My friend, we’ll call her Andrea, has her stuff together. She’s beautiful, intelligent, professionally motivated, edges poppin, you name it, she’s definitely out here doing it. Now, if only that excellence translated to her love life. Don’t get me wrong, the fish are biting. There is no shortage of interest, and quality isn’t lacking either. But it’s not those fish she wants. Nope. My friend is a professional fixer upper. Send her your bearded bum, your struggling rapper, your couch-surfing part-time youth pastor, and she will see to it that he never misses a meal. Somehow she manages to do all that soul saving while loudly proclaiming that Black men are trash. Sure, some are but that’s exactly how she likes them. And some of you do too.
I’ve known Andrea for almost six years and at the start of our friendship I would’ve never implied that she was a scrub chaser. From what I could tell she, like a lot of other women, had some sort of magnetic forcefield around her, constantly luring the nearest hefty bag baller right into her path. I believed her when she told me about her bad luck with men and then I realized that she was the bad luck. These guys weren’t mystically drawn to her in some demented moth to flame like fashion, she was actually choosing these men. The bigger question was why. Why would someone like Andrea, who appeared to have so much going for herself, repeatedly choose men who didn’t meet the standards she claimed to have?
It wasn’t just an understanding of her dating habits that I was interested in, but the constant denial as well. It took a while, a few years, a couple frienterventions, and a few boxes of wine, but eventually we figured it out. Andrea was suffering from chronic broken-wing syndrome (BWS). Broken-wing syndrome, also known as broken-bird syndrome, describes individuals who are attracted to people in need, people whom they can fix, people who in return are expected to reciprocate loyalty and love to their gracious saviors. Sufferers of this syndrome operate under the assumption that if they’re needed they can never be left or abandoned. Unfortunately, this rarely works out as expected, and therein lies the problem for people like my friend Andrea.
So how do people catch broken wing syndrome? That answer is yet to be discovered but there are plenty reasons why, despite the repeated disappointment, people continue to seek partners in need. For one, loving someone in need distracts you from your own needs. It allows you to focus your energy on addressing and resolving someone else’s problems as opposed to harboring on your own. Not to mention, problems seem much easier to address when they’re not your own. And while people with BWS focus their energy on their needy partners, they do so under the disguise of compassion. They feel like the world will forgive them for their self-neglect because they’re only doing so to devote an exorbitant amount of compassion to a person in need. Who could be mad at that? Other than the person whose carefully calculated plot backfires. And let’s not kid ourselves, repeatedly dating men who demonstrate that they will subtract more from your life than contribute to it is a calculated plot if I’ve ever seen one. Just not one that works in your favor.
It’s not just the distraction from self that makes these habits seem well intentioned, it’s the sense of control that they provide. Andrea, like many other women who have a preference for less than stellar men, often spoke about the obligation these men should have had to her. I mean, how do you leave someone who fixes you, puts you back on your feet, heals the wounds you didn’t know needed bandaged? Andrea firmly believed that in helping these men, she was gaining their love and admiration. Of course, she never specified to these men that she was doing all of these good deeds with these expectations in mind, but somehow they were just supposed to know and oblige. I mean, she wasn’t fixing them for the next woman. Not intentionally, at least, but unintentionally, that’s exactly what she was doing. Needy men seek women who need to be needed. In other words, I need things and you need me to need you for these things, match made in heaven. But these relationships are only sustainable for as long as these needs exist and are met. Common sense would tell you that’s how these situationships work, but the temporary emotional and psychological rewards for being the needed party outweigh the pain that comes from no longer being needed. And instead of redirecting that energy to her own needs, Andrea would just locate another needer to mask the pain. Another problem solved.
