Sunday, October 22, 2017
   
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Relationsips... Marinating in Mistakes

As a psychologist, and as any therapist can attest, I often scratch my head and wonder why people stay in the situations they do, make the same mistakes over and over, or don’t see their patterns of behavior.  This is true of any of us—we can all have blind spots to our own issues and mistakes, but since my job is to help people move to better places in their lives, I am faced on a daily basis with people who are unhappy about something that they can’t seem to fix. They either can’t get out of the situation or can’t get out of their own way. I’m in the process of writing a book about one of these particular patterns.  I’ve wanted to do this for a long time because of the tendency for certain women to get themselves enmeshed into relationships with men who can only be described as “deadbeats.”  I don’t want to vilify men in this book.  Throughout my life many of my closest friends have been men (even as a teenager, my father would come home, see me sitting around with a crowd of friends and ask, “Don’t you know any girls?”).  I also don’t want to imply that there are no deadbeat women who mooch off men and give nothing to the relationship (I think we refer to them as “gold diggers”).  What I hope to do is highlight some of the reasons that women end up in one-sided relationships, damaging and risking friendships, career, and finances while their friends and loved ones scratch their heads.  In doing that, I hope to help someone who may be in such a situation find the strength to stand back, look at her life objectively, and make changes that may be needed.

I am currently going through a couple hundred surveys done on Survey Monkey by women of all ages and stations in life all over the country.  I have found some trends and plan to flesh a lot of that out in more in-depth interviews with the women.  While I am just beginning to further interview my “Survey Monkeys,” I do have anecdotal evidence from patients and friends to draw on in the meantime.

I think what was most interesting to me in reviewing this parade of women is that most are not schlubby, dull women with nothing to offer, no career, no personality.  On the contrary, these are attractive, often physically stunning women with great personalities, good jobs, and educations.  The gorgeous, statuesque bombshell who made a healthy six-figure salary and owned her own home, but described her live-in boyfriend as “sitting in the yard and passing gas.”  The pretty woman with the great career whose boyfriend never opened his wallet.  The adorable single mother in dire financial straits, who had more than one boyfriend show up with suitcases and then not contribute a dime to the home.  The fun-loving woman with exotic good looks and a great personality whose boyfriend freeloaded off not only her, but her elderly parents for over a year.  The attractive and bright physician who came second to her married boyfriend’s problems for two years.   And the fit and attractive 50-something executive who divorced her husband to be someone’s mistress.  These are all examples of women who, most people would believe, could have done better, but who chose to commit to a man and a relationship that provided nearly nothing and often took things away.  All these women and more will be highlighted in my book.

For the most part there are some themes that emerge with these situations.  The men often get very enmeshed in the relationship very early, such as moving in to the woman’s apartment within the first six months of dating.  They often have promises of what they will do in the future, and stories of what they have done in the past, but the reality is they have no prospects in the present.  I’ve heard stories of men who reportedly wrote hit songs or worked for huge companies, ran their own successful businesses, or came into money, but lost it all and seemed unable to even get up off the couch, much less start a new business or write another hit (and it doesn’t generally seem due to depression).  The next get-rich-quick scheme is just around the corner, and I truly feel that many of these women – nurturing, supportive, and self-sufficient – often believe that only the love of a good woman will bring these dreams to fruition (95% of the women in my survey described themselves as “nurturing or a caretaker”).  Sadly, it rarely happens.  Although many of the women in my survey reported that they did not have problems with substance abuse or gambling, the men often did, and friends and families warned them of their concerns.  Often there is an ex-wife and/or children from a previous relationship and the man vilifies the ex, insisting that she bled him dry, took all he had, screwed him out of his business, or otherwise made his life miserable before this new woman came into his life.  Often his relationship with his children is a strained one, or even completely cut off, and he will cry to his new love about child support, court dates, and his ungrateful ex and children.  In time, the woman is likely to become bitter and angry not only at the ex, but at the children as well, whom she might now be convinced are spying for their mother or who are simply gold diggers who want Daddy to spend all his money on them leaving none for himself.

In some cases the situation can become frighteningly controlling, such as men who read their partners’ mail, texts, etc., and continue to hack in somehow even after passwords are changed.  While living off Marisol’s parents, for example, Nick not only took all the hospitality they could muster, didn’t work a day through the relationship, and embarrassed Marisol whenever he could, but he read through her mail, hacked into her social media, and made her life miserable.  The relationship didn’t end, however, until he hit her during an argument.  Many women in my survey described being held hostage by these men who contributed nothing to the relationship, while they were paying all the bills, doing all the housework, and otherwise holding down the fort, so one wonders why they would put up with not only the deadbeat behavior, but the controlling and intrusive behavior as well.

In extreme cases women can really get involved in a situation that ends tragically, as it did for a young woman whose infant son was killed by her ex during visitation.  This man has now been convicted of the crime, with the motivation to collect a life insurance policy he had taken out on the boy.  He is also suspected of two other murders, and again the motive is believed to be life insurance.  Before realizing that he was dangerous, the woman in this case saw the red flags but ignored them.  He had no job, lied about what he had done and was going to do (in this case, put out a hit album), wooed her incessantly even though she didn’t like him at first, and eventually sexually assaulted her sister, prompting the breakup.  Not all deadbeats are this dangerous – this one clearly had serious psychopathology – but many women involved with them do lose money, friends, status, jobs, and homes in the process, even if the situation is not so extreme as to lead to murder.

What I’ve noticed is that women in these positions seem to be missing a key lens that is needed to have a sense of how a man will treat them (75% of the women in my survey reported that friends and family spoke up about their concerns and dislike of the “deadbeat”).  Betty, for example, ignored the fact that Keith was estranged from his children, blaming his ex-wife for the distance.  One has to step back and look at how a prospective love interest treats other people to get a sense of how he might be as a partner.  More than one person had warned Betty that if Keith couldn’t be there for his own children, what loyalty would he have to a girlfriend.  Betty’s friend Nina, a stable, responsible small business owner happily married to a true gentleman, was struck by Keith’s lack of chivalry and decorum.  Nina’s husband Salvatore, an old fashioned, hard-working child of immigrants, after having met Keith once, was upset with how Keith sat in a bar while Betty stood, never bought any drinks for himself, Betty, or the rest of the group, instead allowing Betty to go up to the bar each time they needed refills.  Even a modern man who believes that women should contribute financially or sometimes order a round of drinks would be surprised by the fact that Keith did not even buy one round of drinks for anyone, including his girlfriend, and that he sat while she stood. Friends notice, but the women dating these men ignore the warning signs.

Obviously there are many trends that will come out in the writing of this book, too many to address here.  But many of you might be wondering about the women’s relationships with their parents.  I will say this: more of the women had conflict, estrangement, or lack of closeness with their fathers than with their mothers.  More women in my survey also had feelings that their mothers were always available to them and took good care of their fathers.  The reverse was not true when asked about their fathers.  I’m sure more will flesh out as I continue to interview some of my “Survey Monkeys.”

A lot more information is to be gleaned as this book is written.  If anyone is interested in being interviewed, if you’ve been with a “deadbeat” at some point in your life, don’t hesitate to reach out.

Barbara Kapetanakes, Psy.D. practices psychotherapy in Sleepy Hollow.

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