Despite all of my progress…

I have Father issues. After my Dad and Mom split up, my Dad went to work in another city for over a year. I was 7 years old, and it felt like forever. I took a plane to visit him once or twice and he wrote me letters.

But despite the relatively short time and connectivity he felt as a grown-up, it was very different for me as a child.

I never really internalized my Father’s love for me until much later in my life. He was the kind of parent who praised me for my good work along with a reminder I could always do better. As a driven professional adult, I appreciate this, but as a child, it doesn’t feel good. It felt like I was never good enough and my Father didn’t love me for who I was.

He had a second child with my stepmother and he became much more overt about his love.

But the damage was done.

My Mom used to say that my need for male attention was driven by this. I’m sure she was right. It’s been the biggest thing I’ve worked to overcome in the last few years. When I was younger, I gave myself to men – both mentally and physically – when they weren’t good for me. Sometimes when I didn’t even like them, because the “goodies” I got from their attention overrode the negative feelings of a bad choice.

The ultimate impact of this?

I had sex with, and dated men, who I didn’t particularly desire. But I desired their desire.

I stayed in relationships when I shouldn’t have. This included my marriage.

It took the breakdown of my marriage and all the analysis I’ve done of how I managed to get myself into that situation to really understand the connection between my issues and my behavior. I feel like I’ve made tremendous progress in this area. Tangled up in my need for male attention is a genuine love of sex and very strong sex drive. Generally speaking, the long list of lovers I’ve compiled since becoming single isn’t because I’m seeking male attention to fill a daddy-love void. I really like to fuck.

I’ve exited relationships that aren’t right for me – and this is HUGE progress. I’ve said goodbye to several men who adored me and would have done anything for me. As much as I may have been right for them, they weren’t right for ME, and I was able to see it and walk away, knowing I was facing being single yet again.

I feel good about the situations where I’m given the chance to get to know someone. When they are interested in me, and I them, and we date and I can make a call about whether we’re compatible.

But.

I have yet to master the situations where I am denied that opportunity. It still drives me absolutely batty when I meet someone where there could be potential and they aren’t as dedicated to finding out as I am. It makes me want to figuratively jump up and down and yell “pay attention to me!”

Which in practice, isn’t the most confidence bad-ass woman thing to do.

I suppose I do find it a form of rejection when someone isn’t interested in finding out more.

Logic won’t prevail in this case. I know all the right things intellectually. I can’t make someone pay more attention to me – well, not positive attention, anyway. I certainly could do all kinds of batty things to get myself deleted and blocked. I don’t do that shit. I know that timing and communication styles and priorities all come into play.

I’d love to think I’m the kind of woman who someone meets and then can’t think of anyone or anything else. But I’ve had that obsessiveness recently and it didn’t end well.

I also know the kind of man I’m interested in should have enough going on in his life that I’m not the priority after one or two dates. I’ve also had that experience and it didn’t end well. As a friend says “you aren’t special until you’re special”.

Again, I know all this.

Which is how I know, when my intellect can’t overcome my emotions, there’s more going on. This is one place where that little girl is still triggered. I find myself saying “why won’t you pay attention to me?!” and I don’t like it one bit.

As with everything else, I know I have to train my brain and practice new behaviors to overcome it. I don’t think the emotional response will ever go away – I am still a product of my entire life – but I want to feel better about the depth of that response, and what I do about it. I’m confident if I make it to any kind of relationship I’m good at getting out if needed – I suppose that should have been my biggest priority, so I’m pleased I started there.

I’m getting some practice right now – while I haven’t written about it, it did get me thinking about my emotional and behavioral response – and I’m working on doing things differently going forward. I’m sure it will work – eventually.

24 thoughts on “Despite all of my progress…

  1. It’s wonderful and sometimes overwhelming when you come to realize the impact your entire life is on who and how you are. It takes an equal amount of motivation, bravery, and maturity to put that knowledge to its best use. This was a great post, very honest and real to who you are. <3

    • Thank you Tara. I was reading a McKinsey article on leading change (what I do for work) and what struck me (again) is how much we can limit our personal growth by believing we can’t change something. I’ve been recently occupied more than I’d like with the silence of a couple men and it got me thinking more about why it bothers me so much… and instead of doing what I needed to do for work I sat down and hammered out that post 🙂

  2. All growth begins with self awareness. I’m glad you’re gentle with yourself on this topic, seeing progress and not chastising yourself for “imperfection”. Those formative years are just that: they make us who we are. Having a similar past and patterns it has been helpful to me to reconcile with my father’s contributions to my sense of self by acknowledging that he was doing the best he knew how with the resources he had. We’d all be different if …. But we aren’t. We are as we are and you can only ever move forward from exactly where you are. Good for you for taking the time to not just look at yourself, but see yourself.

