By: Haley’s Comment
Photo:Via Lana Del Rey’s “White Mustang” Music Video
I must have a tattoo with invisible ink on my forward — welcome to Haley’s Rehabiliation Center for Broken Boys. Because emotionally stable, mature individuals do not even fly on my radar — yet if you’re wounded somehow, I find you irresistible. I chalked it up to the bad boy allure and kept riding the same rollercoaster with different names and faces for many years — until I picked up Robin Norwood’s 1985 classic, “Women Who Love Too Much.”
Reading this book sharpened my focus around this cyclical pattern of subconsciously choosing partners I couldn’t genuinely form a healthy connection with. Am I as extreme as the case studies she examined? I wouldn’t say so, but the book did illuminate for me the road that I was walking down and after reading it, I began to take ownership in who I was attracted to and the role I was playing in partnerships. So if you relate even a little bit with falling for unavailable men cyclically, I strongly recommend you read this article. Even better, pick up her book.
Norwood touches on this disclaimer in her book and I’d like to repeat it before diving in myself — men can certainly fall in the same paradigm, but due to cultural and biological factors, they tend to avoid pain through pursuits that are more external and impersonal than relationships. As Norwood states in her book, “the man’s tendency is to become obsessed with work, sports or hobbies while, due to the cultural and biological forces working on her, the woman’s tendency is to become obsessed with a relationship — usually with a damaged and distant man.”
As she states, her book (and hopefully, this article) would be helpful to anyone who loves too much, but it is primarily written for women because loving too much is typically a woman phenomenon. Men’s childhood trauma will usually evolve to other addictions and obsessions revolving around accomplishments and ego rather than this sort of addictive behavior in relationships. As I move forward, I’ll be speaking mostly in her / him terms, as the her as the love addicted party. But, feel free to insert whichever pronouns work and resonate for you.
Norwood describes a woman who loves too much as an individual who finds herself attracted to trouble, distant, moody men — dismissing “nice guys” as boring. She’ll neglect her friends and interests to be available to him. She’ll feel empty without him, although being with him is paramount to her overall fulfillment. She’ll live her life strapped into a permanent roller coaster, cruising on each “high” from her partner then feeling depressed during each low. So much time and energy is consumed around pleasing him that her life begins to slip away from her hands. Her life becomes tunnel vision around him and slowly her hobbies, friends and life outside of him drips away until her entire world is chasing and taking care of this man who doesn’t even provide her with a consistent, healthy relationship.
So why do some women find themselves in a pattern of this sort of relationship again and again?
When we date anyone, we date his/her psychology. We pursue those who fit into our vision of what a partnership looks like, which can often stem from family dynamics, subconscious programming or past traumas. We are magnetized towards the individuals that “fit” our view for what love is. We chase people where we can repeat relationship roles we’re accustomed to. This is all lovely if you had a spotless childhood and possess a healthy psychology. For many people, though, love has taken a warped definition and they will pursue individuals that play into their damaged psychology. The detached will be drawn to the codependent. The addict and the nurturer will be drawn together. The narcissist and the empath will glue together. The psychologies just fit together to what they are accustomed to. So there’s something in the woman who loves too much mindset that makes the emotionally unavailable man look irresistible and a suitable candidate to pine for.
Our minds work in overdrive when we’re sizing up a person when we’re trying to figure out whether or not they could be a potential match. You might find the fellow standing at the corner of the party rude and disinterested, but Elise, who grew up in a home where her father was permanently detached, may find him magnetic. Christa who grew up with an alcoholic parent will feel comfortable when her mate gets too drunk — she knows how to tuck him in, give him a blanket, leave out a couple of aspirin for the morning — because she’s seen her mom do it for her dad her whole childhood. Trista grew up with a narcissistic father so when John exhibits the same over the top, grandoise qualities, it feels like a very normal, very safe role for her to take on, as that’s the sort of masculine figure she grew up with.
Beyond just childhood, this style of relating could certainly stem from other external factors such as self esteem, past relationships, fear of intimacy, empathic auras or being a natural healer.
This need to caretake may stem from a natural nurturing personality, but typically its embedded into these individuals as a technique to survive. Their fear of abandonment or anxious attachment style translates to “If this person needs me, they can’t leave me.” It comes from a deep need to control the outcome of the partnerships — by keeping the other party dependent on them, they feel they can’t be left.
