Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

What’s the Relationship Pattern YOU Need To Break?

I have this friend who reads this site and she’s probably going to be pissed that I’m using her as an example of what not to do when it comes to relationships (um, sorry in advance!), but here it goes. This friend, whom I’ll call Carol, and I were talking the other day and she was telling me about this new guy she just started seeing after a rather painful breakup. I was happy she took my advice to get back on the horse and not waste too much time wallowing over her ex, but I was really concerned when she told me about one of her conversations with the new guy.

“I told him I’m really attracted to guys who are emotionally crippled,” she said, stirring her cappuccino.

“What did he say?” I asked, afraid to hear the answer.

“He said, ‘Well, I’m emotionally crippled.’ And I said, ‘Oh, we’ll get along famously then.'”

“Carol!” I said, rolling my eyes, “When someone tells you what he is, listen!”

I feel like it’s such a favor people do when they tell you early on who they are. Carol spent over a year with her ex before she finally realized just how emotionally crippled he was and moved on, and here this new guy was kind enough to give her that information in their first week together. How nice of him! But, of course, like most of us, Carol has a relationship pattern — she gets involved with men who are emotionally unavailable and then spends most of her time obsessing over why things aren’t working out — and though she’s beginning to recognize the pattern, it’s not so easy to break it. Unfortunately, things with the new guy are already going south and it’s tough to see her in exactly the same place she spent the last year with the ex — sad, frustrated and down on herself and guys in general.

But, it’s not guys who are the problem. There are good guys out there — guys who are emotionally available and ready for a committed relationship. But Carol, and everyone else who keeps repeating the same dysfunctional relationship patterns over and over, won’t find them if they don’t make a conscious effort to break the pattern. Recognizing the pattern is the first step. The next step is make a conscious decision each day, just like in a 12-step program, to resist the pattern. And when temptation to fall off the wagon is too great to resist any longer, you call for help. You reach out to a friend or loved one and ask them to talk you off the ledge. You go to a movie, go for a walk, go to the gym, cut your hair, buy some new clothes, book a weekend getaway, fire up an online profile, focus on work, focus on your future, write a list of all the things you want to do before you die, write a list of all the ways your relationship pattern has failed you in the past and then every time you feel tempted to follow it again, read it. Read it again and again and again until it’s yellowed and tearing. And maybe by then, the pattern will finally be broken. And you’ll be happy. And you’ll finally understand what a gift it was that time someone told you exactly who he was and you finally quit wasting your precious time thinking this one, this one would be different. Because it never is — that’s why it’s called a pattern.

So, what’s your relationship pattern you need to break? Or, on a more positive note, what is the relationship pattern you have successfully broken and how did you do it?

51 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Amber March 2, 2011, 12:22 pm

    Staying way way WAY too long in an unsatisfying relationship. I wasted over half my twenties in two relationships that I knew weren’t going anywhere. Hopefully I’ve learned my lesson that having the uncomfortable break up talk, and being alone isn’t nearly as bad as wasting your time in a relationship with someone who you don’t even LIKE anymore, let alone love.

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      jena March 2, 2011, 3:47 pm

      ME TOO, ugh.

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        caramelpuff March 3, 2011, 3:05 am

        Me three! So glad it’s over.

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    ReginaRey March 2, 2011, 12:23 pm

    Finally leaving a boyfriend who broke up with me multiple times a WEEK. I kept getting back together with him because I thought “we’re young and immature, we can work on this! We can change!” The pattern I broke was realizing that you simply cannot force it. Relationships should be natural, not like trying to force two opposing magnets together. It’s sad, but it took over a year of this kind of treatment for me to realize that our personalities were not going to change, and that no matter what I did we would never be right for each other. When I finally walked away, I succeeded by keeping in mind that I’d never heard of two people living happily ever after who had broken up hundreds of times. My advice to anyone in an on-again off-again relationship pattern – run run RUN!

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    • avatar

      Rachelgrace53 March 2, 2011, 2:18 pm

      I second your advice! I am almost ashamed that I spent three years in that kind of relationship before I ended it. We’d have good months, but toward the end, he broke up with me constantly. One day, he broke up with me twice! It was the most unhealthy thing I have ever had the misfortune to be involved in.

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    • avatar

      sesl March 2, 2011, 3:28 pm

      I third this! If that’s a thing… I was in an unstable, unhealthy relationship like this for three years and even though I learned a lot about myself from the relationship, one of my only regrets in life is that I let that horrible on/off thing go on for as long as I did.

