When The Tango Dancing Therapist Loved The Nature Obsessed Neighbor-From-Hell

(Note: This is another of my personal musings written so that you might get to know more about me. Enjoy!)

He was a die-hard camping, hiking, nature-loving Oregon hippie. He parked his truck on his overgrown lawn. Paraphernalia from long gone construction projects was piled along the side of his house and scattered hither and thither just in case he might need them in a year or five. I remember thinking the first time I drove up to his house that he was your typical neighbor-from-hell.  

What was I doing with the neighbor-from-hell?

We met online. Even though his photos made him look kind of dorky, I liked what he had to say. He read Annie Dillard. He was going to Idaho to take care of his mom after her hip replacement surgery. He was self-employed in the renewable energy field. Had raised two kids who made it to adulthood. Drove a Prius. In our first email exchanges, he asked smart, complex questions. He told fascinating stories about his adventures in the Arctic. These were all signs the man might be worth meeting.

(photo from Vasilios Muselimis, Unsplash)

And the first meeting went well. He was much cuter than the photo. Tall. Well-built. Articulate, smart, and sensitive. He did not smell like garlic. On our second date, he watched me dance. I had started taking Argentine tango lessons five years earlier. Craig was impressed, even though it was an unusual second date, with me dancing the tango with handsome men who were not him. He was a good sport about it, appreciating my talent.

I introduced him to my girlfriends, looking for their assessments.

Me: I don’t know. He’s kinda hippie dippy. His house is super messy. I don’t know if I’m ready for another relationship and, anyway, he’s probably a serial killer or a codependent pothead with siblings who are in prison for insider trading.

Girlfriends: He has great social skills and a sense of humor. This could be fun. C’mon, there’s no harm in trying. A serial killer probably wouldn’t have a good relationship with his mother.

So I decided to give it a try.

And it was sweet.

But I was not a die-hard camping, hiking, nature-loving Oregon hippie. I thought I might become one with the right guy. Maybe not die-hard. Maybe not camping where there might be bears, cougars, raccoons, and no internet. But I am an ardent environmentalist so I thought I just needed a safe, kind soul to introduce me to the wonders of a rushing river, the mysteries of hiking in the forest, and the thrills of outdoor plumbing.

And Craig tried. I remember one weekend in a comfortable yurt by a lake. He brought a solar cell thingy so we could have music. He supplied several flashlights, delicious snacks, and a kayak built for two. I tried to enjoy myself. 

He did not give up. Months later, he bought a small trailer so we could stay at campgrounds with showers and restrooms. He cooked gourmet-ish meals and was upbeat and generous.

Sadly, it did not work. I just could not love it like he did. I could not even like it much. I was a failure at nature-loving.

But there were other strengths I brought to the relationship.

For example, I was a success at psychotherapy-loving.

You see, I am a counselor working with people healing from childhood trauma. I love my job. It is such a privilege to guide people on their journeys to self-acceptance and self-actualization. I have also been a client in therapy. It is really one of my core values: introspection and facing one’s fears to heal yourself and create a better world. So, I was able to be bring a good bit of self-awareness and compassion to the relationship. This would make up for my nature-loving deficit.

And as I got to know Craig, it became clear that he had his own childhood trauma. But psychotherapy was not his thing. When it came to introspection, or as I called it, diving into the abyss, or even just looking under the rug, he would decline. Change the subject. Or play the nature card.

I would say: “Honey. I’m so sorry your father was so critical. And it sounds like he may have been an alcoholic. Therapy has been so helpful for me. I’m much more confident and self-accepting. I can give you a few names of therapists you can try. OK?  It’s so worth it.”

He would say: “Nature is my therapist.

Now, I know there are many ways to self-actualize. Psychotherapy isn’t the answer for everyone. And nature can be such a healing place. Many of my clients find solace and even spirituality when they are connecting with the natural world. But for Craig, it was his solace. And his excuse.

