Norma Jeane and Dawn






“It is the lost possibilities of Marilyn Monroe that capture our imaginations. It was the lost Norma Jeane, looking out of Marilyn’s eyes, who capture our hearts.” Gloria Steinem


As an adult, I was blessed, unlike Marilyn, with the opportunity to go to school, to learn about the psychological underpinnings of backgrounds like ours. It helped me to understand my childhood. I learned that in the presence of neglect and absence of consistent parental care, a child learns to depend on themselves even when that self-reliance means guessing or pretending to know how to be and how to perform the most basic of life skills. Numerous studies show that if a child does not successfully negotiate through each developmental stage, they are subject to deep-seated feelings of worthlessness, shame, and mistrust. These types of core feelings often lead to a fundamental desire to disappear which can be played out in more than one suicide attempt. Now it is more understood that early rejections by adults and childhood peers have lasting consequences.

In my own development, disheartened by early rejection, I determined to learn about people’s wants, needs and desires. I devoted myself to the study of people’s faces, body language, and tone of voice with the tenacity of a marathon runner. I studied expressed and unexpressed desires. I thought I could learn the secret of making people accept me by fulfilling their “missings”. For example, as an adult, I had a neighbor whose son always failed to remember her on Mother’s Day, which caused her deep distress. This was especially painful because she had lost her only other child, a daughter. Hearing this “missing piece,” I started sending her Mother’s Day cards. I have not missed sending a card in over twenty years.

Though it may sound thoughtful and loving, it is an arduous task to center one’s personal maturation around observing and attending to others with such intensity. This degree of hyper-vigilance, always scanning the atmosphere for what it was that I thought I needed to fill or complete for people, has often left me feeling outside of myself and emotionally exhausted. Not that in actuality could I ever fulfill their desires, but, by God, I tried. I wanted them to appreciate me, to love me. I wanted to see reflected back that I was a good person.

Don’t misunderstand. It is not that the act of thoughtfulness is wrong; it’s the pattern behind the giving that I am referring to. It’s what neglected children often do to get their thwarted needs meet. Too little childhood nurturing over a long period of time can lead to adult maladies such as depression, anxiety and dependent personality disorders, among others.

Because I was desperate for inclusion, I could never have imagined that I would create a facet of my character that would become phony, placating and accommodating just to be accepted. Just to fit in. Just to see a smile on someone’s face when they saw me coming. Perhaps Marilyn found those missing pieces in men a powerful place where she could fill in their needs while surviving in a world without family. That way, she could have a safe haven from life’s hardships with them.

“To men, wrote Norman Mailer, her image was “gorgeous, forgiving, humorous, compliant and tender…she would ask no price.” She was the child-woman who offered pleasure without adult challenge; a lover who neither judged nor asked anything in return. Both the roles she played and her own public image embodied a masculine hope for a woman who is innocent and sensuously experienced at the same time.” Gloria Steinem

Was the vulnerability in me the felt sense of identification that Joey unconsciously recognized that was similar to his beloved step-mother Marilyn ─ Norma Jeane? In psychotherapy, it’s a given that on some level we choose some aspects unconsciously of our mother or father when we marry. It is the felt sense of identification that our hearts have no conscious control over.

Doctors, Lewis, Amini and Lannon, of The General Theory of Love, speak to the preference for familiar emotional patterns, “And he prefers the emotional patterns of the family he knows, regardless of its objective merits. As an adult his heart will lean toward these outlines. The closer a potential mate matches his prototypes, the more enticed and entranced he will be ─ the more he will feel that here, at last, with this person, he belongs.”

Joey, Dawn and Norma Jeane, three perfect misfits; all desperately searching for the delight in the eyes of another, a home in which they could finally belong. Marilyn delighted in Joey, he was warmly welcomed in her world and she was always available to cheer him on, so proud of him in his handsome Marine uniform when he graduated from boot camp. I, smitten by the likes of this handsome young man, looked adoringly upon him. Emanating a feeling to Joey like the precise felt sense that “orphan” children often spend their lives in search of. He looked at me in that same delighted way, except, unbeknown to both of us; he was seeing his beloved Marilyn not the waif that I had become. We each thought that we finally belonged. Misfits are usually misguided.



A General Theory of Love

Thomas Lewis, M.D., Fari Amini, M.D. Richard Lannon, M.D.



Text by Gloria Steinem


This work is in the public domain: this file from the Wikimedia Commons

Cropped screenshot of Marilyn Monroe from the trailer for the film The Misfits.




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