Fear of…Commitment

Do you know people who have problems committing to anything much less a relationship?  Nothing in their life is permanent.  They have lots of associates, but no close friends, they don’t own much, they work temporary jobs,  and they don’t make plans until the last minute.  Maybe they are just impulsive or get bored easily.  When it comes to committing to a lease for an apartment or having a pet you can forget about it.   I can understand why this type of person would also not commit to a relationship.  If this is you or you know someone like this you know that a relationship isn’t really a priority.  They don’t really have fear of commitment, they just don’t seem to care or want to have a commitment to anything.  They are the ultimate free spirits in the world.

Then there is the person that always make plans, does the same job forever, has had a best friend since pre-school, saves money like they’re going to live until their 100 years old, but when it comes to a romantic relationship just can’t quite commit.  Why is that?   Usually its because of fear.  Which almost always comes from the past.

I’m not a counselor that likes to psychoanalyze a person’s past history to death.  There are many reasons people do what they do, but sometimes looking at the past can provide important information to help someone move forward in their life.  Dwelling on the past or avoiding it altogether aren’t healthy choices.

When someone has a fear of commitment I usually start with their personality type and see if they are a more impulsive person who gets bored easily like the person described above.  If I rule out a person’s personality, then with fear it usually comes down to and issue from the past.  I can often find relationship issues within the family that can explain a lot.  Fear is a hard thing to admit, much less address.  It is hard to admit that your family has screwed you up a little bit.  My theory is if you can name it, you can tame it.  So if you know why something is happening you have a better chance of fixing it.

Some people are born into a family of chaos.  They moved around a lot.  Their parents may not have had steady jobs.  Their parents could have remarried several times or had several live-in partners.  This can cause a child to feel lost in the shuffle and never feel important or loved.   Some people go on to always need others and will be with anyone who will give them attention.  Other people cope by avoiding commitment in relationships all together.    If this is the case you can learn how to face the risk of making a commitment and then how to stick through the hard times when they happen.  There is no guarantee in that a relationship will last, but you can learn to find people who are good with commitment in other areas of their life.  This may help you to feel more confident that they will stick around to be with you.

If someone’s parents had an okay relationship then I figure out if it is an abuse issue that has caused the fear.  If someone has been emotionally, physically or sexually abused by anyone, not just family members it alters that person’s ability to trust others.  Abuse crushes self-esteem and can make you feel like if anyone really knew you they would either leave or abuse you as well.  You could be afraid to commit because you don’t feel good enough to be in an intimate relationship.  You can work through past abuse and regain your self-confidence.  It is worth the effort to be able to commit to someone who would love you and not abuse you.

If I figure out that none of the above is relevant then I ask about previous romantic relationships.  It may not be your family past that is the issue.  It could be that someone you dated in the past cheated on you, abused you, or left you.  It is healthy to remain single for a period of time after a bad break up.  Everyone needs a little time to heal.  It isn’t healthy to avoid relationships because you are afraid it will happen again.  It’s like letting that person continue to hurt you even though they are no longer in your life.   Ask yourself if you are alone because it’s what you need or if you feel afraid to try again.  It is fine to choose to be single or to be waiting for the right person to come around.  If you do have fear of committing again, find someone who can help you face it.  You can learn how to believe in yourself again.  You also need to believe that there are good people out there to be in a relationship with.  Past experiences can be hurtful but they can also make you smarter.  You can decide which path you want to continue to go down.  If fear is stopping you then I encourage you to face that fear so you can commit to a great relationship in the future.

I Just Want to be “Friends”

It should be a great thing to have someone tell you they want to be your friend.  If you want to be more than friends with that person, then it really sucks.   When the person you love says “I just want to be friends” its pretty devastating.

Now you have a dilemma.  Do you actually try to be JUST friends?  When you have feelings for someone the other option of cutting them off completely doesn’t look so great either.   You probably will go back and forth in your head trying to decide whether to put the fake smile on and say “sure, we can be friends” or to tell the person to go to hell because they just crushed your heart.

You want to say go to hell so bad, bbbuuuttt, you just can’t quite get the words out.  Before you realize what is happening you are agreeing to still be friendly, talk to, text and hang out (on their terms) with this person.  At first you tell yourself, “I don’t want to lose this person, so I guess this is better than nothing”.  As time goes on it seems to get harder, not easier.  When you spend time with someone you really like or love the feelings tend to grow, not diminish.  So it is like a slow torture to be around someone who sorta wants to be around you.

