Are all men hopeless? This is what I am beginning to believe after yet another failed love affair. “Failed” equals years of sex with him (five to be exact, and it was never that great because he had problems sustaining erections), picking up his socks off the floor, and settling into what I thought would be a lifetime of committed bliss only to find out that he is sleeping with my best friend. By far, this is my worst love affair ever, although they all share the common theme of me as doormat. I have had enough. Any help would be great.—Sally
The One Who Got Away
It sounds like you’ve had a narrow escape. I’m quite sure a grown man who can’t find the hamper or get it up for you, but manages to do so for your best friend, is not the guy to commit to. Count your blessings that this one “got away.” I don’t think it’s men that are the problem here; it’s how you are letting yourself be treated by them. You have the chance to choose better next time, so take it.—Gale Ward; Brooklyn, New York
I realize that you’re in a tough place. You know that what you’re doing or putting out there with men is not working, but you’re not sure what to do differently. It’s enough sometimes to know that you need to do things differently. Why not try simple behavioral changes to warm you up for the bigger changes? Change your hairstyle, the way you commute to work, what you normally have for dinner. Do something every day that is outside your comfort zone and this will help set the stage for the larger changes you need to make. And honey, love yourself every step of the way!—Maureen Compton; New York City
I’ve read your question several times trying to find out how the relationship you described ever offered you the possibility of “committed bliss.” Perhaps in your anger or sadness over how the affair ended, you left out the good and sustaining parts of your relationship, the parts that promised bliss and were blissful, but I doubt it. Being mistreated by men seems to be part of your longstanding dance with them and not a misstep. When your role in relationships is doormat, your bliss must be equated with being stepped upon.
You need a new definition of bliss—and fast. While you contemplate what that might look and feel like to you, let’s take a look at the patterns and belief systems that helped to create your current situation. I believe your boyfriend did you a favor by cheating on you with your “best” friend. As painful as the experience may have been, the reward is that you are asking for help and are primed to make some changes.
Your relationship patterns are long-standing, and it’s likely that your role models as a child had low self-esteem. It’s also likely that your parents treated you as a burden, or as narcissistic extensions of themselves. You may have felt that your existence depended on you filling your parents needs and/or meeting some impossible standard that held out the elusive reward of feeling loved. However you got it, the message you carry within is that intimacy and emotional mistreatment are bedfellows.
Reflect on the following questions to understand how compromising yourself, giving too much, and being lied to has become a part of your relationship DNA:
1. How did your parents encourage or discourage you when you were faced with a challenge as a child? Did they compare you to others or push you to do better than others?
2. How did they speak to you about yourself?
3. How did they negotiate decision making with you? How were you treated in times of conflict?
4. Did they praise you honestly and often for who you were? Did they encourage you to always do your best regardless of the outcome?
5. Were they interested in your efforts, your thoughts, your unique way of looking at the world? Were they curious about your inner life?
6. How and when did you feel valued, loved, cared for, nurtured, safe, respected?
7. Did you feel a secure continuity of their love when you left home to establish your independent life?
These are only a handful of questions, but they are enough to get you started in your process of reflection. It is completely possible to learn how to love and value yourself now, or as Kabir, the mystic poet wrote, to begin to “stand firm in that which you are.” All books on the rules of dating and relationships could be boiled down to this: Love and value yourself. Your first loyalty is to yourself, Sally. At your deepest level, you know this as evidenced by your statement, “I have had enough.”
You can follow any dating rule perfectly, like not calling or always hanging up the phone first, as advised by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider in their classic book The Complete Book of Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right. Until your inner world is radiating self-love and self-worth, it won’t be aligned with your outer actions, and I don’t believe much will change. To begin to create new beliefs that will help foster your burgeoning self-esteem, try this: write a new definition of bliss and let it spring from the part of you that knows you are worthy of a great relationship.
Here’s an exercise to get you started. You will need a single rose. For centuries, the rose has stood for beauty, for strength, for love. Roses are associated with the divine aspect of the feminine and with mythic goddesses like Aphrodite, Cybele, and Juno. The rose represents the highest spiritual ideals in Sufi poetry, and in medieval times, one had to beg permission from the plant itself in order to pluck a single blossom.
Find a space that is private and beautiful and have your intention be to release sadness and despair, feelings of shame and self-doubt. Like the perfume of the rose blossom you are holding, know that love surrounds you. Write down your new definition of bliss and tape it where you can read it throughout your day. Allow your words, like the rose, to remind you of your beauty, your inner light, and your boundless capacity to love and be loved.
Please send me your new definition of bliss so I can share it with others.
I’ve been married to Peter for twenty years and we have three children. Whenever we have a crisis in our family, my husband retreats and I am left on my own to resolve things. Our son started high school last year and is being bullied. I’m anxious to help him and want my husband to join me in problem-solving and supporting our child. Peter won’t discuss it. Please help.—Marie
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