The closest I came to starting what initially appeared as my first healthy relationship since me and my children’s mom split up, was about six months ago.
I met a woman who seemed like a great fit. We were around the same age, we lived less than an hour away from each other, and we got on just fine for the first few weeks.
She wanted to introduce me to her parents and I am usually open-minded about such things. Being a dad, I like to know who my daughter spends time with also.
There is nothing uncommon about this—nor was there anything uncommon about the subconscious way I began to pull back from her. I didn’t realize it as it was happening, but that was when the future of this relationship became compromised.
We had only been together for a month when my birthday rolled around. My new girlfriend asked me to meet her at my favorite trattoria in town, and I was happy we would be going there. My friend owns the restaurant, so when I walked through the door, she immediately came out of the kitchen to hug me and wish me a happy birthday.
Then, she guided me upstairs to meet my date who was waiting for me at my favorite table. There she was with gifts and cards and photo printed letters that looked like typewriter keys, spelling out the words Happy Birthday. It truly was the nicest and, honestly, the scariest thing I have ever experienced.
I feel awful admitting this, but I called her not too long after that night to back out. I don’t necessarily know if we would have made it much further regardless—I’m not sure how compatible we were—but that certainly did not help the situation.
There is an addictive pattern that was first described by Susan Anderson in her 2017 book, Taming your Outer Child, called “abandoholism.” It’s a pretty complicated set of behaviors because there are inherent contradictions and paradoxes to look out for. The following is an easy list of traits that are generally indicative of being addicted to abandonment:
Choosing unavailable partners
There are a number of ways that this shows up. It could be as innocent as always falling for women or men that don’t even prefer your gender (which I tend to do quite often), or as insidious as falling for people who are married. If you find yourself constantly pursuing the impossible, it could be that you might, on some level, be pursuing them because they are impossible.
Being totally turned on by feeling insecure
The fear of being left causes our mammalian brain to light up like a Christmas tree and confuses us into perceiving these flaky partners as “special” or irreplaceable. They are usually neither; but the biological reactivity that takes place inside of us and kicks off our separation anxiety really turns us on in a way. Those who abandon us also, unfortunately, tend to set off all kinds of contradictions in us. We start to see tranquility as boredom, chaos as excitement, and undue tension as love.
Being turned off by anyone who is interested in you
This is called “fear of engulfment” by Anderson in her book, and it is exactly what it sounds like. When we feel someone is very interested in us and wanting to be with us (or printing out typewriter keys to say Happy Birthday), we run for the hills. We perceive this as being cornered or boxed in, when it really just doesn’t suit us because there is not enough fear of abandonment in the dynamic anymore. It is serenity, and abandoholics see that as straight boredom.
You never seem to find the “right” person
This is the obvious result of constantly swinging between the two worlds of fear of abandonment and fear of engulfment. You spend equal time chasing those who are not available to you and running from anyone who is. It’s maddening, it’s tiring, and it has most likely been programmed in us since childhood. When we spend most of our young lives vying for unconditional love from a parent who never gives it, we become accustomed to, and usually addicted to, that pursuit.
The chase is the only thing that makes you happy
On a scientific level, being with someone who is a challenge releases catechalomines (adrenaline and norepinephrine) and produces an overwhelming feeling of infatuation in us. This is an almost cocaine-like high and in abandoholics, it is this particular “high” that leads to, what feels like, natural intimacy.
If any or all of these traits apply to you, do not despair, there is hope. I would recommend picking up Anderson’s book Taming the Outer Child, or if you’d really like to take this tiger by the tail, go for The Abandonment Recovery Workbook by the same author.
Anderson has accrued 30 years of clinical practice helping those with abandoholism, so she knows of what she speaks.