Monday, February 16, 2009

Dear (British) Abby,

I met a man recently out of an unhappy long-term relationship and supposedly ready to move on. We live in different cities, but would spend hours on the phone. He was shy and nervous, which was endearing. We got on amazingly well...(snip) Now I’ve walked away, but I fear I’ve left an amazing connection behind. Was I holding on to something that wasn't there? It’s so easy to say that people have baggage, but surely it’s better to help and be understanding?


Of course it’s good to help others and to be understanding about emotional baggage, but just because it’s good to be that way, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you.

Look, for whatever reason, some people are emotional black holes. No matter how much love and kindness we hand out, it’s all absorbed into the vortex. Our actions come to seem both meaningless and pointless, because no amount of love and reassurance has any effect except to make them crave more — and more. That leaves us bewildered, anxious and, frankly, feeling as if we don’t much matter.

I think of people like that as emotional vampires. Unable to sustain themselves or fill the hole of need they carry inside, they leech the life out of others. I suspect you feel low because it is extraordinarily disappointing to encounter somebody who seems able to speak the language of love, but is unable, emotionally, to absorb its lessons. All the promises are simply dust. When he says he loves you, I’m sure he believes it to be the truth. It’s just that, emotionally, he can’t follow it through. We can understand something intellectually, but fail to feel it emotionally. It’s a head-to-heart disconnect.

He may want to love you (or, rather, the idea of you), but as soon as you respond, he shuts down, and when you get too close, he runs away. It seems likely that he’s badly wounded emotionally, but — and here’s a big but — just because he’s wounded, it doesn’t mean that you can heal him, or that you should try. You don’t say what happened in his previous relationship. It could be that he was bullied or neglected, and that has caused him to feel scared of being hurt again. Or it could be that he was acting out similar dysfunctional behaviour with his ex-partner, who, after a long battle to love and reassure him, came to feel as low as you do and gave up.

Who’s to know? Perhaps not even he does. It’s difficult to see our own destructive patterns until something sufficiently painful happens to make us pay attention. It takes years to establish behaviour and, no matter how dysfunctional or destructive, it at least has the merit of being familiar and, therefore, safe. Change is frightening because it’s a leap into the unknown, but I suspect your frustration lies in wanting to believe that, with sufficient love and kindness, he could and would change. People can change, but challenging established patterns of destructive behaviour takes enormous personal effort. Unless somebody is really willing to put in the work, it’s impossible to help them, no matter how much kindness, love and good emotional sense we send their way.

It’s like the oxygen masks in an aeroplane. You must put the mask to your own face before helping anybody else. Why? Because if you don’t have your own supply of oxygen, you’ll soon start grabbing at others and pulling them down in your desperation to get at their supply.

He’s not deceitful or unkind; he’s just an oxygen-grabber. You, on the other hand, are a giver and someone who believes in honesty, trust and kindness. Good. Those are excellent, healthy instincts that make for real happiness in a relationship. If I were you, I’d keep walking until you find them.


And someone else wrote elsewhere, If a vampire came up to you and asked you to let them drink your blood or else they'd die, would you feel guilty if you wouldn't allow them to drain you?

It was like that. At first I was, in a way, hypnotized, walking toward him in an extraordinarily beautiful and atmospheric dream. But by the end I began to distinctly feel as if I were suffering from acute blood loss and that my survival was in jeopardy.

And someone else, a psychiatrist I recently visited, in fact, reminded me that she who tries to save a drowning man is in great danger of being drowned herself, as the drowning man, in a panic, sometimes drags her down with him -- and not on purpose. It's simply a tragic accident.

This is really about all I can say about the end of my romance. In case you were at all curious. But I think that's all I want to share.

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