Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Enmeshment: The Story of Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake, Part II

So what lesson can yesterday's story of ill-fated lovers Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake teach singles about enmeshment?

Let's start by defining what enmeshment is. (Yes, it's more than just a good SAT word--it also makes an excellent play for Balderdash.)


Enmeshment, simply defined, is the state of being so entangled in someone else's identity that you become indistinguishable from them, even to yourself. When you're enmeshed, your values, your activities, your decisions are so wrapped up in someone else's that they aren't your own anymore. You like what they like, want what they want, believe what they believe, do what they do. It's a sadly common dynamic between parents and children and, perhaps more disturbingly, between romantic partners.

These are the couples who we affectionately call "attached at the hip." Yes, I'm talking about your gal pal who has to "check in" with her husband every hour on the hour when you go out for girl's night. This is also your office buddy who used to crack jokes about Trekkies and now builds model Enterprises and attends conventions every weekend with his new girlfriend. It's our "golden couple," Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake.

Before you protest, I fully agree that relationships require compromise, and sometimes that involves participating in events that one half of a couple isn't keen on. It's also true that the beauty of getting to know someone includes learning about his or her interests, and sometimes those interests will interest you, too. In fact, relationships can really broaden your horizons if you let them.

The problem is when you deny your own proclivities or opinions and adopt your partner's for the sake of unity. This is usually done unconsciously and may not be noticeable for a long time, but sooner or later, you'll realize that you've become a different person--a carbon copy of your partner. And if you don't, other people around you will.

Unfortunately, while a lot of people find it annoying and even distressing to watch a formerly whole friend or family member morph into half of someone else, many others, including the couple in question, consider it romantic, evidence of a couple's lasting love. The divorce rate, which is currently at 40-50%, begs the question of what happens to people who submerge their identities only to find that love didn't outlast the struggles of daily life. It's a rocky road back to any semblance of self-fulfillment when you've stunted your own growth and development for years to be more acceptable to someone else.

The romantic aura attributed to signs of enmeshment helps explain why we're obsessed with the Theresa Duncan-Jeremy Blake saga. We misread their unhealthy attachment as "true love" because our culture, by and large, endorses enmeshed behavior. We're mystified that it all could go so wrong when it seemed so right. It shakes our belief in the motto "love conquers all," compelling us to unravel the mystery and restore our faith.

How Enmeshment Killed Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake

It doesn't really matter whether Duncan and Blake's persecutory fears were grounded in fact or were the products of psychosis. They died because they were so enmeshed that they couldn't see beyond the protective bubble they'd created for themselves.

Instead of two single individuals living and loving together, Duncan and Blake willfully merged themselves into "Theremy," becoming incapable of independent thought. When one of them became incapacitated by anxiety, the other was swept right up in the current, unable to independently assess the validity of those fears or take the necessary steps to get help.

You have to be small-minded if you want to fit in the tight space that is a microcosm for two. The more insular Duncan and Blake became, the more they cut themselves off from the stabilizing influence of their friends. In the little greenhouse of their private bubble, their fears grew and multiplied, feeding off each other, until they choked out the golden couple themselves.

Ultimately, enmeshment killed Duncan and Blake. When Duncan finally succumbed, Blake couldn't imagine himself without her, tragically robbing the world of a beloved son and friend and of a visionary artist. In the world's eyes, he was a brilliant individual with his whole life ahead of him. In his own eyes, he was just half of a lifeless couple.

Originally, I thought this would be a two-part series, but I'm going to continue tomorrow with one final installment--how enmeshment happens and what we can do to make sure it doesn't happen to us.

I'm also thinking of starting an occasional series called "What Not to Do," profiling strong, capable singles on the world stage who've lost their mojo by embroiling themselves in messy, unhealthy relationships. Any feedback on your interest in this would be welcome.

Other Sources
Blogs About: Enmeshment
"Enmeshment: Collusion & Toxic Relationships"
"Good Fences"
"Love, Marriage, and Enmeshment"

Fun Link of the Day

1 comment:

Wizardry said...

Well, when it comes to the "what not to do" portion, I can help. I usually try to help my friends not to do the same thing I did. Though, that privilged position of always knowing what to do came at the cost of quite a few horrible relationships due to, as you define it, enmeshment.

Your right about how it works. It literally turns the couple into a pair of egomanics, where each one thinks the actions of the other have some specific purpose; either romantically, thus helping, or callously, thus detremental. By the time they reach that point, its all over already.

Well, make that post about what not to do, and I'll be sure to include a comment on how it's not just you opining; its fact. I'll be sure to back you up.

Victoria Gothic