This other person may be genuine and really want you to be part of their life.  They try to be sympathetic to your feelings and set good boundaries.  This can be helpful, but still really hard anyway because their niceness makes you like them even more.  Eventually they go on to date someone else and then it is more torture to pretend to be happy for them.  In the end people usually decide they can’t deal with the situation and end the so-called friendship.

The flip side is being friends with the person who is now oblivious to how the friendship is affecting you.  They call you when its convenient, talk about people they currently like more than you, and don’t always text back when you need something.  Yet you still find yourself wanting to be around this person anyway. You tell yourself you aren’t going to text them back or answer their phone call, but its like you are being controlled by another brain entirely.  Any little bit of positive reinforcement keeps you in this alternate universe you are trying to label a friendship.

It isn’t because you are crazy.  It is because emotions aren’t rational.  If you like someone than any attention they give you makes you hope for more.  There may be a couple of people on the planet that are rational in relationships, but I have yet to meet them.   So if you are like the rest of us, you will remain friends with this person until the day it is too painful to be around them then it is to be away from them.  What happens is that you imagine how hard it would be to never see or talk to this person again.  That image reminds you of the pain you are trying to avoid and it keeps you in this cycle of so-called friendship with this person.  Until the friendship is more painful than your imagination of being apart, you won’t be able to let go.

The moral of this story is to not get down on yourself if you are in this position with someone.  It happens to most of us at some point, and for a lot of us more than once.  It is possible that your feelings will disappear and you can actually become real friends or the person changes their mind and wants more than friendship.   Warning, this rarely happens in real life.  What usually happens is you finally get sick of the situation and move on.  You may already feel sick of the situation and still feel stuck.   Emotions are very powerful and usually most of us choose to take the hard road even though we know better.  A day will come eventually when you will feel strong enough to let this relationship go if it isn’t giving you what you need.  Just remember, you aren’t only one and you’ll know when you are really ready to move on.

My hope is that your broken heart heals.  Then you will be free to find someone who really loves you and wants to be more than friends.

Will I ever find “The One”?

Is there such a thing as “the one”????  The ONE person who totally gets you and is your soul mate until death do you part.  Maybe there could be more than one???

I am married, so do I think I found “the one”?   I believe I found a person that gets me on several levels, and I’m very blessed.  But was he the only one I could have married in this world and been happy with?  Probably not.   I believe its possible that there are other men out there that I could find a connection to.  It is hard for me to believe that there is only one person in the whole world that is a match for me.  My luck, my one person would be married to the wrong person and not believe in divorce.  So luckily, I believe that there several people that we may meet in life that have lots of potential to make us happy.

I also believe some people I’ve met that have that great connection with me are the same sex.  I wasn’t meant to marry them since I’m heterosexual, but they have a huge impact on my life and are great friends of mine.  There are lots of people we just seem to have an instant connection with that is hard to describe.  Some are in my family.  My grandma and I had this crazy connection since I was born.  She just always understood me so well.

There are a few people who just seem to get you.  And even though I believe it is a few, not just one, it isn’t always easy to find these people.  It is hard to watch some people meet someone when they are 10 years old and they go on to marry each other and live happily ever after.  So at age 22 you may be thinking where the hell are these people?  You may have met someone that you totally connected with but they broke up with you, you may have met someone but they are already dating someone else, you may have met someone but they moved half way across the country, or maybe you may have met someone but they are 28 years older than you.  The sucky thing is meeting a person that you totally connect with but for some reason, life is keeping you apart.  That is why I believe there is more than one person for you out there.  Sometimes you go on to meet a new person that you connect with  more  or in different ways and are grateful things didn’t work out with that first person.

You can feel connected sexually, emotionally, spiritually, recreationally, intellectually, or in a more concrete, doing work together kind of way to another person.  It is almost impossible to find someone you can connect to on every level.  I believe this is why cheating happens so often.  Be aware that if you find someone that you connect with sexually, emotionally and recreationally and that seems to satisfy you, you may find yourself attracted to someone in the future you gets your spiritual side or your intellectual side.  If you have already made a choice to be in a relationship, be careful about the boundaries you set with this new person if they are the opposite sex.  No one can fulfill all of your needs.  You may find other people attractive and you have to be on guard against developing feelings for those other people.  That is why it is good to have same sex friends or family members who may be able to fulfill some of those other needs that you have.

It is also good to know what you value the most.  Some things may be more important to you than others.  Some people value a spiritual connection above other things, some people value a sexual or intellectual connection the most.  If you can find someone who has three or more connections with you then you are very blessed person for sure!

