The dilemma I have a daughter in college who has gone from one bad relationship to another since she was 17, making her feel depressed and worthless, and impacting her work. It is a recurring cycle. She becomes deeply committed to a relationship only to be abandoned or slowly abandoned, further damaging her already low self-esteem. When fit (and single) she’s fun-loving and outgoing, always friendly. She is smart and attractive. I am not sure what is wrong or how to advise her.
Her last boyfriend spent several months chasing her; eventually she agreed but, after a few happy months, she slowly saying he couldn’t commit. Now, locked in solitude, she feels more and more abandoned and wonders what is wrong with her or what is wrong. In our long phone conversations, I advise you to focus on your title and immerse yourself in work as a priest.. I assure you that things will work out in the end and that these things are normal and nothing to do with her personally. I am concerned that this will affect your title. I know that life is a learning process, but I would like you to learn some strategies.
Mariella responds Who would be a mother? Seriously, I totally empathize with your concerns, but perhaps you’ve lost sight of your own youthful romantic excursions? Maybe you sailed through embryonic dating adventures and ran into Mr. Right long before you lost too many nights in a Mr. Wrongs group?
Most of us are not so lucky and college, or whatever we find ourselves doing at that age, tends to become a background for the confusion of our vulnerable hearts. Your girl is going through the perfectly normal romantic pains of an insecure young woman. It is not her dating choices that you need to consider, but rather her need for approval, which makes self-esteem something external to be validated by others, rather than something she possesses on the inside. It seeks security in children who have barely passed puberty and scares them with its need. I feel safe with my diagnosis, because I was that girl and spent up to 30 years chasing men who were the main candidates to confirm my low self-esteem.
Naturally, we’d rather have your girl find her feet than lose her heart, so building her confidence is the priority here. You’re already doing the right thing by advising her to focus elsewhere, but she needs to find more resilience, not just bury herself in academia.
A few months is a lifetime when you’re in your teens and 20s, and I suspect your friends’ love affairs are just as fleeting. How you are dealing with it is the problem.
I wonder if a mindfulness course, readily available online or on campus, could help. There’s a lot to be said for stepping back and getting a better perspective on your choices and that doesn’t come easily in youth. It may help you put your romantic problems in context and open your eyes to the bigger picture.
It is important to recognize that she is not being “abandoned” or “pushed aside” as you describe. Those are useless pejorative terms that disempower her and relegate her to a passive place in her own love life. Learning to take responsibility is the first step in taking charge of our emotions, instead of letting ourselves be governed by them. It took me a couple of decades to understand that I was completely complicit in who I chose to date and the way those relationships developed, even if I constantly felt like the victim. We may not be aware of it at the time, but we are continually making decisions that have a butterfly effect on our lives and on our experience with others.
You can’t solve your girl’s problems, just try to smooth and mitigate them. You never stop wanting to protect your children, but there comes a time when your efforts to adjust their personalities are redundant. Then, uncomfortably, he is forced to take a back seat. These are tough days for young people, with Covid lockdowns reducing dating opportunities and physical proximity, making it a great time to sit back and take stock.
Chasing partners for life, as you have observed and you hope your daughter will learn quickly, only drives them further away. There is little more to do in college than search for potential partners and then plunge into the drama of losing them. Never again will we have so much time to stuff ourselves with our emotions and digest every iota of perceived insult and humiliation. Thank God for that because it is a myopic quest that drains energy and cannot be sustained in the big world. Encourage your youngster to pursue a hobby that helps her better manage her day-to-day emotions, and to start the new year with a mindfulness course.
Remember that there is no such thing as a bad adventure as long as you learn from it and carry that wisdom to the next. Finding ourselves alone again and again is not the problem, it is the lessons learned along the way that are valuable.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism