It’s Not Just Who You Are — But Who You’re With
Many people seek partners based on a list of qualifications or instinctive attraction to certain types. These approaches, though popular, do not consider the flavor that will emerge, when features they are drawn to co-mingle with their own personality. Different matches create their own dynamics that emphasize or inhibit aspects of ourselves — impacting how we feel, our state of mind and who we become. Even with relatively consistent personality characteristics such as being anxious/insecure, who we partner with affects how these traits play out. Desired qualities, or attractions, typically have little bearing on whether a partnership will create a sustainable match, and instead can lead to unforeseen outcomes.
Roller Coaster Ride
Being attracted to: excitement, emotion, intense connection, “soulmate” feeling
Taylor, 18, never felt so alive and stimulated as with Logan, a handsome, spontaneous rebel who epitomized defiance of norms and authority. Accustomed to trying to please her mom and live up to strict expectations, being with Logan offered a needed escape from feeling controlled and constrained.
Logan brought out a dormant, more risk-taking and fearless part of Taylor, experiencing a deep connection and identification with this part of him. Taylor saw herself in a new way, and felt like she was “becoming her own person.” Experimenting with some defiance and rebellion herself, she rebelled against her mom and others, which Logan encouraged. It was her and Logan in their own bubble against the world.
This fantasy driven dynamic, and the longing for escape, is especially tempting for people who are rule bound, conventional, loyal, and/or constrained by needing to accommodate others or do the right thing. It’s also a common dynamic in some affairs and with people caught in midlife, or other existential and psychological crises who feel empty or trapped and want to break out. When these feelings are activated, submitting to them can have an intoxicating, addictive effect, causing a loss of perspective.
In this example, a disavowed part of Taylor surfaced, pressing for release. She felt connected and fulfilled in a way she never had, but it became difficult for her to function as before. Overstimulated and overwhelmed by the newfound chaos in her life and lacking grounding, Taylor became preoccupied and destabilized — unable to accomplish things that mattered to her.
Logan failed to provide the stability, space and support Taylor needed to securely develop aspects of her identity apart from the relationship, meet her other goals, or even stand on her own. Ironically, even though the attraction here was fueled by the lure of freedom — the merger and intensity with Logan, pivotal to this dynamic, overpowered previously anchored autonomous aspects of herself and values.
What Taylor needed was to have the chance to develop her own identity and claim all parts of herself, rather than be polarized and use her relationship to channel the “forbidden” part. She ultimately did well with someone a bit edgy who helped support that less developed part of her, but who was balanced and secure enough to allow her to truly be “her own person.”