Denial is Not Just a River in Egypt


Why do we deny the plain truth of what we hear?

“You know,” my Iranian boyfriend said as we lay squished together on his twin bed. “I don’t think I’m the kind of man who could ever marry an American.  I just wasn’t raised that way. I always believed that one day I would return home and marry one of my cousins from the village. A girl guaranteed a virgin. As much as I love you, that’s just not what you are.”

I was twenty-two. And stupid. Because this wasn’t the first time he’d made such a comment.

Despite his tendency to gnaw on my sexual past like a stew bone, to express such apprehension during moments of intimacy, I wanted this man for keeps.  In my mind, there was no such thing as retreat, not on that battlefield. I decided that he was exaggerating. That I could win him over. That love could conquer all.

Of course we got married.  We moved to his country. Had a couple of kids.  And before too long had passed, I realized I was in way over my head.

The problem was, he was everything he’d claimed to be. He was a conservative Iranian. A practicing Muslim. I was a liberal American. A Born Again Nothing.

The two opposing mindsets clashed like a paisley print with florals. The marriage, not surprisingly, went up in smoke.

Years after I divorced, I joined the dating site Sifting through member profiles, I clicked on a candidate with an interesting description. An independent businessman who flew planes, studied in Hawaii, an expert on the stock market. Before too long, we began a relationship.

“You know,” he said over dinner one evening, “My therapist is nothing short of a miracle worker. Everyone claims narcissism can’t be cured. But she’s convinced we’ve got mine beat.”

Flipping through Webster’s later that night, I studied the definition of his “former” personality disorder. Narcissism:  the inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love: vanity.

We quickly ran into problems I chose to discount because I didn’t want to cut my losses by ending the relationship.  I told myself he was a compelling man, despite his aloofness. He led a fascinating life, even if it was fictitious. He’d been hurt in a divorce. No wonder he was skittish. As needy as I felt, chances were I was coming on too strong. My mind could not connect with what he had proclaimed himself to be.

I was falsely casual; he was grandiose. Think for a minute, what a fabulous team that would have made.

Two years later I walked away. He was, after all, what he and Webster’s defined him to be.

Why do so many women refuse to acknowledge someone’s ugly self-description? Why do we refuse to believe what we are told? More, why do we think we can win over a reprobate by being good?

Is it human nature, or the blindness of love, that leads us to believe what we want to be true? Is it simply impossible to accept that our good feelings and intentions and hopes for the future can’t in return awake the same in another?  This goes for romance AND the business world.

Truth be told, what I liked to label self-assurance in these two men was frank ambivalence. And the more a man wavered, the deeper I bit in. Because to win over the indifferent was to prove my own worth.

Do you do this too?

How bout we switch this up. When a person proclaims something bad about him or herself, believe the truth. More, believe that you are good enough as you are.


Ann Sheybani, 48, is a high altitude mountaineer, ultra-distance runner, and blue water sailor. She is a speaker, coach and author of the popular blog, Things Mama Never Taught Me.  Visit her at © 2011 Ann Sheybani


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