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    maynard March 2, 2011, 12:37 pm

    I think I need shock therapy to just reset my head after my incredibly messy breakup from my ex fiance cause clearly I’m doing lots of somethings wrong.

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    MissDre March 2, 2011, 12:43 pm

    Basing my personal happiness entirely on the person I’m with. Letting my life revolve around that person. Relying on them solely for love. Which in turn left me hospitalized (twice) from illness due to severe depression, anxiety attacks and basically no will to live.

    Thankfully I have been in on-going therapy for the past 2 years and with the support of some awesome girlfriends I’ve learned to depend on myself for my own happiness and to love myself first. I’ve found my own hobbies and outlets that give me satisfaction in life. And while I’d be very sad if my current boyfriend and I broke up, I know I’d be just fine without him and that I’d find love again.

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    • avatar

      maynard March 2, 2011, 1:40 pm

      I definitely do this. Once I move in a couple weeks getting into therapy is a big priority.

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      • avatar

        MissDre March 2, 2011, 1:51 pm

        Big hugs and best of luck!

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    • avatar

      sarolabelle March 2, 2011, 2:12 pm

      Oh my….I thought you were saying your current boyfriend and you did break up! I’m glad y’all are still together and I’m in the same boat as you. If it doesn’t work out then the next guy will just be 10 times better than the current one!

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        MissDre March 2, 2011, 2:17 pm

        Things are still great with us! 🙂 And you’re right, the next guy is always better!

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        sarolabelle March 2, 2011, 2:26 pm

        is he still saying “me too”?

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        MissDre March 2, 2011, 2:49 pm

        I haven’t said it again, I decided I’d wait a while. But I’m not worried anymore about how he feels because he shows me all the time. Especially on Valentine’s day… his gift for me was so personal and thoughtful! What’s new in your world sarolabelle?

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      • avatar

        sarolabelle March 2, 2011, 3:02 pm

        That sounds like a good plan. I’ve been dating my guy for the same amount of time you’ve been dating yours and still no L word. And he doesn’t really do any acts of service…his love language is touch I think – or quality time. He did send me a text when he was out of town the other week that said “wish you were here”…that was nice! 🙂 He is always talking about the future too but I’ve learned in the past that that doesn’t mean anything. Ah we shall see. Right now he’s fun.

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    • Kristina

      Kristina March 2, 2011, 5:26 pm

      In my new relationship, I sometimes can’t help but base my happiness around him. Everything has just happened so fast, and we’re trying to slow it down a little. But it certainly helps I have lots of schoolwork and other activities to do, even if it’s not what necessarily makes me happy.

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    • avatar

      Novemberwolf March 7, 2011, 11:23 pm

      Ugh…I know exactly what you mean. What I realized after being hospitalized too for severe depression was that I was doing this pattern because I couldn’t find my own path in life to focus myself on, that I feeling unfulfilled in my life so I tried to fill that hole that with love.

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  • avatar

    EC was here March 2, 2011, 1:07 pm

    My relationship pattern is allowing people too take advantage of me. I finally had to cut out my SIL because she is toxic and emotionally draining. Her behavior and actions was affecting my relationship with my husband (SIL is his sister) and we are working to repair our marriage. Having a united front in dealing with her has helped tremendously. She has a pattern of contacting the one she thinks she will get the best response from and has even tried to play us against each other.

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    AKchic March 2, 2011, 1:22 pm

    “Manchild”. I think that about sums it up. I find guys that seem great at first, but after a while, I realize that they are nothing more than adult children looking for a mother-figure, or, their own mother never taught them the skills they would need to have in order to be on their own.
    My first husband lived with his mother most of his adult life when he wasn’t in jail or “rooming” with friends on occasion.
    My second husband had the typical overbearing mother figure and thought the best way to get away from it was to join the military and move across country (I met him while he was in the military and I was a gov’t contractor on the installation). He couldn’t do his own laundry, and after we were married, told me that when he was growing up the man brought home the money and the woman did the housework. I laughed at him and told him that it certainly didn’t work that way in OUR home since I made more money than he did. We ended up moving back to his home state (not my idea, believe me) and into his parents’ house. He reverted back to teenage BS and we separated 5 months later.
    The guy I’m with now, oh his mother is a real charmer. She didn’t teach her sons how to cook, clean or do laundry. She made them completely dependent on her so they wouldn’t leave her (she’s twice divorced) so she would never be alone. I have had to teach him how to do laundry (thank goodness I have enough kids to start half a hockey team) and been trying to teach him how to cook. I have ended up with some great stories on his cooking mishaps (burning a plastic spoon to the bottom of a pot because he forgot to put the water in; for example).

