Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Black Hole that Ate My Rocked World

A few days ago, I had a 90 minute 'first date' phone conversation with a guy that rocked my world.

I contacted him first, after he visited my profile a few times.  He replied right away and asked if we could set-up a phone date for the following day, which we did.

The call quickly went from being typical and light-hearted to deep and intimate.  The point of no return for me was when he said, "I can tell that you are a very emotional guy whose passionate feelings are tightly controlled by a logical mind."  Although that description probably applies to many men, I was impressed by how perceptive he seemed to be.

With my analytical cover blown, I quickly surrendered my emotional self to his considerable charm.  What also got to me was how much we both wanted a deep, intimate, monogamous, life-long relationship.  Somehow, just talking about such a relationship made it seem possible, not just in theory, but with him, then, at that moment.  It was a wonderful daydream.  Not the usual daydream that one experiences alone, but a shared daydream that felt real.

Eventually, reality intervened and I told him I had to go....kids to feed and homework to supervise. We made plans to meet in five days, and as I hung up the phone, I was profoundly looking forward to that moment.

The next day, he texted me and told me that he was thinking about me and how much he was looking forward to our date.  I said I was too and that spawned an hour of back and forth messaging.  Although the texting wasn't nearly as intense as the phone call, I still felt very emotional about him.

Soon after we finished texting, when I was still somewhat giddy and aglow, my daughter entered the room to ask about something.  I don't remember what she wanted, but her physical interruption of my happy thoughts made me think about how I'd integrate my new potential boyfriend into my current life.  How would I change, and how would our family dynamic change, if I fell into a mad, passionate relationship with a man? What would the kids think as I skipped off to see him?  How long could I (or should I?) keep him a secret before telling them?  Surely, they would be happy for me, I thought.  But what about Gabbie?

Gabbie...my poor, sweet, and very dear mess of a former wife...

Her boyfriend Charlie has been working out of the area for months.  We comes home every other weekend for two days.  As horrible of a human being as he is, I know how much she looks forward to having him around.  It's not because he's so great, or even that she's so in love with him, it's because she's desperately lonely and feels very unloved.  Every night that he's not around she calls me and tells me how lonely she is, how unfulfilling her life is, and how much she wishes the kids would miss her just a little bit.  It's torture listening to her, and to make matters worse, I never know how to respond.  Sometimes I want to be very blunt and tell her that she created the life she has.  But most of the time, I just feel bad for her.  She's an outgoing, social person.  She's never really lived alone.  Her beloved dog recently died in a bizarre, tragic accident.  How can I not be anything but sympathetic and supportive?  I can't.  I just can't.

Gabbie is so unhappy about her life that there are only a few things that could make it worse - really awful things like the death of her mother, or one of our kids, or being diagnosed with a terminal disease herself.  But other than any of those horrible things, probably the very worst thing that could happen to her is if I fell madly in love with someone else.  My profound happiness would make her misery all the more unbearable.  This is because one of Gabbie's most unattractive traits is that she is a very envious person.  Her feelings of self-worth are directly related to how she thinks she compares to others.  So, in our post-relationship situation, nothing, absolutely nothing, would be worse to her than my euphoric happiness.  In her eyes, I would have everything: the kids, a comfortable life, and a great man, while she would have nothing: a menial job, no money, kids who hate her and a loser boyfriend.

In response to this information, a reasonable person would say, "Cameron, WTF is the matter with you?  You are not responsible for her feelings, especially her jealousy!  And you are not responsible for whether she is happy or not.  Why does it matter to you if your happiness makes her unhappy?"

Ummm....'cause I'm horribly co-dependent and from minute one of our 26 year relationship our dynamic has been based on my need to please her and her need to be pampered by me.

"Dude, you need therapy!"

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I've heard that before.  The problem is, I have to want to change, and for now, I don't.

One of Gabbie's biggest criticisms of me is that I am a weak person.  This is true.  I fundamentally lack the ability to be deliberately cruel to another person.  I'd rather suffer myself than punish someone who's made bad decisions.  Intellectually, I know that I should take decisive action and emotionally separate myself from Gabbie.  I should file for a divorce or an annulment (can you file for an annulment if you committed the fraud???) and I should tell her that our relationship is "business cordial" and not "best friends."  But I just can't do that.  I know how devastating those actions would be to her and so I can't do them.

