How Women Become Fools Over Men

by Annie Kaszina on April 28, 2007

Ok, so the title is not too charitable. But I’d be the first to admit that I became
a fool
over a man. I spent nearly two decades as a
fool. By this I mean a woman who sticks
around too long in a relationship that is deteriorating progressively, a
relationship which becomes increasingly unhappy most of the time.

We become fixated on our partner’s potential – and of
course he has potential, whatever we mean by that word. If he hadn’t had potential why on
earth would we have bothered in the first place. Few of us have a robust enough sense of self, or are that crazy
that we choose to have a relationship with someone we feel has less to
recommend him than the average cockroach.

Still, despite the unhappiness, there are flashes of
light, moments when you catch sight of the man you fell in love with. Those moments, of course, ‘make up’ for the
neglect, the criticisms, the carelessness with your feelings, the abuse…

Do they really?

No, of course they don’t. But once you start down the slippery path of hoping, excusing and
believing, you lose sight of the simple truth that a relationship should bring
you joy. If your relationship is
generating misery, if the partner you are with leaves you feeling sad,
desperate or rejected, then it is a bad relationship.

Nature, we are often told, abhors a vacuum. Hanging on by your teeth and nails to a bad
relationship leaves no space for a good relationship to unfold.

None of this is news to me nor, probably, is it news to
you. Still, it was brought home to me
very poignantly this week in the course of a conversation with a young friend.

This friend is in a relationship with a man who is not
abusive at this point; the relationship is still quite new. However, he is damaged, fragmented and inconsistent. He can be wonderful, and he can be absent so
that, even when he is with her, he is simply not there.

How bad is this really? Suffice it to say that she has
begun obsessing about him, his feelings for her, whether the relationship has a
future. She can feel profoundly unhappy
about him for days and then, when he changes again and reveals his potential,
her spirits rise.

How familiar does that sound?

There are days when she thinks the relationship is hardly
worth the misery and days when she feels so intimately connected that she is
not prepared to let go.

This week this friend reached the stage of deciding that
she would end the relationship, albeit in a few weeks rather than days. Then she saw him again and he was at the top
of his game; charming, communicative, fun, loving.

She decided to go on with it. She’s not prepared to leave a relationship with so much potential
yet.

I expressed my concern and she replied: “I know what
happened with you. I’ve listened to so
many other women who have been through it, I won’t let it happen to me. If I have to get out, I will.”

Little does she know how difficult it is to get out when
you let yourself be sucked ever deeper into a relationship by the alternating
joys and misery.

My reply, I’ll admit was less than gracious. What I heard was a young, naïve woman
saying: “I’ll tread water and keep treading water as I am swept further out to
sea and if I need to, then I’ll swim back to shore.” What I said to her was this:

The women she had listened to were not born fools, any
more than I was. We were feisty, intelligent, loving, naively trusting
women. We became fools inch by
inch. We lost our vision, our sense of self,
our clarity about what we would and would not tolerate inch by inch. That is how it goes.

Sure, there are some women who will settle for table
scraps from Day 1, but that is simply not true of a great number of women who
end up being abused. First we fall in
love and then we honour that love by compromising.

Sometimes the compromises are small at the start. Sometimes they are not so small. Either way, when you put them in the balance
and set love on the other scale, they seem small.

Maybe we are visionaries. We see our partner’s potential, we are prepared to believe in it
for them until they can do so for themselves and we are prepared to sacrifice
at the altar of this potential. Because
one day…

We are foolishly, perhaps insanely, drawn to the myth, or
miracle of the happy ending. The worse
the lead-up has been, the more miraculous, the more earned that happy
ending would be. Yes, we would love our
own personal miracle. Who wouldn’t?

But here’s the thing: there is room in everybody’s life
for a lot of miracles. The miracle of a
bad relationship turning into a good one is probably a little ambitious. Not to mention absurdly single-minded.

I believe that miracles turn up frequently in all our
lives. The only thing is they may not
be quite the miracles we were expecting, nor may the timing quite match our time
scale. But suppose you were obsessing about one particular thing; how easy
would it be not to notice the miracle that was taking place on, or beyond, the
periphery of your vision? How easy
would it be to let it pass utterly unnoticed?

Persistence, it is often said, is a virtue. Persistence leads people to great
results. I would not argue with
that. But persistence means keeping a
goal in mind and using as many different strategies as necessary to achieve
that goal. It does not mean doing
exactly the same thing every time in the hope of getting a different
result. Yet that is what we do in bad
relationships. We keep on hammering
away with the same blunt tools and are amazed when we fail to create a thing of
beauty and value.

That is when women become fools. We become fools when we progressively divest ourselves of the
resources of our energy, our strength, our sense of self, our
independence.

We all know by bitter experience what happens
then.

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