    I figure this is the last relationship. I just can’t deal with another guy. I have spent the last 13 years dealing with morons (in Alaska, most of them are, and those that aren’t are usually leaving state or gay), so I’ll just get me a nice woman and settle down with her.

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    • Chicago-Dude

      Rahmtown_Dan March 2, 2011, 4:23 pm

      What the…?

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    Pam March 2, 2011, 1:36 pm

    I seem to have a pattern with men who treat me like I’m a slave.
    I blame a lot of it on the upbrining I had — my grandmothers, mother, and aunts all basically convinced me that my wifely duty was to both work outside of the home and “contribute” and also do all the work of cleaning, cooking, shopping and raising the children for my husband.
    Even leaving my husband I found another man who was like that…
    Thank god I have broken the cycle with the man I am with now. He was raised to do things for himself and have a PARTNER in life not a wife to do things for him…
    But resetting a pattern is HARD

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    Laurel March 2, 2011, 1:42 pm

    My bad relationship pattern is getting way too into my own head about stuff, obsessing, and spinning spinning spinning until I’m tied up in knots. “I love him, but what if I don’t *~*really*~* love him???” “He says he loves me but he probably doesn’t really mean it…” “He can’t really be over that girl he carried a torch for in high school, why else would he be friends with her on fb?” etc. An irrational worry or insecurity tries to take root in my brain and then it just gets repeated and magnified and blown out of proportion.

    I’m a lot better about this than I used to be. What I do is to try to make a list of the rational things I know which counter my crazy talk. I know I love him because I respect him, I admire him, I’m attracted to him, and I can’t imagine a reason I’d ever not want to be with him. I know he loves me when he says he does because I know he’s not a liar. I know he has a past before me (as I have a past before I met him) and so I shouldn’t begrudge him that. Tada, crazy thoughts (at least mostly) gone!

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    • avatar

      MissDre March 2, 2011, 1:56 pm

      I get anxious and obsessive too. Not as bad as before, but it still comes up…

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      Maracuya March 2, 2011, 2:25 pm

      I am SO anxious. I’m definitely a worst-case scenario type of person and it’s taken me a while to just chill and be rational.

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    • avatar

      Joanna March 2, 2011, 2:26 pm

      I have the same problem. Talking your worries out with another person usually helps because when you say it out loud, you tend to realize how ridiculous you sound.

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    • avatar

      sesl March 2, 2011, 3:34 pm

      I *completely* relate. So much so that your post could’ve been written by me – down to the repeating of rational thoughts to counter the insecurity and crazy going on in my mind. Even though I know I’m not the only one who does this, it’s reassuring to know that other women go through very similar things.

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  • avatar

    Fairhaired Child March 2, 2011, 1:43 pm

    My relationship habit was to find guys who needed me so much, that it wasnt really a relationship so much as it was either a controlling relationship (with him in charge) or a mothering one (much like the poster above who dates manchilds – i’ve had my fair share too)

    I would confuse too easily someone wanting me to do everythign their way or needing me to do every little thing as something like a loved appreciation. After a very controlling boyfriend who went so far as to badger my friends for hours after we broke up on where i was and what i was doing, and after dating a guy who couldnt even do the smallest “female tasks” for himself – I realized that neither of those relationships were healthy or appealed to me in anyway.

    Since then, at the slightest mention of “can you do it.. i know women do it better”, “I dont want you hanging out with your friends tomorrow you need to spend it with me..”,”where were you and why didnt you tell me!?” I throw down the law. Unfortunately I still see some of my friends in the unhealthy controlling relationships and I just wish that they would remember when I did the exact same thing and they wanted to help get me out, now I want to help them leave such an unhealthy relationship. Alas, sometimes people take longer to see the flags ( I certainly did) but hopefully they will learn to see it sooner and GTFO and MOA!

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  • avatar

    PFG-SCR March 2, 2011, 1:53 pm

    Nice article, Wendy. I agree that women need to break out of these patterns to have healthy, functional relationships. This is just another example of why I disliked Tracy McMillan’s article – instead of addressing behaviors (like this), she focused solely on personality traits.