You may be thinking, I can’t find one person to connect to and you are talking about finding multiple people.  I realize, you may not have found even one person who gets you yet.  The hard thing is finding someone who is just as into you as you are into them.  It seems unrequited love is out there more often then we would like.  I’m just letting you know that I believe there is more than one person out there who can get you on several levels.  I also believe that no one can get you on every level and to be aware of the danger of finding another person who connects on that level you are missing in your current relationship.  I also want to remind people that this world isn’t fair and crap happens.  We could meet someone and they die a few months or years into the relationship.  Or something else happens to keep you apart from this person you love.  That is why I believe that maybe just maybe, there is more than ONE person out there for you.  My hope is that you will appreciate it when you do find it.  Good luck!

Single and…Happy?

Really?  Is it possible to be single and happy at the same time?  I know you doubt me, but it can be true.  Sure, its easy to be single and unhappy, but there are people out there flying solo just fine.

Why does being single get a bad rap?  Maybe because it feels like you are in a holding pattern, waiting to find someone who wants to be with you.   A lot of single people feel forced into single life.  It is hard to not know how long you have to be in this state of existence.  Everywhere you go you are on the look out for a potential mate so you can change your Facebook status to “In a Relationship”.  It is hard to be content and happy if you want to be somewhere different than where you are.

I found when I was single that it was frustrating at times.  I looked at married couples and thought, they have what they want already.  They made a decision to be together and can now relax.  I was even jealous at times of priests and nuns.  They made a permanent vow to God.  They could now live out the life they wanted to live.  I felt being single was like being in limbo.  I was just waiting to find and choose the right person.  There were times I would choose to stay single for a certain period for various reasons, but there was never a point that I told myself I wanted to be single forever.  It was hard to not know when my life would make that turn.

So how can people be single and happy?  Its a little like living in the moment.  I figured out that you can’t always worry about what is ahead.  Even being married, my life could change in a moment if my husband was killed in a car accident or came home one day and asked for a divorce.  Nothing is really permanent in this world.  So if your lot in life at this moment is to be unattached why not make the best of it?

This is the time of your life when you can focus solely on yourself.  Take control of the things you do have in your power to change.  Make time to do the things that truly make you happy.  Find hobbies and interests that you enjoy and spend time doing them on a regular basis.  A lot of people are so wrapped up in other people they never really consider what really makes them happy.   Play a club sport or join a book club.  Get involved at your church or volunteer at your favorite charity.

Make quality friendships and invest your time and energy into them.  Take time for your family and be happy that you get to spend all your holidays with them for now.  Adopt an animal and pour your love into taking care of it.  Spend time focusing on school and your grades.  Get involved with different organizations on your campus so you can meet new people.  If you have a job, you may want to take an extra shift on a weekend to make some extra money.  You can then spend all day shopping  to reward yourself for your hard work.  Do things for yourself that make you feel loved.  So many people wait for others to love them that they never learn to love themselves.   If you tend to be down on yourself all the time, find ways to build yourself up and appreciate the things in your life today.

Everyone desires at times to be taken care of.  Its nice to relax and let someone else take over, but it is a invaluable skill to be able to take care of yourself.  Learn to be independent and self sufficient.  Be proud of yourself for being able to change your own flat tire, or for paying your own bills on time, or for cooking your own dinner.   As my grandma used to say, “Might as well make yourself useful while you’re waiting”.   And while your at it, have some fun too!  If you can find a way to be happy and love yourself, you will make it easier to for someone else to love you too.  It won’t guarantee that you will find that person.  Some people do remain single forever, but it does guarantee that your life won’t be miserable and boring no matter what happens.

The Serial Dater…

…otherwise known as the fear of being alone.  This person goes from one relationship to another.  They can’t remember the last time they were single for more than a few days a time.  Usually this person only leaves a relationship if they have another one waiting in the wings.  Where does this fear come from?  How much control does it have over your life?

First of all, any fear will have control over your life.  Most people will go to great lengths to avoid the things they fear.  In this case, a person will avoid being single even if they are in bad relationships time after time.

This fear may come from watching a parent go from one relationship to another.  You may have been told that you “need” to be in a relationship to feel good about yourself.   You may have always had someone to do things with, so it may seem scary to do things on your own.  You may like the feeling of “being taken care of”.  You may think you will never find anyone else and be alone forever.  The fear of the unknown is the biggest factor that leads people to stay in the same situation even if it isn’t for the best.

I have worked with students who keep getting into unhealthy relationships.  They meet someone during or really soon after a break-up.  This new person listens and is there for them in their time of need.   Soon they fall in love and begin a new relationship.  Only to find out a few months later they are in the same bad pattern as the last relationship.

