I wish I would have been sitting down when she said it. I wasn’t. I was standing in the doorway of a coffee shop, saying goodbye with keys in my hand—so ready to leave—and that was before she even opened her mouth.
“You and me,” she said, “always falling for the wrong guys.”
I laughed—a sort of nervous laugh, even though I did not think it was funny.
The statement felt like a punch in gut. Or rather, like someone ran across the back of my knees with a curtain rod. I could have just crumbled to the floor. I’m learning to pay more attention to these cues—my body cues. Not to brush them off as “not a big deal” as I so often do, but to know that if my knees felt like crumbling when I hear words, there is probably a reason.
I stayed calm, knowing she didn’t know what she was saying. This is just one of those things we say—you know?—without thinking about it. Without considering how powerful our words are, how they are like a lifeline back to our thoughts, and our beliefs, which are slowly dictating our life, like a small rudder on a big boat.
But when I got home, I sat on the couch and gathered myself and took a few deep breaths and thought about why this whole thing felt so unsettling to me.
Why we fall for certain people
A few days before this I had been sitting with a friend, drinking wine on her couch, telling her how the men I’ve been drawn to in my life, for as different as they have been, have had some things in common. They are all powerful men—kind, loving, brilliant, creative men—who are also blocked in some way. They’re addicts with anger problems, or bored and self-pitying. Both trees come from these same root.
What do you think this is about? I asked her.
She looked at me. She didn’t have to say anything. She just raised an eyebrow. Because what we both know to be true, but which is hard to admit at times, is that the people we’re attracted to in this world—the people we’re drawn to like magnets—are like mirrors to us, reflecting us back to ourselves. This is their great gift to us, part of the incredibly healing power of relationships.
When I look at the people I’m drawn to, I see myself.
Blocked power. That’s what I see when I look in the mirror. Wow.
What do you see when you look in the mirror?
Relationship like mirrors.
The minute we begin to see relationships as mirrors in our life—and not just our romantic relationship but our friendships, too—is one of the most humbling and also the most healing moments of our lives, because for the first time we can TURN ON THE LIGHTS to ourselves. It’s like coming home after camping and looking at yourself in the mirror for the first time in a week. You were so FREE out there in nature, and now you can see everything.
You look nothing like you thought you did.
But this is also where love begins. We cannot truly love ourselves until we begin to see ourselves clearly.
Love is all-inclusive. We cannot love if we only see partway. (Tweet that)
I have a friend who is always falling for women he claims are “too good” for him. Out of his league. That’s the phrase he uses. He complains that he is attracted to these women, asks them out, they agree, but eventually he realizes he has nothing to offer to them that they don’t already have by themselves, and he loses interest. He is, by the way, one of the most powerful and self-defeating people I know.
This is probably why I like him so much—he is my mirror.
I tried to explain to him that the fact he’s drawing these beautiful, successful, intelligent, competent women into his world is because they are a reflection of the qualities he already has inside of him. But it’s virtually impossible for him to see this. All he can see is how much “better” these women are than he is.
See, even with the good qualities in our relationships, it’s easy to get SO focused on the image we’re seeing in the mirror, trying to correct and change and fix and analyze, that we miss what the image was trying to show us int the first place—ourselves.
It’s hard to look in the mirror.
This idea—that relationships are mirrors—is a hard pill to swallow, especially if we have already swallowed the pill that we’re “always attracted to the wrong people.” It’s easier to think our problems are really about someone else—that if only we could find a new person or a new relationship, all those issues would fade into the distance.
It helps us avoid taking responsibility.
To ask for another relationship, or another job, is not particularly helpful if we’re going to show up in the new situation exactly as we showed up in the last one.
I’ll never forget being asked by a therapist, after a break-up, to make a list of the qualities in my former partner that I felt were the reasons for the relationship ending. I wrote down words like, “dishonest, angry, abusive.” And when I took the list back to my therapist, I told her I didn’t think the mirror principal was working in this case, because I didn’t identify with any of these qualities in my life.
This is always the great temptation, by the way—to think, “oh, this doesn’t apply to me.”
But assuming the mirror principal doesn’t apply to your situation is like taking an actual mirror back to Target and telling the woman at the counter, “This mirror doesn’t seem to be working the way I want it to. I don’t like the way I look in it. May I please get my money back?”
My therapist looked at me and said:
“What about dishonesty with yourself? What about all of your suppressed anger? What about your tendency toward self-abuse?” Blocked power.
Ouch. It’s so very hard to look in the mirror.
It is easy to get stuck on the image of the other person—what they’re doing or not doing, saying or not saying, how they’re acting or not acting the way you wish they were. This is like thinking the mirror is broken. Because we’re not getting the image we wish we were getting. But no, the mirror is not broken. It never has been. It’s doing exactly what it was designed to do all along. It’s working just great.
Always falling for the “wrong” person? No way.
The people I attract into my life are my great healing. Love is my only way home.
I hate you, you’re ugly, you loser.
When I say love is the only way home, what I mean is the only way out of this mess we have found ourselves in—the pain we feel over relationships that don’t turn out the way we expect—is to learn to love what we are seeing in the mirror. To love the people who have disappointed us, betrayed us, hurt us, left us hanging—this is how we learn to love ourselves. To love the whole world. We soften around these disappointments, rather than hardening.
This is what love is and always has been trying to teach us.
Love is our true nature, so until we surrender to it, we won’t feel any peace in our hearts. Relationships that bring unrest into our lives are life’s great gift to us. They are showing us where we are failing to let love in.