I would say: “Sweetie. If you don’t want to do traditional therapy, how about meeting with my medical intuitive energy worker? Or my acupuncturist? “

He would say: “Nature is my therapist.

He was adamant, in a nice guy passive-aggressive kind of way. But I have to admit, he did try therapy a couple of times. He went to a weekend workshop. Spent a week at a nature-based vision quest program. He even saw my medical intuitive energy worker once. He tried. But he did not love it like I did. Could not even like it much. He was a failure at psychotherapy-loving.

As time passed, I started to see signs of trouble. Serious anxiety. Problems with his adult children. Unpaid taxes. Toxic friends. Vodka. Rooms in his house filled with old magazines, tools, gadgets, papers, and moth-eaten suits from his days in the tech world.

But, like any good therapist, I ignored the signs. We bought a house together and planned a small remodel that turned into a big remodel. He was a very capable self-made contractor so wanted to do it all himself. Which took a lot of time. But I stayed in my own house until it was mostly complete, then, let my home, my little sanctuary, go. He didn’t sell his own house and, lucky for me, left most of his clutter there. But not his anxiety, his unpaid taxes, or his vodka.

Once we were living together, I noticed the garlic. He loved it. I have a thing about food smells on breath. Especially garlic. If someone smells like garlic, I immediately despise them. My therapist self knows that this is a bit of an over-reaction. Likely a bad memory from the past. But those olfactory triggers are hard to control. I started to eat garlic myself as a way to reduce the odor and manage my despising. It helped and I tried not to hold it against him.

And we grew closer, in spite of our failures and our differences. He kept his chaos contained to his office and the garage. I ate more garlic and bought gifts for his grandkids. He was my bodyguard when we’d visit my family. I befriended his mother when she needed a careful listener.

We were creating a good tango. We’d step on each others’ toes occasionally but our hearts were in sync.

And then the music stopped.

One day he told me it was over. He said he needed a partner who loved the outdoors as much as he did. Who could walk the beach for days. Who was intensely curious about the ocean floor and eager to spend weeks lost in the Oregon forest.

I was in shock. I had thought he was the one. This was going to be my last and best relationship. I thought it was going well. He would take his trailer to the coast for a few days and enjoy nature on his own while I would stay home, see clients, and blog. I had started a blog (this blog!) about three months before the break up. It was surprisingly satisfying, meaningful, and fun. I thought we had worked out a good compromise.

But apparently, we had not.

It was not easy for him to break up with me. I cried. He cried. He offered to move back to his old house until I found a place and we sold ours. Move out? Back to your old house? It took me some months to believe it was really over. That I was being left. Not for another woman, but because he loved mother nature more than he loved me. That is just weird, if you ask me. But he was not asking.

He moved back to his house and I was alone.

But I had support. Over the years, I had built a reliable family of friends. My friends and my blog (this blog!) would get me through my grief.

But, for a long time, I felt lost and lonely. No one tracking me anymore. No one asking me annoyingly what my schedule was for the day. No funny stories of polar bears. No bodyguard for family visits.

And so I did what I had to do. I went to therapy— to continue to examine, process, and release old complex patterns and beliefs that were underneath my choice to be with Craig. I found an excellent book to work through, too. And it occurred to me, Craig and I had very different basic needs. His: Finding peace (and denial) in the beauty of the natural world. Mine: Doing deep inner psycho-spiritual work to heal my past and live a life of meaning and purpose. Interestingly, we were both fairly inept at participating in the other’s greatest priority.

I began to wonder how we had lasted as long as we had. I began to wonder why I did not run the other way when I first saw his neighbor-from-hell yard. Why he did not run the other way when he heard I was a therapist.  And yet, in spite of it all, I knew our partnering had not been a mistake.

And as I continue to examine the beautiful layers of my psyche, one thing is clear: I am now certain I want a partner who is willing to look under the rug. Who is not afraid to do the deep dive into his abyss. Who has done the inner psycho-spiritual work to heal the past and live a courageous life of meaning and purpose.