This can happen because there are people out there (some consciously, other unconsciously) that look for vulnerable people.  How vulnerable are you when you are going through a break up?  VERY!  When you are down and out this person can seem like an angel come to rescue you.  You need them and that makes them feel good.  This however sets up an unequal relationship.  They are the one in control, while you are the one who relies on them at the moment.  As time goes on, a person recovers from a break-up and feels stronger.  What happens if a person is attracted to vulnerable people and you are no longer vulnerable?

The person has to gain the power back.  They do this by putting you down or always having to one up you.  This can cause you doubt yourself even more.  You start to feel trapped in the relationship, but your fear of being alone can grow even stronger.  You remain in the unhealthy relationship longer than you want to, and can only leave if you are able to find someone else.

I’ve said this before, the only way to fight a fear is to face it.  You have to be alone to overcome the fear of being alone.  It is scary.  You will feel great anxiety at first and this is why you’ve avoided being single for so long.  If it was easy, you wouldn’t be a serial dater!!  You may need help in the form of friends, family or a professional counselor to get you through the first few weeks.  You will need to stay busy and have a lot of emotional support.

The thing about fear is that your brain can become habituated to it.  It won’t be able to produce the same amount of anxiety in your body over time and your confidence will start to grow.  You will be able to tolerate being alone a lot easier within a few weeks as the fear starts to subside.  Almost like recovery from an addiction, your mind becomes stronger as the weeks go by.  It will make you feel proud to do things on your own.  You will have more time for your friends and school.  When you feel confident and good about yourself while being single you will attract someone who values your independence.  In time you may decide to get back into a relationship because you want to, not because you have to.  It is a lot healthier to do it this way.  Then if something ever happens to that relationship, you will know you can survive on your own.  You won’t feel so dependent on someone else to make you happy.  It is such a freedom to not feel so needy!  So go ahead, take the leap and find out for yourself that you can be single and happy!

FEAR of…Dating?

Do you believe we send out vibes to others around us?  I do.  I believe our moods and how we see ourselves affects how others interact with us.  If I believe there is something wrong with me, I may be afraid of other people rejecting me.  It may make me afraid of dating or getting close to someone.  If I’m shooting off this vibe of “Please don’t look at me, I’m gross”, do you think that is going to attract the opposite sex?  No, they most likely will be put off by my nonverbal cues of insecurity.

I work with people who are depressed about being single.  I find their depression sucks up their energy to even take a shower.  So it is no surprise that it is also hard for them to put on a smile, act friendly and send out a positive vibe to all those potential single people out there to date.  It is one of those crazy cycles.  Like how can I get experience unless I have a job, and I can’t get a job because I don’t have any experience.  The same is true for single people who may feel depressed.  It is hard for others be attracted to them because of their mood and because people aren’t attracted to them, their mood becomes worse.

The longer this cycle goes on the more depressed people feel and the more fear they have that no one will ever want them.  The fear comes from not feeling good enough.  The fear may have started in the past from hearing people tell you that you are stupid, or fat, or ugly.  It is hard to believe someone would see something different in you if this is what you have been told in your past.  Or if you have been sexually abused, you may be afraid that if anyone found out they would never want to be with you.  Many people have demons inside of their heads telling them they don’t deserve to be loved.  It only reinforces the fear of being in a relationship with someone.  I also have people who use food for comfort to ease the depression the feel.  Then because of weight gain they feel less attractive.  This may cause them to actually be more reclusive and shy away from people because of their weight.  It confirms yet again the belief that they aren’t good enough.

So which comes first?  The chicken or the egg?  Do you think you need to get into a relationship first to feel good about yourself?  Or you do you need to feel good about yourself to find a good relationship?  It is a hard question to answer.  It does happen that people meet someone who sees through all their negativity and loves them in spite of it.  This can be a huge confidence booster to find someone who sees how beautiful you are even with all your flaws.  That person may encourage  you to love yourself.

However, I do believe you have more control over learning to love yourself.  You can get away from anyone else, but you can’t escape yourself.  Others may not always be there for you, so learn to be there for yourself.  You can start by deciding whether you want to work on accepting yourself for who you are, or if there are things you want to work on changing to feel more confident.  It takes time, but you can learn to diminish those negative voices.  I encourage students look over a list of positive characteristics and mark which ones sometimes describe them.  Most students are amazed at how many great qualities they already have, but don’t give themselves credit for.  I then ask students to focus on those characteristics several times a day.  You have to put positive in, to get positive out.  It’s easier said than done.  Changing your thought process is hard, but over time it can have a big impact on how you see yourself.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help!  You may need someone to encourage you to not give up or keep you accountable to your goals.  Tell someone you trust about your fears so they can help you fight them.  The only way to defeat fear is to face it head on.  It takes work to be a more positive you, but it may be worth it to chase the FEAR of dating away.

