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Love And The Stages Of Change

This will be hard to write. I don’t want to write this because it is going to make me look stupid, deranged, obsessive, pathetic and everything in between but it involves a struggle thousands of people face each day.

How to cope with wanting someone when that person does not want you.

Where do I start!? This was something I was never going to talk about here. I talked about it in my anonymous diary but I was planning to never mention it here.

Tonight, however, I was writing in my pen and paper diary and I realised some things. Things others might find useful to read about. I realised I should share them so here is my attempt.

In 1999 I met a man I was attracted to. He was singing in a local venue and had once been in a modestly successful band. I knew of their hit single but had not really taken much notice of them when they were in their glory days. Now here was their lead singer – kissing my hand and paying me attention.

I grew up with the myths and fantasies about real love. I knew Mr Right was supposed to be a king or prince who would see through my rags and the soot on my face. My soul-mate was, like every woman’s, supposed to be someone rich, famous, handsome and charming. Someone who could have his pick of all the girls in the land and he would pick me.

Prince charming was supposed to be someone who would see the princess in me via my unusually dainty feet, my Rapunzel length hair, my delicate sensitivity to the presence of a pea under a hundred mattresses or some other, clearly princess-ish, virtue. Failing that he would be someone who would race to my rescue and save me from the older woman’s curse, poison or evil schemes.

I knew I was not to be put off by a man’s appearance. The frog would become a prince with a mere kiss from me. The beast would be tamed and made acceptable simply by virtue of me loving him. No matter how repulsive, cruel, ugly or poor he seems I must love him before I will find the charming, sensitive, handsome heir to a fortune underneath.

Bah Humbug!

By 1999 I knew men don’t look past the rags and soot. I knew if they can have any girl in the land they will choose the ones with surgically enhanced breasts. I had realised my feet were not dainty, I would not feel a pea under a single mattress let alone a hundred and my hair was never going to get as long as Rapunzel’s.

At 40 plus years old I had come to the conclusion all the evil older women in the fairy tales were, in truth, just the mothers of the delicate princesses and they were desperately trying to keep their baby girls safe from being used by the lusty princes. It had become clear to me the ones with the poison and evil schemes were men not older women.

After many years of kissing frogs I knew the only thing they turn into is toads and the more you love a beast the beastlier he will behave.

Now here he was – the closest thing to a fairy tale prince I had ever come across!

Handsome? Not according to my friends daughter. She described him as “feral” but, in my eyes, he met that criteria.

Charming? He said I looked younger than I was, plus, he kissed my hand! Woo Hoo! Tick the box for charming.

Rich? Apparently not but he had probably been fairly well off in his glory days so that was enough to get him a tick on that score.

Famous? He had been and I saw people ask him for his autograph so tick famous too.

All of those things enhanced his appeal for me but not until AFTER he seemed to be interested in ME. Lots of younger, slimmer, prettier girls were trying to get his attention while he was on stage singing but it was me – ME – he looked at! Had I found him? Was this the prince who would see a princess in me?

The taste of the poison coating the last toad I had kissed was still in my mouth so I was very cautious. I was pretty certain this guy would turn out to be just one more puddle jumper (see entry titled “Love and Sex“) who would use me then discard me so I held back.

One night I made the offer but this man had access to more easy sex than the average man. He was not about to be easy to get himself. He didn’t feel I had worked hard enough to earn sex with him so he turned me down. Gently, of course, he didn’t feel well. He was worried about his ill father, he had been throwing up, the excuses kept coming. Finally I asked if, by any chance, he also had a headache. He practically blushed then said no and shut up.

In my long years of experience when a man wants sex nothing will stop him. He’s in love with his wife? No problem. He will make his wife cease to even exist for an hour or two. The woman says no? No problem – he will wear down her resistance come hell or high water. He’s ill? That won’t stop him from taking a woman he wants to bed whether he can perform or not.

I knew this man was really saying no because he was not all that attracted to me. There is no part of the word “No” that I don’t understand so I accepted his decision. I didn’t ask again even when he hinted the answer would be yes next time I asked. I backed off and waited for the prince to decide I was the princess of his dreams and come after me.

He moved on to the next woman. He continued to send me signals that he was interested and, if I worked at it, I could get him into bed but it was clear to me he really was just another puddle-jumper. I took notice of the way he was treating the girl he was sleeping with and I knew he would only treat me the same way if I took her place. I didn’t want that so nothing came of my attraction to him.

I went to see him sing every time he performed then I went home alone. I kept hoping that he would wake up and see the princess in me. I fantasized that the frog would turn into a prince without me having to kiss him. He strutted his stuff, sang his songs, threw me the bait and waited for me to turn into another shameless groupie and chase him. One day he sang his last song and left town. I never saw him again. He had my address and phone number but he never used them.

The wisdom of many years told me it was just as well he was gone and I had saved myself lots of heartache by keeping my distance but the princess in me pined and would not be comforted.

