Whomever coined the phrase “If you love someone let them go and if they come back they are yours forever” should be punched in the face. First of all, no one is “yours forever,” that is just creepy and secondly, they probably din’t have any experience with fears of abandonment when they said it — something I thought was reserved only for orphans or people whose parents left them as a baby. Although it turns out as a woman with an intact family, that fear has been running much of my life.
When I was studying attachment styles I began to have an inkling there was a specific way I was relating that was making my relationships difficult and in some cases unbearable. This week it became clear to me it was the issue underlying much of my self-worth and in some cases sadness. The other day a friend of mine called and I automatically assumed she was calling to cancel our plans the next day. When I picked up she wanted to see how I was and connect, I felt silly and later confessed to her my fear. But that sort of thought occurs all the time to me. When people are late I assume they aren’t coming. I consistently assume someone doesn’t want to be near me.
For so long I believed letting go of someone meant I stopped caring…so instead I held onto relationships (friendships and romantic) far beyond their expiration date. I thought my being in touch and not allowing space with people from my past just showed how loyal and loving I was. This week it hit me hard that I’ve been selfish in my so-called “loyalty,” which turns out not to be loyalty at all and instead only a fear of abandonment gone wild and aggressive.
This sort of thinking isn’t unique to me of course and shows up for many in unconscious ways. It mostly reminds me of the Greek myth of Ariadne and Theseus (I love right after I reread my Greek mythology book and remember how much I long to live in Hellenistic times). Ariadne is the beautiful maiden daughter of the King Minos of Crete who falls in love with Theseus and helps him slay the Minotaur in the infamous labyrinth. They marry and prepare to go back to Athens as Theseus is now a famous solar hero.
I’ve read two versions of the story about what happens next. One is that on the way back, they stop on the island of Naxos for a respite or a honeymoon. Ariadne falls asleep on the beach sunbathing (which is something I would love to be doing right after helpijng a man slay his dragons) and when she awakens Theseus is nowhere to be found and she is left on the island to lament.
In the version I prefer the god Dionysus tells Theseus he wants to make Ariadne his bride. Because Theseus does not want to anger the god so he leaves while Ariadne is napping in Naxos on the beach. She awakens and is distraught by being abandoned (as anyone would, and apparentlyespecially me) and then Dionysus descends to comfort her and offers her a crown. They were very happy together and when Ariadne died he put her crown into the heavens as the constellation Corona Borealis.
In the first version Theseus decided questing for new adventures was more exciting than “settling down” with a goddess. Culturally he represents a self-serving man with an underdeveloped masculine ego who discards his feminine complement because he hasn’t yet been able to value women’s wisdom and worth by his side.
Ariadne then signfies feminine wisdom who offers her heart to help guide her masculine partner and help him slay the dark sides of his personality…only to be left behind and not valued. This archetypal theme runs through many women, myself included, as a feeling of worthlessness. It seems no matter how much she loves or gives and can offer insights into his psychology that would help him become even more of a hero…she is still left with her insecurities having defeated her and still clinging to a man who believes the world offers more than she can.
I have felt myself unconsciously living into this myth and feminine archetype. For so long I believed men left because I wasn’t exciting enough to stick around for.
I’ve watched men leave for their adventures while I stayed wondering what was wrong with me and feeling worthless. I anticipated people leaving as it only seemed inevitable as my unconscious willed them to go so I could once again face my demon. In the words of Jung, what we haven’t dealt with in our unconscious shows up as fate.
This pattern came to light about six years ago when I had a few amazing dates with a guy who was leaving for the war in Iraq. I never heard from him again and it broke my heart. I worried about him for years. Soon after that I had a few dates with a guy before he was leaving for Fiji for a few months (ah yes the pattern already seems obvious to everyone except me), when he got back something was lost. After that there another guy going to war. And then the guy I had a date with before he moved back to L.A. and I dragged out a relationship for almost a year so afraid to let go.
And then came the hardest one yet almost exactly three years ago to the day. The man I have been the most in love with left for the Peace Corps within a few months of meeting each other. I wondered if I could “hold” on for two years until he got back. I wrote him often and thinking back now realize the letters were mostly my anxiety about his return and how I would survive him being gone that long.
It took two years and him deciding to stay another year (partly because he has a girlfriend there) that I felt finally able to let him go. After several heartfelt interactions about it I can now proudly say I can look at his FB page to see how he is without becoming a bawling disaster. The funny thing is that I still didn’t get what the universe was wanting to teach me until this week. I felt baffled over this pattern and sorry for myself for such bad luck. And yet, I did it again…I fell for a solar hero whom I fear prefers the open road alone to one with my company.
There is another aspect to this myth that my friend Eileen pointed out, which is that we wish too small. We think we want a man as a partner when we could have much more — in Ariadne’s case it was Mount Olympus.
So I get it now, that there is a god (possibly one like Dionysus with chocolate and wine) who wants to be where I am. That I am worthyof someone sticking around for and that life with me is an adventure. By overcoming my fear of abandonment I can now be more of the type of woman I want to be and not someone to ever prevent a man from experiencing more of their personal journey (which may or may not include me). However, shoudl he stay together we will adventure, slay our dragons, and maybe even be immortalized in the stars.
[Photo: Astronomy Today]