This is part of why that comment about “always falling for the wrong men” felt so hard for me to stomach. Because when you really begin to break this down, an insult to any man I’ve loved is also an insult to myself. There was a time in my life when this would have felt perfectly normal to me—sitting around and talking crap about myself, or about someone I once loved, saying terrible things about either of them.
I hate you, you’re ugly, you loser.
But sitting around talking to my girlfriends about what an asshole he is, or standing in front of my mirror, picking at every little flaw, every little detail, grimacing and wishing it were all different—it’s like a scene from Mean Girls.
These days, as I’m growing in love, the whole thing feels less and less normal to me, and more and more like a small taste of hell here on earth. It’s all too easy.
It’s a terrible and brilliant distraction from love.
Love and letting go
What I don’t mean by all this talk about love being the only way home is that we should stay in relationships where abuse or violence or dishonesty or betrayal are present and even normal. In fact, sometimes the most loving thing we can do is to walk away from places where love seems blocked. Powerful, blocked people won’t realized they’re blocked until they stop getting what they want with their tactics of manipulation and control.
Sometimes it takes space for all of us to figure that out.
It takes allowing ourselves to feel lonely for awhile.
It takes surrendering what we think we want.
Sometimes it takes a season of darkness or confusion and an admission that we are not in control. Love thrives when we stop trying to pretend like we’re in control. Control tries to get what it wants. Love receives freely and gives freely of itself.
If love is the water, we’re the facet. Our whole job is to keep love flowing.
So if you are in a relationship where love is blocked, maybe it’s time to remove yourself from the situation for now. Maybe forever. Sometimes we have to create space and distance in a relationship so that love can have permission to flow again. Maybe someone you wish would come close has created space and distance from YOU. Perhaps the space is a good thing. Perhaps it is room for love to flow.
It’s time we get better at loving from a distance. At letting our love change form.
We get better at love as we get better at letting go.
The biggest problem.
I’m beginning to feel like our biggest problem with relationships is we are expecting them not to not hurt. So of course, when they hurt, we feel like we’re doing something wrong. We start to wonder why people are such jerks and idiots, or why we are such jerks and idiots, or why we are always trusting the “wrong people,” or why we can’t be more content being alone.
But I love what Richard Rohr says about relationships.
He says that, from a spiritual perspective, they are actually our great saving—quite literally what Christians would call SALVATION.
I would name salvation as simply the readiness, the capacity, and the willingness to stay in the relationship. As long as you show up with some degree of vulnerability, the Spirit can keep working. Self-sufficiency makes God experience impossible. Please trust me on that… Naked vulnerability means I’m going to let you influence me; I’m going to allow you to change me…we really were made for love. Outside of it we die very quickly.” —Richard Rohr
No wonder we’re so concerned with our relationships. What could possibly be more concerning?
The fact that you feel lonely when you are out of relationship with the people you love most makes perfect sense. The fact that the people you love the most have the greatest ability to hurt you is a testament to the great LOVE you feel for them.
It doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong.
It means you’re doing something RIGHT.
See if you can soften around those areas, rather than hardening. See if you can stay with yourself. See if you can let it hurt. When I can do that—when I can look in the mirror and instead of picking and plucking and turning up my nose I can just tilt my head a little and say, “you precious human… I’m so sorry I’ve tried to make you perfect. I am going to love you just the way you are.”
Then, like a sort of melting—a cracking of things—all the bitterness and anger toward these men I’ve loved, all of that begins to melt away.
Like looking in the mirror. I love myself.
What’s left is grief. Sadness, sure. Pain. YES. Holy crap, so much pain. But pain is part of what teaches us to have grace for ourselves. Because we are not invincible. We are not indestructible.
We are only human and love is all that is saving us.
Love will bring us all home.
Love is our greatest power.
When we embrace this truth of relationships as our mirrors, every interaction with a person we love becomes heartbreaking in the BEST way, because suddenly we begin to see ourselves so very clearly. When I’m furious with you for being critical with me, what is really happening? Chances are I’m furious with myself for being so critical of myself. Or I’m devastated at the way I’ve been silently, secretly critical of others and how this has destroyed my ability to connect.
I am so lonely, so lost inside my own criticism. Yes, that’s it. So now, instead of being critical of your criticism, I am WITH you, in it.
We are there together, so broken, so human, so hiding.
Marianne Williamson says that a change in perspective is literally where miracles are born. What could be more miraculous than loving our flawed, imperfect, broken, hurting selves? What could be more miraculous than learning to love those who have hurt us most? We think our greatest source of power is control. We want to muscle things into place. But LOVE is the opposite of control. Follow the current of Love, and there isn’t anything that is impossible.
Love is the greatest, most powerful force in the world.
Love is our only way home.
- Learning to love does not mean suppressing or denying anger. I love this great book by Chipp Dodd called Voice of the Heart that talks about the importance of allowing yourself to feel anger, as well as the other essential emotions.
- Do you feel like you are constantly attracting jerks and bullies into your life? Before you get too hard on yourself, read this great perspective on why this happens from Danielle Laporte.
- If you are in an abusive relationship, please don’t allow the “mirror principal” to be the reason you stay. Read this post I wrote about why people stay in abusive relationships.
- For an even more scientific perspective on why we stay in abusive relationships, read this book called How to Avoid Falling in Love with A Jerk (no joke, that’s the name of the book and it’s well-researched and worth the read).
- If you haven’t already, you have to read A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson. This book has helped me to find peace, even in the midst of painful or tumultuous relationships.