Let a damaged person tell you about dating a damaged person.
Last week, while skipping through Good Men Project stories like Dorothy in the poppy fields of Oz, I tripped over an article entitled “Beautiful Disaster: 7 Reasons Why We’re Drawn to the Damaged Person.” Like Dorothy when she realized that she was back in Kansas, the title left me feeling like I had just returned to a familiar place.
“’Beautiful … disasters …’” I muttered, while reading, “’a lost soul, a self-destructive lunatic … breathes selfishness … eviscerates every good thing ….’”
“Ah, yes, the Quentin Lucas story,” I then said.
Alas, my connection to the piece didn’t come via my own romantic attraction to “beautiful disasters.” Though, despite being as paradoxical as a fluffy kitten scratching for blood, I have been drawn to them in the past. My connection comes from being one of them.
I’ve had to learn to love the “disaster” or otherwise smash every mirror I cross.
And by normal I mean, um …?
Still, a question that plagues me involves trying to understand the difference between sustaining damage and sustaining a damaged existence. The former feels universal — like it could happen to anybody — while the latter feels isolating.
The trick of the question may be best illustrated by an anecdote:
While away from home in the Army, I was speaking with my brother one day via phone, discussing my experiences.
“It’s weird,” I said. “Most of the people I’ve met so far have never known anybody who’s been murdered.”
“Q …” my brother started, “most people didn’t grow up like we did.”
I’m not sure if he spoke the words slowly or if I just remember them landing that way because each felt like a weighty haymaker rather than quick jabs.
Nevertheless, that conversation captures my thought that there is an “us/them” dynamic when it comes to the beautiful disasters and the plain beautiful — which I assume is synonymous with normal. However, that dichotomy doesn’t exist solely because of over-the-top experiences like murder.
And by damaged I mean, um …?
I once read a story about a middle-aged woman who couldn’t stop buying teddy bears. She eventually spent so much on them that, under the weight of ravaged finances and a cluttered house, her marriage collapsed. With some help, she eventually pieced together that when she was a little girl, her father got angry with her one day and ripped the head off her favorite teddy bear — and simultaneously broke the trust between them. For the rest of her life, she had been trying to rebuild that trust without consciously knowing.
Conversely, some people can be molested as a child and not want to slug their way through the world. I’m just not one of them. Some people can have childhood friends shot to death and not slip into depression. I’m just not one of them.
If life is anything like a boxing match, the experiences that rock you the hardest aren’t the devastating bell-ringers coming straight down the pipe. Rather, they’re the ones you never see coming, and had no way of preparing for. Hearing about a dead child today is the same punch I felt when I was a boy. But today my response is steadier because I’ve felt that punch before — and others like it. Even though it’s still a punch, sometimes hearing bad news feels like little more than somebody trying to scar my scar tissue.
“We want to save them.”
The urge to rescue someone is the original Beautiful Disaster article’s first reason for our fascination with “lost souls.” And, as a longtime resident of Disaster Island, I have to admit that I’m not sure if it’s because it’s raining outside but, as I presently recall that reason, I yet again feel this awful stiffness overtaking the longest finger on each of my hands.
Likely, that stiffness has something to do with feeling condescended to. I’m from the angrier parts of Disaster Island where we kick dirt on the shoes of someone offering a rescue. This is in part because we are self-destructive as well as because we’re well aware of how people who’ve come to help are so good at hurting instead. And that heightened awareness fuels a heightened state of anxiety.
In an article by Mac McClellaland, the journalist discusses how Vietnam War vets took part in a study where, 20 years after the conflict ended, they watched videos of horrific Vietnam battle scenes. Scanners hooked to the veterans showed that the more they watched the carnage, the more their levels of pain and discomfort shrunk. But, for those same people, a romantic walk on the beach might induce a panic attack. After a while, Disaster Island mutates from the place where love abandoned us to the home we’ve fashioned with callous hands. The roots we’ve planted have been watered with our blood. To us, chaos is the new black.
What makes someone think a person wants to be saved from that unless he or she says as much?
Coincidentally, the heart of McClellaland’s piece stands eye-to-eye with the second reason proffered by the original Beautiful Disaster article:
“We want to make them human.”
The first reason — wanting to be a savior — felt like the passive-aggressiveness of a stalker who’d dig a grave in his “girlfriend’s” front lawn to illustrate how he can’t live without her — or maybe the vice versa. At least its pretentiousness made me sit up straight in my chair the way a Donald Trump soundbite does. But the second reason just feels like run-of-the-mill nastiness. If I’m a disaster, beautiful or not, it’s likely because I’ve already had the integrity of my humanity fall under attack.
And Mac McClellaland’s article best exemplifies the humanity of damaged people when she talks about trying to heal — by using rough sex to overcome the rape she endured.
“How do you think that worked out for her?” my therapist asked after I recounted the story.
“I get it,” I confessed, as I too have used pain to deal with pain, “but I don’t think it’s going to work.”
“Me neither,” my therapist said.
But what’s more human than wanting to rediscover wholeness, and crossing any bridge to find it?
Five more reasons to love a disaster.
In regard to the remaining reasons for attraction to a complicated person that the original Beautiful Disaster article cites — “we like a challenge;” “we crave the excitement;” “we relish in the good moments;” “we’re a little self-destructive too;” “the love is our drug” — and their advocates, might I suggest a day at an amusement park?
Challenge yourself by trying to solve a Rubik’s cube before the end of an exciting roller coaster ride. Then relish in the experience with a tattoo, which should read something like the following:
“Trying to solve a Rubik’s cube while on a roller coaster gave me motion sickness. But I solved it. So, it was still kind of awesome.”
However, due to the length, you may want to build your arms up first. Though, tattoos and built arms seem like the kind of look that would attract more residents of Disaster Island. And, I have to warn you, when it comes to dating a Disaster Island resident, those hard times have taught us to take life way too seriously.
For example: We hate sarcasm.
I say this as the official spokesperson for all traumatized crazies.
Damaged people love normal people.
Frankly, though some years of therapy have helped me smooth rough edges, I still feel the need to warn people early on about my relationship with the past when it comes to love — because I am complicated. While people from my high school class are raising toddlers now, I’m still piecing myself back together and wondering what the final image will look like. And the best I can do is just be honest about that, even though admitting that kind of frailty is hard.
One of the hardest truths I’ve learned from counseling is that the coping mechanisms, the breathing techniques, the articles about mindfulness (ugh!) — these will likely be necessary for the rest of my life. I find that infuriating and occasionally mock myself for having been dragged into some type of quasi-Buddhist lifestyle, because part of me still just wants to slug my way through the world.
I have a heavy bag in the basement to prove it.
As it was with Mac McClelland, the chaos can feel like the safe place, like the only womb where rebirth is possible — especially since we already know we can survive that moment, that which was, for some, the biggest and loudest incident of our lives. But periods of tranquility have been special as well. Thus, the question about the difference between merely sustaining damage and living a damaged life still clings to me.
“Am I just struggling or am I just a struggle?” I often wonder.
I suppose it’s a matter of perspective.
Nevertheless, if someone were to seriously think of me as something as ambiguous as a beautiful disaster — at least we’d be able to agree that, as the original article suggests, such a union might “ruin” at least one of our lives.
And I have enough ruin to deal with.
A happy life to you and yours.
Huffington Post Link: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/good-men-project/when-men-are-the-beautifu_b_8044914.html