Every week I went back hoping some day he would return but he never did. I began to see signs and read things into all sorts of stuff. The phone would ring but nobody would speak and I would think it was him – wanting me but afraid to say so. I’m not going to go into any more detail about the breakdown of my common sense, the development of my obsession, the pathetic straws I built my fantasy boat with. Anyone who can be helped by this sorry tale will know exactly how it goes.

In my defense I can only say I tried to let go. I used every trick in my psychological bag of treatment tricks but nothing worked. There were phone calls and emails and coincidences and diaries on the diary site that kept feeding my fantasy making it harder to kill it off.

After several things happened I was faced with a decision – stay and cling to the fantasy that some day he would come back or get the hell out of town and try to make a new life for myself.

I got the hell out of town and tried to make a new life for myself. It didn’t stop me from wanting him but knowing he would never find me there made it easier to stop thinking about him all the time. Then I was attacked in my own home by car thieves and became too frightened to stay in that town.

I resisted the idea of moving in with my kids because they lived in the town where he had his home the last I heard. I didn’t want to live somewhere that would feed the fantasy but in the end I had no choice.

When I got here I tried to resist looking for him with mixed results. There was no let-up in the things I was using to keep the fantasy alive. Quite the opposite. A diarist came online and left a note in my diary. When I read his the coincidences piled up to make it almost impossible to believe the diarist did not, at the very least, know the man and know him well.

It has now been six years. Six long years since a man I never even kissed, a puddle-jumping game player, walked out of my life without a backwards glance. For six years I have pined for this man and tried everything I could think of to stop wanting him and to forget him. It has been long enough. I will be 50 soon and I don’t want to be doing this when I turn 50 I really don’t.

Last night I went over the same old thoughts I have been using for six years. Thoughts I came up with to fight the fantasy and try to end it. It occurred to me to ask myself where I am in the “stages of change” model of changing behaviour. That thought led to the realisation I did not know exactly what the goal was. I want to forget him but how will I know when I have done that? What changes need to happen to prove to me that I have let him go?

So I listed the changes I would need to see in my behaviour that would prove to me I have let go of this man and moved on. I will know I have reached my goal when all of the following things happen all the time.

1. I no longer go to places in the hope he will be there.
2. I no longer look for him in the places I go to.
3. I no longer look for him in my emails.
4. I no longer look for him in phone calls I get.
5. I no longer look for him on the internet.
6. I no longer seek out memories of him through songs or remembering etc.
7. I no longer feel anything when memories of him are accidentally triggered.
8. I no longer think about him.
9. I no longer write in my pen and paper diary about him.
10. I no longer want him.

My next step was to examine each of those behaviours to see where I was in the stages of change so I could tell how close I am to achieving the goal of letting him go.

The stages of change is a theory about how change happens. It is usually used to work with drug or alcohol addicts because they have a very specific behaviour they want to change. The stages were developed with the idea they would allow a therapist to tailor therapy to fit the stage the person was actually in at the time they came for help to change. The stages have been described as ignorance, learning, planning, doing and habit. The official names and descriptions are as follows.

Stages of Change

In this stage the person, for whatever reason and there are many, has no intention of making a change or not for at least the next six months.

I was in this stage when I first met the man. There seemed to be no reason to even want to avoid or forget him. He was a potential “Mr Right”.

In this stage the person is taking notice of information and is realising there is, or might be, a need to change. They are thinking about taking action and making changes soon or within the next six months.

When he took up with another woman instead of seeking me out I moved into this stage. He was not, perhaps, “Mr Right” after all and it might be best for me if I did not go to see him any more.

The person fully intends to take action to bring about change now, soon or within the next 30 days at the longest and they have taken some steps in the direction of that change already.

I quickly moved into this stage when I saw how he was treating the other woman. Long years of bitter, painful, experience has taught me that how a man treats his last or current partner is exactly how he will treat his next! I did not buy into the false belief that he would treat me differently because I was not like her. I knew for certain he would treat me with the same contempt he was showing for her so I made some completely unsuccessful attempts to stop myself from going to watch him perform.

At this point the person has changed their behaviour or has been making serious efforts to change their behavior.

Changing my phone number and moving out of town were some of the things I did in my efforts to achieve the global goal which was to “forget him”. These actions succeeded in changing some of the smaller things I needed to change to get to that goal.

I was no longer able to go to the place I met him hoping he would return and I was no longer able to hope, realistically, that I would run into him in the places I went. I gained control over my fantasies about emails and stopped looking for him there and I gained control over my fantasies about phone calls too for the most part.

I was no longer able to go to the places that held the strongest memories of him and I was able to avoid the strongest of the triggers for remembering him because of that. This has now weakened the strength of the emotions I feel when anything accidentally does trigger memories of him such as the songs he sang coming on the radio.

The person in this stage of change has changed their behavior and has been able to stick with the change for more than six months.

Some of the behaviours on my list fit into this category. I have not looked for him in spam emails for well over six months now. I have spent more than six months not looking for him in the places I go and not going to places hoping to see him. I have also assumed wrong numbers and hang-ups are not him for more than six months but all these behaviours have flared up a few times along the way.

I am, therefore, in the maintenance stage but still vulnerable to lapses when it comes to the first four in my list of behaviours that need to change.

