How Can I Tell if He was the Right Guy?

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Reader’s Question

My parents divorced when I was 4 years old, and I went to live with my maternal grandma. Both my parents remarried and I visited them during vacations.

My mum is being treated for severe depression. She always puts the blame on me, yet she is sensitive and kind. My father was distant and his new family treated me like a stranger.

When I was 14, my grandfather died and my grandmother contracted cancer. One time, when I was enjoying my grandma’s family, my mother pushed me to the floor, stepped on my face and told me to stop playing, because granny was sick. I can’t forget that moment. When my grandmother died a year later it was a shock; I felt like my shelter was gone.

I went to live with my grandmother’s sister, who was very aggressive. I didn’t have my own bed or any privacy. She used to walk in on me in the bathroom, and refused to let me take hot showers because she thought it was like sex. I put my anger into studying, and when I graduated from school, I went to live with my mum.

I thought she would be caring, but my stepfather was always drunk. He verbally harassed me and said horrible things. My mother never intervened. Finally, my father’s sister agreed to let me live with her and I spent the rest of college there. She was a bit controlling, but that was the kindest house I’ve ever been to. She managed to get my father, who rarely gave me anything, to get me a house of my own, next to mum.

While I was working as a pharmacist, a mother came in and said her son liked me; she wanted to contact my family, for a proposal. I had a lot of offers like this, but for some reason I agreed this time because she was like my mother and I trusted her. However, I was worried that because I spent all my life with old people, I wouldn’t know how to tell if he was the right guy or not.

He is a lawyer; he is divorced; and he has gotten engaged a lot and I wondered why. During our time together, he would read me romantic poems, and he seemed to understand me. I felt loved and cared for. But after he visited my dad he insisted on proposing to me, and there was a tone in his voice that had changed. It was a controlling voice. He would hush me when I asked him where he was, while I would tell him everything. Sometimes I found him on the phone with girls, but when he called me, I was supposed to stop everything to listen to his romantic call.

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I made him leave because he never respected me, yet I felt security and caring with him. I miss his love. Please tell me what to do.

Psychologist’s Reply

Given the difficult life you’ve led thus far, I can certainly understand your desire to be with someone who makes you feel secure and loved. However, you made him leave for a reason and I congratulate you for having had the courage to do so. Clearly, a lot of other women found him to be difficult to be with as well. I always believe that previous relationships are a good indicator of how a person handles both intimacy and conflict. Given his divorce and the high number of broken engagements, he does not seem to be ideal partner material.

You brought up a good point about how you will know whether someone is the right man for you or not. However, I don’t think your trouble is that you spent your early life surrounded by old people; I think it’s more that you were surrounded by people who seemed to have difficulty giving you the care and nurturing that all children deserve. From your description, it sounds like your father was both emotionally and physically distant. While you stated that your mother is “sensitive and kind,” she blames you for things that aren’t your fault, and she didn’t stand up for you when you needed her support. Moreover, it sounds like your maternal grandmother was occupied with her husband’s illness, and eventually her own, so she may not have been able to give you the attention that you needed. Her sister was mean to you, and even your aunt was a bit controlling. As such, the people who should have been giving you unconditional love and acceptance fell short of that goal.

People who grow up under such tough conditions often have difficulty figuring out what a healthy and loving relationship looks like. They often know what they do not want, but struggle to realize what they do like. Toward that end, it is frequently helpful to look around and find relationships that look to you like good ones. Find people who are happy together, are kind to one another, and have at least some longevity. You can then talk with them about their secrets, and try to model your future relationships on theirs.

It’s also imperative to understand that good relationships are founded upon people who feel good about themselves. You can only love someone else to the extent that you love yourself. Thus, please realize how absolutely amazing you are! Appreciate the good things that you have in your life and the positive characteristics you embody. Despite a difficult childhood, you managed to make a good career for yourself, and become an eligible marriage prospect for many men. You also seem to have the courage of your convictions, and will not settle for less than you deserve. You are worthy of someone who is truly kind to you; who is honest and faithful, and respectful of your time. While it may be difficult to find this ideal man, and it may take suffering through some lonely nights, I think you owe it to yourself to try.

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