"I choose unavailable men, broken men": Author Paula McLain on the book that helped her stop

The new podcast "Self? Help!" asks bestselling authors about the one book that helped them out in a pivotal time

Published April 23, 2019 4:40PM (EDT)


Have you ever thought: Who am I? What the hell am I doing? And how did I get here of all places? Probably at some point in your life, if not on a daily basis, you’ve asked yourself these questions. And if you’ve ever turned to the bookshelves for your answers, the new podcast "Self? Help!" is for you. For Season One, I asked best-selling authors the story behind the book that helped them navigate a pivotal moment in their life.

Paula McLain, the author of “The Paris Wife,” found insight from a book she was embarrassed to carry around. “I had to rip the cover off,” she said. “What if I somebody sees me reading this? How horrifying! How could I possibly be like that person?”

It takes a lot to become the person we are, and before McLain published bestselling fiction, she wrote a memoir. It told the story of how she grew up with her sisters in the foster care system after her parents could no longer care for them.

“My mother said that she was going to the movies with a friend,” said McLain. “She dropped my sisters and I off at my grandmother's house, my father's mother. I was 4. She said she was going to the movies and she didn't come back. She didn't come back for 16 years. My father was in prison at the time, and when he did finally come home, it was maybe four or five months later. We're just living at my grandmother's house without knowing what was happening, and he came back and he said, I really want to take care of you, but I'm not ready.”

Paula and her sisters were moved from one foster home to another. In and out of these strangers homes, Paula was haunted by her mother’s abandonment. “She gave me away,” said McLain, “and then in repeated placements I had relationships with mothers who rejected me, who criticized me, who abandoned me, who showed me no love, or affection, or approval. Talk about unmet needs. That was my entire life, just one vast sea of unmet needs.”

As an adult, Paula paid a price for her childhood, especially in her relationships with men. “So I had decades and decades and decades of: What is wrong with me that I continue to look for love where it's not? I choose unavailable men. I choose broken men. I obsess over relationships. I treat relationships like a drug. I say I want sex when I don’t. I give away my power. Like, what the hell is going on?"

Paula reached for Robin Norwood’s book “Women Who Love Too Much” to figure out her patterns, and it gave her something she didn’t expect. “With this book, I actually thought I  saw something I'd never let myself see before,” she said.

To hear Paula McLain’s story of what she discovered through Norwood’s book, listen to Episode 3 of “Self? Help!”

Learn more about “Self? Help!”, including how to subscribe, on our website.

By Terence Mickey

Moth storyteller Terence Mickey is also the creator and host of the "Memory Motel" podcast, which finds the drama in what we want to remember or forget. You can find Terence at @terence_mickey on Twitter  and Instagram at @terence.p.mickey.  

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