To keep the music playing, our hearts in sync.

To tango, fearlessly. With me.


To my bloggEEs: Let me know your thoughts, feelings, and questions. Thank you, as always for being here. And just remember, relationship “failures” make great material for your blog, memoir, or TED talk!

Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

19 responses to “When The Tango Dancing Therapist Loved The Nature Obsessed Neighbor-From-Hell”

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  1. Is the End of a Partnership a Failure or is it Just an Ending? – YOUR RAINFOREST MIND

    […] may have read about my last partnership. The one with the neighbor-from-hell who left me for another female: Mother Nature. Seriously. You can read the details here. (You can […]

  2. Mardelle Ceaser Avatar
    Mardelle Ceaser

    Paula, I think you to be very brave, and very patient and insightful.
    I find it helpful and enlightening for someone to be able to say the things you say.
    Life is a tango. Toes will be stepped on. Maybe that’s the really important part about healing childhood traumas. It’s to know that the world isn’t going to come to an end and find your faith and sense of self that allows one to learn, grow, and continu to flourish – instead of hiding.
    Thank you.

    1. pprober Avatar

      Ah, Mardelle. I knew I recognized your name, then I saw your photo. Yes! Thank you for your kind words.

  3. Welcome to my Revised, Rejuvenated, Retrofitted Website/Blog – YOUR RAINFOREST MIND

    […] Or be able to comment. And, by the way, I am not a fan of bugs! You know this about me. It is why my last relationship ended. He loved bugs. Sure, there were other more complex reasons, but […]

  4. renovatio06 Avatar

    So candid and poignant in certain ways, thank you for generously sharing another sneak peek into your personal life!

    This story of yours reminded me of my own numerous attempts at the “relationship business” and I think I’ve pretty much given up by now or rather: Still working on finding and maintaining a good relationship with myself first before I can even think about letting someone else this close again (I think I got as close as possible for me to ‘initimate’, ‘passionate’ and ‘meaningful’/’fulfilled’ as possible with my wife…now ex-wife. Seeing my marriage end left me heartbroken for nearly 20 years and shattered me down to my first and last fibre – the break up pretty much took down everything else I had thought to have rebuilt from childhood trauma with an often brutally abusive mother complete with narcissistic tendencies and other harm throughout my rearing years. Now, that I have eventually realized that it’s over I’m also realizing that she wouldn’t be the person I fell in love with. So I don’t think I’d be ready for the ride once more, at the very least not with her. But then, who knows. The heart often has a “mind” of its own, doesn’t it? 🤓😇). Oh, and on a side note: While I love nature, I might have become pretty spoiled in terms of plumbing within 10 steps of walking distance and a nice shower at close range as well. In fact, I think for now I could see myself much better trying out tango and salsa dancing than packing up for a 3-day-hike and outdoors adventure, me thinks. So, yeah, I can relate there as well (guys reading along will roll their eyes and grumble “your man card has expired for so long it might not be eligible for renewal.” LOL)

    Thanks again for sharing! Sending a spring flower-scented, 100% garlic-free hug your way! )

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks renovatio06. As you know, therapy can make a big difference in healing the patterns that result from abuse in childhood. But it does take time and persistence. Like you say, building a good relationship with yourself is critical. There is a very popular psychologist on Instagram who shares quite a bit of information that might be helpful. the_holistic_psychologist. And, by the way, your “man card” looks fine to me!

