September 29, 2006


Business Mirror, Sept. 29

WE really couldn’t figure out Sherry.

She had been living in with Chase for quite a number of years already (I forget how many exactly as it seems like ages) and yet we didn’t know if they were actually happy together or not.

It seemed that every time we—meaning our group of friends—went out with Sherry and Chase, they were always trading insults or slights. Being with them was almost always a guarantee of a really bad night out for us, but what could we do? Sherry was our friend and for her to have a good time or enjoy a night on the town with us, we had to bring Chase along.

Almost always the night would end with Chase getting stupid drunk, tripping and falling on his face in some restaurant or bar, and one of the other men in the group having to drag him to wherever their car was parked. The rest of us would then dissect the entire evening, what led to what, and conclude that Sherry had to leave Chase. The problem was getting her to actually do it.

Sherry once said that Chase told her he didn’t want her but couldn’t leave her. I suspect that the same is true for Sherry. Psychologists now have a term for this kind of relationship. It’s called “codependency.”

People in codependent relationships usually learn their maladaptive or compulsive behaviors in childhood. In trying to survive stressful family situations, these children learn unusual coping behaviors to relate with equally dysfunctional family members.

When they get older, they become involved in self-destructive relationships with unreliable or needy partners.

Codependency is how most of their critics have described Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown’s relationship. Only after 14 years, after so many women had passed through Bobby’s arms, and after the diva’s numerous publicized addictions and trips to rehab, did Whitney decide that enough was enough. The very wasted and aging music diva has finally filed for divorce and hopes to revive her career by hanging on to the scraggly elbow of music producer Clive Davis.

While bloggers have been asking whatever did Whitney see in Bobby Brown, we could ask the same thing of Sherry and Chase. Sherry would often joke about the sexual satisfaction she got from being with Chase, which we all seriously doubted of course. What good sex can be had from someone with his nose stuck in the toilet half the time or laid flat out on the floor is anybody’s guess. Here was a smart hardworking career woman stuck in some weird depressing relationship with an alcoholic.

I remember asking Sherry once to challenge Chase and make him choose between her and the bottle. Of course, she never did do it. We suppose it was because she knew already what his choice would be and it would be his best Bud.

To be honest, Chase really isn’t a bad person. In fact, he can actually be more fun than Sherry. He can carry a more intellectual and stimulating conversation with us, than between Sherry and us. When he’s sober, that is. He is the creative and artistic sort who can string words into pure elegant poetry when he’s had a few of his best Buds around.

Most of the books in the home they share are mostly Chase’s, which shows his immense love for reading. How can anyone hate a book lover, huh? Apart, they seem to be relatively normal and adjusted people who can interact with other people well.

It’s just that when he and Sherry are together, we all end up reaching for the bottle of Excedrin with caffeine. The nights we cannot take are those when out of the blue, Sherry will blame Chase for some imagined flirtation with some woman at the bar. The entire evening, over more and more bottles of Bud, the accusations and denials will be swatted back and forth like some crazy tennis match we won free tickets to. Only we weren’t really interested in watching but still had to. Maybe we too have some ridiculous codependent relationship with this couple.

Sherry recognizes her codependency with Chase, but can’t be moved to leave him. She reasons that Chase would end up pitiful and depressed without her. “Kawawa naman s’ya” is how she often put it. We think it’s more that Sherry feels she will be “kawawa.”

She doesn’t have many friends except for us, and is probably afraid of how she would fill her empty nights at home when she and Chase are no longer together.

It’s not that she hasn’t tried seeing other men. I remember her telling me that she went to Tokyo to meet up with some guy she had known a few months. But when she got there, she was told the guy was on assignment in some godforsaken South Asian country. She came back even more depressed and angry.

Now she is thinking of having her reproductive set checked. She thinks she may be infertile. We tell her she’s probably alright but that Chase’s sperm cells do not have a Greg Louganis in them. But why even get pregnant, we ask. Having a child will only seal Sherry’s fate with Chase. Any problems they have in their relationship will not disappear overnight with the birth of a baby. It may only make things worse. In fact, I personally fear for the health of the child, who will not only be sickly but probably have the same “addict” gene that her father has. Or her mother. In Sherry’s case, she is severely addicted to Chase.

It’s as if she has been waiting all her life for Chase to change. To suddenly become a new man and lead a more normal life with a decent career, when they have their own child. (He’s had a few with his first wife.)

But that is really the nature of a codependent relationship. Mistrust, a controlling behavior, substance abuse. A quest for perfection. Sherry is stuck. And so is Chase. They don’t belong to each other, and yet they both refuse to let go. It’s like they have their own little alien world which only they inhabit. We continue to try to help Sherry but ultimately we run out of words to say—and the breath to say them. We pray it doesn’t take Sherry, like Whitney, 14 years before she realizes that she can lead a good productive life without Chase.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Business Mirror.)

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