Friday, June 18, 2010

Life in Pages: Tracy McMillan's 'I Love You and I'm Leaving You Anyway'

"Any chick old enough to have acquired a Diet Coke habit has heard that your relationships with men will be based—one way or another—on the one you had with your father. Three wedding dresses later, I'm here to say that…it did, indeed, all come down to Daddy."
-Tracy McMillan

AS I FALL deeper into my relationship with Aaron, I'm realizing that my expectations of him are actually, against all odds, aligning with reality. But with this sense of contentment, stability and romantic fulfillment, comes uncertainty.

There seems to be this air of apprehension—and even more overarching a difficulty within me that's holding me back from moving forward and just being with Aaron. And it's all based on one thing, or shall I say, one person.

I'VE READ tons of books on relationships from Yehuda Berg's The Spiritual Rules of Engagement to bell hooks' The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love and Harville Hendrix's Getting The Love You Want—but none have affected me more than the tale of Tracy McMillan, who chronicles her journey so splendidly in her new memoir, I Love You, and I'm Leaving You Anyway.

McMillan, an award-winning television writer (hello, she works on Mad Men!), uses 352 pages of insightful, acutely self-aware and equally hilarious and heartbreaking text to tell a dual narrative that makes a direct correlation between two relationships in her life: the on-and-off one she's had with her smooth-talking convicted pimp and drug-dealer father Freddie and the collective one with the men she's loved, sometimes married and eventually left anyway.

Besides sharing curly fros and an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture, McMillan and I share a very similar tale, one that involves treacherous, conflicting and challenging love stories with the one man that arguably matters most, and the one that no matter how hard you try to shake him, never leaves you: Dad.

OH, I CAN hear John Mayer singing now as I write this: "Fathers be good to your daughters, daughters will love like you do. Girls become lovers who turn into mothers…"

My father was an undeniably charming and charismatic man, a loving father that made for a horrible husband. He was the life of the party, a ladies man, a dude who had a different girlfriend (or two!) every other year, and as a father was loving, yet despite his absence, was still this force I spent my life aiming to please.

And because of Dad, I've deliberately dated in reaction to him.

"I never wanted guys with 'game'—the kind of smooth talkers who obviously know their way around a woman, or five," McMillan wrote. "I spent the vast majority of my life with men at the other end of the continuum. Dating Ultra Nice Guys."

Similarly, I've only ever been mildly attracted to safe and stable guys, the ones who never expect you to pay for dinner, the ones who never go in for the first kiss, the ones who never look at your cleavage no matter how high you've squeeze those boobs together, the ones who know that after three dates they'll eventually marry you. Those are U.N.G.s, as McMillan writes, and they've sat across from me at many restaurants through the years.

Yet, ultimately, despite the boring, lackluster chemistry, a wounded girl chooses an UNG for one reason: control. You know exactly where the night—and the relationship—is going because an UNG never surprises you and always calls and ultimately reassures that this relationship, unlike the one you've had with Dad, is headed to a nice stable place.

McMillan, a product of an alcoholic prostitute mother and a convicted pimp father who spent her childhood in and out of foster care, only wanted stability—and that's what an UNG provides you with: a safe haven from the chaotic normalcy that was your childhood.

And seriously, who wants to go back there?

THEN SHE met a guy, who was anything but safe and who, like her father was sexy, attractive, charismatic and had an insatiable appetite for the approval of women—and she found herself unwilling "to let go. Refusing to let a man have an effect on me. Refusing to be vulnerable. Refusing to be with someone completely. Refusing to lose control."

And control was what I lost when I met Aaron, a man who was physically my sexual ideal, who within three seconds of making eye contact with me in a Lower East Side bar did not flinch or shy away, but walked straight up to me and got me to ditch the British boy I was with (who was probably an UNG) and follow him to a coffee shop, where I spent the next three hours telling him everything about myself.

Surprisingly it took me three months to recognize that I was, in fact, dating daddy—the one man I've been literally avoiding since adolescence.

I wrote about this revelatory night in a previous post, where I serendipitously ran into Aaron sitting outside an East Village bar with girls surrounding him. The ladies were fully engaged in conversation with this dude that I was supposedly seeing and as soon as we locked eyes, he summoned me over. Despite myself, I was at his beckoned call because...I pathetically felt chosen.

"He chose me over those tramps," I thought, as I sat in this desired man's lap with the envious gaze of girls showering me. But when I woke up the next morning, I realized that it also felt so good because I found a man who mirrored the overlaying, all-encompassing male relationship in my life: my father.

"YES, I AM like your father," Aaron nonchalantly admitted during a recent argument. "But I'm not like him. I'm Aaron." He then went on to reveal that I'm also like his mother: a Type-A, goal-oriented, get-shit-done, strong corporate female whom he can always rely on.

As I was getting ready to suit up with my I'm-a-wounded-child-with-daddy- issues shield, Aaron continued, "Just don't leave because you're scared. I'm not going anywhere."

With the help of McMillan, I'm steadily coming to terms with the fact that I'm dating a man like my father, but am equally relishing in knowing that, unlike Dad, Aaron's unafraid of commitment, wiling to actually do the work to be with me and move forward in a stable, loving, conscious partnership.

Oh, and the fact that he isn't an UNG feels good too.
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