Same old story

Same old story

Try to understand how the past may be interfering with your present life

By Patti Carmalt-Vener 06/19/2014

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Dear Patti,
I’m a high school senior who has never had a serious boyfriend. Although I’m not that popular, I’m in a band with three gorgeous and popular boys: Jordan, Ryan and Daniel.  
They’re close friends with each other and all three are really nice to me and respect my musical talent. For the last two years we’ve gone on school musical trips together and I’ve felt like the fourth buddy and friend. I’ve never had so much fun with friends before and it has felt really good. About three months ago Ryan started coming over to my house privately. He never takes me on a date but just comes over and hangs out. He comes on to me but wants to keep our visits private and not tell anyone, not even Jordan or Daniel. I feel like I’ve fallen in love with him. We’ve come close but never had sex, as it just doesn’t feel right to me. He’s not in love with me and I also know he has a girlfriend that he has no intention of breaking up with. He says their relationship is a different thing altogether and that I’m like a best friend with benefits.

My dad left my mother and me when I was young and maybe I’m letting Ryan mistreat me because I’ve never had anything different with my own dad. I know deep inside that allowing him to treat me like he does makes me feel used and not as good as his girlfriend. I feel guilty because I know that Ryan belongs with her, but it’s also very painful and sad to be left behind and not have a boyfriend of my own. I tried to end the relationship a month ago but missed him terribly and started seeing him again. No male has ever been so loving before, but this relationship is not good for me and I need advice on how to let go. I’m truly ready now. 

— Megan

Dear Megan,
I really understand. On the one hand, you’re drawn to this relationship because you’re experiencing love and attention like you’ve never had before. On the other hand, you realize you’re in a very limited situation that’s disrespectful, neglectful and very possibly emulates your childhood feelings of being unloved, ignored and abandoned. 

What I’d like you to do is to write a list of all your father’s negative and positive traits. For example, you might list “unavailable” and “intelligent.”  See how many of these traits you believe Ryan has. If Ryan has many similar traits, there’s a strong possibility you’re recreating old trauma with Ryan that you experienced with your dad. It would be extremely beneficial for you to seek professional counseling in order to understand how the past may be interfering with your present life. You couldn’t do anything about your dad’s behavior, but I’m so glad you’re beginning to realize that you don’t have to settle for such painful, abandoning and self-esteem-bashing relationships anymore. You deserved more than your father was willing to give when you were a child and you definitely deserve more than what Ryan is willing to give now.

The decision you’ve made to leave the relationship is a difficult one. It’s hard to let go of someone you love no matter what the situation, especially when that kind of love has been rare in your life. As explained in what’s called “attachment theory,” when someone has bonded with another in a deep way, it feels familial and seems irreplaceable, even if that person is unavailable and the relationship has serious flaws. This is especially true for people with histories of trauma or interruptions in parental attachments. As you have already experienced, it could be very difficult to detach from Ryan. Just about the time you’re over the relationship, he might call and try to start things up again and it will be up to you to not allow that to happen. You’ll need to grieve over this relationship as well as the one you had with your father. It’s up to you, Megan, to insist on being with someone who loves you and only you.  

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email Visit her Web site,


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