I am a chaser. I was not born a chaser. I was created, cultivated, molded and perfected over the years, starting so early in childhood, it is all I have ever known. I am a man-made creature similar to Frankenstein, having been pieced together built to perfection. Built to chase.
I could not make my mother happy to save my life. “Oh, boo hoo. She had a ‘hard to please mommy.’ Let’s all collectively cry.” Okay. I know, I know, but bear with me. I promise not to make this too painful. She was demanding, found fault in most of what I did and withheld affection. I struggled desperately to make her happy and could never figure out how to break the code. She also had a violent temper, which scared the shit out of me, so that imminent threat was always present.
But the really strange twist is that I don’t think she saw me as anything other than an extension of herself. The way I dressed, spoke, behaved was all designated by her and was of the utmost importance because ultimately she saw everything I did as a reflection of her.
She always told me how musical I was and had me playing instruments, badly. I sang in all of the school choirs, which I did enjoy. When it came time for college, she convinced me to go to the school that she would have wanted to go to. It was a big, football-obsessed, public university. Rah! Rah! She thought it was terrific and had me audition, and I was accepted based on my singing. At that point, I had sung so much I that I had developed a pretty good voice. Against my better judgment, I attended this enormous university as a music major, joined a sorority, and attended mandatory fraternity “socials” where the boys had the freshmen girls drink heavily alcohol-laden drinks mixed with fruit punch in big, red plastic cups and then stand on display in a line and eat bananas as if we were giving them blow jobs. I had no idea what I was doing there. I hated the snobbery of sorority life, didn’t enjoy football, was not interested in getting drunk and servicing a fraternity boy and knew deep down that I had just enough musical talent to take me nowhere.
My mother, on the other hand, was brilliantly musically gifted. She was a pianist who was discouraged from pursuing it by her parents. Neither of my parents paid attention to what I was actually good at in my own right. They just projected what they wanted onto me, and I tried to fulfill the role to make them happy. Of course, it never worked.
When I was eighteen after my freshman year, as my mother lay dying of cancer, she gave me manuals on how to maintain things the way she had done them while she was alive. She instructed me on how to care for my remaining family members. She instructed me on how to plan her funeral. She reminded me of what she considered to be my biggest weaknesses and what would be my problems in life. I think the kindest thing she said to me was to “remember the good times rather than the bad.” Then she died. It was a painful horror show. In all of the time I spent pursuing her love and trying to make her happy, I completely and utterly failed, and that was a lock down now that she was dead.
After she died, I transferred away from the football, sorority, banana blow job university existence I had known to what I considered to be to complete freedom, New York University in Manhattan. Luckily, my father supported me in paying the bill. I had no idea who I was without my mother telling me. I had no idea how long or how much work it would take to figure out who I was, but this was a start. Now it becomes clear how a writer might become intrigued by the concept of authenticity– no?
My father spent most of his time away on business or working, and when he was around, he was very kind to me but was uninvolved, as he existed in my mother’s shadow and was emotionally unavailable. So I chased him too for affection and attention, always tempted to prove to myself that he loved me.
When I climbed into my twenties, I began dating (Let’s all say it together…) emotionally unavailable men. Of course! That is what I knew. That is what I expected. That is what I attracted and was attracted to. Each and every time, I thought that if I gave them what they wanted, which was usually sex, they would eventually give me the attention and love that I so desired, but they were not capable of giving that because they were emotionally unavailable. Seems obvious, right? But I could not see this because it was all I knew, and just like in my childhood, I thought that if I was just good enough, just pretty enough, just lovable enough, just smart enough, then surely they would see this and love me in return. I thought their unavailability was about me.
But what I have learned more recently is that emotionally unavailable people are not emotionally unavailable because there is something wrong with me. They are emotionally unavailable because they ether know no other way or they choose to be and either can’t change or choose not to change. It has nothing to do with me. I chased so many men all through my twenties and early thirties, and it was so fucking painful, just a painful extension of my childhood.
The Next Big Move
Then what did I do?
I’d give you three guesses if this were an interactive quiz. That would be cool.
- Go on a tropical cruise with my girlfriends?
- Create a tech start up in Silicon Valley and make a fucking fortune?
- Marry an emotionally unavailable man just like…whom? Oh right…my father!
Ding! Ding! Ding! You win the prize of the intimate knowledge of the depth of my dysfunction if you picked C. Yes, I married a wonderful, ethical, hard-working, loving, supportive, completely emotionally disconnected man whom I love dearly. Between chasing my unavailable father who was usually nowhere to be found and battling with my spacey husband for more of an emotional connection after seven years of marriage, I became exhausted. It occurred to me that there was something wrong with the creature into which I had been molded at such an early age. There had to be a better way.
I bravely wrote a long email to my father, explaining that I was no longer going to chase him and that the relationship was now up to him. I then explained to my husband that I could no longer continue with our marriage in the way that it was. I would no longer chase or persuade him either. If he could not find a way to change, I did not see our marriage surviving.
