attracted to women who aren’t damaged in their own ways.
But I need a partner who’s already confronted her demons. I need a woman who’s already started to deal with those demons, not living in complete denial — as I did for so many years.
The first time I realized that a girlfriend was struggling with emotional demons was nearly 15 years ago. I was still in the midst of my own gradual transformation and growth, so I didn’t handle it as well as I wish I had. I was struggling to be emotionally aware enough to love her in a healthy way when her demons blindsided me.
I was already in love with the woman, but I was taken by surprise when her behavior suddenly showed that she was dealing with something dysfunctional which she didn’t understand. When we had a serious talk about it a couple of days later, I let her know she had to get counseling or else things weren’t going to work between us.
I was right to insist that she get help, but the truth is that I wasn’t as emotionally healthy myself as I assumed. We were both still struggling with problems we didn’t understand. I was further down the road toward understanding and healing from my own issues, but I still had much further to go than I realized.
With a lot of stops and starts — and a lot of drama and tears — that relationship eventually ended. If both of us had been healthier, I believe we would have been great together. But we weren’t healthy. I know she worked on herself over the next few years — and had both progress and setbacks — but I have no idea what her psychological health is today.
I’m certainly not saying that I’ve “arrived” at a point of perfect emotional health. There are things in my programming which I doubt I’ll ever completely get rid of. But I have a pretty good understanding of my issues and of where my triggers are.
Today, when I meet someone who’s a potential romantic partner, I’m eager for her to understand my family background and which insecurities I’m still dealing with. I’m much better today at recognizing the signs that a woman is dealing with her own emotional dysfunction, so I’m always eager to figure out where she is in her growth.
I went through a relationship in which a woman was very closed to getting into the issues she was clearly dealing with, but because I wanted a future with her, I simply had faith that she would figure things out in time — if I just loved her and was patient with her.
I’m to the point in my own life — and in my own psychological development — at which I can’t just hope a woman is eventually going to be willing to deal with her issues. I need a woman who understands where her own “landmines” are buried. I need her to be actively dealing with the issues — and I need her to want to be just as transparent with me as I’ll be with her.
I believe that many of us are broken on the inside — to one degree or another — but that doesn’t mean we can’t be fully functioning and healthy most of the time. I also believe that those who have hidden emotional damage often function best with someone who’s dealt with complementary damage.
Women who haven’t experienced emotional issues — usually through family problems — don’t typically seem very interesting to me. But someone who has issues which haven’t been dealt with are going to be just as unintentionally toxic in their relationships as I was at one time.
I don’t mind emotional damage. I don’t mind psychological dysfunction. I can deal with quirks and problems of all sorts — just as long as a woman is dealing with her issues openly and is able to work through things together.
I’ve experienced what it’s like to love someone who sweeps her issues under a rug and pretends they’re not there. I’m not going to try that again. That kind of love won’t work — for either one of us.