My friend Kim is an addict.
Pills are not her poison, nor gambling or booze. Emotionally maladjusted men have been her drug of choice. Since her first crush on a sexually confused Cure fan with mommy issues, she has ridden nearly every loop on the roller coaster ride of human psychological dysfunction.
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Higher up the chain we have sexy artists and brainy academics with intimacy issues. Further down, we find bad boys. Slackers. Dumbasses.
Kim is smart, successful and easy on the peepers, so finding a suitable mate shouldn't be such an ordeal. She has tried to rid herself of this addiction, but Lordy, how quickly the rationalizations come: "Just one last postdoc afraid to leave his house during winter," or, "What’s one more cute fireman who can’t tell time gonna hurt?"
Everyone has patterns. My friend Kyle only dates dippy women so he doesn’t feel bad when he gets bored and dumps them. My friend Erica only finds herself attracted to men with wives and girlfriends. But we stand at the dawn of a new decade. The time has come to make different choices.
Admittedly, I'm often drawn to psychologically messy men myself. Maybe it's the misguided notion that by putting together the disjointed puzzle pieces of a person's psyche, he’ll be yours forever. Or maybe it's because when you've got your act together and enjoy a mostly solid sense of self, being inside another person's chaos brings a peculiar kind of rush.
Regardless of the reasons, one day you have to wake up, face your addictions and simply quit cold turkey. I figure breaking romantic patterns is like quitting smoking. You need a few last cigarettes before you finally kick it for good.
One of Kim's last cigarettes was a perpetually unemployed bartender, twice divorced before the age of thirty and covered in tattoos. When she saw him in a café, a mild-mannered looking gentleman was reading an Abe Lincoln biography three tables away. Mr. Mild Mannered was definitely the person she should've talked to, but no, Kim had to go with the dickweed in tattoos. The bartender had only two interests: motorcycles and booze. The last "book" he’d read was the Cliff's Notes on Macbeth in high school. Of course the relationship didn't last. She could've had more sparkling conversation with a ham sandwich.
After Kim ended things with the bartender, I suggested introducing her to a friendly, emotionally sturdy teacher pal of mine.
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"This guy may not be 'the One,'" I said, "but he does have a job." I was always introducing prospective love interests to Kim the same way: "He may not be 'the One' but…he doesn’t have a drinking problem," or, "he’s never been institutionalized," or, "he can read."
Kim realized her pattern had reached its sell-by date six months ago when she told me about her budding relationship with Troy, a pothead college dropout who lived in his brother's basement. I must have looked at her as if a turtle was crawling out of her nose because she promised not to meet with me again until she was in a relationship with a worthwhile partner. "But," I wailed, "That could take years!"