Often, when clients share their relationship experiences with me, I know that their romantic partners are very similar to their father. My spidey sense even picks up on the possibility of their father (or mother) cheating even before they admit this. How do I know? I’m attuned to picking up on relationship patterns. There are also subtle, near casual things that people say that aren’t that casual. That, and I’ve dated nearly every possible variation of my father.
Been habitually involved with emotionally unavailable people? You likely have unresolved issues with one or both parents. Combined with emotionally schooling, what you learned about values, and how your beliefs about relationships, love, and yourself were shaped, you are following unconscious patterns.
You’re inadvertently trying to right the wrongs of the past, heal old rejections, and gain validation.
If you’ve read my ebook Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl, you’ll know that my parents broke up when I was two and that I idolised my father. To this day, how I was with him in the first few years of my life impacts my relationship with my mother. She felt very rejected by my daddy obsession. Side note: We’ll get on to mothers in some other posts!
According to my mother, I was inconsolable and in deep grief when my parents broke up. I behaved as if he’d died. 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. My chest would tighten. I’d feel panicky even listening to descriptions of that period being as it touched on emotional scars I’d 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. My father broke my heart and it took me another 22 years to get over it.
Abandonment is felt as rejection
I no doubt already felt like he’d ‘left me’ when my parents broke up. He abandoned me though when I spent four weeks in hospital to have a serious operation to have a potentially malignant birthmark removed. I was thoroughly excited by the prospect of going to hospital and showed off to my brother. My father though, 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. 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. I became so hysterical and distraught, the nurses sedated me. 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’d done that 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. He stepped back and left fathering 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, I focused on 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.
All of my relationships right into adulthood were fairly high drama. 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. I lived in fear of being abandoned. So even though I was often ambivalent about the guys who pursued me, once they turned the tables and they blew hot and cold, my fear of rejection and abandonment caused me to go from the outwardly cool and composed persona of confident, ambitious, and high energy, to a high drama, little girl still looking for her father and petrified of being left and rejected.
I inadvertently looked for my father in my romantic partners
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. I found it patronising to be treated like a child (even if I acted like one at times). It led to high drama and me eventually rebelling to reassert myself.
The first time I had a major inkling that I was ‘daddy hunting’ was with my ex-fiance. He was charming, popular, aloof, obsessed with sport, an ex cricketer, and had a tendency to withdraw or disappear when things didn’t suit. Funny, it was him that reunited me with my father. 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.
In my relationships, I expected unconditional love and projected very unrealistic expectations. These had evolved out of the unmet expectations and lack of emotional relationship with my father.
Little did I realise, I’d held on to a distorted image of my father. Despite the deep-seated hurt and pain I felt about him, I sought my father in my romantic partners. This created the wrong messages about myself. These guys wanted a girlfriend, not a daughter!
I come from a high drama environment, so it felt totally normal when I experienced drama in my romantic relationships. And drama was bound to unfold by choosing men who were the least likely to 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, 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. Boom!, 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.
Over the past few years, I’ve stopped being the little girl who felt abandoned and unlovable. I’ve made peace with myself. 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 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 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 had 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.