Here's a list of nicknames that friends have given various men in my life: Dead Dad Guy, Dead Sister Guy, Institutionalized Mother Man, Dead Dad Guy II, The Gambler and the ever-popular Mack Truck Collision Victim.
Well, everybody has a type.
Leave it to me. I'll go to a party and find the one guy in the room who is horribly, horribly broken. If he's deeply troubled, tragically wounded or has a "dark side" that threatens to eclipse the sun, I'll end up with his phone number and a six-month stint in relationship hell.
Show me a birdie with a broken wing, and I'll show you my next fractured romance.
I don't know exactly how it happens or why, but I gather, from word of mouth and copious talk-show viewing, that it isn't uncommon.
In my case, I knew it was bad when I'd meet someone and the first question friends would ask wouldn't be, "What does he do?" or "Where is he from?" but, "What's wrong with him?"
At one point, I was determined to break the pattern. I met a guy and was convinced he was the well-adjusted solution to my problem. He had the big three: job, car, apartment. He loved his parents. He had goals. He had a cat. A couple of months into the relationship, he broke down sobbing and admitted that he had seen his best friend die in a freak boating accident when he was in high school. The story was so sad, it had made several specialists in post-traumatic stress disorder break down crying.
I cried, too. Not that I was surprised. There had to be something, some deep sadness that had attracted me without my even knowing it.
To me, the most alluring thing about men who have suffered is that I think they know things I don't. They've looked extreme sorrow and sometimes even death in the face and survived, and this always fascinates me. How does a psyche that's been stretched beyond the normal range of human emotion snap back into a recognizable shape? I asked Dead Friend Guy this very question.
"It doesn't," he answered. "I only simulate normal human behavior."
In his case, this process was greatly aided by daily use of drugs and alcohol, a habit that eventually drove me away and inspired me to question my own motives in choosing him.
Yes, darkness and sadness can be signs of depth and wisdom. Sometimes, however, darkness is just darkness, and sad people tend to make you feel how they feel, the way a drowning man tries to take down the lifeguard who comes to his rescue. The drowning man isn't malicious; he just needs air.
Just recently, I ended yet another of my botched male rescue attempts. This man was funny, smart, excessively charming and a prime candidate for the full spectrum of 12-step programs. For months, my deluded thought process went a little something like this: I'm the only one who can cure him. I'll ask him all the right questions about his painful childhood. I'll hold his hand and listen to him the way no one else has. I'll uncork all of his repressed pain, and he will finally be a happy person. My happy person. And he'll be so grateful, he'll never leave me.
It doesn't take a genius to see the flaws in this logic. I can't make anyone happy, and, even if I could, nothing ensures the permanence of attachment or of love.
The scariest part of all this is that I'm beginning to wonder if I attract broken people because like people find each other and I myself may be a little broken. Do broken people have some secret radar signal we send each other? Do we just smell sadness on each other and find it to be some irresistible pheromone disguised as love at first sight?
Whatever the reasons, it would clearly be an improvement to find myself with guys who get nicknames like, No Baggage Man, Good Childhood Guy, The King of Stability, Moderate Drinking Man, Charlie Fun or Old Reliable.
I guess it would be a little rude to insist that potential suitors fill out some sort of happiness-quotient questionnaire, or submit to Mike Tyson-style grilling from a team of psychiatrists.
The only answer that comes to me has that flaky feel of something you'd read on a bumper sticker that's peeling off the back of an old van. Become the person you want to attract. If like people are drawn to each other, and I think they often are, the only way to find someone who won't suck you into their vortex of need is to minimize your own sense of longing.
When I figure out how to do that, I'll get back to you.
Teresa Strasser is a twentysomething contributing writer for The Jewish Journal.
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