From Aretha Franklin to Camila Cabello, popular culture celebrates the woman who is swept away by the dark, hopeless side of love.
All wrapped up in a bad romance, her emotional pain is excusable, even desirable because it is so intensely associated with the feminine. The smeared mascara, the whispered promises, the emptiness she feels each time her man pulls away; this is the romantic script that girls are raised on. Our iconic images of female pain reinforce the notion that a woman who approaches relationships in a clear-eyed, rational way, must somehow be… well, not fully a woman.
Something must’ve gone wrong in my brain
Got your chemicals all in my veins
Feeling all the highs, feeling all the pain…
Just like nicotine, heroin, morphine
Suddenly, I’m a fiend and you’re all I need…
— Camila Cabello, Never Be the Same
This fascination with the dark side usually disappears with time and maturity.
A nesting instinct kicks in, and men and women begin to search for a different kind of attachment—one that is stable and likely to last. As we get older, we are less interested in being taken over and consumed by an exciting, but poisonous, kind of love.
Unfortunately, there are phases of adulthood when women can become vulnerable to the siren song of one-sided or otherwise inappropriate romantic attachment. Job loss, financial difficulties, relocation, the death of a family member, and divorce, are life events that can trigger overwhelming feelings. We want to hide, go numb, and avoid this very pressing situation. So where might a woman turn, for distraction and a more pleasant form of emotional release? To the intensity of love, of course. Even if it exists mostly in her own mind…
Here are 2 Examples of this Kind of Toxic Transference in a Situationship:
Emily, age 27, called me because her “boyfriend” disappears for weeks at a time and she wants to persuade him to be more devoted to her. She spends hours of her day analyzing his female friends’ Instagram posts and speculating on who he’s with; she is considering tracking his mobile phone activity. (There is no indication that her guy sees this as an exclusive relationship.)
Emily has been without a job for months and recently lost her home. She is very close to her mother, who has just begun treatment for breast cancer.
Emily is using her non-relationship as a distraction from real-world problems. Instead, she can use her considerable research skills to find employment, and replace cyber-stalking with actual IRL dating with a new man who is focused on her. She can flip the focus and start taking care of herself.
Ximena, age 42, is interested in dating her work supervisor, although he has shown no more than friendly interest in her. (At the very end of her lengthy email to me she notes that the supervisor is married.)
Ximena is recently divorced and starting over in a new city where she knows no one. She is also struggling to pay off tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
Ximena is focused on a fantasy relationship that should never be. Instead, she can work on expanding her social circle, setting up an online dating account, and getting her finances in order. Taking a few baby steps toward these goals will transform her mindset and redirect her priorities.
Family and friends may not understand what is truly going on when they see a woman in the grip of obsessive romantic interest. After all, isn’t it “normal” for a woman to lose herself in love? But now you know: maybe your friend is using heartbreak like a drug, to distract and dull the pain of even tougher issues. Maybe that new guy she is obsessing over never intended to be the leading man in her script.
Instead of automatically viewing her budding romance as a blessing in the midst of tragedy, watch for signs that your friend may be missing the bigger picture.
Listen with kindness to her drama and remember that it’s okay to gently and repeatedly steer the conversation toward more practical topics. Romantic relationships are a central focus of feminine-energy women. But the feminine spirit also needs to be carefully protected and nurtured; with a balanced foundation that includes career, finance, and other interests and social connections.