I was reading something this week….hypothetically…a woman (or man) walks into a room where there are 100 eligible people. Ninety-nine of these people are nice, emotionally healthy, self-supporting, sober, human beings. But this person picks the one that stands out to them. The one that resonates with them. The emotionally unhealthy, financially dependent, substance abuser. Does that sound familiar?
It does to me. I look back to high school and I see that I passed up a respectful, talented, kind person who took me out to dinners and movies for people with drinking problems or who were emotionally unavailable.
I see that now. Back then, I saw boring or exciting. I saw people whose shell I thought I could crack and people who I saw as needing saving. Needing me. I saw people who hurt me….people I pined over; I saw people whose affection I needed to pursue. If it didn’t hurt, I wasn’t love. I got that message from somewhere. I felt less-than so I gravitated towards people I felt would not expect a lot from a relationship. And drinking made what passed as getting close to someone much easier.
Fast forward many years later and I’m separated from my husband. For the first time in years, I’m out in the dating world. I’m thinking….I see where I made my mistakes. This time will be different.
I am going to find a nice man, I thought. I’m not going to go for excitement or for physical attraction. He just has to be a nice guy. It’s going to work this time. I can feel it. Now I know what I’m doing.
So I met a doctor at work. Older than me. Skinny. Not attractive. But he was respected where I worked. Had his own home. Had money. A good pick for my later years, I thought. I knew my parents would love him because he was a doctor, so that didn’t hurt either.
Well, things were fine until they weren’t. Slowly I began to see that while he was thrilled at being in a relationship, I needed to change to fit what he expected in a woman. He constantly talked about my weight and getting exercise and being healthy. At the time, I smoked. Not around him, but that didn’t matter. That needed to stop. Because he said so. Then his relatives showed up for Christmas. Did I mention he was Jewish? No reason for it to matter other than….I swear to God…his cousin brought up how she didn’t like to hang out with anyone who wasn’t Jewish. She really did. Also brought up with regularity was his ex-wife’s masters degree and how she had converted to Judaism during the course of their marriage.
But things really began to fall apart when I drove him to the airport for a work trip and then he called me from California and said that I should really be there because I would love it. Okay, this guy was a self-proclaimed millionaire. He only had to pay for my airfare if he wanted me to go with him. But that was not what was going on. One weekend, I just didn’t feel like spending the night. I paid for that the next time we began to get intimate. Yes, he actually told me….there will be no more of that…..until you show some enthusiasm for this relationship.
Okay, that was it for me. I know that people who hold up the bar for you to jump over, are trying to train you and each time you jump when they say jump, the bar goes a little bit higher.
What had gone wrong? I thought he was a nice guy. Instead, he was insecure and controlling.
The next guy I met I thought for sure was okay. He was a therapist. A veteran. He loved his daughter, who is such a sweetheart. He loved his dog. He said grace before meals. He like board games and watching movies. I’d bring my two dogs up and spend every weekend with him. He would get up early and walk the dogs when it was cold. Wow, I had met the man of my dreams.
Along the way, there were red flags. I pushed them aside because nobody is perfect, I’d say to myself.
Our first date, he asked me to meet me at a restaurant. I sat at a table and waited but he did not show up. Finally I ordered my meal and ate alone. Right after I had paid my bill and was finishing my soda, I get a phone call. He said….are you here? I’m so sorry…..work, traffic…blah blah blah. Oh, there you are….I’ll be right over. And he sat down, ordered himself a soda, and we talked like what had happened had not happened.
Until it happened again. He would ask to go to a family style restaurant and be detained so I would be sitting there alone waiting for an hour, expecting that the food would be paid for by the time he arrived to enjoy it. His lights were turned off and could I please help him out. He needed to get his daughter presents for Christmas, could I cover him until he got to an ATM? Once at the ATM, he found out he only had enough money to cover gas and dog food for the week.
Again, I kept telling myself…well, nobody is perfect….although I didn’t appreciate what was going on. So I tried to work on things with him. Whatever we do, whenever we spend money, he would cover a third and I would take care of two thirds. He worked two jobs and had child support payments. I kept telling myself that was the reason he was struggling.
But when he insisted that we go to a restaurant right after we had this discussion about payment….and he had picked the restaurant and a decently expensive dish….all of a sudden, I became the bad guy for asking for 1/3 of the cost.
That was it for me with him. I knew that if he wasn’t going to put effort into working with me, that money was not the issue and that nothing would ever change.
But what was wrong? Why was I picking dead end relationships? Was my judgement off? How was a person supposed to know what percentage of bad or incompatibility in a relationship was acceptable?
But nothing prepared me for what happened with the priest I worked for. I’m thinking that whatever was going wrong in previous relationships….whatever anyone picked up from on me as maybe being “moldable” or “able to be compliant” or “will pay all of my bills” was what drew the priest to me as well. Add to my niceness, naivety, stupidity….whatever you want to call it….there was always “but he’s a priest” and of course, there was the gaslighting as well that further added to the confusion.
And so that leaves me wondering if other people who have been abused as adults have experienced confusion as to what is acceptable in a relationship, or a hesitancy to confront unacceptable behavior until it piles up and becomes too much. I don’t remember going into the relationships I mentioned thinking about what I was going to get out of it as much as what I needed to do in order to make things work. How much I had to adjust to please the other person. And how little I asked. How much bad behavior I accepted or believed.
I have heard people abused as children talk about how that abuse has prevented a sense of normal to many of their romantic relationships.
But what do we, who have been abused as adults know about normal and actually good relationships? Is that one of the things that made us vulnerable?
I know that it made me vulnerable….that acceptance of behavior, that making of excuses, that meekness of being that is supposed to be valued as a Catholic, that putting someone else first, that not expecting for myself, that belief that no matter what, priests were safe.
I grew up in a time where Women’s Lib was an odd new thing. Marriage was still expected of you. You weren’t expected to have a “career”, except perhaps part time. The husband was still looked upon as the breadwinner and head of the house.
Things have changed but I think formative years live inside of you forever and it’s a constant emotional/logical battle as a grown-up. A priest’s word was never questioned. The pope was infallible. A good Catholic woman stayed married and did not seek a divorce or ever seek to date another man after that ring had been placed on her finger.
Women tempt men into sin. Men are not responsible for their actions. What did you expect you would deserve if you left your husband?
The emotional child who grew up listening to this is always there, and always wanting to come forward in emotional situations or when we feel vulnerable. Men will be men. You want to be in a relationship, you gotta accept that. (Apologies, guys)
Growing up and quieting that emotional child with logic and strength, and sometimes tears, they say is what growth is about.
But a priest can trigger that inner child. They have always been our leaders, the people we trust, and our safe haven. They are, in a sense, like our dads or a kindly uncle. Those priests who abuse seem to use the knowledge of our souls and vulnerabilities to break us down and whatever faults we see in them, we know we must trust and forgive. So the use of logic, which has helped us in other relationships when things didn’t feel right, is almost non-existent because this man is not a man. This man is of God.
I remember thinking at one point that perhaps God had sent me to help him through something. All the more believable because I wasn’t supposed to get the job but another woman had turned it down. It was fate. Had to be. God and gaslighting made me feel wrong for the logical thoughts I would think at times.
Now, I don’t blame God for what happened. But I blamed myself.