When I was in my early twenties, a friend observed my choice of boyfriends and cautioned me to avoid being a rescuer, trying to save flawed men. By heeding his advice I was saved from throwing myself on the pyre of one relationship that could have only turned out to be a disastrous marriage.
Later, with my biological clock clanging, I married a man who wasn’t completely emotionally available. I only discovered this later, but I got many things from my marriage that I value–four children, support and encouragement through my doctoral studies and fidelity. When these things were no longer enough I ended the relationship by calling for a separation. Less than two years later, before we could divorce, my husband died.
As a widow, I thought I would fare better since I was older and hopefully wiser. But once again I realized I was in another relationship with a man who was not only emotionally unavailable, but wasn’t even my intellectual and social equal. He was a lot of fun though.
After eight years of failing to turn this relationship into the engaging, fulfilling and committed relationship I wanted, I decided I needed time off. I clearly needed time to get to know and love myself better so I would be drawn to a satisfying relationship rather than to a fix-it project.
I didn’t intend for this moratorium from relationships to last for two decades, but while I was busy traveling, enjoying friends and experiences and gaining many insights about myself, time passed. The many things I learned and decided can be summed up in a few words: I decided not to settle for less than I what I want and deserve in a relationship, one of mutual respect, honor and engagement.
Some of my well-meaning friends fear that this decision dooms me to be alone forever. The problem with their prognostication is that they consider being without a committed relationship as being alone. Some of them say I’m too picky. Haven’t they noticed that I’ve been enjoying my life? I think they just want me to be as miserable as they are in their relationships. No thanks.
There is an old saying that a piece of a man is better than no man at all. Whoever started this obviously believed that a woman was not complete without a man in her life even if he was inadequate for her in many ways. It’s hard for me to imagine a situation where that makes sense. But for many woman it seems to be the case.
Lately I’ve observed a number of women around me who are settling for a “piece” of a man I suppose because they fear being alone. There are many variations on this theme, but in the cases I’ve observed the woman is well-educated, self-sufficient, resourceful, strong, determined, creative, energetic and ambitious, but in a relationship with a guy who is the opposite in almost every way: uneducated, “no visible means of support,” no clear goals and lacking energy and drive. Some are middle-aged professional women, dragging along relationships with philanderers, ex-cons, abusers or child molesters.
As a reformed “rescuer” I certainly remember the drive to fix, rehabilitate or save a man. It’s a strong pull, and because females tend to be natural nurturers, it’s an addiction that can doom you to spending many years trying to transform someone, especially if you see yourself as the only one who can save him.
Then there is that lure of the rogue, the adventurous guy without a plan who is so irresistible. If he’s also good looking, charming, and smells good–oooh, it’s dizzying. If you grew up being a “good girl” where there were strict rules, this guy offers the new rush of spontaneity and fun. He often has a great sense of humor since he is worry-free. After all, what does he have to worry about. He’s often living with another woman who is supporting him financially, even providing his luxuries. This other woman may be his mother, ex-wife, or even estranged wife, but you buy into his justification of his living arrangements.
With all the advances in science, medicine, and technology, it seems that we haven’t made much progress in relationships. The lure of the rogue, the jerk and the wayward is still drawing in unsuspecting “good girls” into relationships that seldom pan out to be the ones they envision.
It’s tough to observe the vigorously waving red flag of these relationships as an outsider and decide how best to caution the soon-to-be prey. Sometimes friends conspire to confront the friend in question with straight-out intervention. Other times if you can engage the woman in activities where she is relaxed, you can present the topic and share your observations. If you’re fortunate, she may even approach you requesting advice.
In the meantime, you wonder if you are meddling in a situation where you don’t belong. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, parents of teens are encouraged to speak up when they see their kids making poor dating choices. In a study by Dr. Madsen and others of 225 young adults ages 22 to 29, the researchers concluded that young adults like it when parents take on a coaching or consulting role, but only when asked.
I’m not completely comfortable with this finding. It feels like not warning someone traveling at high speed that the bridge is out unless they’ve inquired.
What do you think?