All my lovers are from the loony bin!

I swear, I cannot go out with a man who is not certifiably insane.

Published February 27, 2006 11:47AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I am a fairly normal 30-year-old woman, rather pretty, cultivated, open, warmhearted, reasonable and independent, with a number of problems from childhood on, but I worked pretty hard to face them and overcome them. I mean, I think, and people tell me the same, I am a nice person, who could make a good partner and deserves a good life.

Thing is, I had a rather peculiar love life: For some mysterious reason all the men I ever met told me I was the love of their lives, sometimes the first day we met, and all of them ended up in or were coming from a mental institution.

Among my list in the span of 12 years are (I am not making them up, I swear) a professional gigolo; an engineer with a violent temper who tried to strangle me; an activist anarchist on parole; an estate agent who left me pregnant, insisted on my having an abortion (not that I didn't want it, I was young and confused) and then dumped me because I was a "murderess"; a young man with a cancer (cured) and a depression; a schizophrenic wannabe monk too much attracted to the opposite sex, an academic with disguised homosexual tendencies; and finally three years ago, a psychotic Ph.D. student who raped me and then sued me for fighting back. (Yes! He eventually lost the case but, I mean, go figure.)

Then in 2003 I realized the problem must have been me. (I was already suspecting that before.) During the last episode I was already in analysis; therapy helped me go through the situation and acknowledge that with my behavior, at a subconscious level, I tried to attract only a certain type of man, abusive, full of himself, weak but domineering, overintellectual, a bit sadistic, with some sort of physical or psychic invalidism. (I did have an abusive father -- family pattern all right -- and I did read with profit the book "Women Who Love Too Much.")

This is strange enough because I don't stand abuse very well and react strongly, and in fact all these "love" stories have been rather short, never more than six or seven months, even though their repercussions on my psychological balance lasted much longer.

I don't mean I have no flaws, but I have been working on them pretty hard, and after the last horror experience I felt I was ready for commitment with a normal man.

To make a long story short, 10 months ago I met this guy who is different from my usual type: He is a single father with a job (programmer), and seems a bit weird but in a harmless way; he is creative, a bit boring, with a 9-to-5 life plus child, and seems good-tempered and very sweet. We live in different towns and we meet only for some days each month, but all along he calls me every day. I have a lot of doubts and fears with my background, but he manages to soothe them. And after a year and a half of analysis I feel different, less accepting of psycho behavior, so I really hope this is going to work.

But on the fourth meeting of this long-distance relationship he has a fit of temper that lasts three days -- he abuses me verbally, I cry all the time, and ... I don't leave him.

After that he apologizes for three weeks, doesn't want to lose me, and we are back together; perfect love as before and better apart from the fact that, as before, I have the feeling this is too good to be true.

Three months ago he asked me to go and live with him. After long reflection I answered yes, and two weeks ago I went to his hometown to get some details cleared down. He has another fit of temper; for days, he gets angry at almost everything I say, he yells at me, I yell back (I never yell!!). Stress is the cause, he says.

I go away very much in a dismal state and out of love, and want to end it; then he calls me to make this stunning revelation:

All through these 10 months he has been playing a part; he wanted me so much that he tried to be the perfect man for me, but because of this he lost all respect for himself (!), because he swallowed too many things (aka didn't let his bad temper come out), and henceforth he had to dump me in order to regain his self-respect. He said he faked being somebody he was not because he was afraid I wouldn't like him as he is -- but now he is afraid that the discrepancy between the fake and the real is too big and that our relationship won't work.

Now, apart from the fact that the man is seriously disturbed (I did have some clues before, but he seemed so good-natured, good-tempered, sweet and kind, just as I told him I wanted my man to be!), the problem for me is that the only decent (on paper) love story of my life, where I felt there was some mutual respect and love and the chance to head toward a "normal" life, has been a fake all along.

How can I go on living with this disillusionment? I mean, the others left me with damage, but this one left me with the consciousness that the few beautiful memories I have were a deceit on somebody's part. And I would say this qualifies as damage too. How can I ever trust a man again? How do I see if the next one is another nut case?

Done For

Dear Done For,

Your course of analysis will probably uncover the cues you respond to in these men that set them apart from the ordinary. There is probably something about them that draws you to them. Learning how to tell when you are attracted to a man of this type may not be easy, but I think it probably can be done. One way to approach it would be simply to, for a while, stay away from every man you are attracted to!

I am guessing that more men are attracted to you than you are attracted to. Why not ignore the men you are attracted to and go out with some of the men who are attracted to you but for whom you find no initial attraction? They may turn out to be a better bet. Because, obviously, relying on your own initial attraction has not worked.

In this way it may become apparent after a while what traits it is, exactly, that attract you to these troublesome men. It may be that they signal in some muted way a kind of vast pain and sadness; or it may be that what they have in common is a keen but perverse insight and empathy, something that allows them to flatter you and gain your trust. That is, these men may all be cons in one way or another.

Through this process, you might begin to ask what psychic needs you could be fulfilling by involving yourself with troublesome men. Do you want to help them or fix them somehow? Do you yourself feel a bit crazy, and is it therefore satisfying to be around men who also seem to be crazy? Do you find "sane" men boring? Why might that be? Is there some sane side of yourself that you have contempt for? Do you dream of a life far more passionate and exciting than the one you lead?

All these questions, I would think, would come up from time to time in your sessions with the analyst. Through prolonged and determined attention to these questions, I think you can eventually find out why these pairings have occurred, and begin to make choices that result in different kinds of pairings in the future.

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