In search of a father figure, I sought out unavailable men. How I overcame my daddy issues.
I had entertained a crush on a heretofore unattainable man for 10 years when he wrote me out of the blue one day to see if I was interested. Suddenly all the latent Harlequin romance of my heart lit up like a pinball machine. At last, here was My Romance.
At the time, I was living in Los Angeles; he was living in Maine. For our first date, he came to my mother's wedding in Colorado. On our second date we met in Las Vegas at Christmas (no, we did not get married). For our third date, I moved to the other side of the country.
Based on my relationship history, or at least on my history of crushes on unattainable men, this fit the pattern.
My castle-in-the-sky construction of an unavailable man generally begins with a circumstantial meet (he was seated next to me in class or at the wedding of mutual friends, et cetera), not any actual planning. From there, generally a single factor makes him unattainable: geography, lifestyle, or a significant other.
Notwithstanding, in my mind's eye, the unattainable man is always somehow "the One," and I hope he will begin to think of me the way I think of him — cycle and repeat. Of course, the first unattainable man I ever hoped would notice me was my father.
The first time I heard about daddy issues was when I was 23 years old and dating a man who was 45 and looked 65. People didn't think I was dating my father; they thought I was dating my grandfather. He was my second boyfriend (tell me about it) and when anyone suggested he was a father figure, I heartily denied it, but I knew in my heart it was true.
Memories of my father growing up are of a man drunk, absent or angry.
When my father was at home, the family was either walking on eggshells or swept up in a maelstrom of wild tantrums and energy — cue the music for an abandoned childhood. For all intents and purposes we grew up without a father, and to this day when I see dads-in-action, I think it's a performance.
Although I said I hated my father, I also desperately wanted him to notice me—which sounds suspiciously like all of my crushes. If I could be the best or the fastest or the smartest, or become famous or funny or fabulous, or possibly just break my arm (I tried valiantly, never happened), he would notice me and (therefore) love me.
My romantic relationships have all followed this same pattern: I am "not enough" for the other person's love. Sometimes I blindly pursue men who blatantly tell me I am not enough. One boyfriend told me I would be really hot if I was five inches taller, ten pounds lighter, had broader shoulders (what?) and was Irish. Still, I stayed with him for 18 months.
By unconsciously seeking out unattainable/emotionally unavailable/married or simply not interested men, I can obsessively reenact my father/daughter dynamic in the vain hope that if I can convince said man to love and notice me, then surely my father will notice and love me too.
The romance with the man in Maine was the first time I had experienced the fruition of an unattainable crush culminating in all its dramatic potential. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered I was dating (OK, engaged to) a man who was the epitome of my father, although not as tall.
I eventually packed my bags for home. It was time to take responsibility for my life, as it was. What had happened in the past with my father was done and gone, but I was dragging it around like a huge bag of rocks into every romantic relationship I entered.
By refusing to let the past go, I was playing a dangerous game of control in my relationships: no man was ever going to measure up and prove my unattainable fantasy true, and meanwhile I could remain "unloved and unlovable" within the safe confines of failed romance and saying "I told you so" to my friends.
Over time, I have cultivated a friendship with my father (maintained primarily through daily emails), and have become a better advocate of personal choice in my relationships. Being aware of a tendency towards unattainable men, I have tried to put action to word, to identify the signals when I am in hot pursuit of a father figure and put the brakes on before getting up to speed.
Knowledge of the trait does not bar the compulsion, but self-awareness and acceptance gained by sincerely examining it in my life have given me the tools to sidestep inauthentic pursuit of inappropriate men. One day I might just pick someone both appropriate and available.