I'm dangerous

I force good men to leave and keep the bad ones. What's wrong with me?

Published April 7, 2003 9:06PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I have let more than one really good man walk out (more accurately, I have forced them out) of my life while always trying too hard to keep all of the wrong men in it.

Now I am faced with the possibility (slim as it is, there is no reason this person should trust that I won't repeat what I did four years ago) that I may have a second chance with one of them. The problem is that I don't trust myself not to do what I did four years ago -- which was basically pull a 180 and unceremoniously dump him on his ass with nothing more than vague explanations and a request for solitude.

Whenever I get to the point that I may really get what I purport to want -- a life partner and family -- I go into fits of claustrophobia coupled with an irrational need to exert my independence from my partner (never, never have any of the "good" ones denied me my own identity, interests or privacy. I mean it when I say this is all me here). So here's the dilemma: If I really wanted to "settle down" -- and at this moment I believe I do -- wouldn't I have already walked down the aisle? All three of the men I have refused were wonderful, sensitive, successful people who shared my interests and turned me on both physically and mentally. Our breakups have baffled friends and families alike, and I have lost more than a few from being the (rightfully) perceived bad guy.

Now let's take a look at the guys I threw these gems over for. A narcissistic control freak, Mr. Peter Pan, and a combination of both without any of the other two's good points. At best they were ambivalent about my interests, and me, and at worst they took an active dislike of everything about my life and required massive changes -- all while I was expected to support (sometimes financially, always emotionally) them. And here's the kicker -- these guys broke my heart so completely I can't even begin to describe it.

So, what is wrong with me? Am I a cliché, a commitment-phobe who can't admit it to herself? Am I doomed to repeat this pattern in order to repay some romantic wrong I committed in a past life? Should I just lock myself in a tower somewhere so as not to be a romantic danger to myself and others?

I want to be in a healthy relationship, and now being presented with a second chance with one of the good ones, I feel I need to know if I'm going to repeat this pattern -- or better yet how not to repeat it. I'd like to think that the way I acted in my 20s is now a thing of the past (I'll be 30 this year), but then I think I'm taking the easy way out by blaming it on youth. What I do know is the last thing I want to do is break his heart, or mine, again.

The Romantic Hazard

Dear Hazard,

What could possibly be the problem? As you approach me you step gingerly over the bodies of the men you have slain, your shining face that of a promising debutante whose gown is spattered with blood; you say you just don't understand what happened, why you did that, you want so very awfully much to do good, but things keep turning out so wrong and you don't know what on earth could be the problem.

Sometimes the last thing we want to do in the world is also the first thing we want to do in the world. In the language of the unconscious, that is. Breaking hearts is an act of revenge on the dull who have tried to enslave you; having your heart broken is a way of ecstatic atonement for all those innocent hearts broken. So you go back and forth, breaking the hearts of the good, dull men, then letting the bad men chain you up in a dungeon and burn you.

It is a curious kind of schizophrenia: You say you have done all these things and have no idea why, as if you didn't want to, as if you were possessed. And indeed I suppose you have been possessed -- by the same spirit of the madwoman that possesses many passionate, creative women who sense death in conformity and imprisonment in motherhood, who recognize the soul sacrifice that lies ahead if they opt for safety and security, and who also probably sense something familiar when they meet a likely mate: They sense their own parents and whatever sad, compromised passion they nursed or abandoned, or their own failed promise, or their own sacrifice, the sacrifice they made for you, their daughter, so you could grow up and do the same. And you don't want to do the same. And who could blame you? Because the world of good and happy and stable is a world of weakness and emasculation and enslavement.

This is all deep stuff. Read any Sylvia Plath lately? Know what I mean? There are prisons of comfort and prisons of normalcy: There are prisons that consist of getting what you want. It's not a paradox, it's the friggin' truth: Getting what you want is life's biggest disappointment. How can that be so? Because getting what you want puts an end to the dream that something better awaits you.

So the thing is, if you have a dream -- to be an artist, to work for an end to torture, to design leather restraint devices, to work for the U.N. -- whatever your dream is, you just have to set about working toward it a little bit every day, and accept that that's all you can do. That's the only road to salvation. Because only then are you working every day to complete your mission on earth.

About this guy: I wouldn't get involved with him right away. You're too much in the grip of something you only barely understand. The way you are now, you're just going to grind this guy up and spit him out again. I think you need to go deeply into your own poetic nature. You need to see some visions. I would study the powerful female unconscious; I would read some Sylvia Plath; I would take a look at goddess religions. Take a look at Artemis. Notice the symbols that call to you, and follow them where they lead.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read Friday's column.

By Cary Tennis

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