    • Thank you! And yes, that’s exactly it. I can’t change what formed me, nor can I probably change my core emotional reactions to things… but I do believe it’s possible for me to change my behavioral reaction. I’ve done it in other areas relating to dating. Taking care of myself in bad situations becomes self-reinforcing…I’m just not there yet in this area. Writing has also helped me see myself, through my own analysis and the comments and feedback I get. Thank you xo

  3. Brave writing. Thankyou. Absent, witholding father issues are tough ones to untangle through a woman’s life journey in love and sex. i share some of your patterns and insights. We keep journeying, learning, and unravelling,

  4. I feel as if I could write an entire book on childhood injuries and the impacts on my adult life, especially relationships with men. Even with a long-term relationship/marriage and a lot of blood/sweat/tears to reach awareness, action, change on my part to manage my own more destructive emotional impulses, I still have moments when I have to stop and restrain myself from reactive behaviors.

    Good for you, Ann, for understanding yourself and that these scars are there and cannot be wished away. In my experience it’s not as straightforward as quitting smoking or other lifestyle habits; it’s like surgically altering our hearts and minds and then giving it time to heal properly. And maybe feeling the scar twinge from time to time for the balance of our lives.

    • “Surgically altering our hearts”…. yeah, it feels like it. I think familiar behavior is really powerful, even when it’s bad for us. It’s SOOOO hard to change how we handle things, especially when we are under stress. I suppose being aware of it is the first thing, and then being willing to try so goddamned hard to change it. I reach out to friends and try to do as much as I can to ensure I don’t repeat the same patterns. This blog also helps, because of folks like you. xoxo

      • Also, perhaps reframe your view? Example: title of this post. Rather than “Despite my progress … I still have ….” to “Because of my progress … I am cognizant of and working at changes ….” For me, finally shutting off the voices in my head has been a huge leap forward into better overall control of and power within my own life.

        But I completely get it. No matter what I tell myself, no matter how many platitudes and positive affirmations, I don’t have the discipline and self-control to be ON all the time.

        • “Shutting the voices inside my head”… that’s exactly it!
          I have recognised that problem last week in regards to weight. Being called fat didn’t ruin my day because I was able to shush that self-deprecating voice enough that it couldn’t take over. But it is still whispering in the back and I need to constantly keep it in check.

          Because I’m having trouble reading/commenting without my computer, I hope you don’t mind if I finish my comment here.

          I too have had father issues. It wasn’t so much crying for attention (tbough it was, in parts), more of a behaviour that was hammered into me from early on of how a woman should behave (observation of what was expected of my mom) and the need to conform being beaten into me, literally.

          I got to talk about it with my dad and I’m hoping it will help me move forward.
          It’s highly probable your dad isn’t aware of how you suffered from the distance (if my dad’s surprise is anything to go by). Sometimes, stating these things directly to the person involved is therapeutic.
          Did you get to tell your dad?

          And sorry about the need to think about these things. I wish for you to find that relationship you so crave and deserve!

          XO

  5. I recall when we first started our friendship you said “don’t make the same mistakes I did! Listen to me!” Of course we know I didn’t and I spent the first year stumbling along and learning my lessons.

    But I thank goodness for meeting you and learning from you and being brave to share your lessons with all of us. I have learned, so much more now, and still look to you for more advice and learning….the road isn’t easy but as long as we grow along the way I think it’s all worth it.

    But, god damn it, seriously – WHY? don’t they pay attention?! (Insert stomping foot here!) 😂😂. Wtf is wrong with these dudes?!

  6. Great G-d Brown, Ms. St. Vincent!
    Such breadth and depth of self-insight is tremendously stirring—intellectually, emotionally, viscerally, libidinally.

  7. Trust me, Ann, when it comes to fathers, we both could have done better, to say the least.
    Never forget you have plenty of people who love you for the woman you’ve become, my friend.

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