Finally Coming to Terms with My Fears or Just Settling?
January 12, 2004 Ask Dr. Love Advice Column
I have read your archives and I have done a very thorough examination of my relationship history to try and understand why I have a hard time with romantic relationships and I think I have a good understanding of why but I wish to know the skills that will help me move forward.
Here is a brief background to me: I am an attractive, professional woman in my late twenties. I lost my father in a sudden car crash at the age of 4 and I have been in therapy over this. I still feel sad at never having known my father. My mother never remarried and I feel as a result I don't really have a mental model of what a relationship is.
I have two older sisters who I am very close to. We are a very close family & I realize that I have spent a lot my time asking them for advice in love and relationships and they are very helpful. I sometimes feel like they are my therapists. I appreciate their support and it helps ground me.
I know to some my attachment to my sisters & my mom may seem too dependent & I sometimes wonder about that too; since at times I wonder if my emotional immaturity is due to always being babied' and supported and comforted.
My middle sister has been in a relationship since she was 17 (and I was 11). I feel her relationship is the model' I compare what I have to. I also realize that her husband (they have not been married for 5 years and been together for 18) is my father figure' in many ways. He was like my big brother growing up and many people (including myself) have noted that I put him on a pedestal (kinda hero worship) and compared those I date to him.
I know I love him as a brother/father and at times I notice I have been attracted to him and I am ok with that, since I know I would never act on it since I know it is normal to be attracted to others; especially if you have put this person on a pedestal all your life, nor would I ever want to hurt my sister's life.
I am a very open person and have shared this information with my mother because I did feel some guilt at this realization (that at times I was attracted to him throughout my growing up). My mother was very supportive & understood me and told me it was only natural since I admired him so much. Anyways, I am aware of his failings but I realize he is my 'standard' to whom I compare my partners to.
When I was young I was pretty much an ugly duckling. But I tried hard to do well in school and get recognition in that way. With age & puberty came into my own & turned out attractive after all. I have been quite concerned with my looks throughout my life since I was aware of my ugliness as a kid (school kids making fun of my bulging eyes, big nose and missing teeth).
In my youth I was never attracted to guys that were attracted to me. . . even though there was nothing wrong with them. My first boyfriends I dated were older and I realized that the second they showed that they were falling for me, I would detach and see their flaws and find them unattractive and then break up.
I would be attracted mostly to men that were either not attracted to me, who did not treat me well (weren't willing to commit, or were critical of me). I didn't date in Undergrad University because I was focused on my education and really would only have crushes on guys that would show me interest, but whom I felt were out of my league.
With age I have examined myself a lot (I am trying to become aware of my patterns in order to heal). I am now an attractive professional and I have higher self-esteem (maybe too high??).
I dated a lot but it seemed every guy I dated would all of a sudden disappear' and not call. At that time I thought this meant there was something wrong with me and I so decided to enter a relationship with a guy that was not as good-looking as I was and thought I'd make it work.
This lasted a year, during which I totally lost my sense of self and eventually flipped out due to anxiety when he expressed his interest in marrying me (this was when I was 25) and all of a sudden realized all the years I've spent trying to please him, overlooking flaws and signs I should leave.
I had thought I loved him, but it was a delusion and I realized I was making a HUGE mistake not being my true self & I ended the relationship & entered therapy to get over my anxiety of losing yet another man (that's how I interpreted me breaking up with him as though I was forced to lose him).
I became aware of my pattern of going after unavailable men and pining to get them. When that didn't work I went for a guy I felt I could get if I behaved. . . Now I realize this has to do with my loss of my father and abandonment issues. I still have intense anxiety when ever I feel a relationship is ending (or fear it may). I realize how self destructive not being myself was.
I realize I am very harsh on myself and am perfectionistic (and this is a cover up for feelings of inadequacy. . though at times my defense really is active and think I'm too good for him or this etc'. . but I try to be aware of these feelings and move fwd).
Since that devastating breakup it took me a year to feel sane enough to date again (I had a lot of pent up frustration and rage and hatred in me that was making me have very violent thoughts. . I sought help and am much much better. . though the occasional angry thought happens & I must admit I sometimes get scared of it).
Since then I've dated 3 men that really I walked in knowing it was going to end (saw the red lights and went ahead anyways). I had some anxiety in these relationships since I feared I would flip out again. I realize I still walk into relationship that I know either I will end or they will end.
A year ago I moved from Canada to the US to pursue my career. I enjoy my independence though I miss my family a lot and would like to settle down in Canada. I dated a bit, but didn't find anyone. Then I decided I wouldn't date while I was here because I wanted to move back and was not ready to go through another relationship failing.
But of course, then I met a man. He and I connected mentally. I liked him, but I didn't feel the spark I have felt with my previous 3 post-flipout boyfriends. I did however feel a lot of ambivalence with this relationship because of this lack of spark, but I continued dating him because I felt he was NOT like the other guys.
