One of the case studies in the book Rewire Your Brain for Love is that of a woman named Julia, who kept dating men whom she could not trust to stick around. She would get a feeling that they were not going to be able to be in a relationship for the long run. She kept freaking out and abruptly ending relationships because at some point she knew she could not trust the guy. She had an aliveness that was palpable, with a beautifully expressive face and a colorful, engaging way of talking (could have been describing me). When she was very young, her parents divorced and lived on opposite coasts while she was growing up. She said she had great parents and felt very close to both of them.
Her father, she said, was always loving and clear during their reunions and separations; he would always tell her that she did not need to worry, because he was always there for her and would never leave her. She dated a man who told her exactly that, “I’ll always be here for you. I’m not going to leave you.” She realized that in her earliest attachment experience to a man (her dad), the reassurance – “I’ll always be here for you” – went along with the reality of being left.
Little Julia had had to manage her loss, reunion, and loss again in each visit and separation with her dad, whom she adored. He was in many ways an amazing father, and her experience was that he did he did always love her warmly and dearly, with the very best of intentions. But the unintentional pain and confusion had made an early and stubborn impression on her brain.
I could so see myself in her. Aside from the perkiness, I had a similar experience with my father. My parents did not divorce, but he is a retired seafarer who used to be away for 8-12 months at a time. I love him dearly, but as a child, it was very difficult for me to adjust to our countless reunion [it was extra hard back then because the only communication available was snail (sometimes it took months before I get a response) mail, or very expensive long distance call] and separation. I remember feeling shy towards my Dad (whom, at my young age, would be no different from a stranger somehow) and my Mom had to coax me into talking to him. He would try to get closer to me by showering me with chocolates and dolls etc. Then just when I feel comfortable, he would leave again, and I would cry every time. My three older brothers are seafarers also, and up until I was maybe in my late 20s, the same pattern played out including my tears.
I was not aware of my early attachment conditioning. Not until my ex asked me why I was so afraid of commitment. I just told him I was (and still is) afraid to get hurt. He was able to relate (no wonder since I read the book in the kindle that he gave me) my experience with my father when I was a child to how I view my adult romantic (or the lack thereof) relationships. Unlike Julia, I did not even considered getting serious with a man. Before I get too close, I stay away. I thought I had a problem keeping a man interested. Humility aside, I have no trouble catching a man’s attention, I could be pretty charming when I want. Sometimes without even meaning to, people think I am flirting. Turns out it was not keeping them interested, but actually more of me not wanting to get too attached. A classic case of it is not about you, it is me.
Armed with this knowledge, I will be more conscious when I would start to go back to my old, knee-jerk reactions of staying away and resisting hard when I feel like someone is starting to get too close for comfort. This is not to say I will ignore real red flags about that person, but I will try my best to not let my past interfere with my present circumstances. I do not have any misgivings about my childhood. Yes, it would have been better if my father did not have to be away too often while I was growing up. But I do understand that he needed to, not because he wanted to. And I am grateful to my father for everything.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy! I really appreciate you!
Happy Father’s Day to my three older brothers! I hope my nieces do not develop the same fear of commitment I had (yes, past tense).
Happy Father’s Day to all the uncles, cousins and friends!
Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers who are trying their best! Today is also a reason for us to celebrate, single mothers!
Cheers to all the fathers and father figures! Please do not forget the influence you have on the very young minds of your children.
#ToABetterSarah #RaisingSophia #Father’sDay2021 #FromZeroToHero