This creates a huge dilemma for me.  How long do I plan on continuing my dysfunctional behavior and what am I willing to sacrifice in order to continue?  For example, am I willing to give up a potentially terrific new relationship, just so Gabbie won't be overcome with hate and jealousy because of it?

In the case of the man who rocked my world, making a decision about him was relatively easy.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that he's a lot like Gabbie.  He expects absolute emotional and physical loyalty and would never have tolerated my codependent need to please someone other than him.  If we were to begin a relationship (which felt like something he instantly wanted to do), it wouldn't be long before he issued a "her-or-me" ultimatum and I'd be forced to either be mean to Gabbie or dump him.  Well, without a doubt, my decision would be to dump him.  The last thing I need is another codependent relationship.  One is enough, thank you very much.

Yesterday I messaged the guy and told him that I was not emotionally ready to begin an intense relationship and therefore I shouldn't meet him.  I went on to explain that I still felt too emotionally bound to my ex, and for that reason, it wouldn't be fair to him to meet.  He was furious.  He had a few choice words for me and ended his reply with, "Don't ever contact me again."

Um, ya...thanks for proving that you're exactly the kind of all-or-nothing person I never want to date.

Of course, I still felt bad about being a flake and for unintentionally leading him on, but as soon as I realized that we had no future, I felt the least-bad way to handle the situation was to be honest and risk his wrath.  It seemed to me that it would have been much more cruel to reject him after we met.

Anyway, what's far more important than that guy is that I'm faced with a long-run, fundamental problem: what to do about my relationship with Gabbie?  How long will I let my dysfunctional codependency continue?  How can I possibly tell potential dates that I want a long-term, committed relationship if I know that they'll be my third priority? (Kids first, then Gabbie.)

For now I don't have good answers to those questions.  Part of me wonders if I could emotionally separate from Gabbie if I had a relationship with a good guy that gradually built over time.  Another part of me wonders if she is the black hole at the center of my galaxy and the only way to escape her pull is to gun my engines, attain escape velocity (faster than the speed of light) and chart a course far, far away from her.

More often than ever I find myself fantasizing about moving 2000 miles away from her and starting a new life.  Doing that would seem to be so much easier than demanding freedom from our codependent relationship, but, it would also be a pretty radical solution that would affect the kids.  Maybe I just need more time to man-up.

Meanwhile, I don't know if I should continue to try to date.  My codependency might be the reason I'm not very motivated to try to meet someone.

Clearly, this is something I need to spend a lot more time thinking about.  Any and all feedback would be appreciated.

20 comments:

  1. "Cameron," WTF is the matter with you? You are not responsible for her feelings, especially her jealousy! And you are not responsible for whether she is happy or not. Why does it matter to you if your happiness makes her unhappy?

    Oh, and by the way, dude, you need therapy!

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    1. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I've heard that before. The problem is, I have to want to change, and for now, I don't.

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  2. wow, this post yo-yoed me. it sounded a lot like what happened with my phone guy in the beginning, except you turned out to be the one to shut things down. i think you may have been premature to close things with him before even opening things and giving him a chance. his reaction may not have been ideal and very telling about him, but still, i'm surprised you didn't even try at least one date. (couldn't turn out worse than some of the other ones you've told us about)

    i'm really disappointed that you feel you can't let go of your wife. what is the astronomical opposite of a black hole? until you're willing to put a man as your second priority you will continue to live in this grey twilight. is that what you want? or maybe what you've conditioned yourself to accept after all these years? i hope not.

    (btw google grey twilight and roosevelt for the full quote..it's one of my favorites)

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    1. My phone guy connection was only a 90 minute conversation. While that might count as a good beginning, I think you had a far longer and better connection with your phone guy. My guess is the reason he didn't meet you is because he already was in a relationship - but that's a guess. Whatever the reason, I don't think it had anything to do with you personally.

      I decided it would be more cruel to meet my guy than to flake on him. He was a bad match for me, far too similar to my wife. To meet him would have been misleading. Once I realized I'd be a doormat once again I knew we had no future. Better to break up before meeting than to have an ugly break up weeks or months later.

      Thanks for directing me to TR's gray twilight quote, it's a good one. Writing this post and reflecting on the comments you and others have made have been very helpful. I still have a lot of work to do but I'm optimistic about the future.

