A Cautionary Tale of Bloodsucking Codependency

We need more people in our lives

A true legend is no longer with us… my father passed the day after Thanksgiving.

He would’ve been dead decades ago had it not been for a saving angel who rescued him from the maelstrom of his bipolar frenzy… a madness that was further fueled with wild abandon by a bottle of vodka and two packs of cigarettes per day.

Up to the moment of his ‘salvation,’ Dad had burned his candle at both ends and lived an almost mythical life. He was one-of-a-kind. His many adventures legendary; his eccentricities unforgettable; his romantic flair, the stuff of fairy tales.

Exhausted by the white heat, he decided to hang up his spurs at age 44, trading wildness for love, fierceness for yardage, his derring-do for another round of 44. It was a Faustian bargain, in my opinion.

Whisked away by his saving angel to a remote pocket of the world, they erected isolating walls and wrapped themselves in a tight cocoon for two. Family left behind and far away, and barely a soul gracing their home with the blessings of fellowship. Gradually, they restricted their contact with the outside world to the fearmongering of cable news: ‘world’s falling apart, not safe, no one can be trusted, conspiracies abound!

Increasingly fearful, distrustful, bitter, and angry, they bristled like cornered porcupines and began using the phrase: “We don’t like people,” and sought refuge in nostalgia… film noir, B&W classics, old Westerns, that sort of stuff. In self-imposed exile, they lived cradled in bygone, illusory archetypes.

They stopped making memories and sullied old ones from too much recollection. Never sought nor fashioned a joint enterprise to bring meaning and vibrancy to their lives. Having exhausted all topics, they fell mostly silent. Cut-off from interaction, they grew increasingly unable to hold a conversation. They forgot words, lost their unique voice, and began to echo each other’s thoughts or simply regurgitated the inanities and absurdities fed to them by the mind-numbing drip feed of media.

Their love story rang like the Spanish ballads of my country’s soap operas: ‘I can’t live without you.’ ‘All the love I’ve waited for I’ve found only in you.’ ‘Without you, my pain knows no clemency.’ ‘You are my existence, my moon and sun, my night of love…’

They embodied Plato’s ‘Myth of the Androgyne.’

At the beginning of time, the myth explains, there were three genders: male, female, and androgynous. Males were descended from the sun, females from the earth, the androgynous from the moon. They were powerful and vigorous and made threatening attacks on the gods. The gods did not want to destroy them because they would then forfeit the sacrifices humans made to them, so Zeus decided to cut each person in two. Because they longed for their original nature, people kept trying to find their other half and reunite with it. When found, they would embrace and stay together, not wanting anything else.

And when one of them meets his other half, the pair are lost in an amazement of love. — Aristophanes.

From the outside, my father’s and his wife’s mutual devotion had all the warm and fuzzy feel of a Nicholas Sparks novel. To me, it read more like a gothic tale of two vampires sucking each other’s blood in a life-sapping feast of affective cannibalism.

“Real love stories,” writes clinical psychologist Sue Johnson, “reflect the wisdom of attachment science, which states that love is an ancient survival code. We are wired by millions of years of evolution for this kind of connection, as essential to us as our next breath. Emotional connection with a safe ‘other’ soothes our nervous system; it whispers ‘safety’ to our bonding brain.

I agree, to an extent. For if your ‘safety’ depends on just one person, once gone, your entire world will dissolve in a stomach-churning plunge into despair.

Now that Dad’s gone, the world of his “other half” is a barren, breathless void. Time she previously occupied with his care now drags endlessly like weightless grains in an hourglass. Now that her sun has forever set, her ‘pain knows no clemency.’

“When a couple has an argument,” said writer Kurt Vonnegut, “they may think it’s about money or power or sex or how to raise the kids. What they’re really saying to each other, though without realizing it, is this: ‘You are not enough people!’”

Social isolation is a growing epidemic. Loneliness is being called the “new cancer.” Since the 1980s, the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent. About one-third of Americans older than 65 now live alone; half of those over 85 do.

I’m no scientist but I am Hispanic and intuit that my cohort’s better health and longer lifespans when compared to non-Hispanic whites has less to do with genes or immigration, and more to do with their broader network of relationships which reduces stress. Comforted by the knowledge that no matter what happens you can always count on friends and family, the notion of the self-reliant individual makes my ‘homies’ scratch their heads. Why would anyone want to live that way? Who would we dance with? Laugh or cry with? Share our food and stories with?

Having left our home country on the wings of his angel, my father replaced that ethos for the lonely stoicism of the rugged individual and the myth of the “other half.” He surrendered his sovereignty to codependency. Gained yardage, but lost the wild glint in his eye.

In his straight-talking book, ‘In Love or Enslaved,’ cognitive therapist Walter Riso calls for “affective liberation”: the establishment of a healthy, unfettered relationship through which each person can seek the development of his or her personality, despite, and even above and beyond the bounds of love.

To obsessive love, Riso counterpoints one of passionate but serene fondness.

To fearful love, a relationship of independent courage.

To oppressive love, one of freedom.

To fused love — in which “two become one” — he counterpoints a loving rapport between two sovereign individuals.

I have found no better affirmation to ensure a healthy and long lasting relationship than this vow proposed by writer Sam Keen:

“I vow to defend the integrity of my separate being and respect the integrity of yours. We will meet only as equals; I will present myself to you in the fullness of my being and will expect the same of you. I will not cower, apologize, or condescend. Our covenant will be to love one another justly and powerfully; to establish and cherish inviolable boundaries; to respect our separate sanctuaries.”

I’d add that those boundaries extend beyond the couple and outward to the wider sanctuaries of family, friendship, and community.

We definitely need more people in our lives. After all, there is only so much blood our partner can spare until their vitality is fully drained.


Related Reflections:

How do I find the love of my life?

Dad Died Last Night

The Universal Principles of Love