Just realising I am close to the goal with those four behaviours gives me the incentive to resist any further lapses but it will not be easy. Today, for instance, there has been three hang-ups and a wrong number after none for many months. I am hanging tough though. I am refusing to believe it is him.

I’m using positive self-talk. I can do this – change these four behaviours and be done with them now not later.

This is the end of the change process. At this point the behaviour has been changed. The new behaviour has become a habit and there is complete confidence that the old behaviour will not return.

I have a way to go before any of the behaviours reach this point but, after last night, the goal has become clearer. I see where I need to be and what I need to do to get there. It makes it easier to get where you want to go if you know the route you need to take.

Now I have a route, a plan to follow, a clear idea of what I need to do I am hoping I will be able to end this obsession and move on with my life.

Here is the map I have drawn for the rest of this journey.

1. I no longer go to places in the hope he will be there.
There are no places he is likely to be. I know that. All I have to do is stop hoping there might be and nipping off to check out any possibilities. I can do that. I have come to the belief he no longer lives in this town anyway so a little extra effort in this area and I will reach the goal.

2. I no longer look for him in the places I go to.
The above applies to this behaviour as well. Just a little extra effort and I can put a stop to this for good too.

3. I no longer look for him in my emails.
This one might actually be the one thing I have succeeded in achieving in the past six years. I have accepted the emails I get are just spam. I don’t even look at them any more. I think this one can actually be considered changed for good.

4. I no longer look for him in phone calls I get.
Until today I would have said I could tick this off as achieved too but it appears I am still vulnerable to lapses on this score. That means I need to monitor my thoughts and actively resist letting myself think, for one second, the caller could be him. This one is, therefore, almost achieved but I need to guard against lapses for a while yet.

5. I no longer look for him on the internet.
This is the major obstacle to recovery at the moment. The presence on the internet of a diary writer I have come to believe could be him. I monitor the diary and react to what is written in it. The key to my recovery lies in stopping this behaviour completely.

There are other ways I have looked for him on the internet. Searching the white pages for his name and address, typing names – his, the band he was with when I met him, his original band, the names of band members – into Google, searching to see if people who might know him are performing anywhere in town.

I have stopped doing those things so I have partially achieved this goal. I just need to stop reading this diarist and that behaviour will have changed.

6. I no longer seek out memories of him through songs or remembering etc.
Once again, I have had partial success in this goal. One or two lapses mostly and all of them triggered by things this diarist has written. If I can stop reading that diary it should lead to me stopping this behaviour too.

7. I no longer feel anything when memories of him are accidentally triggered.
Feelings tend to be pretty hard to change but, if I can stop reading that diary, any feelings I have for him are unlikely to BE triggered!

8. I no longer think about him.
As I worked through my list I realised the key to achieving this goal is, once again, to stop reading that diary. It is the only thing in my life that ties me to this man. It is the one trigger for hope, thoughts, feelings etc that is left in my life that I have no control over.

I have his albums but I am able to resist playing them now. I have memories of him but they are not triggered by anything in my real life any more. I have all those happy ever after fantasies but I don’t really believe in them any more.

9. I no longer write in my pen and paper diary about him.
As I thought through the list it got clearer and clearer – the key to my recovery is to stop reading that diary! A check of my pen and paper diary entries reveals I only write about the man in response to things that diarist says.

10. I no longer want him.
This goal is too hard. I decided the goal here is to stop all the other behaviours. If I no longer think about him, remember him, look for him and so on then even if I do still want him it won’t matter. It will only matter if I am faced with the chance to be with someone else and I have to decide if I have gotten over him enough to do that.

The motivation is there. I’m tired of wanting something I can’t have. I’m tired of acting like a fool. I’m embarrassed and ashamed of having spent six years of my life clinging to an empty, stupid, pointless obsession.

The motivation is there but there is enough material in that diarists diary to convince me he either IS the man or he knows the man well enough to know things like what his favourite drink is, his favourite music, and many of the things the man said to me back then.

The fact is – there is enough material to give me reason to believe this diarist MIGHT be my Prince and he MIGHT have realised I am the one he wants. If I stop reading him I may well be turning my back on a genuine fairy tale romance.

I’m fighting that with self-talk. If this is my prince he is giving me nothing – not even his name. If he is the one making the phone calls he keeping that his little secret. There is nothing real, nothing worth having, in this situation and it is time to let go. If he is my prince he will come for me in person one day. Until he does that he is nothing more than a time wasting, shameful, embarrassing fantasy that I need to let go of.

In a few months time I turn 50 and I do not plan to waste one minute of my 50’s pining for a man I cannot have. I intend to be finished with all of these behaviours by the time I turn 50 come hell or high water! I am giving myself five months to end this.

I can do it. The key is to stop reading that diary. It’s one small thing. I have to do it and that’s all there is to it. I have gotten this far I can go the rest of the way. I must.

He’s just another puddle-jumping frog. He’s not Mr Right. He never was. I don’t want any more puddle-jumping frogs in my life so it’s time to let this one go. I don’t want him.

Click for more information on the “Stages of Change“.

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