I'm drawn to dark, brooding men

They don't make good boyfriends, but I keep coming back for more. Why?

By Cary Tennis
Published May 11, 2009 10:24AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

It's always been obvious to me that for whatever reason, I'm attracted to the dark-and-brooding type of man. Recently I had a deeper insight into this attraction and what it says about me. Honestly? It scared the wits out of me. I'm just not sure how to move forward with this newfound insight, specifically when it comes to my relationships with men.

On the surface I am an upbeat and optimistic person. I have experienced some traumatic events in my life, and the world loves to marvel at my strength and ability to "overcome" my obstacles. So I give the world what they want, put on my happy face, and go about my life with cheer and grace. But truthfully, I'm a profoundly sad person much of the time. Acknowledging all of this is what makes me feel OK about it -- I have self-awareness, I know that I have some issues that I work on the best I can, etc. I'm not going to be melodramatic about it. For the most part I suck it up and it's fine. I don't mope my way through life, there's just an underlying melancholy to it all.

My realization was: I am drawn to these men because I recognize my own misery when I look into their eyes (even without realizing initially that's what is going on). On some level I think: Finally, a kindred soul who can validate the true me. The problem is they are so wrapped up in themselves that they can't even see my misery, much less crawl out of their own self-pity long enough to validate it. They reinforce my negativity by mirroring it, when what I am looking for is relief -- if not relief from the negativity itself, then the relief from hiding it all of the time.

So now I know all of this. What now? I am in the early stages of a relationship with a man I adore. I just can't get enough of him, and it's been smooth sailing until recently, when he very suddenly went from "you make me happy" to "I am in a dark place and you can't help me find my way out" -- which is precisely what prompted my little insight. Until those words were uttered I hadn't even realized I had yet again found myself with a brooder! I know from experience that the men that sink into themselves when they are unhappy are impossible to build a life with. I am going to have to disengage from this relationship somehow, even though I am half in love with this man already. So really, what now? Now that I know this is my problem, how do I get past it? What do I do to turn this knowledge into action and actually make myself able to fall for a well-adjusted man? Because when I look into that kind of man's eyes, I feel nothing.

I am hoping I am looking at this from the wrong angle and you can help make some sense of what I should do next.

The What-Now? Lady

Dear What-Now? Lady,

Here is a clue to why these relationships with "dark and brooding" men always turn sour, why you will always find such a man insufficient to your needs. He is, in a sense, in competition for your darkness. That is, because you are substituting a relationship with him for a relationship with your own dark side, you will soon find that he does not measure up. Not only that, but your own dark avatar will see him as competition. It is not fed by his presence. It needs you! You are expending your energy and attention on him, but your own genuine dark side wishes to have your attention. So you feel empty after being with him. He cannot match the true richness of your own inner demon, your own version of the dark soul, your own hidden knowledge. So you end up resenting him, perhaps hating him, because you expend all this energy on him and do not get what you need.

So you have to fall in love with your own dark self. Hear it. Encourage it. Protect it. Give it what it needs.

And make sure it is heard. It's not going to be heard by him. It can only be heard by you.

At the risk of showing once again that I have no boundaries, and without getting into a lot of detail, let's just say that in my own therapy I do some talking to certain creatures who aren't literally in the room, and perhaps you will hear something you can relate to here.

So I'm working on money issues with my therapist. She suggests I take a test that will tell me what "money type" I am. So I take the test and it says I am pretty high on the "victim/martyr" type.

Through some role-playing (we actually let these characters speak) I made contact with this victim/martyr avatar within me, this diminutive devil of failure and quitting. I have thereby come to understand that this particular little devil-man, this little martyr fellow, wants me to fail. Why? Failure, for this little man, is exquisite victory. All he wants to do is quit and go home. If I fail, he can quit. He is monumentally unimpressed with my accomplishments. Inasmuch as he views human striving as vain and pointless, he is at once a destructive devil but also a sort of wise and pure presence. It is like having an anarchic personal god who works both for and against you. He is allied with feeling as well as chaos. He is of the soul, of the earth and pain and muck and blood and death. He is the earthy avatar of our animal nature; he does not want to soar, he wants to burrow.

He is often allied with the trickster. To the extent that this martyr can fail by acting up in class, or blowing some assignment in extravagant fashion, the martyr and the trickster form alliances. The trickster is amused by failure, pratfall, extravagant plots come to nothing, magnificent dreams that died. The martyr likes such things because they mean that he can go home to bed.

What more can be said about this avatar of self who allies itself with dark and brooding others, who seems to wish for destruction and failure? Is it a death wish? Is it resentment? Is it a way of hiding? Is it protective?

Is failure protective?

Think about it: Failure achieves a great deal. Failure permits us to retreat to safety. It allows us to shut the door and retreat. The soul needs solitude, warmth and safety.

"Self-destructive" behaviors do meet some needs. "Dark and brooding" says some things that are essentially true: Dark and brooding says that sunny and bright is mostly bullshit. It says I know you and you are not that happy. Which we know and which delights us to hear. It says It is OK to be real. We crave this. We crave the mirror of our own earthy hunger.

So what I encourage you to do is explore this dark side as it exists within you, not as it is mirrored back at you superficially by men of a certain type. Find the analogous archetypes or avatars in your own personality. Perhaps you can find a therapist who can help you with this -- perhaps one trained in "existential" or "somatic" methods.

I commend you on your way, and hope you find someone trusted and strong and true who can guide you through this.

Don't be afraid. We are all complex beings, full of dark and contradictory forces.

Interested in the dark side? There's stuff in here about that

Makes a great gift. Can be personalized for the giftee of your choice. Signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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