I wanted a trophy boyfriend.
It’s true. It’s also extremely embarrassing.
Before you judge me, please know that it took me four decades to become consciously aware of this embarrassing desire.
It also took me four decades to realize that, due to family rejection, I grew up believing there was something wrong with me: That I was defective and unlovable.
As I grew older, this belief seemed to be confirmed by my apparent inability to get a boyfriend.
There were boyfriends – and later the odd ex-husband or so – but overall I felt like my relationship status was stuck on single.
And I hated being single.
Being single felt like having a huge ‘unlovable’ stamp across my forehead. A publicly visible sign of my defectiveness.
But as much as I wanted a boyfriend – and I wanted one badly – I didn’t want just any old boyfriend.
Oh no. I wanted a boyfriend who was smart. And gorgeous. Emphasis on the gorgeous.
I wanted a trophy boyfriend.
I realized that for decades I had subconsciously wanted a masculine trophy to prove to the world that there was nothing wrong with me. To prove that I was lovable. That I was good enough. Not defective.
Hot on the heels of the awful realization that I wanted a trophy boyfriend, I had another awful realization.
I realized that as much as I wanted a gorgeous, smart boyfriend to validate me, I didn’t want him to be perfect either.
I felt I wasn’t good enough for perfect. If he was perfect; he would reject imperfect me.
The solution was obvious. I had to stop him being perfect.
So, I (subconsciously) made up things to reject my boyfriends on.
My relationship history is an ugly hybrid of the film Groundhog Day and a particular Seinfeld episode – the one where Jerry finds a reason to reject every woman he dates. One woman’s hands are too big, another woman’s laugh is too loud…
I realized I was fabricating ways to reject nice guys. I have proof of this from a recent-ish relationship. He was good-looking, intelligent, and well-educated. We had a strong emotional connection. I told friends I’d found a keeper.
We went out for four months, broke up traumatically, and got back together for another four months before breaking up for the final time.
The first four months were wonderful. Buuut he had this perfectly harmless quirk that really bugged me.
This quirk was so trivial that, even at the time, I was embarrassed it irritated me.
I know you want to know what the quirk was. But I’m not going to tell you. Because it doesn’t matter. If it hadn’t been that particular quirk – if that particular trivial, irritating quirk had suddenly disappeared – I would have immediately replaced it with another.
Irritation is a powerful intimacy barrier. I have found.
Our first break up was devastating and confusing. He suddenly went cold on me and, at the time, I didn’t know why. Although I do now.
Fast-forward some months and we were back together.
And guess what? That quirk that bothered me so much first time around – now didn’t bother me at all.
That is my proof! My evidence that if I can’t find a decent reason to reject someone, I’ll just make something up.
The second time around, after the first break-up, I no longer needed to reject him by fabricating annoying quirks. There was no need. He had proved himself more than capable of rejecting me.
It appeared that someone needed to be doing the rejecting in my relationships.
If they weren’t rejecting me, then I had to pick up the slack.
The relationship ended for the second and final time. He was rejecting me with anger. It was exhausting. And terribly sad. Heart breaking.
Cue my current partner* to enter, eventually, from stage left.
Let’s call him ‘Gorgeous Man’.
*(mid-2017 Update: I’m sorry to report that Gorgeous Man is now ex-Gorgeous Man. And I may be sorry, but I have no regrets whatsoever. The relationship was a game-changer in terms of understanding what I want and expect from a great relationship. Plus, we are still friends, which speaks to the quality of both our separation and our three-and-a-half-year relationship. Right, back to the story which has evergreen points about how to stop rejecting love…)**
Gorgeous Man was, well……gorgeous, in many ways.
Buuut… surprise, surprise… he had some trivial quirks that bugged me.
But this time I was wise to my catch-22 tricks. Not wanting to ruin a potentially great relationship, I decided to stop finding faults with Gorgeous Man.
And that led to the next hideous realization. I couldn’t stop finding faults.
It turned out that consciously knowing I’m irritated by a partner’s imperfections fabricated by myself, was insufficient to prevent fabrication and irritation.
And that’s when I started to freak out.
If I couldn’t figure out a solution, I was doomed to reject any decent partners. Doomed to a life of crappy relationships and loneliness.
So, I did what any self-respecting self-saboteur would do.
I got drunk. I then rang Gorgeous Man and told him I was freaking out.
Despite being super-busy, he came around to comfort me. You’ll be glad to know I didn’t merely passively soak up the comfort. Oh no. I had constructive suggestions – such as how he should get a much nicer girlfriend than me. Helpfully, I even had one in mind.
After he left, I started doing what I do to get words out of my head and find clarity. I started journaling. It’s hard to ruminate on paper.
I wrote about how I was freaking out because I didn’t know how to stop myself being controlling and rejecting.
And, mid-journal, the answer came to me.
I didn’t know the full answer right then and there, but I reflected on times I had received powerful solutions after stopping trying to force an answer.
I realized I just needed to sit with the fact that the answer, or part of it, may – or may not – come to me in the fullness of time.
And I realized that was the answer.
The answer was to stop trying to force the answer. To stop trying to control it.
The answer was to stop trying to control everything.
Q.1. What type of people feel the need to control?
A.1. The type of people who feel out of control.
Q.2. And why is feeling out of control so bad?
A.2. Feeling out of control feels unsafe. It feels painfully vulnerable.
Attempts to control are maladaptive attempts to restore safety by reducing exposure to rejection. And we do it because it works – in a ‘short-term gain, long-term pain’ kind of a way.
Reject them before they reject us. Because if they reject us – then our family and the world were right – we are defective and unlovable.
The only thing worse than a horrible suspicion that we are unlovable, as awful as that is, is having that suspicion confirmed.
That’s happened to me a few times. I almost didn’t survive.
I realized that in order to stop rejecting Gorgeous Man, I needed to unlearn this tendency – this habit – of control and rejection.
And I am doing just that. I’m practicing more adaptive ways of keeping myself safe. I journal. I practice mindfulness. I’m more aware of when I’m being controlling and rejecting. I’m practicing substituting irritation for curiosity and compassion.
Most importantly, I’m reclaiming my birth-right of being unconditionally worthy of love and belonging (shout-out to Brené Brown).
I now realize that as painful as it might be if Gorgeous Man rejects me, it won’t diminish my inherent worthiness of love.
This ‘simple’ shift in belief is a game-changer.
I’m no longer devastated by rejection. I’m no longer playing small to avoid rejection. Well, not so much.
I’m now a recovering control freak, and – despite some testing times – Gorgeous Man and I are very happy together.
I’ve realized the only thing that was wrong with me, was I thought there was something wrong with me.
And there’s nothing wrong with you either.
**(end of 2021 Update: I’ve now been with my current, wonderful partner for just over 4-years. We both occasionally see a therapist to help overcome fears of intimacy and rejection. The cliché is true: practicing habits of self-love is the best way to overcome ‘not-good-enough-itis’ – which, co-incidentally, is the best way to let love in the door )
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I’d love to know what you think: Do you stay single? Have you spent too much time in unhealthy relationships? Are you, or your partner, critical of each other? Do you reject people before they reject you? Please comment below (you don’t need to use your real name if you’d like your comments to be anonymous)
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