I remember a time when meeting someone who was just as damaged was a bit of a relief. Everyone walking…
He said, “I just wish I knew why she keeps going back to him.”
We drove south on Lake Shore Drive and I asked him if he had to be up early in the morning for work.
“Yeah, seven in the morning.”
“Ouch. You really are a good friend.”
“Well, once again she’s having relationship troubles and once again I’m going to help talk her through it and let her know everything is going to be okay.” He said again, “I just wish I knew why.”
I wasn’t in much of a talking mood. I was tired and just wanted to drop him off and go home to my bed but I also felt an obligation to respond to his question. I drove and watched the lights from downtown grow brighter while I rubbed my unshaven chin and wondered which way I would respond. I mean, I could have told him all about how so many people are desperate and will do anything to not be alone. Or I could have told him about how so many people like to believe they can get back the person they dated at the beginning of the relationship. Or I could have told him about how most of us are predisposed to perpetuate the relationships of our parents. I could have told him the dozens of reasons I have heard as to why a person continues to go back to an unhealthy relationship, but I didn’t.
Instead, I said, “You know, I would like to think I’m not a dumb guy. I would like to think I have a pretty good head on my shoulders and that I can spot relationship red flags a mile away.”
He grunted in agreement.
“But as you’re sitting here telling me all of this, I immediately have the urge to say exactly what you’ve probably told her – to leave him.”
“Exactly!” He said.
But I was feeling a little more subdued, so I told him a story about how my ex-girlfriend once stole $1000 out of my nightstand and only after threatening to press charges and have her sent to jail did she fess up. I told him that I wasn’t a stupid guy. That I had been in plenty of relationships before and that I wasn’t a fool. I told him this then paused and said, “And I didn’t leave her.”
“You took her back?!” He asked.
“Well, I just never left her.”
“Do you mind if I ask why you stayed?”
“Honestly?… ” I said, “Because I believed if I loved her hard enough she could be the woman I knew who she truly was.”
“So did it work out?”
“Do you mind if I asked why?”
“Because she wasn’t ready to shake off her damage.”
He didn’t respond and seemed legitimately confused.
“I guess what I’m getting at is that she wasn’t ready to let go of where she came from. She was a child of abuse and neglect. She trusted no one and she was an opportunist. She behaved as if the floor would drop out from underneath her at any moment so she needed to be prepared at all times to scrounge or fight or flight. She seemed as if she was in a constant state of paranoid survival mode and that no one was ever truly on her side. And I understood where it came from… but it didn’t make for an easy relationship.” I paused for a bit then said, “And that is why I stayed. Because I thought all she needed was one good person in her life who she could trust. Just one person that would restore her faith in humanity and she would feel safe enough to let the brilliant and wonderful woman inside of her radiate and shine… but I was wrong. Like most of us are. And that is my fault but that’s okay. I did it because I believed in her more than she believed in herself. Ultimately, I had to walk away when her daily life came at the expense of my happiness.”
“So you stayed because you thought your love could fix her?”
“No.” I said, “I stayed because I thought my love could help her up from being knocked down. No one can fix anyone. But we can be the cheerleaders and wind at someone’s back. Unfortunately, it seems as if it’s always the people who give the most that are the ones who get taken advantage of the most.”
“I hear you.” He said.
We pulled up in front of his friends apartment and he thanked me for the ride and told me to have a good night. My window was down and as he walked along the side walk and toward the building he said, “And hey, I think you did the right thing.”
I leaned up in the seat and asked, “In what regard?”
“You are never wrong when you love someone who needs it.”