Mr. Brightside 6 - Hello Mother, Hello Father

We choose partners who are like our parents or primary caregivers.

Have you heard that concept before?

I had heard of it, but it wasn't something that was at the forefront of my mind, and certainly not when I met Mr. Brightside.

I tend to immerse myself deeply into subjects which are relevant to my immediate life experience, and since I'd been single for a year-and-half, I hadn't been 
doing any work around developing my intimate relationship skills.

But when Mr. Brightside and I started dating, I started reading again - specifically a well-known relationship book - Getting the Love You Want - which is where I came across the above-mentioned concept.

When the author talked about how "We unwittingly choose mates who resemble our primary caretakers" I thought "Well that's wrong in this case, Mr. Brightside is nothing like my dad."

(I actually felt pretty superior at that moment in time, thinking about how very, very wrong this book was...) 

My father has a core of loud anger that's always very close to the surface - he can go into a fit of rage at the drop of a hat. He's impatient, rigid, close-minded, unwilling to try new things or entertain new ideas.

Mr. Brightside had a core of quiet calm that he was not easily shaken from - it took a lot for him to get upset. He was patient, easy-going, open-minded, willing to try new things and entertain new ideas.

See? Polar opposites.

Clearly the book was wrong.

Until it wasn't.

About a month into our relationship, Mr. Brightside and I started having having long heavy conversations, and when I reflected back on them, I would ask myself "What is the theme here? What are all of these issues really about?"

(Because within the context of a relationship, I think we all know that the fights are never really about the little things that we're arguing about; those little things only act as pointers to the bigger issues.)

I would ask him what he was thinking, what he was feeling, ask him about his day, ask about his hobbies, interests, and friends. I expected him to do the same with me; to be curious about me, and to ask questions, to want to know me as much as I wanted to know him.

But he didn't ask, and he didn't seem to want to know. Don't get me wrong, he always listened when I talked, but he rarely offered anything in return - no questions, no answers.

I kept digging and digging - pushing in an attempt to connect - and this frustrated both of us. Him likely because he felt as though his personal space was being invaded, and me because I felt as though I was trying to get blood from a stone.

I often wanted to shout at him (but never did) - "Why can't you relate to me like a normal human!!! Why do I need to explain these things to you?!!! Why can't you understand these needs - these are normal human needs?!!"

Ahh. And there it was.

Hello Dad.

"Typically if you find yourself recreating patterns based around your relationship with your father, it's likely to be because:
  • He prioritised his needs to the detriment of you/your family.
  • He emotionally, sexually, or physically abused you.
  • He may not have met his financial or family obligations.
  • He was unresponsive, uncommunicative, and undemonstrative.
  • He was communicative and demonstrative... but only when expressing negativity.
  • He may have made you work for his attention.
  • He may have said something that led you to believe that you were responsible for his behaviour..."

I have no idea who my father is.

I mean obviously I know who he is superficially: I know his name (first and last, but not his middle name). I know his date of birth. I know what city and country he was born in. I know that maple walnut is his favourite ice cream flavour, and that cucumbers upset his stomach. I know that he used to be a sea captain.

My father doesn't know who I am. He barely knows more than the basic facts that I listed above, but those don't even extend to my favourite ice cream flavour.

My father lives a self-contained life; he lives in a bubble where no one gets in, and he never steps out. I've tried to reach in there and pull him out - asked him about himself, and tried to get him interested in me - but to no avail.

"The Rejecting Parent - Rejecting parents seem to have a wall around them. They don't want to spend time with their children and seem happiest if others leave them alone to do what they want. Their children get the feeling the parent would be fine if they didn't exist. These parents' irritated demeanor teaches their children not to approach them, something one person described as running toward someone only to have the door slammed in her face. They summarily reject attempts to draw them into affectionate or emotional interactions. If pushed for a response, they may become angry or even abusive. These parents are capable of punitive physical attacks."

The only feelings I've ever seen my father express are the negative ones: anger, rage, disappointment. But the softer feelings - like tenderness, warmth, vulnerability - almost never.

As the years have passed, he's sunk deeper and deeper into himself. I think it's been about 20 years now where he has ceased to live and merely exists. He gets up in the morning, comes downstairs and has the exact same breakfast, goes back upstairs to his computer and spends the whole day there.

Of course there are variations to this routine, but most of them are dictated by the needs of his circumstances (a doctor's appointment, an oil change for the car) rather than being self-motivated.

"It is not healthy to live our lives in isolation. Sharing the emotional part of us with others creates closeness and intimacy."

- Melody Beattie: Codependent No More

Somewhere in that bubble of his, I think he might be depressed. But I don't think he's aware of it because it would require him to acknowledge his feelings and his inner life in some way and for whatever reason, he cannot access many of those feeling parts of himself.

I know my father had a very difficult childhood. I don't know more than one or two details - the 'tamer' things he shared with my mother that she then shared with me - and those details are awful.

He never dealt with those feelings, and in one way it's to be understood. He was born in Egypt in 1943. It was a different time, a different place and men were not expected or allowed to feel things.

“Sometimes we withdraw emotionally to avoid being crushed. Being emotionally vulnerable is dangerous. Hurt becomes piled upon hurt, and no one seems to care. It becomes safer to go away. We become overloaded with pain, so we short-circuit to protect ourselves."

- Melody Beattie: Codependent No More

When I think of my father in self-imposed isolation, both in his room, and within his own being, it breaks my heart to the point where I sometimes cry for him.

At other times, I get angry. I want to shout: "What a waste! You were surrounded by people who were so ready to love you if only you had opened up, but you decided to stay in there by yourself. You lost so muchYou lost your LIFE."

As I said, it is literally the thing that breaks my heart about my father. And although I understand why he felt he needed to retreat into himself, I cannot understand that, even when it was safe, he never came out of himself.

