In response to my existential questioning in my last blog, Filling the void, I’ve come up with an answer or two. I think relationship is key to addressing that sense of emptiness some of us feel. And I’m not just talking about getting ourselves a partner. In fact, I’m not talking about that at all at this point. For me, it’s about my relationship with myself, my relationship with something greater than myself (or God as I like to call Him) and then, once those two things are in a good place, my relationship with others.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re in the company of someone you love or of someone you’re really comfortable with – you could be having a laugh or just sitting in silence – those existential questions rarely come up? We feel connected, content and are able to live in the moment.
The same goes when I feel connected to God. I feel grounded, I feel a sense of purpose and can appreciate my uniqueness. I don’t wonder why I’m here or what it’s all about. I kind of get it. And the same happens when I feel connected to myself – to the little girl inside myself who sometimes feels lost, scared, anxious and confused or to my inner teenager who so often wants to rebel and doesn’t want to grow up. If I can really get in touch with her, I can generally talk her out of her erratic behaviour.
But relationships, with others, with God or with ourselves, require commitment. They require time, effort, understanding, conversation, compromise, compassion, trust, reassurance, honesty, openness and a willingness to risk, to feel love and to feel pain. It’s not surprising, then, that some of us find it easier to stay away from them.
As I dip my toe into dating and relationships – realising that aged 40 1/2 is as good a time as any to start again – commitment and commitmentphobia are on my mind. I’m about to start reading He’s Scared, She’s Scared: Understanding the Hidden Fears that Sabotage Your Relationships, a book that was recommended a while back by a good friend. According to Wikipedia’s page on fear of commitment (I know we can’t always trust Wikipedia but it’s the best I can do right now), the term commitmentphobia was coined by the same authors in their previous book, Men Who Can’t Love. They wrote He’s Scared, She’s Scared in response to criticism that commitmentphobia wasn’t solely a male issue. I’m glad they worked that one out.
The Wikipedia page actually has a lot of good stuff on it: it explains how commitmentphobic people crave what they fear most – love and commitment – and how commitmentphobia can spread to all areas – from a relationship to buying a home to buying a pair of shoes. It goes on to say, “commitmentphobic behavior includes “settling” for inappropriate partners, pursuing unattainable partners, and engaging in instant relationship mergers as well as fleeing from what might have appeared to be a stable romance.”
I seem to be able to relate to pretty much all of the above. I’ve blogged before about my decision-making difficulties. I’ve got a lot better but I remember the paralysis I felt before I decided to buy my flat and I can recall many occasions on which I swapped the brown pair of boots for the black pair then decided I wanted the brown. But my tendency to choose inappropriate or unattainable partners is definitely the most concerning at this stage in my life and is worth keeping in mind as I enter the dating fray.
The above quotations also chime with something I read a few weeks back in the Mail on Sunday’s You Magazine about daughters of absent fathers. It said that “as adults, women with absent fathers are often torn between longing for a committed, loving relationship and a fear of having one in case the man they love abandons them as their father did. It is only when they realise what they are doing that they can move on and have a healthy relationship.”
This seemed to be pretty timely. The penny has finally dropped for me. For many years, I’ve had far too many boxes that a potential partner had to tick and I’ve found fault in many a boyfriend. I’d always concluded they weren’t right for me. I’m finally realising that maybe my tick boxes and fault-finding were my ways of avoiding commitment – the commitment I so craved but was so terrified of. I’m realising that the problems weren’t always with them, or at least not all of them. They were often with me. This is all good stuff as it hopefully means I can do things differently next time.
I read something else around the same time that also seemed relevant. It was in The Shack, a novel about a man’s encounter with God, which I’ve just read for the second time. It said, “since most of our hurts come through relationships, so will our healing.” I took heart from that. It was a reminder that staying away from relationships wasn’t going to heal the pain. While I think it’s good to have some time on our own to heal from whatever it is we need to heal from, there comes a time when we have to get back out there and expose ourselves to life. As someone mentioned to me just a few days ago, when we try to protect ourselves from pain and hurt, we end up shutting out joy too.
And finally, continuing on the topic of relationships and typical behaviours, check out this great article on the Psychologies Magazine website called What’s So Right About Mr Wrong? As someone who’s often gone for the “bad guys”, it’s certainly given me some food for thought.
Thank you so much for this post which really opened my eyes. I have just ordered “He’s Scared, She’s Scared”, having sat up last night reading the entire “look inside” section on Amazon, and wanting to know and understand more. I recognised myself, my current partner and our situation in the descriptions and feel that now, I can understand my feelings and the relationship a little better and can look at it from a fresh perspective.
I left my husband of 10 years (partner of 17), but having been with one person for such a long time, it had never crossed my mind that I may be afraid of commitment… that my indecision, my claustrophobia when friends try to get too close, my unwillingness to write dates in my diary in pen rather than pencil… was all a part of my fear of commitment… not wanting to close any doors, not wanting to miss out… now I see it.
I have been seeing someone new for a while. His relationship pattern suggests that he will, in time, run away, which fuels my feelings of insecurity (yes, my father was ill when I was a child, so spent long periods in hospital and died prematurely). I have no idea how my partner will react if/when I put these thoughts to him… my own fears that I am only now beginning to be fully conscious of and the pattern of his own life and running away, that he is aware of, but does not understand… will he run for the hills or will such a conversation also start to open his eyes so that we can both take the steps we want to take into the future – be they together or separately? Who knows, but I am at least I feel I have my eyes open now… that I am not just continuing to live with blinkers on, seeing what I want to see, hearing what I want to hear and pushing the rest aside.
I will be 40 next month and it is knowing myself that I am currently working on. Having felt lost in my last relationship for some time, I am determined not to lose myself again… but to really get to know who I am, what drives me, what excites me, makes me feel alive… and if that somebody else wants to be a part of it and we can move forward together, then great, but we’ll see.
Thank you so much for your comment, your courage and your honesty. I can see myself in your comment too – the indecision, a difficulty in scheduling stuff, pulling back from some friendships etc. I hope the book helps you. I’m enjoying it but circumstances in my life are throwing up other issues too, which I’ll blog about in due course. Once again, I’m seeing I’m an extremist – I’m all or nothing. And I need to be careful not to use my desire to get over my commitment phobia as an excuse to hurtle into something too quickly, without thinking it through. I’ve started reading another book at the same time and it’s also really helping: Boundaries in Dating: Making Dating Work, Dr Henry Cloud, Dr John Townsend. It’s a Christian perspective on dating but a lot of it applies to people of other faiths or none.
Relationships – they’re a minefield!
Thanks again and best wishes, Katherine
Many thanks for the post – so full of useful insights and so timely… I also found the reference to some literature helpful. So far, I’ve had a browse through ‘He’s Scared, she’s Scared…’ and now I’m going through ‘Boundaries in Dating’, and finding some answers…
Thanks for sharing.
Thanks for your comment. Glad the books are helping. I’ve just ordered another one (I should buy shares in Amazon!). It’s called Easy Does It Dating Guide and was recommended by another friend. My book shelves are looking a little crowded!
Thanks for sharing too,