I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my attraction to people who are depressed – among the short list of people whom I have loved the best, I think there is only one who doesn’t suffer from at least mild depression. When I look at the list of men to whom I am attracted, they are invariably subject to some kind of depression. I have to ask myself why. The way one asks about women who repeatedly choose abusive men.
Along with the obvious Freudian analysis that my father was a depressive, I’m finding my motives are complex. Part of it is being what my sister Dorothy calls “an emotional athlete.” My version of it goes something like this: “I can love you the way you need to be loved; my needs can be put to one side; I am strong enough to love you.” Of course, if you are offering to love a depressive, you can’t ever take away his despair, that sense of failure, that insatiable longing to be loved, because it isn’t something that can be filled by someone else. From his point of view, that someone else will never measure up or won’t really understand him. Or if you do manage one of these two feats, he will be convinced that he’s not good enough for you. So if a relationship is going to survive, someone like me has to learn not to need to be needed, has to learn that however important my love might be, it is never going to be a kind of non-medical cure for the emptiness and lonliness of the depressed. In my case, in important relationships I have found a great deal to love and something between us besides my illusion that I’m important because I’m needed to fill an unrealistic need. But it has been a steep learning curve and there are times when I still have to learn it all over again.
That part of it I have understood for a long time – and so has Peter, which is part of why I think we are happy that we are still together after 35 years. But now I’m beginning to get an inkling that there’s more to it from my side of the equation. Almost every depressive I’ve ever known is on the one hand filled with longing, and at the same time convinced that no one can possibly meet his/her need. So it makes me feel very special if a depressed – especially an intelligent depressed – man shows some special affection for me. I am amazed to recognize just how charged my own responses are when I resonate with someone like this.
I have always thought that women who are attracted to men who turn out to be abusive made the mistake of confusing violence with strength. This may often be so. But I wonder now if some women also stay with abusive men because they sense a need in the man which he has turned to her to meet. I would stay with an abusive man for about ten seconds longer than it took me to recognize the abuse. But the allure of being chosen to meet the needs of an intelligent and depressed man might be a similar dynamic in myself.
There is a third thing about depressed men. Or at least the depressed men who have been important in my life. They might sometimes be moody, they might be unreasonably demanding, but in my experience they are not clingy. They often want to be left alone. And so do I. I need hours in the day to be by myself, or I eventually unravel into a kind of disorganized sarcastic bitch.
By some paradoxical convolution, I think I have gained as much as I have given in my relationship with depressed people whom I love. This probably sounds strange, but it makes me feel rather fortunate.