Sure, being dumped by a bunch of bums isn’t fun but broken-wing syndrome is as win-win as it gets. It might not sound like it but look at it this way. You find a bird in the driveway. It’s mangled, dirty, injured, surely you’re the only hope this bird has. So like the fixer you are, you quickly scoop him up and rush him into the house. Forget what you were in the driveway for, this just became your priority. You hop on Google to figure out how to best care for your new friend. You rearrange your home to make room for the tiny makeshift nest, start grocery shopping with your tiny friends’ dietary needs in mind, adjust the air conditioning, throw some bird tunes on the loud speaker to get your friend reacquainted with his natural habitat, I mean this isn’t just any bird, this is your bird and your bird just can’t live any type of way. Before you know it, you and Bird Bae are besties. Watching your favorite shows, sharing pumpkin seeds, singing your favorite Mariah Carey tunes, they weren’t kidding about you being magic. Look at Bird Bae, all buff and healthy looking, you would’ve never known he was half dead down by the curb just a month ago.
And one day, you come home from work and Bird Bae is gone. All packed up and out the window. How could he do such a thing to you? After everything you did for him, after all the time and money you spent getting him back to good health, all the adjustments you made to accommodate his bird ass needs, and he just up and flew out the window? Must’ve been another bird out there, couldn’t be you, you did everything right. Obviously, a bird who would just up and leave you like that didn’t deserve you in the first place. And your friends are right there to console you, reminding you that there are other birds in the sky (you didn’t tell them you found Bird Bae by the dumpster) but the support is just what you need to get out there and be the bish that made birds drop from the sky in the first place. You leave a little bird feed at the end of the driveway just in case Bae comes to his senses but you’re not sweating him. Birds ain’t sh-t anyway.
Yes, all of that was ridiculous but some of us could replace Bird Bae with the name of any of our exes and not a single thing would change other than where we scraped him up. People with broken-wing syndrome claim martyrdom when it’s good and victimhood when it’s bad. Nowhere in their narrative is their room for person accountability. And while we’re healing someone else and resting our personal victories on their success, we find that we’re not growing or developing ourselves. Now society should absolutely take some of the blame for the many women (and men) who suffer from broken-wing syndrome. We’ve been conditioned to value the roles that people play in our lives as opposed to valuing the individuals themselves. And when relationships are based on the roles we play, they crumble as soon as these roles shift or lose purpose. A person who brands him or herself as a nurturer or a caretaker will always magically find themselves with a person who needs taken care of, and as attractive as this needy person may be, the thought of caring for them can be that much more alluring for a broken wing syndrome sufferer.
There was one ex in particular that really took Andrea through the wire. Took as much as he could carry, including the bird feed, and left my girl in one big ass shamble. And when the squad gathered at her place to yell “shame” around a bond fire of the missing bird man’s leftover belongings, we were all shocked to hear her complaining about the trench coat he left in. Ironically, it was the same trench coat she purchased to replace his tattered bubble coat. (No, I’m not kidding and yes, he was from Harlem.) But hearing her harbor on this article of clothing was just sad. Sure, he was a sh-tty guy who appeared to be every bit of a narcissist but we all knew this months ago and so did Andrea. So what was it about the trench coat that really pushed her over the edge? Well, in her mind she had assisted this man through a life-changing transformation, one that she financed personally, and the fact that he would take off wearing this symbol of her hard work and dedication was just too much to stomach. She didn’t want the trench coat back, she wanted the loyalty that she thought purchasing it had afforded her. The audacity of a man to take your help and discard of you when you were no longer of use to him, in her mind he owed her love. But money has never bought love, not true love anyway.
We don’t encourage our friends to invest in fixer upper houses or spend money on broke down cars, but somehow dating with the intent to repair is seen as an honorable thing. There’s nothing wrong with being nurturing, but nurturing people are the main people who need to be cognizant of who they allow into their lives. Nurturing people run the risk of being used financially, manipulated emotionally, and damaged psychologically. People like Andrea are absolutely deserving of the love they have to offer the world, but first they must see themselves as valuable and not just for what they have to offer. Andrea is a strong proponent of the ever popular phrase “N-!ggas aint shit.” And every time she posts something about how men are users and manipulators by nature, I send her a nice little upside down smiley faced emoji. We both know some men are complete trash, but let’s be honest, for now that’s exactly how she likes them.