Charles left her, just left altogether with no satisfactory explanation. Just announced, after six months of a hot-house infatuation that had swept her off her feet, “Sorry, Miranda, this isn’t working” — said it not even kindly, at that — and said he wanted out. He wasn’t interested in hearing why Miranda thought that in fact it was working; that it was a relationship and relationships needed a little working out now and again. No, he didn’t want to hear it. For him, it was the end. Discussion over.
And he never came back.
It always seems unthinkable, this scenario in which a lover not only leaves, but leaves abruptly; runs you over like a train, as if whatever you had together was a meaningless diversion and you, well, you were just something to be left on the side of the curb like roadkill. In all my years of writing about love, this form of goodbye is the one that draws the most letters from readers.
Or maybe you weren’t dumped by a Hit & Run lover but are limping along with someone I call The Visitor — a man who comes and goes at whim and cannot commit to anything other than a measly, “Hey, so, maybe we’ll get together a week from Tuesday, if I don’t have to work and if my mother isn’t coming into town? Or maybe another night that week, maybe? Or something? Whatever.” He’s someone who ascends on you for food, drink, sex — and may or may not stop by again sometime soon, as if you were the owner of a Bed & Breakfast, and you run a good enough establishment for him to return sometime to be served and nurtured again, but only at his leisure.
How do you ever find closure when you’ve been decimated by a Hit & Run? How do you find love with a Visitor who can’t even commit to a definite date? How do you, a 21st century woman, busy and happy and self-sufficient and more successful than women eve
r were before, extract love and commitment from a 20th century man? For yes, these men — I call them Drama Kings because they’re solo performers, one-man shows who still long for an ancient, man-centric universe — still think the world revolves around them. They still think women are put on earth to please them — but haven’t the talent nor the inclination to return the favor.
How do you cut your losses? I’ll tell you how. You pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again. You remind yourself that you’re lucky to get out. That these guys are exhausting and will always drain you dry. You are too busy, and much too evolved, for this nonsense.
You do not call the Hit & Run lover on his cell phone to locate him, nor to find out why you were so unceremoniously dumped. (You’ll only be humiliated over again. You’ll only hear the most chilling replies — “Oh, it’s you. Um, yeah I know I left you on the side of the road, but I’m busy.” Or, “No, I re
ally don’t want to talk about it.” You do not try to make a Visitor become a grown-up man who can commit to something more than a “Whatever.” You remember one thing, and one thing only: You do not NEED this man. You have a roof over your head. You are a smart, darling, self-sufficient, loving woman who wants a smart, darling loving man. He is out there, but this one is not the one.
When you’re hurt by a Drama King — of which The Hit & Run and the Visitor are but two of five types — you’ve been hurt by a man who doesn’t care how he behaves. Who doesn’t care to become deeply attached. Like a skilled performer, he only pretended he wanted a relationship, pretended he was fit for love, but in the end, sabotaged them both.
So before we focus on your heartbreak, I want to remind you: Why do you always feel exhausted with Drama Kings? Because they sap your energy. Why do you always feel lonely in your relationship with them? Because they refuse to get close. Why do you always feel anxious and sort of weirdly needy? Because my friend, they aren’t giving you what you need. And never will.
So do not idealize him, and do not blame yourself. You escaped! You avoided spending more time with a love fraud! I once spoke with a woman who’d been dumped as unceremoniously as Miranda was, and listened to her litany of self-blame — she’d “wasted years of my life” with this man; she’d “made a mess” of the relationship, she “should have known it wouldn’t work out.” Awa
sh in misery, I couldn’t get her to rejoice in the fact that she had a chance, now, to find a man able and willing to love her back.
Today, though, I find women recovering quickly and not beating themselves up. Best of all — I find them saying they feel better than they did before they wrestled with their Drama Kings! The hundreds of women I’ve spoken with over the years do NOT stay permanently depleted by these guys: In fact, post-Drama King, strong women only get stronger. They seem to have developed steadily, cumulatively, through their relationships with Drama Kings — no matter how long it lasted or how dramatically it ended. It’s as if the adult woman’s self grows more resilient, more durable — stronger — through even the knottiest, nuttiest relationships — just as a child’s self grows. Kids get through developmental difficulties by working through issues of attachment — and so, I believe, do adults. It’s as though the developing personality is like kindling, needing to rub against another personality in order to create the spark that ignites the ever-growing self. That’s why you will move on from your Drama King ready for love sooner than you think — growing ever more proficient at finding a man who’s able to share center stage; and able to love you back.
Avoiding a Drama King in the future requires holding on to the sense memory of what it feels like to be with one. You have to know your responses, and pay attention to them. That’s why I always ask women, Do you feel exhausted when you’re around him? Lonely? Do you feel as if you’re banging your head against the wall whenever you try to have a discussion? You must remember these questions, and any “yes” answers, because they’re specifically associated with Drama Kings.
One more thing: When you begin to feel sad all over again, and tempted to play the self-blame game, keep this in mind. An involvement so important that you wanted it to last forever is not a “waste of time” because it did not. Few relationships last forever, and the criteria for success have to reflect the realities of the 21st century. That year-long relationship with the guy you loved in college; that fabulous sex you had with the adorable cameraman from L.A. at your first job; those three days we won’t talk about with someone you shouldn’t have been with — they matter, all of them. They not only familiarized you with different kinds of love, but different aspects of yourself in love. Most important, they told you an infinite amount about what you were working through at the time; what was irresistible to you and what was problematic; what developmental issues you were grappling with and what qualities you were searching for and trying to develop in yourself. As I said before, these relationships are what made you who you are today; they made you strong. They gave you self-knowledge. And they prepared you for a deeper, more intimate, love.
We must never, ever, devalue our effort at making love work — to say things like, “All that work for nothing,” or “I gave him the best years of my life,” as if time alone were the measure of love. We must respect the effort and the time we put in. The measure of love is your capacity to offer it openly, and to have the intimacy skills necessary to have the connection that you crave — and a man’s ability to do the same.
Most men have the same capacity.
I think that our attraction to Drama Kings, those men who haven’t caught up with us yet, men who have rigid, outdated views of love and life, may be hardwired, a built-in responsiveness to different types of familiar, traditional, masculine stereotypes. We can only move past our training by grappling with one or two. And we all do. And we all wind up exhausted and lonely and wishing we could find someone else, someone who is able to love. And then, stronger, more clearly focused, we move on.
There are fabulous 21st century men out there who know that love isn’t solely a woman’s job. They have learned intimacy skills. They know that 21st century women are very happy to please them, but that the pleasure must be returned — that women want to be pleased, too. They know, too, that the days of standing by your man no matter what are over.