A few weeks ago I met up with my friend Sarah to go see a show at the Minnesota Fringe Festival. It was Four Humors Theater’s adaptation of Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 screenplay based on Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel “Lolita” about a twelve-year-old girl’s sexual relationships with two adult men.
As performed by three adult men, the actor playing the title character looking absolutely nothing like a twelve-year-old girl. It was predictably awkward and hilarious, especially at the end when the actor playing Lolita reveals that he had no idea that the story is about a “sexually precocious girl,” at one point crying out in horror to the other guys: “My grandmother was going to be here tonight! Gran! I’m sorry!”
This was the company that did the brilliant adaptation of Voltaire’s Candide at Fringe last year.
Afterwards, Sarah and I grabbed dinner in lieu of not making it to the following show that she was hoping to see. During dinner, she told me about a book she’d been reading called Attachment by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller. In it, they discuss three different relationship “orientations”: anxious, stable, and avoidant.
Attachment theory has been around since the 1960s and 70s. According to the Wikipedia page, the styles break down in the following ways:
- secure: “It is relatively easy for me to become emotionally close to others. I am comfortable depending on others and having others depend on me. I don’t worry about being alone or having others not accept me.”
- anxious (preoccupied): “I want to be completely emotionally intimate with others, but I often find that others are reluctant to get as close as I would like. I am uncomfortable being without close relationships, but I sometimes worry that others don’t value me as much as I value them.”
- dismissive (avoidant): “I am comfortable without close emotional relationships.”, “It is very important to me to feel independent and self-sufficient”, and “I prefer not to depend on others or have others depend on me.”
- fearful (avoidant): “I am somewhat uncomfortable getting close to others. I want emotionally close relationships, but I find it difficult to trust others completely, or to depend on them. I sometimes worry that I will be hurt if I allow myself to become too close to others.”
Anyone who has followed my blog for some time will probably recognize the second category, anxious/preoccupied, as describing my relationship style spot on. I usually feel uneasy around the people in my life, and I worry almost constantly about whether or not they’ll reject me. If we have a disagreement or fight, or I do something to offend or that oversteps boundaries, I assume that the person hates me and wants nothing more to do with me. In reality, they have no idea that I feel that way and often assume that everything is perfectly find.
The fact is that I’m an affection junkie. I didn’t grow up with much praise at home, and in my early years affection was often conditional. I had to behave a certain way or meet some benchmark that my parents set before it was granted. The lesson I learned as a child was that I’m not worth loving unless I perform well enough or do enough to earn that love. I unconsciously do things for the people in my life, trying to earn my keep in their good graces, all the while a script is running in my mind: “If they really knew you and how much of a fuck up you are, they’d drop you faster than a half-way decent show on Fox.”
This causes me to see any of my accomplishments or personal victories as just a drop in the bucket that I need to fill just to begin washing away the stain of my failure as a human being. I’m constantly trying to prove to everyone that I am special, yet nothing is ever good enough to silence the critical voices in my mind that are leaping to tear me down before anyone else can get there first. The hope is that if I do a good enough job beating myself up, everyone else will leave me alone.
With lovers, I tend to bend over backwards to keep them and obsess over relationship status. Each rejection a black mark on my worthiness report, in the same way that missing a credit card payment goes on your record forever. It leads to me sticking around longer than I should, and putting up with behavior that would make anyone with an ounce of self-respect walk out at the first sign of trouble. These are things that friends will attempt to comment on out of concern, that I will dismiss like a stereotypical battered spouse, saying: “But you don’t really know him.”
My fears about turning 30 were mostly about having another reason for guys to reject me, my terror at being alone with myself, and not knowing who I am without someone to validate my worthiness, even though I don’t really believe affirmations. At the back of my mind lurks that dark voice whispering: “If they ever saw behind the mask, they wouldn’t say nice things about you.”
And the pathetic thing is that I believe that inner voice. It’s easier than believing that someone could love a flawed and insecure person like me, or that I could ever learn to rest easy in some guy’s arms and not worry that he’s going to leave me at the minute things get unpleasant. The thought of ever being happy terrifies me because I’m always waiting for the next disaster.
The cute, sexy, nerdy, intriguing guy I’m talking to inevitably ends up being partnered, or isn’t interested in a relationship.
I’m not cute, interesting, muscular, or (curiously) vapid enough to catch anyone’s attention.
In short, I’m struggling to find evidence to support the claim that friends make that I really am a terrific catch, and that everyone else is stupid for turning down such a great guy like me…