WTF? Why do so many of my divorced mom girlfriends and I engage in unhealthy relationships? We're all professionally successful, smart, good parents — but have a taste for crappy dudes. In my case, I suffer from a lifelong attraction to cowboy-types/emotionally and logistically unavailable men/jerks (whatever you want to call them) — though I've found this habit intensified since my divorce.
The jerk who I've been dating — and with whom I seem to be in the midst of a breakup right now — refused to say we were boyfriend and girlfriend, although we were dating for 7 months. Now he seems to be disappearing with nary a text message, although he owes me $500 for a weekend trip we were planning to New York next month. Oh well… I know it's for the best, but I get down on myself for putting up with something like that for 7 months. What was I thinking? It was fun, and we were definitely compatible, but it certainly wasn't healthy or mutual. And the red flags, including clear lies, were there from the beginning. I can't even say he wasn't my type and a fling, since he definitely was (foreign-born but Americanized, educated, energetic, well-traveled). I wonder sometimes why I've never managed to fall for a nice Jewish boy (I've tried), and I also wonder if I'll ever be able to find someone who attracts and interests me but who isn't a jerk or a cowboy, so to speak. So, Emma, what wisdom do you have to shine here, particularly related to the fact that I'm about 3 years out from my separation and 1-1/2 years past my official divorce?
–Beating my head in Bethesda
First, congratulations for acknowledging a) that you have a problem, and b) taking responsibility for your relationships. I hear from so many women who are angry at men, without recognizing that they chose the douches by hand.
To drill down into your situation. You are attracted to unavailable men for any number of the following reasons:
1. You are afraid of true intimacy, so (unconsciously) seek out partners who are not available for intimacy.
2. You are angry at yourself for choosing all the losers in the past, and are punishing yourself by choosing more.
3. You don't believe that a really great man can really, really love the shit out of you in a true way.
4. You're afraid that if you do connect with a wonderful man, you will be so unbelievably, giddily ecstatic. And you're afraid that he will then leave, destroying your one true happiness.
5. You fear that when you do meet that awesome, loving, committed guy – he will make the the previous three decades of your love life seem even more pathetic than you already judge it to be. And that will suck.
6. You're afraid of change. People, by nature, are. You have an old, nasty habit of selecting bad boyfriends. It can seem easier to keep repeating bad habits than do the work required to create new ones.
I can go on and on, so I'll stop now. But now let's turn this show around. What can you do to break the cycle? Here is my recipe for breaking the douche-bag spell:
Start dating nice guys. Now, I will warn you. You will not be attracted to them at first. You must muscle through. This is how it will go:
Seek out these guys — mutual friends, online dating sites, temple, whatever. Flirt your ass off and allow them to pursue you. You know how to do that.
What you don't know how to do is to be patient. And keep an open mind.
So far you have been looking for romantic men who are exciting people in the world (I know, because that is my jam, too). You have not been looking for commitment and intellect and compassion. You don't appreciate their geeky passion for coding or Celtic literature or bicycle racing. You don't hear how he lights up when talking about his kids or the pride he takes in building an amazing business. But now you will patiently listen as he shares these parts of himself with you. And you will patiently, quietly consider all these wonderful parts of these men that you would have previously, patently rejected.
Then at the very first inkling of attraction you must act. Quickly before it flees. And you will sleep with some of these men. What you will find is that some of them — many, if my research is valid — are fabulous lovers. And instead of grabbing the bedsheet around your naked, ravished body and fleeing at the first glimmer of connection, you will lay in there in that bed and you will be with him and stay until morning.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.