I was as serious as stone.
My father did not return my email.
My husband fought me a bit and then developed a look of fear in his eyes because he could tell how very serious I was, and for all of his disconnect, the man loves me dearly. He decided that he would take serious steps to change.
I did not know if any of his efforts would work. I had serious doubts as to whether he could change, allowing our marriage to work. So just as some women might go out and buy ten containers of Ben and Jerry’s or seventeen bags of kettle chips, I made a friend. I made a totally emotionally unavailable friend. Of course I did! Have you people been paying attention? It’s my drug. Chasing is my crack. I was in pain and needed a fix.
This friend was fabulously fun when times were good and when they were getting what they wanted, but when I challenged them or had a need that didn’t work for them, there was silence on the line. They were missing in action. Sometimes they reacted in anger to my requests, which flustered and upset me into doing what they wanted. Or they had excuses, all of which I believed, even though I later learned many things this person told me were lies. It was a completely unhealthy friendship in which I was being treated like shit, and even my husband was asking me what the hell I was doing. The crazy part was that for the first few months, I simply couldn’t see it. I have a blind spot like while driving for people like this person because of my history and upbringing.
My husband had been hard at work unearthing why he had been so distant and began changing his behavior. I have learned that people can change but only if they want to change because it takes work. You always hear that “people don’t change,” but I do not think that is true. I just think that most people choose not to change. So as my husband and I were growing closer, I was able to see how my narcissistic friend needed to hit the road. Time to put away the Ben and Jerry’s. This was one not worth catching. I had a loving husband waiting to connect with me.
As I have been building the website, the YouTube videos, writing the book and writing for other publications, my audience has been growing. I am gaining momentum, and it is very exciting. I am on the path to a second career, and I am so very excited. It has been fascinating to watch the people around me react because it hasn’t been what I had expected. I have observed people falling into two camps. Some are very excited and supportive, and some are not.
I have one cousin I don’t know particularly well who reads and makes comments on everything I write and is convinced I should be on the covers of major publications by now.
I have another friend whose artistic career I have supported unflinchingly in practically every conversation we have ever had for years, but who absolutely cannot bring himself to say the words “you are a talented writer.” He just can’t do it. He can’t compliment my articles. He reads them but won’t compliment them. In the old days, I would have felt the need to chase him down and convince him that I am doing a good job and that as my friend, he should be supporting me the way I have him. Interestingly, I don’t feel the need to do this. I’ve just decided not to discuss it with him at all. Clearly, it turns out that there is not enough room for two talented people in our relationship.
Another relative from whom I would have expected great support called recently and explained that she reads “some of the articles but not all” and that she thinks my writing is a “good emotional outlet for me while I watch my kids.” I could hear the reserve in her voice as she proposed this. It was so condescending, as if I had perhaps taken up gardening. I know she knows that I want more out of this than an emotional outlet. I have therapy for that. She herself has had an illustrious career and knows that I would like one as well. I was impressed though because I stopped myself short from needing to convince her of my intentions and how hard I am working and thought to myself, hmmm, what is her issue with my having success as a writer? Whatever it is, it is about her, not me. Just in case any of you needed clarification, I do not write while watching my children.
I write because I love the art of writing and because I want to reach people and let them know that they are not alone. Some of my biggest cheerleaders are friends whom I have made in recent years, perhaps because it is only more recently that I have come to know more and more of my authentic self and that is the person they love as well.
Some of my biggest supporters are readers I don’t even know. I received a letter from a reader explaining how much one of my articles had touched her and asking if I would be willing to answer her additional questions about my experiences addressed in the article. She wrote that I had truly helped her. I was on cloud nine for a week. She and I corresponded until all of her questions had been answered, and I do believe I helped her. I am still here if she needs me.
Change is Possible
I no longer choose people I need to chase. I might slip from time to time like any recovering addict, but I believe I have changed. I have remodeled the original version into a healthier one. I am looking around and choosing to spend time with the people who express their belief in me, not those I feel driven to convince of my worth. It may be a small group for a while, but I have a feeling it will grow.
So I challenge you to ask yourself these four questions:
1. Do you know what your most authentic qualities are, and if so, do the people with whom you surround yourself love those qualities, or do they love some fictional version of you?
2. Do the people with whom you surround yourself support your highest aspirations and dreams for yourself, or do they belittle or discourage you?
3. If you were to actually achieve these aspirations and dreams, would these people still support you? Supporting a dream as an idea and supporting you if it actually happened are two different things, and sometimes people can’t support success if it is not their success. You’d be surprised.
4. Are you chasing anyone for the attention and love you should receive for simply being the magnificent person that you are? If so, STOP!
Choose the people with whom you surround yourself, carefully. You are precious to me, and I want only the best for each and every one of you.