The Scary Reason I Was Only Attracted To Damaged Men

I suffered from 'I can fix him' disease — and it almost killed me.

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Many women have a list of qualities they want in a partner: tall, great abs fantastic job, well-adjusted, sane, etc, etc. 

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I didn't have a list, but I did have a definite type: the damaged type. Rather than refusing to get involved with someone deeply troubled, their damage only pulled me in closer. The more messed up someone was, the hotter I found them. 


I know my preference for the broken and beyond flawed said more about me than it did about them, but it took years for me to finally kick my addiction to damaged men.

It all dates back to my relationship with my brother. He and I weren't close. He battled with mental illness his entire life and I had absolutely no empathy toward him. I tried to remove him from my life as best I could. Once he was dead (by his own hand), something inside me clicked.

I realized I could've helped him but had done nothing — and that guilt overwhelmed me. As a result, I started putting my energy into becoming involved with other men who struggled with their sanity. If I loved someone who was as difficult to love as my brother, maybe some part of the guilt that resided in my heart would be decimated.


If I fixed them, I would be in a small way fixing my brother. But you can't fix somebody who doesn't want to be fixed — you can only support and love them. 

The truth was I was more comfortable with the damage because I suspected that I was damaged, too. If a potential date looked too good or too normal, I wasn't interested.

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I felt that ultimately they would judge me and I would fail. In my head, the idea of having a brother who struggled with mental illness meant that it was likely I was mentally ill as well, and only if I was with someone who was seriously messed up would I appear normal and healthy.


I could be my real self with a damaged guy. I'd always be the sane one and I figured they wouldn't be able to see past their own flaws and failures to criticize me.

In high school, I didn't go for the damaged ones, but the unavailable guys. I always assumed they just wanted friendship, so that was what I was able to give. It was in college that my attraction to the destroyed really intensified. After a brief connection (it was less of a relationship but more than a booty call) with the campus player, I found myself attracted to the drama department's craziest student. 

I don't use the word crazy lightly, but what do you call a guy who deliberately lets his penis slip out of his shorts during a group acting-class exercise, and says random things like, "Once, I was masturbating in the closet with a vacuum cleaner when my dad caught me"?

Yes, David was in his own insane world. He lived with two failed poets in a cockroach-infested apartment that smelled of decades-worth of fried food and defeat. But David was very attractive and I thought I could fix him. My attention would heal him. 


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A few months into our relationship, I found out that David had been emotionally abused by his father. I guess he said the outrageous and inappropriate vacuum cleaner statement as a way to take his control back. I would be his rock and my attention would help heal him. But it's not love (or even kindness) if you look at someone as imperfect and emotionally defective.

David was kind to me and treated me well. But I didn't want anyone to know we were dating, so we kept it a secret. When friends would comment on how screwed up he was, I would agree and not mention his generosity or the poetry he wrote me.

One afternoon, David and I were having sex and a friend rang the doorbell. I was so ashamed that I pushed David off me and broke things off with him a few days later. 


After David, there were a number of other broken or unbalanced men: men with alcohol problems, drug, and sex addiction; men I felt saner and more mentally stable than.

And even when the relationships were good, I felt compelled to destroy them because I feared one day they'd realize I was the one who was broken, and no amount of care and compassion was going to fix me.

It would take therapy and the unconditional love of my boyfriend (who also had issues) to get me to stop worrying that I would be exposed. Now, I accept my imperfections and quirks and try to celebrate my unique way of looking at the world. I use all my fixing skills only on myself.


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Christine Schoenwald is a writer and performer. She's had articles in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, and Woman's Day.