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  • avatar

    thyme March 2, 2011, 2:08 pm

    I repeatedly find myself with guys who depend on me to help them with things, remind them to take care of their responsibilities, and help them financially, and they depend on me for way more emotional support and patience than I could ever trust them to give me.

    I think maybe it has something to do with growing up hearing my parents say, “Don’t EVER depend on a man, you must be able to take care of yourself, or you’ll end up like Grandma, who has been miserably married for 50 years because she’s never had a job and has nothing of her own and can’t leave him.” As a result, I’ve always strived to be someone who can say, “I take care of my damn self, thank you very much.”

    Sound advice, but I think I’ve gone too far in the opposite direction, always subconsciously choosing men who are not dependable so that I won’t depend on them. But I CONSCIOUSLY really want a dependable man I CAN trust to take care of himself and who I can trust will take care of me if I ever have a bad day and need someone to catch me if I fall.

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    • avatar

      Amy March 2, 2011, 3:17 pm

      You took words right out of my mouth!

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      • avatar

        thyme March 2, 2011, 3:32 pm

        I’m glad I’m not the only one 🙂

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    Joanna March 2, 2011, 2:23 pm

    The pattern I needed to break was trying to force serious relationships out of short term flings. It took me a long time to break this; it went from when I was 19 up until shortly after I turned 24. I needed to take a step back and figure out where I was going wrong because all of my “relationships” would go sour after a month. Once I took a “time-out” from guys and focused more on myself (gaining self-confidence had a lot to do with things) I reevaluated what I was looking for in a relationship and began turning opportunities for hook-ups down. It only took a few months, but then a former co-worker came into my life and we grew closer and started a relationship that’s been going strong for 6 months now. I just needed to get out of hook-up/fling mode.

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    • avatar

      thyme March 2, 2011, 3:42 pm

      I have a couple friends who do that. They’re always lamenting some guy who clearly wasn’t in it for the long haul from day 1. They have no interest in anyone telling them that the guy is not looking for a relationship and they aren’t going to convert him. Do you think there is there anything helpful I can say to them, or do I just have to let them go through it until they figure it out for themselves?

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      • avatar

        ape escape March 2, 2011, 4:41 pm

        I do that more often than not. Each guy, since he’s new and exciting – and generally at least a slight improvement on the one previous – has “potential” even though all the signs are there. I convince myself it’s going to be different. (It isn’t!) I just got to the point where I’m realizing that “I’m not really looking for a relationship right now” means more “I’m not looking for a relationship with YOU//I’d like to have all the benefits of a relationship (sex, mostly; as well as a [false] sense of intimacy and someone to fetch ice packs for my injured knee, etc.) with none of the effort.”

        Ahem. Anyway, I’m not sure there’s much my friends could say to break the cycle. I know I’m doing it; I had to realize that on my own, but I am still working on recognizing when I’m heading down the path again.

        As for why I do it — I’m noticing that when a guy is really into me, out of nowhere I’ll decide I don’t feel the same way, and I’ll sabotage myself. Then, when I fall for someone, he is inevitably “just not that into” me. Rinse, repeat…

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  • avatar

    cdj0815 March 2, 2011, 2:55 pm

    Wendy you are so right. I have had friends who did not think (or admit) there was anything wrong with their relationship patterns, so they kept repeating it. So not willing to admit there is a problem is a hinderance also. They always blamed the men, and my men friends always blamed the women.

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    spaceboy761 March 2, 2011, 2:57 pm

    I just need to stop dating actresses.

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      TheGirl March 2, 2011, 4:54 pm

      Ha! I know I should be offended, having been an actress (reformed), but its just too true…

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    silvii March 2, 2011, 3:12 pm

    Many years ago I used to go for the emotionally needy type. I think this was because I wanted to feel wanted and needed (I had poor self esteem) and these guys suited me to a T. Unfortunately as I would grow stronger in a relationship they would start to get insecure and would be emotionally manipulative. The break-ups would then leave me feeling destroyed and yet again I felt like I needed a guy to pick me up and make me feel great when really it should’ve been me all along!

    Luckily I broke the pattern and found a guy who made me feel like an equal. Even though the relationship didn’t work out – geography and life goals, it set me on the right path for better relationships.

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    • avatar

      cdj0815 March 3, 2011, 8:28 am

      Good for you. Been there, done that, Stopped that too!

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      • avatar

        cdj0815 March 3, 2011, 8:35 am

        Wendy, just for blog sake, have you ever done one on being “needed” or “wanted” in relationships? My freinds and I have had a lot of discussions about this. The men and women were so diverse on this topic.

