Monday, June 13, 2011
A new idea about why some people stay in bad relationships
I have a list of go-to places I peruse when I don't have any new ideas for a blog post. The Modern Love archives of The New York Times, TheFrisky.com, Slate, and the typical list of lady glossies (Marie Claire, Cosmo, Harper's Bazaar, etc.). They usually feature something that jogs some idea that turns into some rambling that I can stick a beginning and ending on and get away with as a post.
This time it wasn't one but rather a collection of headlines that caught my interest: a Modern Love essay about a woman who stayed in a loveless marriage for far too long, a first-person story on The Frisky about someone whose friends staged an intervention to convince her that her boyfriend was a disaster, a "how to stop dating guys who are wrong for you" guide.
It wasn't the idea that people stay in relationships that are wrong for them that struck me. That's a fact as old as dating itself. I've done it, you've done it, some of you are probably doing it right now.
But inside each of the pieces I read was an equally common fact that I only found once I read between the lines. The Modern Love writer discovered through therapy that she had been battling depression for many years. The girl from The Frisky was in the midst of a total quarter life crisis when she started dating Mr. Wrong. And for as many "walk away and don't look back" directions that the "how to" guide advised there were just as many suggestions to "pursue things that make you happy outside of your relationship."
I'm going to admit something that's about to make me seem like a heartless person, but I used to think people stayed in bad relationships because they were either too dumb to get out or too insecure to be alone. But what I realized through the very different stories in each of the articles I found is that some people are in a place where they truly don't know what "good" or "happy" is.
Someone struggling with depression has such a bleak view of what their world should be that a bad relationship just becomes status quo in relation to all the other pain and difficulty in their life. To someone in a tailspin of confusion and transition a volatile partner just seems to fit everything else they're going through. To a person who doesn't know how to get themselves to a happy place, instability and unhappiness is just par for their life course.
It's not exactly about expectations, but that's a piece of it. Happy, stable people know what they want and expect out of themselves and so they know what to want and expect out of a significant other. People who either are or are going through a time when life doesn't get much better than a 3 or 4 on a daily basis don't even understand what being with a 10 could be like. They date 4's because they feel 4.
You hear people say it all the time, and each of the stories I read included the same kind of line: "I honestly didn't know it was that bad."
Now that makes perfect sense to me. How could you know something is that bad if you're in a place where you don't expect anything to be good?