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Are You Still Dating Your Ex?

I don't know when it started--if it even started or if I was born this way.
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I don't know when it started--if it even started or if I was born this way. But I have always been attracted to men of a certain "type," even when I was young and the men weren't even men yet, but still boys.

I grew up enamored with guys who were different - different from my family, my friends; different from me and the world in which I lived. I was an outgoing child, so I was attracted to shy boys. I had a great childhood, so I sought out guys who were troubled and brooding. I was a responsible, type-A personality, so I chose guys who needed taking care of. From my first boyfriend to my last, you could say I've been stuck dating my exes.

When I was in middle school, I became close friends with people who had totally different backgrounds, lifestyles and family situations. I was too young to date, but the boy who walked me to class every day was named Waymond--the second oldest of eight children. On the outside, we made quite a pair: my freckles and red hair, his blue-black skin and football player's build. But our friendship was deep: he needed help with homework and someone to listen to his tumultuous life; I was a wide-eyed A-student who wanted to right the world, one boy at a time.

In high school, when my best friend began dating the handsome tennis team captain, I migrated to his older, painfully-shy brother, and it became my goal to bring him "out of his shell."

My next boyfriend was literally from the other side of the tracks; he lived in a neighborhood I wasn't even allowed to visit, his mother and father had a chaotic relationship, and his dream was to become a carpenter. This was David, nearly a legend in my family for the anger he could inspire in my father. He spoke with a heavy Brooklyn accent (a.k.a. Rocky Balboa's "Yo, Adrienne!") and he wasn't afraid to pit daughter against parent. My dad instantly disliked the qualities in David that made me adore this bad boy, but from the hindsight of 30 years (and my own parenthood) I can understand that.

As I got older, my type included the underdog, starving artists, non-conformists, lone wolves, the brilliant but under-employed. These are the men I chose to love, time and time again. Sometimes I had a major impact, loving them in a way that helped them strive to reach their own potential. But it didn't always work in my favor. My college boyfriend went from shy and unassuming to buff and beautiful and bold. After three years of dating, he left me to explore his newfound self ... and other girls. Although he broke my heart, we renewed our friendship 20 years ago and still talk frequently. He tells me I helped him more than I know. The thing is, I do know. That's what I did with "my type": therapeutic dating.

After college, I remember the time my aunt fixed me up with the son of a friend of hers. He had his own business, a brand-new sports car, and contacts with everyone in town. I was visiting my parents for the weekend and he picked me up for our date wearing a three-piece suit and holding reservations to one of the city's finest restaurants. As soon as we pulled out of the driveway my father turned to my mother and said, "She won't like him."

And he was right--I didn't. Looking back, it's hard to say why, except that he wouldn't ever really need me. And I liked being needed.

And finally, the man I married. When we first began dating, I was also dating someone else. I was talking to my parents one day, telling them that I really liked both guys, but each was asking me to choose. The first one was studying to be a surgeon; the other was a part-time musician. My dad said to my mother, "That poor surgeon doesn't stand a chance."

My dad was right again; I married the musician, as naive to his internal turmoil and substance abuse as I was in my belief in the power of love to "fix" him.

Now, 30 years later, I know a little more. I know I am like many women--drawn to the same type over and over again, expecting different results. I know that some people can't be saved, and that saving someone is not the same thing as loving him.

Six years ago, my husband and I divorced. While we worked hard during our marriage, we have worked even harder to create an enduring friendship, post-divorce.

If you ask me today, I will tell you with sincere certainty that divorce was the absolute right decision for my family. It doesn't make it any easier - a lost dream, another broken heart - but that's what it took for me to step out of the way and let the man I loved save himself.

But am I finished with dating men who "need to be saved"...? To be continued...

This is the first in a series about The People We Date After Divorce. Come back next week to learn more about what type of person you've been choosing, and how to choose differently.

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