At some point in our lives, we all experience what I like to call “Broken Bird Syndrome”. We all meet that one person we want to save, because they are “clearly in need” of saving, and we quickly set off on this noble quest to fix and nurture. Most of us are not heartless assholes, and when we meet these people, we can’t help but be overcome with some deep rooted feeling of human decency.
But here is the question, the one huge question we forget to ask ourselves before the long and painful journey begins: What if that bird likes being broken?
Within four months of moving to Seattle (seven and a half years ago), I met Ken*. He was every single thing that I wasn’t, and I was immedietly drawn to him. I knew almost instantly that he was broken, but the thing was, he was interesting and different. Of course I wanted to know him, because I wanted to associate myself with another human who (I thought) would understand that, I too, was interesting and different. I would realize later that he cared so much about what people thought of him, that he adopted the attitude of not caring about anything, but I was hopelessly drawn to him anyway. I was so sure that I could fix what was broken in him, by showing him how beautiful life could be if he just tried to see it that way, and with that mindset I put myself directly on the path to hell.
I wish I had realized how much he liked feeling tortured. I wish I had known that, for some people, being broken is their ‘thing’ and it’s never going to change. I could have saved myself three and a half years of pain.
Looking back, I think that Ken loved and hated me. He saw how much I cared, saw how much I did (and would have done) for him, and he utterly resented me for it. I was determined to make him happy, and he was just as determined to continue being depressed, dangerous, angry, spiteful, and just plain mean to me. I believe he liked the idea of me, but not the reality of me, and somewhere in those years I became broken too. That is probably the worst part of this game we play, because eventually the other person wears you down to the point where you feel like they do, and the cycle goes on for a long longer than it should. I honestly believed that nobody could understand me like him, and it took me years to figure out how wrong that was.
“We accept the love we think we deserve.”
That quote right there is what stopped my cycle. Reading that made me realize that some people don’t want to be saved, some people want to remain interesting and different, and they think remaining broken achieves that. Somehow, their reality of chaos and feeling like Life itself misunderstands them becomes their identity. Maybe they never grew out of the high school angst. As for the rest of us, we want to be the difference so badly, and we jump head first into making it happen. In this way, we are as selfish as those we are trying to save, because it is our own odd insecurity that has us wanting to protect and shelter these birds. For a time, the human interaction feels special, existing in our own weird worlds together.
So, how do we stop this cycle? How do we recognize the difference between someone who could benefit from change and someone enjoys the shitty darkness?
In the end, you’re the only person you need to worry about. Learning to appreciate what I brought to the relationship table was rough, because I am a perfectionist. I wanted to be the ‘perfect everything’ to someone, and it was impossible to keep up. Once I figured it out though, gone were the days of saving others and dealing with their issues, because: LIFE. Dating someone who has their shit together is one of the best rewards of being an adult, and the free time? Oh boy, the free time I have because I am not constantly involved in another person and their personal drama and our personal drama? FANTASTIC. It’s possible that these broken birds will still find me from time to time, and that I will admire them and enjoy their little songs, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I am leaving those birds where they land.
We do what we have to do, to be free.
*-Name changed. Obviously.