He came from a good family, had a healthy connection with his family, was educated, and treated me very well. I didn't have any of the issues I had with my previous boyfriends & though I had moments of insecurity with him he was very good at soothing them. He has forgiven me for some toxic behavior as well and I realize he really treats me well & I care a lot for him (I think I even love him).
But I recently thought that this issue of not finding him as attractive and as sexually stimulating as I feel my potential future mate should be is causing me anxiety. I now am no longer sexually attracted at all (we've been dating for 6 months and until my last visit home I was sexually interested).
I know it's cause I'm am focusing on those qualities of his looks that I never found attractive to begin with. I know I have to move through this anxiety and not bolt like I have done in the past.
I know he is a good man and would make a good partner (though who knows if that 's what he wants). I guess I wonder if I am settling. Should I wait for someone that I both have intense chemistry with & also who I will get along with in this way (i. e. my soulmate') or am I just making excuses because I am commitment phobic because I have a fear of abandonment and use my perfectionist criteria to rule out everyone?
It is hard for me to be around him lately. I get a strong pressure/anxiety in my chest. I think I don't want to lose him. But I shouldn't settle. I plan on sticking it through and try and overcome this hump that has been with me until now. I am hoping I will face my fears and not flipout as I did in the past.
What do you think? Is my self-assessment correct? Am I reacting in the right way or am I really just settling for a companioniate love and will I regret it down the road? The mere thought of seeing him makes me nervous! !
I realize at times what I feel is fury at him for no apparent reason. I have tried my best in this relationship to voice my concerns as they've appeared so as to not stuff my feelings' as I have done before.
Sorry for the long elaborate letter. I just want you to get a thorough understanding of me before you gave me your advice.
Finally Coming to Terms with My Fears or Just Settling ??
P. S. I have written to you in the past and you have been of great help. I was 'Woman who stuffed her anger and became completely numb' in 2000
You have been working so hard to try to heal yourself and I commend your efforts. I have to tell you that my head began to spin when I read your letter because you are analyzing yourself and your situation to the point of driving yourself insane. At this point you are so busy analyzing your life that you aren't living it with joy.
What's more, I am struck by the fact that your efforts to break destructive relationship patterns has made your love life seem like medicine. You force yourself to swallow another dose because you think it's good for you, but you aren't listening to your heart. Your heart is telling you that you aren't attracted to this man, you never were, and you never will be.
You can't make yourself feel attraction that isn't there. I know that you are worried that because you are a commitment phobic who fears abandonment that you will use your perfectionist criteria to rule out every potential mate. Do you really believe that this is the case with your current boyfriend?
Do you think that you are actually attracted to him and extinguishing your desire for him in order to escape yet another guy? If you had told me that you were once attracted to him and that the feelings suddenly disappeared, then I would be suspicious that your mind was playing tricks on you by making you lose feelings for a man who you were afraid to get too close to; but since you said that you were never attracted to this man I have to assume that there is a reality based issue here--you just aren't attracted to this man.
This relationship is way better than any other you've had so far, but it still lacks in the chemistry department. Now you're trying to shove medicine down your throat and swallow a relationship that you think is healthy and good for you.
But sexual attraction and chemistry is a vital part of romantic love. It wouldn't be healthy for you to give up this part of your life. Is it possible that you are too afraid to have it all. Either you can have sex but a crummy relationship or a great relationship but no sex. Perhaps you are too afraid to allow yourself a total connection. Obviously this is what you deserve, but perhaps you aren't ready for the entire package just yet.
I also think you need to understand more about the terror that you describe feeling whenever you are with this man. Fear is a signal that your unconscious mind sends out when your self is in danger. You need to find out what danger this man poses.
Are you afraid that you are going to make yourself choose him as a life partner, when you know that he isn't right for you? Are you afraid to give him up and never find another man who treats you this well? Are you afraid that your unconscious is about to destroy a good relationship by fooling you into thinking that you aren't attracted to him when you actually are? Are you afraid to love and to lose once again? Do you feel the urge to end the relationship so that death comes by your sword?
You need to also know that fear can be a signal that you are in danger because anger is breaking through the surface. You mentioned that you are angry at your boyfriend for no apparent reason. You also spoke about toxic behavior and flipping out with other men.
I can only assume that toxic behavior and flipping out refers to your tendency to act on your rage. You need to understand more about your feeling of rage toward your boyfriend and how it connects to your history.
I get the sense that you are furious with all men for many reasons. On the most obvious level, they would trigger rage toward your dad, the first love who left you. You may also be angry at your boyfriend because he reminds you of your own dependency needs. Your rage toward dad is mingling with your feelings toward your boyfriend.
You need to understand more about your anger and how it connects to your getting rid of every man you are with. When you understand the reasons for your fear and rage you will be in a better position to decide your next move.
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