dating reflections of your father

Often when I listen to readers on consultations tell me about their relationship experiences, I know before they even tell me, that they are going out with people who are like their fathers. My spidey senses even pick up on the possibility of their father (or their mother) cheating even before they will admit this. How do I know? I’m attuned to picking up on relationship patterns and subtle, near casual things that people say that aren’t that casual. That, and I’ve dated nearly every possible variation of my father.

If you have a habit of being involved with emotionally unavailable people, it is highly likely that you have unresolved issues with one or even both parents. Combined with how you were emotionally schooled, what you learned about values, and how your beliefs about relationships, love, and yourself have been shaped, you are likely following unconscious patterns and may even be inadvertently trying to right the wrongs of the past, heal old rejections, and get the validation you may be missing.

If you’ve read my ebook Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl, you’ll know that my parents haven’t been together since just before I turned three and that I idolised my father. To this day, how I was with my father in the first few years of my life has had a long lasting impact on my relationship with my mother as she felt very rejected by my daddy obsession – we’ll get on to mothers in some other posts!

When my parents broke up, according to my mother (I always feel like things get ‘amped’ up a bit), I was inconsolable and behaved like my father had died and was grieving. Now although I’m too young to remember, I know enough to know that it felt funny to even try and recall that period of my life up until a few years ago, and my chest would feel tight and I’d feel panicky even listening to that period being described as it touched on emotional scars that I had pushed down long ago. I idolised him and even now, early memories are warm and oddly comforting.

But in 1983, just before my sixth birthday, everything changed because my father broke my heart and it took me another 22 years to get over it.

I no doubt already felt like he’d ‘left me’ when my parents broke up, but he abandoned me when I spent four weeks in hospital to have a serious operation to have what was felt could become a malignant birthmark removed. I was thoroughly excited by the prospect of going to hospital and showed off to my brother, and my father visited me once after my first day, and then I didn’t see him till after I returned home because he didn’t like hospitals.

Excitement about the hospital quickly dissipated as I realised what the frick was going on and I actually thought I may go crazy in what was basically a ward with seriously ill children who either died or went home. The one time he did visit, I climbed on top of the window sill to try and get to him as he walked across the car park and had to be sedated as I was so hysterical and distraught. I wasn’t the same child when I came out of there.

While my father and I get on pretty well these days, it’s just never been the same again. I wondered what I had done why he didn’t visit me and if I was a bad daughter. I felt unloved and unlovable and abandoned by the one man whose love I truly craved and needed. Combined with a very fraught relationship with my mother, despite my outwardly projected confidence, inside was someone who didn’t think she was loveable because her father abandoned her and her mother seemed resentful and hyper-critical.

Wondering why he didn’t visit became wondering why he didn’t call or fulfil his fatherly obligations and left it to my stepfather. In the meantime, I watched a very volatile relationship with my mum and stepfather play out.

The message was clear: Men leave, there was something wrong with me, and relationships are seriously high drama.

Pretty much as soon as I hit my teens, my attention got diverted to getting attention from boys. If I wasn’t crushing and creating illusions, I was pining for the guy who was hot in pursuit even when I wasn’t interested and then backed off as soon as I was interested.

All of my relationships right into adulthood were fairly high drama and I’ve been out with guys who were aggressive, had alcohol issues, an obsession with cricket, womanisers, self-involved, solo-minded, who tended to blow hot and cold and make promises they couldn’t follow through on leaving me disappointed. These were all variations of the father figures in my life.

I was petrified that they would discover ‘that thing’ that made my father abandon me and I lived in fear of being abandoned, so even though I was often ambivalent about the guys who pursued me, once the tables were turned and the hot and cold taps were running, my fear of rejection and abandonment had me deviating from the outwardly cool and composed persona that was confident, ambitious, and high energy, to a high drama, little girl that was still looking for her father and petrified of being left and rejected.

I spent most of my twenties going out with guys that were eight to eleven years older than me. On one hand they had that maturity that I was looking for from inadvertently trying to recreate a father/daughter dynamic, and on the other hand, by playing the very role I set myself up for, I hated it, finding it patronising to be treated like a child (even if I acted like one at times), was high drama and eventually rebelling against it to reassert myself.

The first time I had a major inkling that I was ‘daddy hunting’ was with my ex fiance. Charming, popular, aloof, obsessed with sport, an ex cricketer, and a tendency to just withdraw or disappear when things didn’t suit, it was him that reunited me with my father and I remember looking at them laughing together and suddenly feeling uncomfortable at the stark similarities. My family had that sympathetic look that I realise people get when they realise someone is trying to go out with their father packaged up in a boyfriend. Unfortunately, the relationship reflected every negative thing I believed about love, relationships, and myself. It was a relief when it was over after the mind games and control I experienced…it’s just a shame I bowled pretty much straight into being in a relationship with an attached guy.

I expected unconditional love and projected very unrealistic expectations that had evolved out of the unmet expectations and lack of emotional relationship with my father.

Little did I realise, I’d held on to this image of my father, in spite of any deep seated hurt and pain I felt about him, and I was seeking it in the men I was with. This created the wrong messages about myself – these guys wanted a girlfriend, not a daughter!

Because I was used to so much drama (I come from a seriously high drama environment), it felt totally normal when I experienced drama that was bound to unfold by choosing men who were the least likely to actually provide a healthy relationship.

In retrospect, in my quest for unconditional love and with my unrealistic expectations and ideas about relationships, I acted out – this was a combination of sabotage and bringing about the self-fulfilling prophecy and also testing them to see if I could get the unconditional love that I’d been seeking all of my life.

I spent my energies being scared of being left and/or rejected and then poured salt on the long-term wound by choosing dubious relationships where I’d get to live out my fears and then burn up energy trying to get validated.

I share this with you and it was actually difficult to write this, because there are so many women like me it’s scary.

Neither my father or stepfather are ‘bad people – they just didn’t provide me with either a healthy father daughter relationship or an emotionally secure environment.

I’ve stopped being the little girl who felt abandoned and unlovable and have made peace with myself over the past few years, but when I was in relationships or around men, I wasn’t my age – I was the very young Natalie. I’ve had to take care of her and the adult me for the past few years and nurture myself with love, because you know what? I’m not going to get those years back.

I woke up as an adult with no healthy example to draw upon for going out there and forging healthy relationships. Underneath my confidence, strained smile, and my quest to be liked and loved by my peers, was someone who was hugely insecure, didn’t know who the hell she was, and very little self-love. It’s no wonder I headed down a self-destructive path until I got conscious and I hope that by sharing a little of my experience, that I can continue to help others stop the relationship insanity and find peace so that they can get happy.

Back in part two and part three and part four and part 5

Your thoughts?


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