Crazy choices explained, maybe

It’s often difficult to comprehend why people choose the mates they do. There’s the classic case of the attractive professional woman paired off with the layabout and perhaps abusive man, a situation that comes in a variety of flavors. There’s the quiet guy with the overbearing, endlessly carping wife. There are the women who seem determined to wind up with an active alcoholic or drug addict, and date not just one but a parade of such types. Why do people make the choices they do? I am not a psychology expert and have no interest in what those who are have to say, at least for purposes of this post. Instead I’ll do my best to explain my own patterns and how they have been both adaptive and maladaptive.

I have often told people that I don’t have a “type.” When I was 24, I started seeing a 30-year-old and this lasted about 2 1/2 years. After that ended I dated someone my age for about 3 1/2 years. After taking a couple of years off (excepting a brief and forgettable dalliance), I started seeing a 20-year-old at age 33; this lasted, again, about 2 1/2 years. Then it was back to someone my age for about six months, and then I wound up with someone several years older than me for an indeterminate length of time. The careers of these women ranged from student to nurse to engineer to part-time retail clerk. In other words, they’re all over the map.

However, if I look for similarities instead of differences, they are numerous and stark. I wil argue that I haven’t done this on purpose, but I unquestionably gravitate toward thin, physically attractive people who are serious runners. As a group they have been intellectuals in some way — if not necessarily brilliant, extremely well-read and engaged with the vicissitudes of the world around them to an unusual extent. They have almost all been brunette, but then again so are most people. (I’ve never dated a blonde, for what that is worth.) More to the point, four of the five at some point in their lives occupied the same page in the DSM-IV, and I land on a nearby one. I’ve been privy to social anxiety, eating disorders, OCD, bipolar disorder and even low-grade psychosis. Yes, everyone has “issues” to some extent and there is no neat barrier between “normal” and “troubled”; it’s more of a psychological DMZ. (I am not seeking to compare these women to one another and out of fairness I’m not going to go into any more detail than necessary, even if it compromises the message here to some extent.) The one “normal” woman in this group, naturally, was the one I broke up with. She was free of pathology, kind as hell, had a great job as a department manager, and loved me to death. And it wasn’t enough. The other four relationships ended in various indistinct, booze-addled ways. These four had levels of self-confidence far below what they “should” have had based on their smarts, looks and accomplishments; that they had self-esteem issues is true almost by definition, given the person they were willing to date. While this, sadly enough, may apply to most women, it’s noteworthy that the one truly airheaded person I dated as an adult (the “dalliance” mentioned above) had an inflated sense of her attractiveness and abilities across the board. Each one of these women were willing to put up with a lot of my mayhem and bullshit, perhaps because they didn’t imagine themselves winding up with someone less unruly. Besides, between periods of rampant dysfunction, I’m a pretty decent fellow. (Yeah, that’s akin to saying that Sarah Palin comes across as composed and reasonable between periods of opening her mouth, but there you go.)

Then there’s me. As best as I can tell, I’ve never lacked for self-confidence per se, and if I am attracted to someone I am apt to go for it as long as I have good reason to believe the interest is reciprocal. My lifestyle and general regard for myself, however, keeps me from pursuing anyone who seems obnoxiously free of psychological problems. I like to be up front about being an occasional substance abuser and general fuckup when I meet new people, and I have a much easier time doing this with women who have problems of their own, although I have never had an actively addicted or alcoholic girlfriend. So the end result has invariably been relationships with almost limitless capacity for explosive chaos. As true as this has always been, I can’t see myself ever having done anything differently. I had a very intense virtual relationship with a very high-aiming, well-adjusted career woman a few years ago, one of these weirdos who literally cannot comprehend the fact that people exist who really do feel suicidal. When we met in person, despite our similarities in other respects and a physical connection, the whole shooting match went belly-up at once. With me it seems to be bedlam — usually mine but often someone else’s — or nothing. I don’t like this pattern but I see few alternatives, and at this point this post is headed in the direction of the why-I’m-unfit-for-dating quartet of dour posts I puked onto this blog four years ago.

I will say that — with the help of people in “the field” — I’ve started figuring out why, for example, women with alcoholic fathers gravitate toward drunken mates, and guys with mothers who constantly yelled at them wind up with wives who henpeck them to death. When you only know one way to establish an intimate connection — or as intimate a connection as you’re going to have with a given type of person — then it’s inevitable that you’ll return to it. Failing to please a parent who has a liquor or anger problem reliably leads not to seeking mates who are eager to please and be pleased, but to chasing men or women who put up the same roadblocks. There’s comfort, such as it is, in the familiar.

I can say all of these things freely because I am on hiatus. I have every good reason in the world to chill and be single for the foreseeable future, and no reason at all to drag anyone into my throbbing sphere of self-loathing (it’s not there often but when it is it’s thermonuclear) and canted ambitions. Sometimes I wish I had been born a eunuch, as I think I would have served humanity much better to this point had this been the case. But whereas in the past I pretended to not care about my inability to this point to forge lasting, hostility-free relationships — and even to take bizarre pleasure in this — I’ll admit now that it sucks. I don’t like leaving scars on people’s minds or carrying around my own mental nicks and abrasions. Given my goals for the next year or so it’s just as well that I fly solo, but I also have to acknowledge how wonderful the many good times I’ve shared with this caring and compassionate gang of she-beasts have been. I regret a ton of things I have done with my life, but none of the ladies I have shacked up with are among those regrets.

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  1. #1 by danaruns on August 12, 2011 - 7:00 pm

    Kevin, I’m sure there’s some thin, athletic, brunette, marginally functional woman out there who wants to fix you up into a nice, marginally functional man. And the two of you will live satisfactorily ever after.

  2. #2 by kemibe on August 13, 2011 - 8:26 am

    While your optimism is appreciated, Dana, bear in mind that somewhere out there is a crack-addicted woman meeting at least some of those criteria who would be willing to fellate me in a tipped-over outhouse for ten bucks. Also, my examples in this post notwithstanding, the same concepts obviously apply to same-sex relationships — I’m sure the root dynamic is no different.

  3. #3 by Brenda Towle on September 10, 2011 - 8:30 pm

    mmm nice… but why the prejudice against blondes? As i recall charlotte was a blonde, u are a blonde… perhaps u are cutting yourself off to a lot of hot intelligent chicks… haha Hope springs eternal :)

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