“Ah, I just don’t like to get feelings for anyone so… when I start to – I’m gone.”
A girl I have recently befriended from college laughs awkwardly as she clarifies the reasoning behind her recent break – up.
I’m left speechless. After all, I’m the woman who for the past two years has been on the lookout for love. The girl who’s known for drunkenly reciting the now famous Carrie Bradshaw quote, in which she describes her longing to fall head over heels for another, on the night – link. I am the target audience for movies like The Notebook. I am in love with love.
In my view, at that moment, myself and this girl are miles apart. In my mind, I’m emotionally available while she’s closed off.
And so as she hugs her arms close to her chest, I feel sorry for her. After all, if fear is stopping someone from opening up to the possibility of falling in love, what kind of life can they expect to look forward to?
Two months later however, something happens that forces me to re – think my attitude towards love and relationships.
I meet someone.
Yes, after some thorough searching, (you can find me in the 2015 edition of the Guinness Book Of World Records for the longest running online dating profile), I hit the jackpot.
Having communicated initially online, myself and the girl in question decided to take things off – line. Needless to say, sparks that Nicholas himself would be proud of flew, and as she leaned over and kissed me I knew that this was the girl that I had been waiting for.
Better yet, she had no baggage, no ex whom she was trying to forget, no issues about being out of the closet. Most importantly, unlike previous women that I had dated, she had no fear of commitment. She was open to a relationship and appeared to desire one with me.
And we all lived happily ever after, right?
Not so much.
Three months in, with the label of girlfriend firmly framing our relationship, I panicked.
I began to convince myself that it would all end badly, that getting hurt was inevitable and that the chance of falling in love was just a risk that at that time in my life I wasn’t willing to take.
After all, the first set of final year assessments were on the horizon – not to mention the fact that I was in the process of trying to secure an internship that would hopefully lead to future employment. Did I really want the stress that accompanied becoming romantically involved with another person?
In the end, my view of falling in love became so cynical and negative that it resulted in the cessation of the relationship. However, not before I had displayed behaviour that in the past I had associated with ‘bad’ boys (and girls) – such as the gruffy biker Justin from MTV’s hit show The Hills.
This involved not responding to texts and being quite changeable in my moods towards her – to quote a Katy Perry hit, I was ‘Hot and Cold.’
In fact, in the weeks following our much dragged out break – up, I bumped into a friend of hers and was bluntly advised that I was a ‘headwrecker’ and would end up ‘alone.’
Post confrontation, as I sat in the back of a Taxi on Dame St, I couldn’t help but wonder when I had become one of ‘those’ types of people. The type of individual who’s emotional unavailability I had been on the receiving end of. The type of person that I had in the past not only harshly judged, but also urged friends to kick to the curb.
Had I gone from one Sex And The City character to another? Was I now the female equivalent of Sex And The City’s Mr. BIG?
Up until that moment I had always viewed people who could not have a ‘straight forward’ relationship (meet, date, all is great – that kind of thing) as bad people. Individuals who must clearly get a kick out of messing another around. People who derived power from keeping someone on a string.
Considering my behaviour seemed to now align with that of the stereotypical ‘headwrecker’, did this mean that I too was a bad person? Or was there a more benign cause for not only my actions, but theirs?
In order to make sense of things, I did what most of us do when in need of information regarding a problem – I Googled.
Following my search, the term that resonated with me the most was ‘Relationship Anxiety.’
Often used interchangeably with ‘commitment phobia’, it is a fear of being in a long term relationship, and a loss of not only time invested, but loss in the larger sense.
According to bandbacktogether.com, relationship anxiety is caused by many things, including insecurity about the value one can bring to a relationship, an inability to trust, a fear of losing personal freedom, a fear of getting involved with the wrong person and finally, emotional baggage.
All in all, the common theme is fear.
While I could relate to many of the above, upon reading the term ’emotional baggage’, this struck a chord.
While emotional baggage can take many forms, the medium that began to take shape in my mind was that which a litany of love songs have been written about – the ‘break – up.’
However, while ending a relationship can be undoubtedly painful, many of us continue to love even after we are left looking (and feeling like) the wreck of the hesperus
And because of our apparent ability to bounce back, it didn’t occur to me that the disappointment, anger, hurt (and relief too in some cases) that I had experienced following the cessation of previous relationships had resulted in a phobia of entering into another.
Having spent a year practically envying the loving couples that had flooded my Facebook homepage, I was now walking away from that ‘connection’ that I had so often yearned for.
Post break – up, as the dust settled, I realised that I had come to view a relationship as a stressful process, a rollercoaster ride of amazing highs and devastating lows. After all, those were my experiences – (which on foot of conducting further research into the topic, I realised was in itself a large part of the problem.)
In ‘Getting to Commitment: Overcoming the 8 Greatest Obstacles to Lasting Connection (And Finding the Courage to Love’), commitment phobia expert Steve Carter outlines eight hurdles between an individual and the relationship that they deserve.
In his book, Carter deftly analyses each problem, points out self-destructive non-solutions, and explains the steps necessary to break old habits.
For example, one hurdle is blaming your partners’ shortcomings for the failure of previous relationships. Another is a continued belief that some relationships are too special to warrant the setting of healthy boundaries.
Carter advises that breaking the cycle of bad relationships involves examining how and why we choose particular partners. He believes that this will inevitablty unearth the factors that drive us to hit the self-destruct button – in other words, the reader is encouraged to make the transition from blame to responsibility.
More specifically, he admonishes people for not finding out their potential partners history before giving their heart away, and is vocal about the decision of many couples to ignore reality, rather than pay enough attention to what is happening in their relationship.
Having read a number of Carter’s books, I have gained a greater awareness regarding the part that I played in the creation of stress in previous relationships.
Equipped now with an insight into the reasons behind their demise has also greatly increased the chances of my next relationship being a positive experience and as such, has lessened my apprehension regarding commitment.
While not condoning bad behaviour, what I have also learned from this experience is that a person’s lack of commitment towards another may more often than not be due to a number of underlying factors that the withholding partner needs to deal with. Bad relationship behaviour does not equal bad person. After all, many bad partners are great friends.
More importantly, I have also come to realise that relationships are by their very nature scary – and always will be.
As Carter states in his New York Times bestseller ‘He’s Scared, She’s Scared: Understanding the Hidden Fears That Sabotage Your Relationships.’‘Commitment is supposed to be a little scary. The fear is healthy and normal. What you do with that fear is the real issue.’