Photo by Claude Dagenais
In a city so steeped in history, where revisiting the past is welcomed with a sense of wonderment and enduring pride, it’s no wonder we keep revisiting our own. Now, you’re a smart gal. You managed to escape your last destructive relationship with minimal casualties, and you’re feeling certain that this time around, you’ll be able to spot the warning signs at first blush. Yet in all of our searching, our heartsick and hopeful attempts to find the cat pajamas, someone better than the last, the same symptoms seem to plague our relationships (only this time with better shoes and less hair gel). Einstein once said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So paint him any color you want, the question still remains: are we just dating the same guy over and over again? And if so, how do we keep history from repeating itself?
“If we want to know what is missing in us, what is lacking in us, what unfinished business we have, what our inner struggles are, we need not look further than the people we’re involved with,” said Susan J. Elliott, relationship expert and author of Getting Past Your Breakup: How to turn a devastating loss into the best thing that ever happened to you.
“Years of research confirm the importance of childhood (‘early attachment’) in our romantic patterns,” said Craig Malkin, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Cambridge, MA. “So all those books about the role of childhood are right; your father’s emotional distance did influence your choice of stoic men; but your continued attraction to strong, silent types has far more to do with the present than the past.”
“For example,” offers Elliot, “if abandonment is our biggest issue, we will continuously find people who will ultimately abandon us. It is to recreate our biggest struggle in an effort to win over it. And we do it again and again until we recognize our struggle and resolve it ourselves.”
Elliot refers to this complex psychological concept as “water seeks its own level,” the unconscious seeking out of those who know how to dance our particular dance and play our particular games. In this, we find a sense of comfort and familiarity that likely aids the initial attraction, but may also be the very reason for the relationship’s ultimate demise.
“It isn’t enough to know where the patterns come from,” said Malkin. “If you want to change the type you’re attracted to, you have to realize your part in all this—and change your behavior.”
What’s the simple way to do this sans costly hypnosis or messy lobotomy?
First, the next time you find yourself telling the same unsatisfying story of your lovesick love life, ask yourself the simple question a dear friend once asked me: “how’s that working for ya?” The answer might just be: it’s not. Use it as your social barometer to measure the success of your dating life. If he’s a cold fish, throw him back.
Second, make it your goal to try something new and unexpected if you truly want new and unexpected results. You might just be pleasantly surprised.
Third, listen closely to your intuition. A man tells you who he is up front, right from the beginning. It’s whether or not you chose to listen that makes all the difference. If your inner alarm starts going off, make him history and move on.
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Want more info? Here are some helpful tips from Craig Malkin, Ph.D., who is currently writing a book on the subject, on how to break out of your bad attraction patterns:
Know your type: The first step is just being clear about who you keep falling for—explosive partners? Silent ones? Passive ones? You need to keep an eye out for the familiar behaviors as soon as you feel attraction, so you can take steps to steer clear entirely or do something different from the start.
Know your anxiety: Are you afraid to offer opinions? Are you afraid to ask for help? If you avoid certain actions or conversations, you’re bound to attract someone who likes that about you. An opinion-phoebe is a turn-on for controlling types; they don’t want someone who’s comfortable sharing their perspective. Are you drawing the wrong person close because of what you avoid?
Make a plan: At the first stirrings of attraction, you’ll need a plan of action—or you’re apt to slip into the same, old role. If you’re stuck in a bad pattern, you’re sure to have a certain comfort zone, and your greatest fear is that if you leave it, you’ll drive someone away. Push yourself to do what makes you anxious. Keep falling for partners who do all the talking? Make a plan to say more from the start—and stick to it no matter how anxious you feel.
Evaluate the response: When you change your actions, your dates may embrace the new you—or they may simply be turned off. Changing an attraction pattern is bound to bring some rejection. Pay attention to how your dates respond to your new behaviors, and ask yourself: is this what I really want—someone who rejects me for wanting more? Remember: you want the old types to move on—the sooner the better.