      1. renovatio06 Avatar

        Thanks so much, Paula! I’m seeing someone about that, yes. And thanks for the insta–recommendation, will check it out! (Sorry for typos above, that was on the smartphone, which I’m not very good at handling… 😉 )

  5. Karli Bernice Woods Avatar
    Karli Bernice Woods

    Wonderful story here, Paula. It can be hard to let someone go or realise that things are not all that we expected to be. I can relate. I had a few distant relationships in the past that simply could not work due to distance, health, and other incompatibilities, it was a bummer, but I had to accept it and move on. As the saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.” Nature is wonderful, but basking in it 24/7 seems unpleasant, especially without plumbing and a cosy cabin! (we all can’t be like Jack London). Craig sounds like an adventurous spirit. I think people are meant to come and go throughout our lives, we can all grow and learn from our past relationships. Wishing you all the best, and hope you find a male companion, sometimes it happens when we least expect it. 🙂

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks Karli. I appreciate hearing from you!

  6. marymarymar8 Avatar

    Thanks for this story Paula. I am about to end my 7-year relationship with a wonderful man who knows me and understands me better than anyone because he is no longer in love with me but he does not leave me so as not to hurt me. With your story I remember that we will live several that we will always believe are the final one and that no matter how devastating it is, it ends up being overcome, at least I hope so. I rob you of a bit of the strength you have when writing on the blog to gain momentum and take one of the most painful steps that I will take voluntarily, but that I hope it is for the better. Thanks for writing Paula, you do me a lot of good.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      You can do this, marymarymar8! I am happy I can inspire you! <3

  7. Kory Avatar

    This is so authentic and beautiful! I find your phrase “I knew our partnering had not been a mistake” surprising, perhaps because I would have felt it was a mistake if I had been with someone who did not see me as a best match. And then I question what this reveals about my views on relationships. As always, you’ve given me something to think about. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh, Kory. Thank you for mentioning this. I think we learn from every relationship. Being with Craig was right at the time. I learned a lot. It was an important part of my growth. When it ended, I definitely went through a grieving period but now I see that it was also quite appropriate that it ended. I would not want to be partnered with Craig today. It’s why I put “failure” in quotes because we often think of the end as a failure but I don’t see it that way. Thank you for being here!

  8. elinetb Avatar

    Thank you for this beautifully written honest story ❤️

    It seems like throughout life we keep having difficult experiences in order to learn and discover more about ourselves. We’re never really finished.. In some ways I can understand why people would want to find peace in denial.

    But my own self-reflection tendencies are so strong that I cannot escape them for long. And that also makes me want others (and a potential partner) to do their own reflections and aim for growth. I guess it wouldn’t be balanced otherwise… I would be aware of all kinds of underlying patterns in the other person and it would become too frustrating if they don’t.

    Could it be that for any good and balanced relationship there needs to be a similar level of self-awareness and willingness to grow in both partners?

    1. elinetb Avatar

      (Oh and excuse my English, it’s harder to find the right expression in a foreign language. The grammar may seem fine but the words are often not as close to what I’m meaning to say.)

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Oh, elinetb, I would not know that English is not your first language! And, I agree that the journey of discovery is lifelong. (maybe especially for RFMs because there are so many layers!)

    2. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      In my experience, yes, elinetb. I certainly experienced a lot of frustration with Craig for that reason.

  9. clignett Avatar

    Oh, Paula, how brave of you! I can relate. In retrospect we can see so much more than when in a relationship, no matter how good or bad it was.

    I can’t stand the smell of garlic on breath either, nor can I stand the smell of alcohol on breath.. the garlic smell is a bit weird, as I love the extra “oempf” it gives to the taste of certain dishes. The alcohol smell makes more sense because of trauma with drunk people.

    I’m a big nature lover, but please don’t expect me to go camping. I hate camping with a passion! Maybe because in the dark and without my glasses or lenses I can’t see what’s right in front of me, or maybe because I’m too scared of all the creepy crawly things in the dark. So when I read how you’ve tried and done camping, I’m so proud that you’ve done that! Me, I’d run back home as fast as I possibly could (not even for the hills, just home..)!

    Thank you so much for sharing! It’s so nice to know that there are still people out there who are willing to try to meet another halfway.
    There is hope, and I hope you find your “perfect” partner.
    Hugs from me to you 🥰

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for writing, clignett, and for the hugs and the hope! <3