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Walking Into Walls

Lately, I’ve been triggered by people who remark on the compatibility of others. Compatibility at its root is a meeting of equals. It has nothing to do with superficialities and everything to do with shared values in how you show up to relationship. I got my hackles raised when someone pointed out that the issue with my emotionally unavailable man was “compatibility.” That has nothing to do with it. It had everything to do with a re-enactment of trauma, for me and for him.

Someone who is emotionally unavailable lacks the requisite empathy for moving a relationship forward. At the point in relationship where intimacy should deepen, they pull out their exit strategies and use them to full effect to cripple any chances of real intimacy.

But that’s their issue. Whether or not they look at it is up to them. Men who realize they are not equal to a woman bolt and leave the relationship.

My issue, however, is that at some point I was taught to consistently betray myself in order to stay connected and acceptable to my abusive parents. I was not taught a healthy self-interest or self-protection. This has led to many caretaking behaviors that have left me feeling embarrassed, inauthentic, and heartbroken.

For example, in my latest relationship, we had been dating for two years. We had at some point agreed to date each other and not be on dating sites.  My lover kept claiming he did not want to date more than one person at once. However, I discovered that he was on a dating site and confronted him about it. He told me we weren’t going anywhere in our relationship and that he was just looking to see what was out there. He also told me that he didn’t want to disrupt our relationship. Wanting to avoid acknowledging the obvious rejection under his mixed signals, I focused instead on taking care of him and making sure he was comfortable in our relationship. I told him it was ok for him to shop as long as he didn’t talk to any other women. I completely ignored my feelings and sacrificed my sense of safety and security so he could have his cake and eat it too. This resulted in him “shopping” on my birthday and claiming he did not have the internet access to wish me a happy birthday. He claimed he was ready to move on, as he has done before, yet he never really “moved in” to the relationship. I was disappointed in him, yes, but more so in myself because I saw all the signs that he was textbook avoidant and ignored them.

In our ending conversation, it was evident that he was still hung up on his ex-wife, and he completely idealized their relationship even though he’d been critical and absent with her, too. He absolutely could not identify his place in the dance enough to heal himself.

I was embarrassed that I had allowed such disrespect to permeate my life once more, and to sacrifice my good will and sense of who I am to once again walk on eggshells.

Compatibility is not the issue. Compatibility is a terrible way to frame the dance between two people when looking from the outside. Plenty of people look compatible on paper yet are miserable together. Plenty of couples confound us with their seeming lack of superficial harmony yet have a rich and secure relationship. Compatibility is built out of mutual respect and willingness to learn from each other. A person who has cut themselves off from their emotions will either a) find normal people and scare them away with their lack of relational skills or b) seek a similarly disordered partner, usually on the over-feeling end of the “avoiding feelings” scale- someone whose drama and big feelings make the unfeeling one feel important for once in his life. Their relationships will be limited.

For a caretaker, the addiction to fixing someone is insidious and controlling. It is no wonder an emotionally unavailable person runs from such a part. They don’t want to feel suffocated or controlled. There is a level of time, care, and interest that sustains a relationship. But a caretaker will do it without it being reciprocal, and someone who can’t receive love just sees that as smothering.

In the presence of my sweet therapist, I learned that the way out of this is to hold myself to a higher standard of authenticity. I need to speak up for my wants, needs, and desires. I need to be able to receive love myself and not hide behind men who cannot give back. I need to realize I am the prize and it is not too much to ask for more than just basic human respect. In her words, I need to “put on my strap on and be equal” and fake it til I make it.

One theme that underlies all of my healing is grieving and being on a path of grief. Under the compulsion to “fawn” (as Pete Walker labels it) is a learned association with having to grovel in order to receive crumbs of relationship. I’m just repeating a pattern, and I cry when I think of how that little girl that was me was taught that she wasn’t worth much more than taking care of her parents’ feelings; of constantly kow-towing to a violent narcissist.

The struggle is real, the pain is deep, and the strap-on is strapped on.

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