Do you agree with Sherry’s advice? Read her answer; then scroll down to post your own take in the comments.
I’m 44 and have never had a serious relationship. Guess you could call me the queen of short-term romances. If a man says the word "love" I break into a cold sweat. My parents had a rocky marriage, and I spent my life pouring myself into a successful career and pitying friends who went into the marriage and motherhood racket. But I’m starting to wonder what is wrong with this picture. Any suggestions? — Amy
A. Not liking the picture to which you keep tuning in is the first step to changing the channel. Now let’s begin to clear up that static: According to self-esteem coach Debra Gano, "Fear of intimacy with others is truly a fear of intimacy with oneself." Gano, executive director of the Heartlight Girls Project (selfesteemforgirls.com), continues, "Somewhere along her path this woman closed down her heart — most likely due to childhood issues — not only to others, but primarily to herself."
Kate Basten, 42 and never married, agrees, "My mother divorced three times before I was 12. I never really knew my dad. My dating MO has been [that of] ‘man hopper.’ It’s not unusual for me to date (this doesn’t mean sleep with!) three guys in one weekend. I’m afraid of being alone, but also afraid to really make myself vulnerable to someone." The San Francisco marketing executive sighs and admits, "On the rare occasions I do like a guy, I get scared and do something alienating so he’ll stop calling."
Jenny Lowenstein, a 42-year-old New York publicist who has lived a similar scenario, points out, "This dynamic is not unusual in someone with abandonment issues. The fear of loss or not succeeding in a relationship overpowers the positive aspects of having one. The word ‘love’ embodies something she doesn’t believe in."
The elaborate defense structure you’ve created over the years to keep yourself emotionally tucked away is uber sturdy. Congrats. Unfortunately, the side effect has been an insular life. In It Happened One Night, Clark Gable separates the twin beds in the motel room he’s forced to share with Claudette Colbert by stringing up a clothesline and draping a blanket over it. The "Walls of Jericho," seemingly flimsy, are impenetrable until the end of the movie after the pair wed and Gable, like Joshua, blows a trumpet to topple them.
Sans trumpet, how can you topple your walls? Rather than looking to external things such as superficial dating and career immersion, Gano suggests "making a commitment to yourself to reconnect with the part of you that has been ignored and is crying for love and attention."
This involves taking a step back to ultimately move forward. Put a moratorium on dating, while focusing a bit less on career. Perhaps with the help of a therapist, examine the limiting beliefs you’ve developed about yourself and intimacy. These beliefs protected you during childhood but like baby teeth and training wheels, they’ve outlived their usefulness and are best left on the cutting room floor.
Do you have a tough question about dating or relationships?
E-mail Sherry at DatingExpert@More.com and your question might be featured in an upcoming column.
About Sherry Amatenstein
Sherry Amatenstein, LMSW, is the author of Love Lessons from Bad Breakups and Q&A Dating Book. She runs dating seminars around the country and does private coaching — not to help singles marry in 60 days, but to uncover their blocks. She has given relationship advice on the Early Show, Regis, Inside Edition, CBS News, VH1, BBC, and many other programs. Her philosophy is that the most important relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself.
Originally published on MORE.com, May 2008.