Revisiting Dating

I was enraptured by his rakish good looks and unassuming charm. That he loved teaching high school kids and was a devoted father to his regal Bernese mountain dog exemplified strength of character. I believed his displays of sincerity and beneficence were proof of his virtue.

What appeared certain would eventually be dispelled, but when I was smitten and spellbound by infatuation, I did not see Jake for who he was. I certainly could not fathom that he would be my undoing.

Of course, my insatiable desperation and magnetic attraction to polished, garden-variety covert narcissists factored into my blind enchantment. My childhood groomed me to be supply. As soon as Jake hinted that relinquishing my self-respect was a prerequisite to his sticking around, I obliged. I knew the rules of the game and fell in line like a Pavlovian dog.

It wasn’t long before Jake employed the intentional tactic of making everything my fault. When he ditched plans, it was without exception chalked up to some egregious infraction on my part. Jake’s dossier of my apparent offenses consistently prompted and legitimized his hurtful behavior. There was absolutely no accountability on his part.

Eventually, sex became the sole purpose of our interactions. Although I needed more, I went along. I buffered feeling like a degraded dirty secret by convincing myself I mattered to him. Deep down I simply chose to not know what I knew, albeit you couldn’t tell me that when I was embroiled in debasing myself.

Relentless obsession and painful despair tormented me, but I soldiered on. The eroticization of suffering was deeply imprinted in my psyche. Brainwashed by romantic mythology and fantastical notions of love’s delivery, I endured.

Yet even though my threshold for pain was exceedingly high, the betrayal of infidelity was the final blow. I found them on her blog of all places, frolicking and laughing in an idyllic garden without a care. She was the chosen one. Beautiful, creative, and captivating. The humiliation of discovering he was engaged to be married threw me over the edge.

Of course, when I reached out to her she scoffed at the notion that Jake was duplicitous. After all, I was depicted as the unstable ‘friend’ who couldn’t respect his boundaries. In keeping with this narrative, there was no ‘deception’ and furthermore, the onus was on me for interfering in their relationship. Suffice it to say I did feel some degree of redemption years later when she contacted me to apologize for her dismissal. Their marriage turned out to be an absolute shit show and they were divorced by the time she reached out, but I digress.

That it was a shocking revelation when it all blew up in my face seems absurd now, but my desperate need to believe he possessed an iota of humanity simply blinded me to the truth. When the scales fell from my eyes and I woke up to the reality of his depravity and the indignity of being reduced to nothing, so easily replaced, it was brutal. Memories of kinship foster care and the agony of being unwanted were activated. In short, it shattered me.

It was at that point I hit an impasse that catapulted me into a prolonged break from dating and vows of celibacy. I didn’t know that interruption would last five years or that my immersion in self-imposed solitude would simultaneously throw me into the depths of dark despair while also catalyzing the creation of a therapeutic theatre project for at-risk women and girls. Yet, in a nutshell, that’s what happened.

Like the Greek Goddess Persephone who through rape and forced exile into the Underworld emerged as the Queen of Darkness, I was committed to shedding light on those places most feared. This meant fully bringing to consciousness the obstacles, patterns, and illusions that throughout my life impeded the creation of mature, abiding love.

Mired in cognitive dissonance and degradation I was desperate for clarity. I proceeded with successfully tracking down Jake’s ex-wife. By the time Lisa and I met I had enough acumen to suspect that his version of their past, and of her as an immature, irrational, materialistic, and shallow woman, was distorted. Suffice it to say, the woman I met was lovely, smart, and compassionate.

Together we marveled over our surreal experiences with Jake. What lurked behind his mask was more frightening than I anticipated. I was spared the rages, the alcohol abuse, and the constant overt ridicule and even physical assaults that Lisa survived. In the aftermath of their divorce, she was not who she once had been. For the first time in her life, she required treatment for PTSD.

The realization that I dodged a bullet restored my sanity and contributed to a sturdy trajectory of transformation. It ignited the impulse to create a therapeutic theater project to inspire and encourage healing for at-risk underserved women and girls plagued by histories of childhood trauma.

This undertaking was devoted to those who like myself, had been victimized, heartbroken, and scarred, who lived with violence, adversity, rejection, pain, loneliness, and neglect. Together we called on the power of the Phoenix to remind us of that fire within us that burns for truth and lights the way. She reminded us of hope that will not perish, and those magical, inviolate parts of ourselves that could not be destroyed.

Strengthened and armed with caution and discernment, I felt ready to end my five-year respite and revisit romantic camaraderie. It turned out getting back into ‘the game’ threw me for a loop. On the upside, I no longer felt drawn to narcissists, but on the downside I was a hair-trigger, especially with lascivious men. Without a doubt, I was a force to be reckoned with.

Consequently, when I met the man I married I bolted after our first date. Although there was inspiring rapport and chemistry, I misconstrued his genuine interest and availability as love bombing. Two months later when he sent an affable email about the photos I posted from my recent travels to Morocco, I requested we meet up. I needed to apologize for my abrupt and impulsive departure.

Picking up from where we left off was rife with challenges, but thankfully years of extensive psychological excavation allowed me to appreciate that, in spite of my apprehensions, he was a man of character and heart. Plus, he made me laugh and I adored listening to him play guitar and sax. For the first time, I was with a man who was willing to stay the sometimes turbulent course. We traveled the world, worked through difficulties, and opened our hearts. I finally felt truly at home with another.

It’s been two decades since that fated plight with Jake. In retrospect, I can appreciate him as the teacher I needed to once and for all rid myself of those like him. His sadistic indifference and my delusional attachment template was an incendiary combination and yet in a circuitous way it brought me to this place that I thought I was exiled from.

If it hadn’t been for that infernal descent and my courage to give love another shot, I’d never have received the profound privilege of living in acceptance and truth with my husband. In all honesty, despite all I’ve been through for me that is the greatest redemption.

Thank you Sheri Heller for a wonderful article submission!

Rev. Sheri Heller, LCSW

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