OYM Day 74: Repetition Compulsion
Someone recently asked me how long I’ve been with my husband. I looked up at the ceiling and tried to rewind every single memory in my head, like a cassette tape, and waited for the sudden snap, the beginning of our time together.
“13 years? Wait. No. Maybe 15? 16?” Daniel lay next to me in bed and rolled his eyes. I asked which one was correct.
“Both.” He rolled over. Ugh. I love him.
I know this likely isn’t the image of true love and hot romance, but my relationship with him has healed a part of me that was hurting for a long time. It took me years to discover that I don’t need another person to feel whole. And even longer to realize that I’m wonderful enough to be loved and not left. And longer still to figure out that chasing familiar pains did nothing but keep me familiar with a very twisted idea of what love is supposed to be.
I always left relationships first. I also dated horrible people, or perhaps, people that were horrible for me. There were some great people in that mix, but per usual, I would break things off and opt for someone that treated me with less value, even to the point of some pretty extreme emotional abuse.
I have read a lot about trauma and relationships in hopes to never make those mistakes with my daughter and the people I love.
Interestingly enough, when you’ve been hurt deeply or traumatized by someone close to you, you will often make unconscious decisions to put yourself back or near-to that same or similar trauma again. This is also known as “repetition compulsion” and there is very little understanding as to why people do this.
Repetition compulsion. That’s how I would describe most of my dating life. I would be looking, without thinking about it, for someone that reminded me of my parents. I was attracted to people that were smart and knowledgeable on a variety of odd topics, but also those that dangled their approval and affection like a carrot above my nose. I liked people that were quick witted and funny, that could deal out brassy phrases, thick like molasses. It made me laugh and made my stomach turn sour when pointed in my direction. Why would I like the feeling of being mistreated? Someone’s option? Not good enough? Maybe if I tried harder they’d stick around. But eventually a day would come and I’d cut them out of my life, deleting every trace, and wiping them from my memories. I had to do it to them before they could do it to me. It became easy. Then, I’d repeat history.
Enter Daniel. He didn’t seem interested in me at all, so he had that going for him. Checked a box or 2 on my list right off the bat. His humor was drier than the Sahara and people seemed to be afraid of him. Check, check, check, double check. He was handsome and he told me I was funny (really had to pull that out of him, but he said it). My mind said “let’s do this.”
I probably thought he’d be like the rest of them, but he wasn’t. We could talk for hours and he didn’t seem to mind my inability to be quiet for more than 5 minutes. I dragged him to terrible diners, because I liked the way I could drink 12 cups of coffee without getting the jitters. He barely complained. He accompanied me to the vet after my roommates dog attacked my bird. I was sobbing and belligerent. He intended to come to my apartment to cook us dinner. Instead, we sat in an exotic pet clinic and learned how to give a parakeet pain medication. My life was always in shambles and I think it made his life more interesting. At least that’s how I like to frame it.
About 2 years into our relationship, after falling in love and spending most of our waking time together, a light began to blink in my head and I knew we had reached the danger zone. He’d eventually leave me. I’d discover he’d been seeing someone else the whole time. He’d want to date for a decade and never commit, because you never know who else could be out there.
I decided I’d move away and start over. This one was going to hurt. I could have chosen Oregon or Vermont, but I chose South Korea. My family was surprised, but not as surprised as me when Daniel told me he would come with me.
Every passing day, every legal document that needed to be gathered for work visas, every goodbye party… I waited. I waited for him to back out. But he didn’t.
It took me a long time to realize he wasn’t going to leave me…and that it was alright for me to fully surrender to a companionship I’ve never known before. I am a lot to handle. I have a lot of ideas and make a lot of decisions, often without asking, and somehow he’s always game. He trusts me and I trust him. This didn’t happen overnight. But now it’s been many nights. Thousands.
And hopefully thousands more, but honestly if I keep doing things like adopting a dog while we have a potty-training 2 year old…eh, we’ll see.