September 2, 2004
The Mickey Rule
My brother Mickey works with teens and adults as a mental health counselor. Mickey began his counseling career while he was a teenager. Like many talented people who begin their careers with a significant bang, he gave me advice on teenage dating that was so profound, so far-reaching, that only in my 40s, as a divorced man, did I realize its importance.
Had I diligently followed what I call, "The Mickey Rule," my life and certainly my postdivorce dating would have taken a different path. When I was in my tender teen years, Mickey said, "Do you want to be happy? Then don't sleep with anyone crazier than you."
For those separated or newly divorced, truer words were never spoken. For many of my friends, and even me, the crazy time of divorce attracts those equally crazy or worse.
There seems to be an unwritten rule that states: "If you are going through a convulsive experience, you ought to be open to those with equally or more compelling issues." Whatever happened to: "Put your own mask on first, then, tighten the straps before you try to assist others"?
Still, way too many of us violate the Mickey Rule. Following my separation, I began dating someone who initially met four criteria her predecessor lacked, and so happy was I at getting those four met, I forgot about the other 20 criteria that also mattered. 1) She was an out-of-stater, and only in my world on my per-incident invitation. 2) She had a quality I so admire in a woman: a lot of interest in me. 3) She possessed an attitude toward sexuality I had previously only seen on Animal Planet. 4) She was cute. I mean really cute.
What I didn't initially realize was that she was also certifiably nuts. Not eccentric, not wacky. I'm talking her own, personal DSM-IV classification. She probably thought "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" was a documentary.
Her out-of-town status gave her time to straighten up for my short visits. Her profound interest in me masked a pathological unwillingness to attend to her own needs. Her libido, well, that would later prove to not be worth the cost of entry. If she had been local, her tenure in my life would have lasted about as long as your average JDate drive-by coffee meeting. But she lasted longer. In fact, the break up took longer than the actual relationship. I was low-hanging fruit in this experience, but I was a volunteer in the orchard.
Why do we go for insane people?
There are many answers, and in the name of service, let me offer some tips. First a disclaimer: I have been divorced for almost nine years. Today, I am in a loving relationship with a woman who is my peer, my passion and one of my heroes. I had several postdivorce relationships (you know the score, first you get appointed, and then you get disappointed) and I enjoy a great collaborative relationship with my former spouse, whom I respect. I am a lucky man. Now, let's return to our regular programming.
We go for crazy people because we don't understand our criteria in a partner. I think women are generally clearer on what they are looking for than us men. Some guys like an organic approach to defining wants (e.g., "I'll learn on the job"). Others just pick a single quality and hone in on that item. Once, following a relationship with an esthetician, I temporarily only picked JDate women with great eyebrows. I wouldn't recommend that one as criteria. I could see it leading to the "Crazy Person's Full Employment Act."
We attract where we are at. You see it in spades among folks searching for a financial/emotional/spiritual rescue. Instead of attracting someone to rescue them, they seem to only pull in people who also need rescuing. So, before you look at a person, look in the mirror. Ask yourself if their tsuris is drowning out your ability to deal with your own stuff. Or what is it about you that really attracts them?
We often don't understand the risks of physical chemistry. Physical chemistry is like Botox -- a little of it smoothes wrinkles and a lot of it paralyzes you. Don't get me wrong, I admire physical beauty (hell, my partner is downright yummy) and I understand why supermodels get paid big bucks. But physical chem ain't enough, not even here in Los Angeles. Here's a little test to see if you are misaligned on the importance of physical beauty: Close your eyes and listen to the object of your affection talk for a minimum of two paragraphs. If their personal stock price drops while your eyes are closed, you may have a problem.
Chemistry is not correlated with human goodness. Remind yourself often that you can have great chem with some very wrong people. But remember, it's not your job to judge your exes. That's the responsibility of the criminal justice system.
If you think being in a relationship with a crazy person is bad, wait till you break up with them. Welcome to "bunny boiling." The key to avoiding a category-five hurricane is to do something I once failed to do: effective pre-breakup planning. Remember to remove all personal possessions from their home before the announcement. The key is denying the loon a huge number of opportunities to hijack the normal exchange of personal possessions and turn it into a series of bad Tennessee Williams dramas.
Applying the Mickey Rule. Is there hope once you embrace the Mickey Rule? Despite the mourning that we all go through after one of these experiences, most everyone winds up being loved better than they were before.
For me, it was simply a matter of becoming the person I wanted to attract. I did it a little later in life, but nevertheless, just in time.
Sam Shmikler is a writer living in Los Angeles. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.