I have treated many beautiful women who reported a history of bad relationships: unfaithful boyfriends or husbands, frank physical or verbal abuse by their partners, or a loss of interest by the men from whom they most wanted that interest. There are lots of reasons for this. Here are a few:
1. If you have come from a home where you were neglected, criticized, or abused, your self worth is likely to be less than what it should be. Recall Marilyn Monroe: famous, beautiful, and talented, but insecure and unlucky in love. A woman with the background I’ve just described often looks for approval from someone who unconsciously reminds her of the person who failed to love her as a child. It is as if the unconscious mind is still looking for the thing that was never achieved before (love or approval), and it only has value if it can come from a similar kind of person. Of course, since the parent in question was neglectful or critical, it is likely the chosen substitute will be that way as well, providing the woman with another chance to prove herself. Unfortunately, given her poor choice of a partner, the sought-for affection and approval often are no more likely than they were in childhood.
2. Whether male or female, if you moved too often as a kid, the insecurity of being the new kid on the block is hard to shake. You may also feel the never-ending need to prove yourself. Once again, insecurity can lead to choosing someone less good and kind than you deserve.
3. Are you too needy? Are you too dependent upon your boyfriend or husband to make decisions for you? Are you unable to support yourself financially? Can you bear to be without a boyfriend for very long? Do you need regular reassurance you are “the one and only?” This gets old quickly. While that reassurance will temporarily calm your fears, your friend will almost surely tire of it, leaving you less secure if you don’t ask again for a sign of his devotion, and him feeling put-upon if you do. As with a number of the concerns mentioned above, therapy is suggested if your self-worth requires the presence of an escort along with constant bolstering from him; and a tendency to lose your sense of self in the relationship, forget about your friends when you are with a romantic partner, and give-in to your new love for fear he will otherwise leave you.
4. Is your beauty (or sex) all you believe you have to offer? There are tons of gorgeous, sexy women out there and, unlike you, they won’t age! (Or at least, that will be the way it seems, since, as you get older, there will be a new cohort of young females who eventually will look preferable in purely physical terms). Although men can be pretty primitive in their response to the physical characteristics of women, qualities like wit, kindness, intelligence, good humor, and integrity grow in their value to all but the most unenlightened men. As someone once said, “Beauty fades, but stupid is forever.”
5. If a man shows interest in you too early, are you turned off? It’s true that there is an element of gamesmanship in dating and mating, but don’t choose the intrigue of a man who is hard to get and miss the devotion and decency of some others.
6. Are you too entitled? Do you believe your boyfriend or husband should keep you on a pedestal, shower you with gifts, and buy the best house in just the right neighborhood? Do you value money, status, and material things too much? If you do, a well-grounded man will tire of you or avoid you. One who is less secure or less enlightened may simply become weary of your demands for “more,” and instead seek a woman who is less self-involved and shallow.
7. Are you a good listener? I hope so, because relationships demand this of both parties. If you aren’t, your partner will not feel understood by you. Unless you respect the differences between yourself and your lover (which very likely were initially attractive), you will find the relationship works poorly or not at all.
8. As I’ve said before on my blog, sexual interest and enthusiasm are necessary parts of a good relationship. Abandon them at your own risk. However, this is not to suggest you should have sex simply because your partner wants (or worse) demands it.
9. Do you allow yourself to be demeaned in public by the man you are with? I always ask marital couples who seek therapy what initially attracted them to each other. When I asked this of one male I recall, he said, “She ‘shows’ well,” about his physically attractive wife. The tone made it clear this was a demeaning statement, not a compliment. Indeed, the man might as easily have said the same thing about a show dog or show horse. The wife made no objection to the comment. A more self-respecting woman probably would have walked out of the room.
10. Do you have a drinking or drug problem? Does your male friend? How do you know you don’t? Just because everyone you know seems to drink about as much as you do, doesn’t mean that you can avoid the alcohol or drug-driven downside of heartache, arguments, and a bad end to the relationship. Read up on alcohol abuse to get a sense of where you stand: http://www.alcoholscreening.org/
11. Do you tend to wind up with men you feel sorry for? Not a good choice. Do you give in to men who pursue you relentlessly, even though you aren’t enormously attracted to them? Again, this is not destined to lead to a good match.
12. Do you believe you can change the man you are with? It is unlikely this will happen, or, if it does, that the project of change will be accomplished even within a few years. As the old therapy joke goes, “How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “One, but the light bulb has to want to be changed.” Take a measure of who you are with while you are still capable of being objective, which means your evaluation needs to be done early in the relationship. Once your heart takes over and you are in love, rational judgments are either too late or altogether impossible.
13. As a father to two career-minded, married daughters, I applaud independent women who forge careers. But just as a man needs to remember his wife and children need attention, so do women in high-powered careers need to live by the same rules. If you are neglectful of your partner, mentally or physically exhausted by the work you do between 9 and 5, and consumed by issues related to your vocation, the relationship is at risk.
14. Are you too critical? If you experienced or observed a fair amount of criticism growing up, it is easy to become like the person who did this. Indeed, we are often at risk of becoming the thing we hate, or of normalizing the unfortunate characteristics we observed in our parents because we had no other family experience to compare it to. Compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and acceptance are needed in any good relationship, and in large quantities.
15. Do you expect your boyfriend or husband to fulfill your life and make you happy? No one can really do that for you, although having a companion can be worthwhile and important. But a relationship will not solve all problems or make life perfect. Don’t expect it to. The weight of that expectation on your lover is more than most relationships can bear.
16. One final point, and a sad one. If you are smart and beautiful, and especially if you are professionally accomplished, there are a fairly large number of men out there who will be intimidated by your competence, intelligence, authority, and attractiveness. As a result, you might have to generate more than the usual amount of effort to find a good match. Unfair, but true.
In closing, I should say that making a good choice of mate, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman, is challenging. But there are a lot of good people out there (albeit fewer men than women), so if your history shows a pattern of failed choices, its best to look in the mirror and ask why. And, if you can’t come up with an answer or change your pattern even though you are aware of repeating the same mistakes, therapy often helps.
This post has generated one very heated and critical comment. You might want to read it and see what you think: Dealing with Online Criticism of that “Bald, Ugly, Old” Man: Me.
The top photo is of Marilyn Monroe. The second image is of Céline Du Caju, Miss Belgian Beauty 2006, taken by Eddy Van 3000 and sourced from Wikimedia Commons.