For women who love too much, their idea of what “love” is wrapped around taking care of another human being. Therefore, when a woman who loves too much meets a stable, caring, together man, she will get a subconscious vibe that she is not able to love him. Love for her is fixing. Love is a project. Love feels distant and cold. If a man needs no caretaking and she does not have to chase him, so he’s not even on her radar for a romantic relationship. Yet when an angry, elusive, detached or addicted man comes her way, she sees a project that she can pour their love and devotion to. The wound is her siren’s call.
This style of relating turns love into a drug, a “high” so to speak. The cycle of chasing, avoiding, coming back together, dramatic fights messes with both lover’s brain chemistry and keeps both hooked on the drama.
Norwood argues in her book that for these individuals, it is an addiction — one that can be just as damaging and wreak just as much havoc as alcoholism any other addiction can. Rather than turning to a bottle or a drug to avoid dealing with one’s problems, women who love too much place all of their energy into trying to “fix” or take care of broken people. This too, is its own high. And the descent into addiction and increasing chaos over one’s life follows the same patterns.
Consider the characteristics of practicing alcoholics & relationally addictive women:
Addiction, whether to a mind-altering chemical or to an unhappy relationship, ultimately affects every area of the addict’s life in a progressively disastrous way.
And consider their similar recovery paths:
- Admitting helplessness to control disease
- Ceasing to blame others for problems
- Focusing on self, taking responsibility for own actions
- Seeking help for recovery from peers
- Beginning to deal with own feelings rather than avoiding them
- Building a circle of well friends, healthy interests
This style of relating is typically a way to avoid fixing one’s own life. It’s always easier to zero in on someone else’s flaws, fix their life than their own. And there’s that resolve — I can fix him. I can help him get sober. If I pour enough love and healing into this guy, he’ll change. Similarly, the addict turns to their substance of choice as a means to avoid fixing one’s own life, looking at their own problems.
In many times, the addict and the relationally addicted woman are a match made in hell (but it initially feels like heaven!). They are attracted to one another because they play into one another’s addictions nicely and the two can pursue a path of mutual destruction. The woman who loves too much is magnetized to his coldness, his woundedness, his need for her to take care of him. She tends to falls on the anxious style of attachment, which is on the opposite site of the spectrum as love avoidant people, who are emotionally unavailable. Love avoidant people typically have their own addiction outside of love, zoning out with their own favored way to escaping their problems. While she chases him, the addict can chase his desired high. The addict can depend on the woman to take care of him while progressing even more so into the disease. Together, the two keep one another sicker and give each other what they want in a twisted way — avoiding true intimacy.
It’s difficult for the wounded individual to heal in an environment where the flaw is what initially bonded the two of them together. If the capacity of how she relates to a man is how much she takes care of him, what happens when he gets better? How will the couple connect, how will they bond? How can they evolve from their set roles of person in need / person in devotion? The wounded / caretaking relationship just keeps both parties sicker because giving up their addictions or their “highs” would dissolve the relationship. Without the dramatic roller coaster ascents and declines, a healthy relationship can feel boring. They’ve been relating to one another and creating a relationship with such intense extremities attached.
People are who they are. Women who love too much typically fall for someone’s potential, rather than who they are. They glaze over the sickness, the addiction and the emotionally detachment and expand the positive traits they see. This woman will hold onto that hope that she’ll be the one who can make him better. And in fact, shouldn’t she help when she has all this love to give? Wouldn’t walking away just be cruel?
The trouble with cyclically attracting damaged partners is that no matter how loving, how available, how sweet you are to them, the healing journey is one that ultimately comes from within. The desire to change, quit drinking, stop cheating, be a better person needs to be intrinsically motivated. No matter how much love you have to give, know that you cannot make someone better, you cannot make them change.
Acknowledging a cycle is the first step to breaking it. Just by admitting you’re systematically pursuing broken, emotionally unavailable or addicted men means you can start to analyze your own psychology which glorifies these men. The journey of self love begins there.
Get a plant or a pet to pour your nurturing energy into, devote yourself to a hobby, give yourself a year of absolutely no dating to get super clear on your own energy. The first step of breaking the cycle of loving too much is to pour all that nurturing, compassionate energy into yourself. When you form a genuine relationship with yourself (and with God, or the universe, or Spirit, whatever you want to call it), you find that the answer, that love, as an archetype, doesn’t exist outside of you. It never has. It’s always been within. You are love. And when you realize and stand fiercely in that truth, you’ll find emotionally unavailable partners aren’t able to give you the love and affection you deserve and you’ll stop being attracted to them.
The cycle ends now. Take care of you first.