But maybe he never felt safe.

I wonder if he's ever felt emotionally close to anyone?

If the meaning of life as a human being is to be emotionally close and connected to other humans so that we may love and be loved (which I believe it is) has he ever felt his own humanity? Has he ever truly felt love?

But that's his journey, not mine; his choice, not anyone else's.

He's 79 years-old now, my dad.

And he can only show anything other than negative emotions when he cries at sad movies. (As did Mr. Brightside...I wiped away his tears as he cried through emotional scenes on more than one occasion.)

"Emotionally immature people are easily overwhelmed by deep emotion, and they display their uneasiness by transmuting it into quick reactivity. Instead of feeling things deeply, they react superficially. They may be emotionally excitable and show a strong sentimentality, perhaps being easily moved to tears. Or they may puff up in anger toward anything they dislike. Their reactivity may seem to indicate that they're passionate and deeply emotional, but their emotional expression often has a glancing quality, almost like a stone skipping the surface rather than going into the depths. It's a fleeting reaction of the moment - dramatic but not deep."

Sometimes my dad now actually says to me "I love you." (I believe my mother has impressed upon him that he needed to do this.) I'm not used to hearing that from him. I imagine it feels as strange for him to say it, as it does for me to hear it.

I don't know what to do with it, when he says it.

You taught me how to live without you - without your love and approval - and you cannot now be surprised that I do.

We choose partners who are like our parents or primary caregivers.

I saw a lot of the same things in Mr. Brightside. When I told him he lived in a bubble, he didn't understand what I meant.

"How many of you want more love, intimacy in your lives? Joy? You can't have that if you don't let yourself be seen. How can you let yourself be loved if you can't be seen?"

- Brene Brown: The Call to Courage

As I said, personality wise, he was nothing like my father; I experienced his patience and ability to listen and desire to understand in certain moments.

But from what I observed, I don't think he knew how to share his inner world in order to allow someone to really get to know him and get close to him. Not anymore than my father does.

Mr. Brightside told me in the last month of our relationship (after he had cried at a sad movie) that he had had an emotional awakening in the last few years.

When I asked him what that meant, he said that until a few years ago, he wasn't able to feel anything, and that now he was able to feel something.

(I had so many questions about that statement, but the moment he said it wasn't the right moment to inquire further.)

If that was true, then how had he connected with his previous partners? How had he shared intimacy with anyone?

I think the answer is: he didn't.

I asked him if he'd ever had a partner in the true sense of the word - a soft place to land, someone to support him, who he supported in return.

He was 45 years old, and had been married twice. I thought it was a fair question.

He said no.

What does a relationship like that look like, where it's each man for himself?

" skate through a hundred relationships that don’t involve intimacy. They haven’t yet come to themselves and don’t want to. They are estranged from their inner lives.”

- David Brooks: The Second Mountain

The thing that kept me hopeful with Mr. Brightside were his eyes: when I looked into his eyes, I saw warmth there. Whereas many people have a very guarded look, his was open and I believed there was a beautiful kind soul in there. The only time I felt a bit of a connection with him was when I looked into his eyes.

What I was trying to do when we were together, every time I would ask him about his inner world, was mining for gold. I was trying to pull him out of his bubble, to really see and get close to the soul I thought I saw shining through his eyes.

But he didn't want to come out.

Did he even want to share himself and his inner world with anyone? Does he know how?

I kept hanging on because I thought that if the desire was there, then the how to do it would be manageable. I could have patience and love and understanding for him on that journey.

But the desire wasn't there, so there was nothing to be done.

“Love is possible only if two people eventually reveal the centre of their existences.”

- David Brooks: The Second Mountain

I tried with my dad. I tried with Mr. Brightside.

I spent the first 40 years of my life trying to get one man to tell me who he is and get curious about who I am, and I now know that I can't do it with someone who doesn't want to do it.

I can't pull anyone out of their bubble. I can only create a safe and loving space for them to walk out, if they so choose.

And the thing is - that's not my job.

It's up to every individual to do the emotional work they need to do. Asking for support on the journey is fine, even encouraged, but no one can walk anyone else's path for them.

Mr. Brightside tried the best that he could within the (limited) emotional capacity that he had. And that's why I stuck around; because he was trying.

"Mr Unavailable thinks about what he is able to give and decides what you need on that basis. Now bearing in mind that he’s not exactly honest and connected with himself, he often believes that his limited contribution is far more than what it is.

Fallback Girls often wonder ‘How the hell can he think that anyone would be happy with those crumbs?’ - but to him they’re not crumbs; they’re his effort and even if it’s based on a 10% capacity, to him that feels like a lot...

Thinking about others is what committed people do and when he contemplates meeting your needs (not the ones that he’s conjured up for you but the ones that you’ve stated or even kept badgering him about), it creates uncomfortable feelings that he of course is looking to avoid."

Although he was trying, I was never sure if he was trying for me - doing certain things because I was asking - or if he understood that this was what was required in order to connect to another human. I suspect it was the former, and that's what made the actions ultimately meaningless because they were coming from a sense of duty rather than from the heart.

Sargent Brightside reporting for relationship duty, m'am.

"For my father - it would have been too much for him to be present for his own life. It would have been too much for him to accept the amount of love I had for him. He was doing everything he could to not be present in the moment.

Baby, listen to me. That had nothing to do with you. He was a fool. He would have had so much more fun with you. Now, what are we going to do to repair your heart right now? We're going to have you treat yourself with all the love and kindness that you wanted him to treat you with, you're not going to repeat his mistakes.

I feel sorry for him, because he missed out.

It forced me to understand my own value - not through someone - but for myself which is the most valuable thing you can understand your own value."


Popular Posts