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  3. First, you really do have to find a way to reconcile yourself to hurting Gabbie eventually. Easier said than done, I know. I know your readers see Gabbie as the villain in this story. I don't and have great sympathy for Gabbie. That said, you cannot make her happy. Gabbie has to find out how to do that for herself. You can help and support but you cannot create her happiness. She is deeply flawed (as are you) and perhaps your moving on in a healthy way will be the kick in the pants she needs to get moving.

    And don't feel too bad about Mr Right. Someone who is that needy (and he sounded VERY needy) would have been like going from the fire into the frying pan. Everyone fantasized about having found the "one" but most realize they ARE only fantasies. It is right and GOOD for relationships to build over time. You DO have other commitments that will come before a new love and you will for a very long time. The last thing you need is another "problem child" to contend with.

    Good luck! I wish you only the best. I hope you find him or her someday. In the meantime try to set limits on Gabbie (and yourself) and help her prepare to stand on her own two feet. That does NOT mean you sacrifice your life for hers. Her happiness is NOT your responsibility. But you can take affirmative steps to disentangle yourself in a healthy way. You owe it to both of you to try.

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    1. Thank you for understanding how needy Mr. Phone Guy really was! You're exactly right, getting involved with him would have been like going from the fire into the frying pan. That's why I had to back away from him asap.

      "Her happiness is NOT your responsibility. But you can take affirmative steps to disentangle yourself in a healthy way." My rational mind knows that I'm not responsible for her happiness but figuring out the affirmative steps to disentangle myself is proving to be quite a challenge. Yet again today we had a 30 minute conversation about how unhappy and lonely she is. As is usually the case, I never know what she expects me to say or do. What I try to do is tell her a variety of things, with the hope that something I say will stick. Unfortunately I just feel like we repeat the whole conversation over and over and never make any progress.

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  4. Wow, this is complicated!

    What if you started by working on finding Gabby a quality guy? Then once she is happy you could focus on yourself.

    If Charlie was in town all the time and she was busy with him, would that free you to date someone?

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    1. "What if you started by working on finding Gabby a quality guy?"

      This has been my brilliant idea for the last 18 months. Unfortunately, I haven't made any progress. No matter what Charlie says or does to her, she always goes back for more. No matter how many times I explain to her that she'll never be happy as long as she's with him, she doesn't seem to get it. It's such a frustrating situation.

      If Charlie preoccupied more of her time I'd feel more free to date but I still wouldn't feel free of my responsibility to her. The guy is such a loser and cannot be trusted. Both Gabbie and I would feel very differently about our relationship if Charlie was a normal guy who treated her well.

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    2. Ok, so that leaves only one solution. You have to work on getting Charlie deported or a long prison sentence.

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    3. I'm all in favor of deportation. A long prison sentence would mean that he's done something very, very bad.

      A potential wrinkle is the pending immigration reform bill. From what I've heard, anyone with a criminal record will not be offered a path to citizenship. I'm not sure what or how many felonies he has so maybe he won't be able to be a citizen but could he be a legal resident? Who knows. It's all a big guessing game at this point.

      There is another solution, btw, which I will write about soon.

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    1. I agree that it would be an ideal solution.

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  6. Intellectually you know what you need to do. But emotionally you are paralyzed by the fear of upsetting her. It makes me feel like you subconsciously like being needed by her. There is some kind of payoff for you to continue this dynamic. You have to decide whether the payoff is more something positive or just the desire to avoid something negative.

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    1. What I consciously like is how emotionally vibrant she is. When she's "on" she can light up a room like no one else I've ever met. Her emotions, both positive and negative, are so profound that mine pale in comparison. Her joy easily overrides my joy.

      Our relationship is codependent and dysfunctional, but you're right, it continues because I get a payoff for it. And as RB said, it's a complicated situation that's played out over more than 26 years. We've spent our entire adult lives together. Disentangling myself from her has proven to be extremely difficult - yet I know it's something I must do.

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  7. This time what stood out was your correlation of strength with the ability to be cruel. This is manifestly not true.

    You rationalize a lot, say yes, I need therapy or I'm codependent or whatever, but defend your behavior resolutely.

    Fine. You'll keep doing this until something happens that makes you want to make different decisions; until something gets through, if you know what I mean. Meanwhile, just keep on doing what feels right and not the consequences.

    As for dating, I'd forget about it for now. How about the time-honored practice of paying for it?

    As Dame Edna might say, I mean all of this is the most loving and supportive way...

    Best always,

    Jason

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    1. This is so true: "You rationalize a lot, say yes, I need therapy or I'm codependent or whatever, but defend your behavior resolutely."