The Grass is Always Greener…Except There is Crap Everywhere

For some reason we always want what we don’t have.  Our brains tend to focus on what other people have that we don’t.   It is hard to be content and happy.  If we are in a relationship we can always find someone who has a better one.  If we are single, we see other couples and feel jealous.   It seems that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but there is crap everywhere.  You just may not be able to see it from your side.

Being single has down sides, but so does being in a relationship.  When you are single it is easy to look at couples in public holding hands or sharing an inside joke and feel left out.  But trust me, there are couples out there wishing they had more freedom, trust, affection or love in their relationship.  Nothing is perfect.  I remember when I was completing my internship at Bradley University.  I was single at the time and having a bad day.  As I was walking out of the library I saw a girl walk in holding hands with her boyfriend and laughing.  I was quiet jealous.  A couple of days later that same girl joined my eating disorders group.  She stated that she was making herself throwing up because her boyfriend thought she was fat.  She also went on to talk about the other ways he was emotionally abusive and controlling.  My perspective changed completely with more information.  I was much happier at that point about being single then I was a few days before.

Here is the greener side of being single-

1. Freedom to come and go as you please

2. You don’t affect anyone else when you are in a bad mood

3. You make all the decisions about what you spend money on

4. Have more time for friends and family

5. You can flirt with anyone you want

Here is the greener side of being in a relationship-

1. Someone to come home to

2. Someone to go to weddings, parties, family events with

3. Someone you can depend on

4. Someone to rub your back and feet after a hard day

5. Someone to share physical affection with

Here is the crappy side of being single-

1. No one to help you with chores around the house

2. Cooking all your meals for one

3. Going to weddings, parties, family events alone

4. No one to hug after a sucky day

5. Feeling like you aren’t good enough for someone and fearing you won’t find anyone

Here is the crappy side of being in a relationship-

1. Not getting to choose what you want to do all the time

2. Dealing with someone’s bad moods

3. Stress because of conflict and misunderstandings

4. Expecting that person to be there and they are busy

5. Feeling like you aren’t good enough for that person and fearing they may leave you

I was single for a long time.  I had good days and bad days.  On good days I was fine with not being in a relationship and was grateful for my friends and my career.  On bad days I felt alone and different from everyone else.  I was afraid that I wasn’t good enough for anyone.  Now that I am married I still have good days and bad days.  On good days I feel blessed to have my husband and our communication is supportive.  Most of the time we get along and I love spending time with him.  On bad days I still feel alone or sad that we had a disagreement.  I sometimes feel frustrated that we need different things in the relationship and have to make sacrifices.

Again, nothing is perfect.  A relationship isn’t going to solve all your problems, and being single isn’t the end of the world.  Look for the positive side of whatever situation you are in.  And ride out the bad days, cause they will happen no matter what.  I hope for everyone that they find the person that loves them unconditionally.  If you aren’t in that situation yet, look to your friends or family who already love you.  Remember, nobody is happy is all the time and relationships take a lot of work.  So be grateful for what you have now and don’t wish your life away!


Being alone

This time of year I have a lot of students come in for counseling because they are struggling with being alone.  Its hard with Valentine’s Day coming up to feel confident about being single.  Some of my students are Seniors and are looking at huge transition coming up in the next year.  They know intellectually that this isn’t the best time to start a relationship, but yet emotionally still really want to find someone.  On college campuses it also makes it harder because you see couples together all the time eating lunch, walking across campus, sitting in the lounge in the dorm.  I tell my students all the time to let themselves feel sad.  Its okay to not be happy sometimes.  I also encourage them to do things for themselves that comfort them or distract them for a little while.  That could mean reading a book, watching tv, going out with friends, spending time on Facebook or other internet sites, going out to eat, or playing sports.  Do something positive and relaxing to reward yourself at times.

Some people don’t mind being alone.  They don’t feel lonely.  This is great.  For those who do feel lonely or left out.  Take some time to think about what you could do in the meantime before you meet someone.  I know I worked on being more positive and not being so moody.  There are areas of your life that you can take control of and do things with.  Try not to focus so much on the things you can’t control.  If you have social anxiety, see a counselor that can help you get past some of your fears so you can go out and meet new people.

Don’t let this Valentine’s Day dictate how you feel about yourself.  Take care of you and figure out how to be the best person you can be so you’ll be ready when the right person comes around.