The Fixer Upper Syndrome

When I moved into my apartment, I was damned-and-determined to do everything on my own. For high school graduation, I was given a tool kit and it made it through college and the New York move, so I used all of its knick-knacks to hang up my decor. I hung a shelf with a balance, stood on my tippy-toes to get my curtains to hang correctly and carried a microwave in a box five blocks instead of taking a cab. Sure, I could have asked for help and it may have been easier – but I get satisfaction by doing it myself.

I think I may get the trait from my mother – she’s the type of woman who would rather struggle with something heavy and mow the lawn herself instead of swallowing her pride to ask my dad for help. He lets her go about things her own way and eventually when something is just a bit too much, she’ll reluctantly admit she needs him. I was raised to believe that nothing stands in the way of my success or my happiness and that anything worth doing is better done knowing you earned it yourself. There are no shortcuts for the rise to the top or for finding peace – you have to work hard, sweat hard, and learn how to accept failure to find your way.

It’s with that mentality that I approach most everything in my life.

I’ll ask my friends for advice until the keys on my laptop start sticking or I’m blue in the face, but when it comes to actually working it out – no advice they can give will make a difference until I make up my mind. I don’t blame anyone for my shortcomings except for myself, and any problems I have are my responsibility to fix, not anyone else’s. I’ve never expected a man to come into my life, erase all of my baggage, be my savior, lover, therapist, and burly protector. A man’s role is to be my partner, not the person who takes care of me – I’m more than capable of doing that alone.

But it’s not a two-way street with me. I seem to attract men who resemble art projects I had in elementary school. Their pieces are strung about everywhere, their edges are sharp and subtle all at once, and the trail of relationship destruction they leave stretches as far as I can see. They have troubled minds and wounded egos, they are going through some sort of midlife crisis where all hell has broke loose, no matter what age they are. They have issues and hangups, tend to get hangovers easily, yet drink easier. They are emotional and sometimes heartless, cold and selfish. They seem sad and lost, angry and resentful – all qualities that most intelligent women would run far, far away from as fast as their Manolo’s would take them.

Not me though.

I’ve diagnosed myself with Fixer Upper Syndrome. And I’m not sure if they’ve found a cure for it yet.  Maybe my real calling isn’t writing, but real estate – finding men when they’re value is rather low and then flipping them into bold, attractive and put-together studs who go at a higher price point. Probably not though – I’ve yet to change a man, no matter how much I’ve believed I could. No matter how much patience I have, no matter how great I am in bed, how understanding and kind, no matter how long I stick around to see if the finishing touches will stick instead of chip.

In the process of dating these defeated warriors though, I end up not doing anything productive. I become a happy, safe harbor for them to wallow in their sorrows deeper, knowing they have a pretty face with a reassuring smile to wake up to. But what about me? What do I get in return? Every man has surely added something and taught me a lesson I needed to learn to be a better person – but most of them have taken way more than they’ve given.

And yet I’ve stayed loyal and constant, an unwavering force that regardless of how much they reckon, I reckon it’s not too much. My enough-is-enough point is pushed way further than any of my friends. While they’re advising me to run for the hills and protect myself from the hurt that’s looming, I’m planted firmly in the ground, convicted in the belief that one day, this tortured soul will transform into my soulmate.

But do they ever? Have they ever? Has any woman stood by her man and he ultimately became the man she dreamed of? Or do we all want to be the special one who could withstand the ups and downs, no matter how much we had to swallow our own heart to survive the storm? What’s the sweet spot between being in a dysfunctional relationship that could be functional and choosing yourself because you frankly can’t give a damn anymore? Or would they have to change so much that they wouldn’t even be themselves, and you would have to sacrifice so much of what you want, that you wouldn’t be happy?

When you’re so incredibly self-sufficient and you yearn to date someone who is the same, why do you always attract and subsequently fall for the exact opposite? Do a go-getter and fixer-upper ever make it? Or do they become stranded in the middle, neither living up to their potential? Can you cause someone more trouble by staying with them than you could if you left them to their own devices, to build that backbone and that thick skin that you already have?

Maybe it’s true that while a lot of things make a happy relationship, like support and forgiveness, patience and kindness, hungry conversation and tenacious passion – sometimes, love simply isn’t enough. It’s easy to love someone when they strike a chord with you or match your heartstrings, but if they don’t love themselves, if they aren’t a whole person – there isn’t enough love to fix them. They’ve gotta fix themselves first.

Perhaps the only way to cure Fixer Upper Syndrome is to fix yourself by accepting that men aren’t supposed to be projects, they’re supposed to feel like the prize that surprises you instead of relying on you.

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