On the occasion of his 11th wedding anniversary, Gary Steel on the fatal attraction that derailed him, and his salvation.
A serious serial monogamist since my early 20s, by my early 40s after a string of failed relationships, I felt like I was coming unstuck.
It’s not like I was suicidal or desperately unhappy, more that there’s a serious dislocation that occurs after a string of preposterously complicated attachments and unhappy endings.
I’m not religious, and I don’t believe in miracles, but something in my conditioning led me to believe that somewhere out there was ‘the one’. An incorrigible fantasist, I convinced myself that some woman whose eyes I had met briefly in a moving train or across the road – someone who would disappear in a split second – could be my perfect match. The idea that there was someone special out there somewhere that I was destined to be with, but who was almost impossible to find in this mad sea of humanity, took hold and grew like a cancer.
As a young man, I had invisible templates for what constituted the perfect woman. Sadly, there is no such thing, but I clung to the notion, despite the evidence I was encountering, time after time. (If this is sounding egomaniacal, let me explain: when I write ‘the perfect woman’, I mean the perfect woman for me, not some idealised, visually flawless goddess.)
My biggest mistake, however, was being drawn to broken and slightly crazed women. I guess if I was dedicated enough to Google it, there might even be such a thing as the “broken wing syndrome”, where men seek women who need fixing. Thinking about it, this desire was probably a slightly perverted expression of the “protector” hormones that kick in with fatherhood, where you would do just about anything, even die for your child. But in the mix is also some misplaced notion that a man can fix something (or someone) that’s broke. Heck, there was even a song about it.
It’s not that I never had a relationship with a strong woman, or a down-to-earth woman, or a woman who had the metaphorical “feet on the ground”; just that I was much more drawn to those gorgeous but slightly (and sometimes seriously) damaged women, many of whom saw me as a rock, someone to lean on, someone they could rely on, someone who was always sensible and would always make the right decisions.
I kept this image of myself intact – of a stolid, stalwart and slightly dull individual – until a young woman (a friend, not a lover) challenged it around the turn of the century. When I mentioned my perspective of myself, her reaction was: “What!?! You’ve got to be joking! You’re the most eccentric person I know!”
So it turned out that although I could be a levelheaded guy, I was also idiosyncratic and not anything like as strong as I thought I was. But for whatever reason, broken wing women came to me as if I had neon lights advertising the service.
In my younger years, there was the lovely young woman who hallucinated that she was going to meet and marry David Bowie… but I’d do for the meantime. Then there was the woman who was drunk most of the time, and seemed to will death by playing pedestrian chicken with cars. Yet another would have visions that her dead grandmother was sitting in a chair across the room, and scream like crazy, waking the neighbours up. I fell passionately in love with a woman who, on the way home from our first (and last) weekend away, had a long and argumentative conversation with herself. And then there was my all-time favourite, who told me she had shacked up with an older man at the age of 13, then spent years in an Ecstacy daze, much of which she didn’t remember. She was lovely, intelligent, creative, and her irises never dilated, giving her that faraway look in her eyes.
I was hooked on the idea of being Mr Fixit Man. But I would be lying if I denied that there isn’t something fatally attractive about madness. I guess it’s the unpredictability, which can have you in the bowels of hell one minute, and in a sexy embrace the next. There’s never any telling what might happen, and can lead to spontaneous events that are quite extraordinary.
But I’m not going into that.
When I finally felt like the broken were breaking me, I made a decision. It was about respect for myself, growing up and being real. I healed my addiction to Ms. Broken Wing, and over time, got real happy on my lonesome.
Ironically, I was happily single when I met my wife, with whom I have just celebrated 11 years of marriage. This time, it was really different. If anything, she’s the sane one, the one with her feet on the ground. We’re similar in lots of ways, and different in enough ways to make it work. She’s strong but can be vulnerable around me, and me around her. We both love books and films, and she’s as passionate about food as I am about music. We respect and trust each other, and decisions we make independently of the other. We both love our space, so we’re not always under each other’s feet.
It’s not perfect. Love is not a victory march. Love has to be worked at and won, over and over and over. And it’s as much about being a tight partnership, and being good parents, as it is about romance. Which may not sound very romantic, but the thing is, there are different kinds of romance. And right from the start, we were both resolute we would do things a little differently, and that we would eschew the obligatory $50K wedding and the expensive wedding rings; that it was about the small, important things that we decided were important, not convention. It was the best decision I ever made, and I hope like hell she doesn’t dump me anytime soon, because I’m certain that I’m about as hopeless at marriage as I am at most things. I can’t even proudly claim to be the home handyman, as it’s my wife who will hammer in a nail where needed, or assemble a kitset whatever [she’s the kitset queen, actually].
I still feel for all the broken wings out there, and my heart breaks when I hear about vulnerable women who are manipulated by power-mad, angry males (I hesitate to call them men). And when I do, I’m reminded of the fact that at least I always tried to do the right thing, but that romance and fixing up don’t go together, and that broken women and broken men need support that isn’t tainted by desire. GARY STEEL