      Thanks for making that point. You've given me something to think about.

      Pay for it?!!! I think not! Sex is way too easy to find and that's not what most interests me anyway. I've backed off on dating but I'm not sure if I should delete my profile yet. I plan to attend a dating workshop in 10 days with about 40-50 other homos. If that goes well it'll give me a much-need boost of confidence. OTOH, if I end up feeling inadequate or emotionally shut down then I'll probably delete my profile and regroup for a while.

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  8. You cannot decide whether you are going to live a free life or be stuck with someone any other rational person would loathe? As you wrote, you are co-dependent, passive aggressive, indecisive, unhappy, in a dysfunctional relationship with your ex and other people. Why should a man who loved you have to take a backseat to your ex-wife?

    No rationalization, please. You have been honest about yourself on this blog and that really does help the readers know who you are. You do not have to live in misery. You need to discover why you are prone to relationships that make you unhappy. I suspect that even if you found a really great guy that your behaviors would sour the relationship. Changing the gender of your partner would not change the behaviors that you are displaying and you would face problems. Because of this, you fear entering a new relationship. I suspect that you know this deep down inside.

    You need therapy.

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    1. I appreciate your theory, Anonymous, because it challenges me to wonder if you might be right. Sometimes a reader will say something that instantly clicks for me and that's when I know they're right. In the case of your theory (that my behaviors are relationship killers and I know it), I think that's mostly untrue.

      What's true is that Gabbie has a very dominating personality that I find extremely attractive. It's also true that she's so attractive that I've sublimated myself to her in a dysfunctional way. What's not true is that I am going to repeat this dynamic in any future relationship. My reaction to Telephone Guy is proof of this. As soon as I realized how similar his personality was to Gabbie's I knew I shouldn't meet him. Why? Because I fear falling into a similar pattern. The dynamic with Gabbie is a one-time thing. My relationship with Dean was very different, as is my relationship with each of my kids.

      Being told "you need therapy" is irritating. That's like telling a guy who's worked the same blue collar job for 20 years that he needs to find a better job. Maybe he should and maybe he shouldn't. They are a lot of variables involved and without specifics it's generic, unuseful advice. If I saw a therapist, the first thing she or he would ask is "Why are you here? What do you want therapy to accomplish?" I have no answers to those questions. Until I do, therapy would be pointless.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  9. Reading this post nearly made me cry. You are not co-dependent, well a bit, but what you are is a victim of emotional abuse. Think I'm off base? Read this link and line it up with what you find to be your daily life with Gabby. http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/02/20/signs-of-emotional-abuse/

    While I dont think Gabby is the villain, she is the storm in your pond, and no matter what you ever will attempt to do for her, it will never ever be enough. She has emotional issues that require a mental health worker to help her resolve, not you, never ever you.

    Ok, so I get it, we all get it. You dont love yourself enough, or dont find your self lovable enough to put yourself before her needs. However....you love your kids, yes? Put them first then. Is it healthy for them to see this dysfunctional relationship being treated as normal? All of your children are at risk of falling into those sorts of romantic relationships. Its a case of monkey see, monkey do. Give them the last few years of their teen years in relative peace, to find a sense of self worth and love. They need an adult who is willing to put their needs before their own and give them a safe and secure home life.

    Since you are unable to break away from her on your own, I suggest some time with a therapist to help you see your way out of this quagmire.

    and one last parting note. You aren't in charge of making her happy, only Gabby can do so.

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    1. Biki - Thank you for your wonderful, very helpful comment.

      I did exactly as you suggested and I read the link with the 31 signs of emotional abuse. That was eye opening. But not for the reason you'd assume. Of the many behaviors listed, I felt like only three accurately fit Gabbie. Maybe I'm not as much of a victim as I'd like to think I am??

      It's very true that she's the storm in my pond. It's also true that she's far from perfect. However, the real issue isn't so much her as it my reaction to her. I need to take responsibility for myself and stop using her as an excuse for my frustrations in life.

      Your parting note really drives that point home. No, I'm not in charge of making Gabbie happy. That's only something she can do. But the parallel to that is only I can make myself happy.

      I can't say that I'm done using Gabbie as an excuse but your comment has really shown me that I need to take much more responsibility for myself. I intend to do a better job of doing that in the future. Thank you again for your very helpful comment, even if it wasn't exactly what you had in mind.

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