For my entire romantic life, I have gravitated toward abusive men.
That is hard to say, and I don’t ever want those words to be twisted into a statement that somehow suggests I deserved the harm that came to me. I didn’t. But last year, I realized there was something going on inside my heart that led me to the same type of man, over and over again. And that something — whatever it was — needed my attention.
I took a break from dating. Instead, I decided to “date” a horse named Joe. He was my therapy horse, and he showed me why I longed for love from dangerous men.
I love dangerous men because they fill the silence of my anxiety. They assure me that all will be well, that I won’t be lonely, that I’ll be the muse for their passion and their anger. They tell me I am unforgettable, knowing fully well that my biggest relationship fear is that I will end up forgotten and alone. None of their commitments and promises turn out well, because their empty words are nothing more than a grab for power.
A few months ago, I met a different kind of man. On our first couple of dates, he treated me well in a reserved kind of way. He wasn’t showy. He didn’t profess his love for me within just a few dates, or look for a commitment from me before I was ready to give it. But he called me when he said he would. He picked me up for our dates on time. His compliments were few and far between — but when he gave them, he meant them.
I fell hard for him on our fourth date, when he gave me the extra shrimp on his plate as a result of a conversation from three weeks before, in which I’d said I love grilled shrimp. He had listened to me. He saw me as a woman who was separate from himself, and not one to be absorbed into his ego.
This man filled me with anxiety, unlike what I’d ever felt with any of my abusive exes. He didn’t need-me-want-me-have-to-have-me. He wasn’t willing to fill the silence of my anxiety with a too-quick commitment. It wasn’t a partnership developing around a need for each other. Rather, it was a partnership developing around a mutual desire to know one another better. Those kinds of relationships are terrifying for a woman with anxiety issues, because mutual desire can diminish in the blink of an eye. A partnership of need cannot.
A few weeks ago, he and I went on a weekend trip together. At the end of the trip, I asked him where he thought our relationship was headed. He was only able to say that he cared for me, but wasn’t yet sure. There were many unknowns, including my daughter, my custody arrangement and the status of his career.
The woman I was before “dating” Joe would have reasoned with him. I would have soothed and silenced my anxiety by explaining why he should be with me, commit to me and plan his life around a future together. Joe, however, taught me that only abusive men respond well to the escalation of a needy relationship. Good men do not. So I sat quietly, and then told my date that I understood. My anxiety pounded in my chest, and I felt overcome with the uncertainty of it all. I left the weekend in tears, because I didn’t know if this good man would choose me, if he didn’t need me and I didn’t need him.
I sat with my anxiety for two days after our return. I thought of Joe, my therapy horse. I thought of how Joe came to me when I let him know I wanted him nearby, but didn’t demand it of him. I thought of how he grew aggressive with me when I tried to force him to do anything.
On the second day, my date called. He said, “You are beautiful and you are delightful. I want to make this thing work.”