I chose the wrong man again!

I got into therapy, dealt with my issues and thought I was cured. So why am I engaged to another crazy guy?

Published April 18, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                         (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Reader,

As kids, we loved the pitchmen and hucksters of used cars who wore plaid jackets and stood in car lots festooned with bunting and bellowed out their slogans on the black-and-white television screens of our 1960s Florida. My dad, a born ham, would join in the fun, narrating our antics using the radio voice he acquired as a radio man in the 1950s. So, being dedicated not only to dispensing hard-won wisdom but to providing some modicum of entertainment -- even at my own expense! --  I offer here for your amusement my first blatant, tasteless and bizarre attempt at a video advertisement, 

It's all in fun. (What's with that bit where I scratch my neck? What's up with that?!) But seriously, I'm not joking about the workshops. If you've been in a workshop, you know how great it is. So come on down! We've got some chairs to fill!--ct

Dear Cary,

I have a heartbreaking scenario. My boyfriend and I met about seven months ago. From the first date, through the first six months, everything was perfect. We have similar interests, political and religious views, amazing chemistry, workout habits and just easily fit into each other's lives like we'd known each other forever. He's been amazing and supportive with every aspect of my life. We always feel like there is never enough time together, that 80 years will not be enough time.

As for background, he is divorced after 10 years of a horrible marriage with a bipolar woman and an 11-year-old daughter. I've never married, but have had many long-term and short-term relationships.

I have an old history of picking classic "unavailable" men who treated me badly, or were inappropriate. I spent a lot of time in therapy dealing with that in the last few years and have come to be very happy and healthy. I've spent plenty of time being "alone," just enjoying my life. Once I reached my later 30s, I decided to settle down and find someone with whom to share my life and start a family. When I met my BF seven months ago, I thought I had struck gold. Everything was so wonderful and perfect. We both literally woke up every day and felt so grateful and lucky that we met each other. Early in our relationship, I confirmed that he wanted to have a family (at least one more child). Everything was perfect. Seven months doesn't sound like much, I know. But I'm almost 40 and I've been through hell and back in romantic relationships. Up until now, I had never been in such a great, healthy relationship with open and honest communication. We were both in awe of our lives.

About month ago, we started talking about getting married. We were both extremely excited. We looked at rings and wedding sites. He bought me a brides magazine. I made a down payment on a site (for next year, so we'd have time to really get to know each other). We were excited and happy and planning for our future.

But alas, things quickly went downhill. First, he started having reservations about being able to afford a wedding and a ring. I wasn't too disappointed because I've never really been one to daydream about a big wedding or diamond rings. However, I was concerned that he would not want to have more children. After an extremely painful, but civil and respectful, week of discussions, he revealed that he is incapable of planning more than one day at a time. And he admitted that he does not want to have more children. During our long conversations, he revealed to me that one major issue that prevents him from having children is that he was sexually abused when he was a child by a relative. It was a scary week, but in the end he promised me that he would see a therapist (his idea). He said that our relationship was the first that ever made him want to face those difficult experiences and become healthy. I knew that the road ahead would be challenging, but basically decided that if children was our only issue, that I'd stay with him and try to make it work. I love him an awful lot and I know he loves me. I could not throw away something so special for a world of unknowns. (Could I even have children at this age? Would I ever meet someone at this age who wants children? Can I stomach dating again?) I decided to stay with him and make it work, provided that he followed through on his promise to seek therapy.

After that was "resolved," I went away for a weekend alone to clear my head. We were totally fine and I felt really good that we were on a path to becoming stronger and closer. The first night I was away, he called and texted me a several times to tell me how much he missed me and loved me. I went to to bed thinking everything was fine. Well, then he got REALLY drunk and could not reach me, so he started accusing me of sleeping with someone else. It was really, really awful. The next morning, we talked and he apologized and drove out to meet me. I did not get upset about it ... we just spent the rest of the weekend together and it was fine. The promise of therapy remained on the table.

Then a few days later, I asked if he'd researched therapists and he basically said that was on the back burner. He said he had too many financial (and other problems) that he could not focus on therapy and dealing with the deeper, more painful issues. He admits that he's unable to be in a healthy relationship, but is unwilling to do anything about it. He calls himself a "freak" and "damaged." We've both been trying to hold on, but things have quickly spiraled out of control.

As weeks have progressed, other problems have popped up. His daughter hates me and wants nothing to do with me. He says that I am not trying hard enough. But I cannot push it with her because she literally hates me. She ignores me when I speak to her and often even looks angry in my presence. I want to try, but it's very hard to break through her shell. At first I figured it was normal preteen angst. But it has since become extremely stressful for me to deal with. He totally blames me for that failure.

