By Grace Cooper
IN 1914, Sigmund Freud first described a common, though counterintuitive phenomenon, in which a person re-enacts throughout a lifetime, subconscious, repressed, traumatic memories. If you’ve ever found yourself trapped in a series of toxic relationships, know you are not alone. Repetition compulsion is often the reason why we tend to date “our familiar type,” even when those bad boys drive us crazy or break our hearts.
So, when my beloved daughter encouraged me to find another man, I restarted my Find-a-Prince Project. Many Match.com dates later, after kissing an army of frogs, I at last met a potential winner. His single profile photo was of a fit, handsome, unsmiling man, casually posed sitting on a low railing with the Sierra Leone mountains of west Africa in the background. He’d written few words about himself, but already I could sense a swagger in his step. I can’t remember if I’d contacted him first, but knowing me then, I probably was too effusive, too quickly. We agreed to talk on the phone. I learned he was an ER physician who hailed from Alabama, recently transplanted to western Pennsylvania when his “crazy ex”—as he described her—relocated the family to accept a job as a minister of a Methodist church.
He suggested I Google him to learn more. Bored with his real job, he volunteered for an organization that flew him into dangerous international disaster situations as a first responder. Recently he’d flown into Haiti to single-handedly set up a tent city, where he (and many other medical heroes) performed life-saving surgery on those wounded in the devastating earthquake of 2010. Eagerly, I researched everything I could find about him, including one article that mentioned the equally brave nurse who also accompanied him that day. He’d forgotten that interesting detail about this heroic nurse, but I was dazzled, nonetheless.
He suggested we meet at a busy restaurant near my home. I primped for our first date. He arrived in a foul mood, complaining about everything from traffic on the drive over to difficulty parking his car, to the ambient noise in the restaurant. I suggested we go somewhere quieter. He didn’t like that menu. He was tired from work. He gave every indication that he was not enjoying my company at all. Defeated, I suggested we mercifully call it a night. At least he offered to walk me to my car—and then he laid a kiss on me and asked when he could see me again. WTF? Was he giving me a second chance? I was intrigued by the challenge.
Though minimally encouraged by this man, and after several more equally contradictory dates, I set about making myself helpful to him as he wrestled with the challenges of managing his own life. He was working long hours in a busy ER, renovating an old house, managing shared custody of his teenage children and dating women like me in the Western World—way too much pressure for a Haiti hero!
So once or twice every week he dropped in to let me feed him homemade meals, package the leftovers and make out with him on my sofa. In the interim, if a plumbing or electrical emergency upset him, I was on it, managing his every need. In return, he frequently canceled those dates I initiated, in which we were supposed to dress up and head out to a restaurant, a play, a movie—somewhere he might be expected to plan or pay. But back then, heck, I’d have settled for cheese and crackers to just sit and watch a nice sunset with him. On and on we went for months. I chased. He ran. I chased some more.
One day, as I lunched with my BFF of many years, I complained about my hero for the umpteenth time. In between bites of salad, BFF looked me in the eye and said the words that ring in my ears to this day, “You know, as you describe his antics, it occurs to me he’s a perfect clone of your ex. Do you think it’s going to be any different this time??”
Whoa! That remark stopped me in my tracks.
She was right. A physician from the South. Unhappy thrill-seeker. Zero self-introspection. Passive aggressive and dismissive of anything I tried to do for him.
Why indeed was I attracted to what I’d just divorced? Was the interesting, yet elusive, bordering-on-abusive man my type?
And with that, I began to consider that my “type” might be a problem for me going forward in life. But it was many more similar dates, and two years into therapy with a Jungian analyst, before I recognized the problem might lie with me. I remember the day I listened to myself recount yet another sad story of some man who used, abused, then discarded me cruelly. Suddenly, I had a thought . . .
“Betsy, it occurs to me I know plenty of people in good relationships with great men. But not me. In every one of these relationship disasters, I am the common denominator. Is it possibly something in me?”
The look on her face was priceless as she jumped up, clapped her hands in glee and shouted, “Thank God! NOW we are really going to make some progress in your therapy sessions!”
That was certainly unexpected but rather encouraging.
As for the Haiti hero, he canceled our date for my birthday. Already anticipating the end with him, I had made plans to fly to Seattle to stay with a cousin for a few weeks. Another interesting Match suitor was scheduled to be in Seattle the same week—writing his fifth book in a second home he owned there. I agreed to meet him for a Sleepless in Seattle type date. On my way there, I checked my phone messages during a layover in Houston. There were dozens of frantic messages from Haiti Hero, demanding I call him ASAP.
“What’s wrong??” I asked when he answered.
“A tree fell on my house last night! I could have died! I need you to get a contractor here immediately!” He demanded.
“I am on my way to Seattle I started to explain…”
“Why are you going there?” he indignantly inquired.
“I have a date,” I said as casually as I could manage through the widest smile.
Next up: Neil, the (lovable) narcissist
—Grace Cooper (a nom de plume) left her long marriage a decade ago, and with it went all sense of her identity—but not for long. Now 67, she has begun chronicling her tales of looking for love in all the wrong places, and unexpectedly finding herself.