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.