He also has a dysfunctional relationship with his wife. She is extremely mean to him. Yet they text all day long and often into the night. He is unfazed by her horrible behavior and totally enables it. He confessed that she has taken her clothes off in front of him (for instance, she came out of shower once while he was picking his daughter up and took her towel off in front of him and asked to have sex). She's hit on him several times. They have no personal boundaries whatsoever. I am quite certain that she has turned her daughter against me.

Over the weekend, I discovered that he's Facebook friends with her. I find that totally inappropriate, yet he says it's no big deal and totally does not understand why that would bother me.

As we've been dealing with (and now fighting about) these other issues, I found out that he's been logging into my email accounts (I've since changed the passwords). He cannot explain why he does it, just that he's damaged and doesn't know why I'd want to be with him.

I put a lock on my phone last night, and he acted hurt that I'd do such a thing.

Last weekend, he accused me of sleeping with someone else when he was drunk.

He doesn't get drunk every day, but when he does he gets extremely insecure and down on himself. There is no talking to him when he is like that. So many horrible things have come to light during those episodes. He has insecurities about money, about being good enough for me. Yet he refuses to work on any of them. He just sent me a text, acknowledging that he has "codependency issues" with his ex-wife, and that most of our problems are his fault. But he cannot see any way to fix them.

We fight literally nonstop. It's at the point where every single conversation turns into a major blowout.

Some of our fights have turned nasty ... where I call him crazy and fucked up. I've said awful things. So has he. After the fights, we apologize and tell each other that we love each other and want to make this work. And everything is fine for a couple of hours. But then another fight happens, he admits that he is a freak and damaged. Yet he still refuses to see a therapist.

Before all of the horrible things above came to light, everything was perfect. I think we got into one or two arguments for the first six months.

Should I just move on now? As I read the above, the answer should be obvious. He's just not healthy enough for a committed "normal" relationship. But I have a history of cutting people loose really easily when I am scared or feel like I am going to get hurt. I get sad, and then frustrated and then angry and then give up to protect myself from being hurt. I am on the cusp of doing just that.

But I know he is a wonderful man, who is in deep pain because he was abused, who has been running from that pain for 35 years. If therapy worked, he could face all of the other problems (break codependency with ex-wife, plan a future with me, lose some insecurities).

I know I cannot make someone change, or seek therapy. But he was the first one to acknowledge it and even offered to go himself. Now that he's backtracked on that promise, should I just walk away?


Dear Blindsided,

There is a principle at work here. The principle is that we do not get cured. Therapy helps but it does not erase the past or change who we are.

Your  "old history" of picking men who treat you badly is not really so old. It is right here in the present. You are doing it right now. You're still the same person who gets in relationships with men who are unavailable and treat you badly. You are still doing what you have always done.

I don't say that in a mean way. I am saying, Welcome home. This is who you are. There is no shame in being who you are. You may always be drawn to men like this. That doesn't mean you need to get into relationships with them. You have to learn how to look out for yourself.

I suggest you get out of this relationship. Retreat and find safety in your accustomed routine. Wish him well. You cannot fix this. There might be a future but he is going to have to do some changing on his own. He may come back to you one day, a changed man, but as you say, you have no control over that.

Meanwhile, if you can return to your therapist and talk about what you have learned, I suggest you do so. If not, then find a group of people like yourself, people who tend to choose the unavailable and the destructive, and spend some time reminding yourself of who you are and what you tend to do. Find a program for daily living that takes into account this tendency of yours.

Therapy did help you but it did not cure you of yourself. Paradoxically, by making you feel better, it may have led you to the illusion that you can now go out and follow your instincts and things will work out fine.

The liberating kernel of truth one wishes would come from therapy is that you cannot escape your own nature. You must live with yourself as you are. A part of you will always be lit up by such men. You must learn to recognize that phenomenon with love and detachment, to say, "Aha, I recognize this: This man is another avatar of that old, ancient illusion of magic; I will always have a weakness for such men."

If, however, you confuse feeling better with being cured, you will have no defense against such scenarios as your current one.

If you can accept your essential nature, then you can live with it. You can find a man with whom the chemistry is fundamentally different, not so intoxicating, not so magical, but workable -- as you say, "healthy."

I suggest you sever relations with this man and get back into therapy, and look into living a life grounded in the recognition of your essential nature. There is something in you pulling you toward these men, some hunger for completion, some natural hunger. It will not go away. It is a hunger for completion that must be satisfied within.

By Cary Tennis

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