We thought about it and laughed a little. Poor Michael had such a bizarre, abusive upbringing that he wouldn’t have recognized "Normal" if it walked up, Introduced Itself, and shook his sequined glove. He didn't even have a passing acquaintance with "Normal."
I’ve come to realize, that I, too, have no idea what "healthy" or "normal" feels like, when it comes to a family or romantic relationship.
I believe healthy, normal relationships exist... I know,
theoretically, what they look like - just like I know
what unicorns and fairies look like. ( I love those stories!)
But inside my family of origin... Please!
I grew up in American in the 60's and my father was alcoholic - well, who wasn’t, in those days? Watch any movie or TV show set in the period, and you’ll notice, the first thing most characters do upon entering any room is to fix a drink. (The second is to light a cigarette.)
Everybody back then drank a lot, everybody ate a lot, everybody smacked their kids, and often their wives, around. Yes, there was social disapproval if one went too far, but from this vantage point it’s pretty hard determining where they drew the line of "too far."
Leo Tolstoy wrote, "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." In my family, the biggest elephants in the room that we learned to ignore and throw a big, flowered tablecloth over were alcoholism, my father’s narcissism, and my mother’s cancer. (Which, eventually became something we couldn’t ignore, as it killed her.)
Other families had other elephants: child sexual abuse - perhaps at home, or perhaps at church. Sometimes both. Mental illness - possibly "crazy" Aunt Sally, or Grandpa with Alzheimer’s before we knew what Alzheimer’s was. PTSD from Vietnam or Korea or even WWII - before we knew what PTSD was. Suppressed homosexuality. Prescription drug abuse. Racism. Husbands who had affairs with their secretaries and housewives who had affairs with the milkmen.
I am sure there were some "Leave It To Beaver" families out there - but they sure didn’t live on my block. (Btw, totally off-topic, but wasn’t Tony Dow who played Wally sooooo hot? He was gorgeous as an adult, too.)
Over the years I’ve made a lot of friends, from a lot of different neighborhoods - and they almost all seem to tell very un-leave-it-to-beaverish family stories. Which means that either I am a total magnet for the f&#ked up - a distinct possibility, I admit - or that there’s a whole lot of people like me, struggling to figure out just what a healthy, nurturing love relationship looks and feels like. It’s as if we’re trying to put together a 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle when we don’t even have the picture on the box cover. And a good third of the pieces are missing.
Shrinks say that we subconsciously pick partners much like our opposite sex parents - a good thing, if our role models were healthy. If they weren’t, the theory is that we do it because we subconsciously hope we can "fix it" this time around. Or maybe it’s that we simply recognize and feel comfortable with bad behaviors - it may not feel good, but it’s familiar. Like choosing ratty old shoes with holes in them because they feel better than brand new shoes that aren't yet broken in.
I know in my own life I’ve often chosen unhealthy partners and/or acted co-dependently in my love relationships. Sometimes the parallels between my partners and my father have been downright spooky! (With my current b-f, I didn't pick a Narcissist Alcoholic who smokes, like dear old dad, I picked an OCPD Alcoholic who smokes.)
However, whether because of luck or because I am less pigheaded in this area, I have managed to have positive relationships with friends and co-workers. Although I’ve had toxic relationships in those areas too, for the most part my relationships with friends and compatriots are those where we praise each other’s strengths and support each other’s weaknesses - without having ulterior motives, being manipulative or co-dependent.
I’d like to think I can take the grief I’ve been working through for not having the unicorns-and-fairies idyllic childhood I "deserved," my theoretical knowledge about how healthy love relationships work, and my practical application of boundaries, inter-dependence (as opposed to co-dependence), intimacy and friendship, and integrate it all together into one healthy person, one capable of having a True Fine Love.
Lot more work to do before I get there, but I will get there.