Maybe it is just an affliction of the fairer sex, but we all have had at least one Train Wreck Girlfriend in our lives. Mine is Susannah (not her real name, of course). She is a successful musician. She is attractive, articulate and funny, with a wide circle of friends and a busy life. She lives in a nice bachelorette pad in a smart part of London. You would have thought she is happy with her lot in life. Yet for the better part of our friendship, she has spent many tearful hours on my couch, wringing the proverbial sodden tissue in her hands. Susannah lurches from one disastrous relationship to the next, and in the lull in between her emotional train wrecks, she mopes around like a lost puppy, lamenting about her single state and ticking biological clock, always on the lookout for THE man to fall in love with, and therefore end all her woes (HAHAHA).
She yearns to be loved (don't we all) but in Susannah, that yearning stems from the myth that a man will complete her and make her life infinitely better. She comes across as desperate, and men can smell desperation from a mile away. They then head for the hills without a backward glance.
What makes Susannah a needy, childlike, romantic desperado?
Though she is musically brilliant (and earns well), she is emotionally stunted at the age of eight. She was eight when she was sent to boarding school. She fulfilled her emotional needs and got her emotional guidance from reading romantic love stories, rather than real family interactions. The result: an emotionally stunted woman. Puppy-dog eyes are cute on eight year old little girls and Mills & Boons heroines, but on a 40 year old fully grown woman, it is just not that attractive. It is rather sad, actually.
In the beginning, I tried playing matchmaker but her desperation drove them all away. I introduced her to my gorgeous friend, and she stalked him persistently, always there waiting for him with that puppy dog eyes. Later, when that fell apart, I mentioned to her that my colleague had a spare ticket for the Albert Hall - she was over in my house within the half hour, without asking me anything about my colleague other than "Is he male and single?"
I have two daughters of the ages 23 and 14. I am adamant my girls will never be Train Wreck Susannahs, and so far, they are on course, thanks to my Seven Stage Programme. In fact, they are downright feisty and independent, and both are single by choice, despite the wolves at the door.
1. Teach little girls that Prince Charming does not exist
Men are nice, but they are not the solution to everything. More often than not, they have more frailties and issues than you.
2. Ensure that little girls are self-sufficient
Nobody can rescue you but yourself. Men might have the right equipment to complete women physically, but there is nothing more unattractive than a needy, clinging, emotionally deficit grown-up (of either sex) seeking completion.
3. Live within their own means
It is unfortunate, but typically, women still earn less than men. Therefore, a man with a good job presents an attractive proposition (financial security and perhaps entrée to a nicer, more secure future). I think that's the biggest trap that women fall into. Hello, this is 2014. You have to buy your own stuff rather than rely on the man you sleep with to do so.
4. Enjoy their own company
I know someone who sits like a faithful and sad Basset Hound waiting for a disinterested man to spend time with her, be it dinner or walk or conversation.....anything, gimme, gimme, gimme! She would kill time waiting for him to grace her with his attention.
Methinks Ms. Saddo is far better off having a good drink, putting funky music on loud and dancing her heart out. That's what I am teaching my daughters. And to learn to love books, of course.
5. Give little girls emotional security
We all have needs: shelter, food, sex. But Maslow's triangle forgot emotional security. Many girls grow up with that piece missing in their lives because they have (i) distant, (ii) absent or (iii) busy parents. They grow into needy women, trying to fill the void by playing out roles to compel the men in their lives to give them that missing piece.
6. Have strong family ties
It is raining in London as I am writing this. From my window, I see a couple walking past sharing an umbrella. It is an achingly romantic sight. I longed to be out there, walking under the umbrella and under the protective arm of a man.
The father of my five children is halfway across the world on a football field. But strangely enough, he is not the man I thought of immediately. I thought immediately of my big brother Huw Patrick, a strong and solid presence in my life from childhood. Nobody can ever take his place in my heart. Nobody can ever take my mother's, my father's, my other brother's, my children's, my niece's, my nephew's, my grandparents' place in my heart. There is something true in the old adage: there is nothing stronger than blood (though I was an adopted child). Family are the ones who give you firm grounds to stand on, whatever the nature of your relationship. There is no place more secure than your childhood home, even if that home is just a construct of your mind.
7. Model it!
Be a strong girl yourself! Live life with laughter lacing your days, genuine happiness lighting your path, learn to find your own solutions, love yourself truly, madly and deeply, and dance like no one is watching, except your daughter, of course.
First published in www.raisinghappystrongkids.com