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How to Fail at Falling In Love

By attaching ourselves to another person, many needy singles believe, we become instantly whole. Complete. All our needs are met. Case closed. The enticement is too much for the needy to resist. Who can pass up a short-cut, as it were, to personal growth? No wonder so many drink the poison of this lie.

Take for example a woman we’ll call Rebecca. She was in her late twenties and was a study in misery. She’d dated a man we’ll call Tom a few times in college but nothing serious ever developed. A few years later, a job brought Tom back to Seattle where they attended the same church and began palling around. “We’re more than friends,” is the way she described it. “You could say we’re dating, but the sparks aren’t really flying, at least for Tom.” She talked about how Tom was focused more on his career in marketing than his relationships. In fact, he was now considering moving to Kansas City to enroll in a training program that would make him more attractive to potential employers. That’s what brought Rebecca into therapy.

After four months of quasi-dating in Seattle, Rebecca was considering a move to Kansas City to be with Tom. “My job is nothing to brag about,” she said, “and I have an aunt in KC who said I could stay in her spare room for a while.”

So yes: Rebecca was moving across the country for a man that had made no commitment to their relationship. The story is cringe-worth—how Rebecca longed for a relationship and how potentially painful such a decision could be. We explored other options for a few minutes, but she wasn’t interested. She didn’t want advice. Rebecca was headed to Kansas City—following her relocated knight in shining armor—and there was no talking her out of it.

Have you ever seen a scenario like this? It’s not unusual. When someone buys into the myth that another person will meet all their needs, they will do almost anything—quit their job, change their appearance, have sex, get pregnant, or travel to the ends of the earth—just to be with them.

People who believe another person will complete them by meeting all their needs become human chameleons. Remember Zelig from the Woody Allen movie of the same name? He became who everyone around him wanted him to be. He was externally defined, looking to others to tell him who he was. People who believe this lie do the same thing. The problem is that chasing after another person to have a relationship that makes you feel better about yourself spells certain disaster. And Rebecca’s situation was no exception.

Six months after her move, Rebecca reappeared in the same therapist’s office. She admitted that things in Kansas City hadn’t worked out too well. For the next thirty minutes Rebecca explained that how, after only a few weeks, Tom began dating another woman he met in his training program, and they were now close to getting engaged. She said she was doing all right, but since she had “lost” Tom she was lowering her expectations and “settling” for guys she would have never considered previously. Before leaving our office that day, Rebecca spent at least thirty minutes tearing Tom apart.

Too many people attach themselves to another person to obtain approval, affirmation, purpose, safety, and, of course, identity. And when the inevitable disappointment happens, they complain bitterly that this person failed them.

The truth is, self-worth does not come from the mere existence or presence of someone in your life. When you come to a relationship lacking personal self-worth, all you can offer is neediness. And even if you do win the heart of another, you’ll still, over time, come up empty. That’s the poison of this lie. Expecting another person, whether it be a friend, a dating partner, or your husband or wife, to provide you with your life is unrealistic and actually unfair. It isn’t anyone else’s job to give you an identity or make you whole. People in your life are meant to share it, not be it.