Love Bytes: Broken birds and empathic fixers

Sex and romance in the time of texting

By Mimi Winsberg

Special to The Examiner

The last two weeks have been dropping hints of Spring. A few warm days, some dazzling cherry blossom displays, the pace of life ramping up again. But I have not been carting flowers through the teeming streets, as my hands were full of something else: crutches. Having realized that my greatest love just might be running, I decided to go ahead with a hamstring repair that left me tripodal for a spell. Spring be damned.

In this spirit of determination, I ran into, or rather crutched into my friend Hailey at a café — she also on crutches after an ACL repair. No commiseration here. No damsels in distress. Hailey, like me, was actually pleased to have a break from her grueling workout regime and to take time for reading and catching up with friends. She was enjoying the copy of “Speaking in Thumbs” I had given her. Being in the early stages of courtship with two men, she was thrilled to be learning some techniques to help her decide which one of them might be a keeper. If not both.

A few days later, I received this note from her…

Dear Mimi,

Looks like you are recovering amazingly fast. I have to say, I was expecting my love life to be a little dull during my rehab but instead … wow, not the case. There may be something to me usually “friendzoning” guys and this is an opportunity for them to provide? With two of these guys. I am getting a lot of attention, like they can finally see my inner diva goddess. Could you please, please look at these texts? Borderline creepy I think is the term. Feel free to use them in your column, if you like. I’m really curious to hear what you think.

Hailey Mary


From Rodrigo:

Rodrigo: Hey Hailey! Glad we got together yesterday you’re a trooper

Hailey: Well you trooped on in! Nice to see you too.

Rodrigo: Must say you looked like a queen stretched out in that dress on your divan. Even the knee brace looked sexy.

Hailey: Ugh. I refer to that as my chastity belt atm.

Rodrigo: And we look forward to slipping it off. Meanwhile, there is so much more of you to explore.

Hailey: Are you saying that I’m getting fat?

Rodrigo: Terribly. Let’s us get some exercise


From Erick:

Erick: Good morning, Hailey! How is the princess doing? Is she being properly served?

Hailey: That would be queen to you, good sir.

Erick: My apologies to your majesty. Perhaps I could make amends later with some flowers and bon bons? A royal foot rub?

Hailey: I’ll pass on the bon bons but the foot rub is always welcome.

Erick: I would be honored. I’m sure you have exquisite feet, delicate toes, majestic arches…

Hailey: You will have to come see.

Erick: It will give me an opportunity to properly kneel.


Dear Hailey Mary,

It sounds like you are getting some props while propped! And the royal titles are flying. I must admit I have a bit of a cheat sheet on this analysis because I’ve known you for a minute and have experienced your extraversion, openness and risk-taking. In layman’s terms, you’re a badass Alpha. I also know that you like to keep Alpha dogs in your pen. So let’s see what you’ve rounded up here.

Broken-bird or broken-wing syndrome is a catch-all phrase that encompasses a variety of relationship disorders. It often presents as a tendency to date people who are in need of help, or who have issues, so that you can gloss over your own. In other instances it offers an opportunity to dominate someone who is weaker (broken bird) or in a weakened state (broken wing).

Narcissists are constantly stalking the landscape looking for broken birds to populate their aviary. Empaths and givers see the opportunity to help fix someone, which down the road may lead to levels of frustration or resentment that breaks them in turn. This is especially disastrous for empaths when they are in a relationship with a narcissist. I would love to do a column on this topic, so empaths! send me your texts.

In Rodrigo’s case, power and control are clearly on the ascendant when he perceives that you have a broken wing. After a bit of flattery, he proceeds to pepper his palaver with power pronouns — ”we,” “us” — instead of the more appropriate “I” and “me.” As I explain in my book, the dominant person in a relationship will begin to favor the “we” and the “you” and the subordinate person the “I.” Rodrigo also jumps on the chance to neg on your perceived insecurity about your weight in order to promote himself as a sexual partner. This is classic Alpha dog behavior, but it is also typical of narcissistic personality disorder, so consider it a bouquet of red flags tied with a big red bow.

Erick, on the other hand, seems to have seized on your broken-wing state to accidentally, or intentionally, tip his hand as a natural submissive. The banter is witty at first, even with the suspicion that he might be a foot fetishist creeping in, but his “opportunity to properly kneel” seems like a bridge too far considering the number of submissive signals he has already sent. I could envision many acts of service in a relationship with a man such as Erick, and many fine foot rubs. Ultimately, the quality of the relationship would depend on the nature of his submissiveness; how and why he came by it.

But, I suspect that you would not have sent me texts from these men to display in a public forum if you had serious intentions of pursuing them. You seem to sense the imbalance of power in both conversations, and although Rodrigo is certainly more your type, it might be too much of a good thing. And Erick is likely not enough. Unless, of course, you have a bit of the broken bird syndrome yourself, in which case either one of them seems like a good prospect. If not both.

As always, send your text exchanges to me at

Dr. Mimi Winsberg is a Stanford-trained psychiatrist, chief medical officer at Brightside and author of “Speaking in Thumbs.”

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