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    Lindsay March 2, 2011, 3:28 pm

    I keep getting involved with guys who have no ambition. Most have dropped out of school or are struggling, and have no real motivation to find a career they like. Along with random habits like drinking more than they should, being couch potatoes and blaming their lack of success on other people. Most of them also don’t want relationships, which is also a pattern I need to break.

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  • avatar

    thyme March 2, 2011, 3:44 pm

    Falling in love with a guy’s “potential.”

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    • mandalee

      amandalee March 2, 2011, 5:35 pm

      Ditto! I was the classic example of a woman who fell in love with all that the man “could” be, rather than what he exactly was, which was a lazy, under-achieving cheater in my last relationship and a rich kid mess in the one before that. I finally realized I had this habit when my best friend pointed out that I constantly repeated how “great” things would be when so-so got his life together, that I was convinced it was going to happen soon. She was like “yeah that’s great, but how are things with him right now?” Simple question but huge eye opener.

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    • avatar

      silver_dragon_girl March 2, 2011, 11:12 pm

      Amen, sister. Amen.

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      • avatar

        Jess March 3, 2011, 3:26 am

        me too!

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    HmC March 2, 2011, 8:07 pm

    I am and have always naturally been attracted to sensitive, available guys who reciprocated my feelings (thanks mom and dad!). Not gloating or judging, I’m just very grateful for my healthy upbringing and positive experiences with good men.

    However, even I had a three year plus run without a relationship. Constantly being in a relationship just for the sake of it, without any pause between them for reflection and growth is, in my opinion, a bad relationship pattern. Even if you are otherwise attracted to the right kinds of men. With the types of partnerships women (and men) tend to be looking for today, learning about oneself and growing as a single person is imperative to making any potential relationship actually work.

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    Cate March 2, 2011, 9:38 pm

    I guess I’m kind of too independant in my relationships. I don’t like to depend on anybody. I guess a part of me is scare and another never really had any model to show me what’s it is like to be a couple (my parents broke up when I was 8 and I actually never saw my mom and her boyfriend kiss or cuddle). All my friends are dreaming of having a family, get married and get a place with somebody. Not me. : (

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  • caitie_didnt

    caitie_didn't March 2, 2011, 10:35 pm

    Ummm…..making myself crazy by obsessing over “what did that text mean?” “what did that pause before he said something mean?” etc etc.

    And wasting time on guys who were CLEARLY not interested in what I wanted. Luckily I’m almost completely over that bad habit 🙂

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  • avatar

    Jess March 3, 2011, 3:28 am

    Falling in love super fast before I really get to know the guy. Then accepting his faults I later learn about (which should have been deal breakers) because “i love him!”

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    demoiselle March 3, 2011, 9:11 am

    I tended to attract men who had been abused in some way or another as kids and were working through their issues. They needed me to lend an ear and give extensive emotional support. It was uncanny and I wondered why it kept happening to me–but it didn’t seem to be happening to my friends.

    Then I had a conversation with a friend from high school, who I’d befriended even though he showed extreme signs of being “troubled.” My friend said: “Its strange saying this cause I know I benefited from it, but you are extremely tolerant of people who seem f’d up. I would never have given someone who was as messed-up as me the time of day.”

    I realized that I was attracting troubled people because I was open to them when others turned their backs. Sometimes it worked out well (my friend), often it worked out badly (the romances). I had to change the pattern by looking for a boyfriend who was *already* in good shape emotionally, instead of looking for people who needed me.

    Hopefully, I can still extend a hand to those who need help, too. But in terms of improving my love life, my friend’s comment was helpful because it pointed out that I was, in fact, playing an active part in my relationship-woes.

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    Dr_Mad April 24, 2011, 1:56 am

    I found this site while searching for an answer to the question-should I b mad because my bf’s roommate didn’t invite in to come in to her house (never invites mr in) her daughter had to b the one with manners and invite me in bs letting me stand outside waiting for him to be alerted he has a “guest” . But anyhow thank god I found your site and all the comments from women with similar stories to share.I’m 42 and know “my picker is broken” I know he ain’t worth the 3 years of heartache frustration confusion and craziness I’ve been through yet I still can’t let him go….I’m letting go now. Reading all of ur stories and comments confirms I need to let go and run ….maybe even change my number to make it that much easier. Thank you – everyone of you for being strong enough to share ur story because today is the beginning of the rest of my life…with a better man. I’ll keep you all posted 🙂

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