Dear Charlene: “I’m Having a Hard Time Staying Away”

Every month, writer and actor Charlene deGuzman answers your questions about love, loss, and loneliness.

Hi everyone! I’m Charlene deGuzman!

I’m a writer and actor in Los Angeles. Some of you may know me as @charstarlene on Twitter, or maybe you’ve seen some of my shorts on YouTube.

I’ve teamed up with FLOOD to offer you all advice, support, and hope! Every month I’ll be answering any of your heart’s questions on life, love, happiness, and any of the deepest places in between.

Let me introduce myself. I was depressed at age eleven. I never thought I could ever feel happy or lovable. I spent my whole life trying to escape the pain. My life was a mess until I got fed up and did something about it. And now, as a recovered sex and love addict, I am the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been.

I’m here to listen and help. Ask me anything at hellocharlenedeguzman@gmail.com. Your identity will remain anonymous.

And if you need one-on-one guidance, check out the work I do on charlenejoy.com. I would love to help!


Dear Charlene,

I always have this problem where I end up dating a person who is either married or in a relationship. I always tell myself to stop, but after two or three weeks, I still go back, just because of a text message. And now I’m having a hard time staying away. I just really want to stop completely and never go back.

You are not alone. There are many people out there, just like you, both men and women, who also find themselves in this situation. Whether they’re aware of it or not, it’s very common for people to be stuck in a pattern of pursuing people who are unavailable.

“Unavailable” isn’t limited to people who are married or in a relationship, but also includes those who are emotionally unavailable. They could be fresh out of a relationship, or still getting over someone. They could be mentally unhealthy, or an addict, to substances or behaviors. Or maybe the feelings just aren’t reciprocated. There are all kinds of ways to be unavailable.

I actually receive e-mails about this topic the most. Whether it’s about loving someone that they shouldn’t be in love with, or loving someone that doesn’t love them back, or staying with someone they wish they could leave, I’ve heard it all, and even though the specifics are different, the issue is the same—these people are unavailable. So I really wanted to respond to you, in hopes that it won’t only help you, but others in related situations as well.

I’ve written a little bit about pursuing unavailable people before. But I don’t feel like I need to school you on why these men you are pursuing are unavailable, or why you shouldn’t date them. It sounds like you are aware of the situation. So I’d like to focus on the last thing you said: I just really want to stop completely and never go back.

Easier said than done, I sure know that. Sometimes we logically know what the right thing to do is, but it just feels impossible to do. We tell ourselves, “Just this once,” and there we are again. And again. And again. And eventually, the faces change. But the situations remain the same. And there we are again.

The solution to repeatedly seeking unavailable people is: become available to yourself.

How does this happen? Why do we pursue unavailable people over and over again? There are many possible reasons for this. Personally, I realized I was unknowingly attracting men who shared the painful qualities of my parents. (Oof!) Also, there was an extremely addictive cycle of highs and crashes, whenever I’d go from soul-crushing longing, to a thrilling hit of fleeting attention. It was seemingly impossible to get out of the push-pull back and forth. Also, I found that I actually didn’t believe I was worthy of being someone’s number one person, so I unconsciously put myself in situations where I could validate that belief. Ultimately, I was pursuing unavailable people, because I was completely unavailable to myself.

So the solution to this is: become available to yourself. You rise up above the pain, familiarity, and temporary comfort, and gather all of your strength and courage to get off the damn track. That same track you’ve been stuck on, going around, and around, and around on. It is possible. It’s hard, it’s painful. But it is possible.

And you can’t do it alone. I know it can be hard to hear this sometimes. We want to do it on our own, we don’t want to be a burden on others, we don’t want to show our shit and flaws and problems to other people, we want to be strong. But asking for help is one of the strongest things you can do. It is one of the most loving things you can do.

I’m happy you wrote to me. So you’ve already done that. Just keep taking baby steps. Keep going, never give up, and never forget what you told me: I just really want to stop completely and never go back. In fact, write that down somewhere. Tape it to your wall. Declare it out loud. Tell your friends. Remind yourself as much as you can. Remind yourself when you find yourself back again. Maybe add a note below it that says, “How long do you want to wait?” Because it’s up to you. A day? A week? A month? A year? Ten years?

Truly ending this behavior and never going back requires a lot of deep work on yourself. It’s an ongoing process that requires time and commitment. It requires going to the root of the problem. Taking a look at stuff you may not want to look at. Addictive behavior isn’t something that just happens to people. Addictive behavior is a symptom of something greater. It’s a symptom of pain.

Right now is the perfect opportunity for you to tend to yourself. Like all of us beautifully sensitive human beings, you have a great need for love, and that love must first come from you. It always begins with you. Therapy, low-cost counseling, support groups, twelve-step meetings—help is out there and available. You just have to show up!

I honor your desire for change. It’s incredibly brave and courageous. Please never forget that you deserve and are worthy of healthy relationships. And it begins with your relationship to yourself. FL

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