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

How do I find the love of my life?

You won’t.

That is, not until you first know yourself, and then choose and act upon the life you’d love to lead.

Figure out these two, and the right one will find you. No need to rummage through haystacks.

Many a man, when thinking of tying the knot, will ask himself these questions in the wrong order: ‘Where am I going?’ and ‘Who’s coming with me?’ I know this because I once was such a man. Not only did I marry the wrong person but dragged her into the maelstrom of my confusion.

I should’ve listened to the indigenous wisdom of the Maya, the first inhabitants of my native country. In their culture, a man must first marry his own soul, his spirit-bride, before he can truly love a flesh-and-blood woman.

A man’s spirit-bride has two dimensions: An intimate understanding of who he is, and a clear sense of where he’s going and the kind of life he wishes to lead. Absent those, you’ll inevitably blunder into this other mistake humorist Evan Esar warned us about: “Many a man who falls in love with a dimple, makes the mistake of marrying the whole girl.”

My ex may not have had cute dimples, but, oh! what lustrous, flowing, ravenblack hair! What gorgeous, dreamy eyes, and feminine charm she had! She spun me like a top, stole my breath away, and put me out of my mind.

Let us recognize that “falling in love” is an inferior state of mind, a form of transitory imbecility. Without a paralysis of consciousness we would never fall in love. — Jose Ortega y Gasset.

So smitten, and without a clue of who I was and the kind of life that would best suit my temperament, I walked blindly into love’s slaughterhouse like so many bleating lambs.

Her once dizzying charms soon faded, of course. And because I’d also fallen blindly into my early line of work without first considering my true self and passions, the sham eventually exposed itself and my whole house of cards tumbled. The business empire I’d worked long and hard to build, collapsed, seemingly overnight.

Once I dared reveal myself to her in naked authenticity, she no longer found me attractive for I had ceased to be the man she had fallen in love with. Her once ‘Knight in Shining Armor’ had lost his shine, his armor, horse, sword, and entire kingdom, along with his desire to pick up the sword anew and resume the fight. Her fantasy of a carefree life in wealth shattered, and her once successful, steadfast provider, realizing at last he was never meant to be a businessman, now said he wanted to be a writer instead. This whole mess, I admit, was entirely my fault, not hers. I had lured her with counterfeit goods.

Do not let me hear of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly. — T.S. Eliot

Let my folly be your guide.

Get to know yourself first. Explore and heal your wounds as much as you can. Don’t arrive at a relationship dragging a trainload of rank baggage. Become intimate with your longings, passions, quirks, your temperament, fears, flaws, and the qualities in a partner that are essential to you; those deal-breakers which, left unsaid, will eventually sunder a relationship. Work to arrive at a union in wholeness, preferably carrying an instruction manual, as suggests philosopher Alain the Botton — “a manual to your own rather tortured, odd, but ultimately, always, rather loveable soul.”

I for one, crave affection. I know it to be a childhood wound. But I’ve also taken time to realize that this need is intrinsic to who I am. As I crave it, I also dish it out with lavish abandon and it’s not something I can do without, change, or am willing to negotiate. It’s a deal breaker, and it would be a disservice to both myself and any potential partner if I wasn’t upfront about this quirk.

I also know where I’m headed, and the life I wish to lead, thus no longer seek a romantic partner but a comrade in arms. “Love does not consist in gazing at each other,’ said French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

While in physics, opposites attract, it doesn’t work so well in a long term relationship. At least not at a fundamental level. Take my current partner, for instance, who, while possessing qualities which I lack and strive to emulate, were she fundamentally attracted to the “good life,” such stark contrast with my preference for a simpler one would be irreconcilable.

I am also incorrigibly romantic and idealistic, thus, a dispassionate cynic, however down to earth or otherwise attractive she may be, would be dreary oil to my effervescent water.

This is not to say that I’m so naive to believe that somewhere, out there, the “perfect one” exists. As deeply flawed as I am, such notion would be the apex of arrogance, narcissism, and infantile delusion. I am also sufficiently wise to know that one will never find someone who can provide everything one needs. Trade-offs are the stuff of maturity.

My partner is faithful to a fault. This virtue of hers gives me peace of mind. Yet she tires rather quickly from my flights of fancy and mental cogitations. As you may have noticed, I love to ramble, talk on end, dream big and philosophize. But my priorities are rightly ordered. Fidelity comes first. I can always find a patient ear somewhere else… a friend, say, or priest, or you. Nowadays, as Belgian psychotherapist Esther Perel worries, people expect their partners to be everything to them: best friend, confidant, therapist, healer, lover, mother, cook and crutch, and — if you wouldn’t mind — please manage my finances while you’re at it.

Helplessness is as repellant as bug spray.

Perel’s discovery of what makes most people drawn to their lovers confirms what I said at the start: Once you know yourself, live your truth, and lead a life that ignites your passions, the love of your life… no!… your comrade in life will find you. Sometimes, as they say, you need to run away to see who will come with you.

Across the world, those interviewed by Perel said to be most drawn and turned-on by their partner when: “He is in his element. When he is doing something he is passionate about. When I see him hold court. When he is radiant and confident.”

What these magnetic personalities have in common is an exuberant wellspring of erotic power.

Eros,” at root, means passionate and intense desire. It is the impulse or energy that links us to the whole web of life rather than strictly a sexual-romantic thing. Greek philosophers considered Eros the prime mover, the motivating principle in all things human and non-human. Thus, in the original vision that gave birth to the word, erotic potency was not confined to sexual power but included the moving force that propelled life from a state of mere potentiality to actuality.

Eros seems to have gone extinct in America, and I believe it’s partly because most people misdirect and exhaust their erotic energies into work or the accumulation of money and power. They invest more time, energy, imagination, and creativity on their professions than they do on their relationships. No wonder this country is experiencing a “sex drought.”

Authenticity and passion open the floodgates to an inexhaustible fount of erotic energy, and are indeed, some of love’s most powerful aphrodisiacs.

No partnership of equals — that is, no truly satisfying partnership — can be complete without each partner recognizing and respecting in the other a sense of purpose beyond the relationship, a contribution to the world that reflects and advances that person’s deepest values and most impassioned dreams, in turn adding creative, intellectual, and spiritual fuel to the shared fire of the relationship. — Maria Popova

Presenting yourself as a false copy of who you are is not only a huge turn-off but an ultimate game of deception where the most tragic dupe is you. Likewise, if you tie the knot without first knowing where you’re headed in life, your ship will soon run aground and capsize, drowning not only you, but the one who joined your aimless journey. Not fair, to both.

I know well how hard it is to be authentic in today’s world. As E.E. Cummings said, “to be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.” But hard as it may be, it’s the only way the right partner will find you, once bewitched by your radiant, erotic, and irresistible allure.


Related reflections:

“I can’t find my passion and purpose in life.”

You’re the Woman of my Dreams – That’s How I Know You’re not The One

Raised a Gentleman, I Can’t Afford a Girlfriend