When I was much younger and Christmas tree buying time came around in the Martin household, I was always very extra.
I would insist on choosing the ugliest, loneliest looking tree in the lot and we would inevitably end up with two – the pretty one that got to shine bright in the front room and my sad, usually balding tree positioned optimistically in the hallway so it would be the first thing anyone would see when they walked through the front door.
I’d bundle those underdog trees in as much love (and Star Wars figures) as my childish heart could conjure, and that was my own personal festive tradition. My family tolerated this probably because they didn’t have the energy to argue (and they loved me) – and I’m grateful to have had the chance to express myself from such a young age.
When I think about this ritual now, it could be a metaphor for a lot of my human relationships. I always made a bee line for the people I perceived needed something the most, whether it was true or not (invariably it was). I would come home with strays all through childhood (friends from less harmonious homes, actual stray cats and dogs) and as I matured, I did the same with men.
Damaged, needy men were my speciality and my inner rescue radar would pick them up with ease. This as you can imagine led to a lot of heartache on my part as I learned the hard way that you can’t fix people. Especially when they don’t want to be fixed.
I’m not entirely sure what made me think I had the qualifications to mend anyone anyway. All I know is that I’ve spent way too much of my lifetime attracted to broken people and one day – hallelujah! – I was able to stop.
It started when I left a six year relationship, which I now recognise to have been highly psychologically abusive. Then I cut out my first significant and totally toxic friendship. It was like losing a limb for a while and then, it felt INCREDIBLE.
For the first time I came to realise that we don’t have to put up with the things that hurt us. We have choices and ever since I discovered this, every time I get a whiff of another one of my strays, I catch myself.
I’m all for being there for others and I’m not saying all needy people are toxic, many of them are just like my trees. They need water, a comfortable pot and a shit load of tinsel – and they’ll start to thrive again. It’s just that I’m not responsible for anyone but myself and I have no business thinking I am.
I’ll always be attracted to the ugliest dogs in the street and Christmas trees that have seen better days but I don’t have to save anybody anymore.