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A common trope in TV, film, and literary dramas is a person who’s afraid of being in a relationship.
The person can be any gender, and personalities can vary from someone who’s cold-hearted and plows through different lovers every week, to someone who’s really sensitive and shies away from any kind of real emotional connection.
Needless to say, these tropes exist for a reason: because so many people can relate to at least one type of relationship phobia.
In fact, unless you met your dream partner at the age of 12 and have had a fairytale relationship ever since, chances are you have some type of relationship trauma to unpack.
If you find yourself in that zone between wanting to be in a relationship, and being absolutely terrified of the prospect, read on.
Chances are one (or a few) of these may apply to you, and there are ways to heal from all of them.
1. You’ve been hurt before. Badly.
This is the number one reason why a person might be afraid of getting into a serious relationship.
When you’ve let your walls down, let another person into your life and heart, and they hurt you and betray that trust, it can be incredibly difficult to drop your protective walls again.
After all, there’s no guarantee that some new person isn’t going to hurt you too, right?
Here’s the thing: interpersonal relationships are messy, and there is indeed a chance that you might get hurt again.
If this person is really good to you, chances are that if they do hurt you, it’ll be unintentionally, rather than maliciously.
Hell, you may be the one to hurt them – not because you’re a bad person, but because being human means that we sometimes flail around, trying to navigate various maelstroms, and other people might be hurt by our mess in that moment.
But remember: your track record for surviving difficult situations is 100% so far.
Yes, your past experiences have hurt you, but everything you’ve been through has been a spectacular learning experience, hasn’t it?
You’ve learned from mistakes (your own, as well as other people’s), and have developed lots of helpful coping mechanisms.
One effective way to approach this is by sitting down with the person you’re dating and having a good, solid talk about your fears.
If you’re comfortable telling them about your past experiences, that may offer them greater insights as to your potential triggers.
You can also agree on a technique that works for both of you if/when a conflict or insecurity arises.
Try something like this:
“I can’t promise that I’ll never hurt you over the course of our relationship, but I can say that I won’t ever hurt you intentionally. If I do something that causes you distress, please let me know. Once the initial emotional storm has passed, we can sit down and talk about it so there isn’t lasting hurt or resentment.”
2. You’re afraid of hurting someone else.
If you’ve been in a rough place emotionally, you might be aware of the fact that you’re not necessarily an ideal partner at the moment.
In fact, if you’re particularly self-aware, you might know that you could be downright toxic to the wrong person.
And that’s okay.
In fact, it’s a lot better to be aware of your potential volatility and of your behavior, than it is to plow forward without due care for how your actions may affect someone else.
If this is a position that you’re in, it’s a good time to do some sincere soul searching.
Grab a journal and examine your past relationships for recurring patterns. Be honest with yourself, but also gentle: this isn’t the time to berate yourself for past screw ups.
Chances are you’ll see some repeated behaviors and experiences emerge, and that’s good.
By being aware of these, you can make a conscious effort to address them, and thus free yourself from the cycle of repeating them yet again.
If you meet someone you really connect with, and you’re afraid that you might hurt them, talk to them about that feeling.
Don’t just ghost them because you think you’re somehow saving them from your wretchedness.
That’s a really horrid thing to do, and will damage them far more than your honesty ever could.
You may be surprised and find that the person you’re interested in has similar fears.
In a situation like that, you can offer each other support, with no expectations. Just time and space to let things evolve naturally.
3. You don’t trust easily.
This goes along with #1. If you’ve been hurt badly, chances are you have some pretty strong protective walls up.
That hurt doesn’t have to be related to intimate relationships either.
In fact, some people who have the most difficult time with romantic partnerships are those who were traumatized by narcissistic or borderline parents.
After all, when the people who were supposed to love, support, and accept you unconditionally treated you horribly, it’s really hard to trust anyone new who comes into your life.
This kind of deep trauma can – and usually will – affect just about every aspect of your life.
Chances are you won’t be able to fully heal from it on your own.
If you find that this type of trauma is holding you back from a loving, authentic relationship, you might want to look into counselling to help you get to where you want to be.
4. You may worry that the real “you” isn’t good enough.
We all wear different masks at various points in our lives, so we can adapt to different situations.
That said, problems arise when we wear those masks for so long that we forget who we really are.
Alternatively, we might choose to suppress our real nature because we think that one particular mask is appreciated and admired more than authenticity ever will be.
You might spend your days in full makeup and heels, dressed incredibly fashionably, dazzling clients at your PR office… but spend your weekends in an elf costume, LARPing with friends whom your coworkers would dismiss as nerdish freaks.
Or you maintain an air of aloof stoicism around your mates, but you’re actually super-sensitive, which causes you a great deal of anxiety.
Etc., ad infinitum.
One of the main reasons why people are scared to be in relationships is that they know they can only maintain their well-curated facade for so long before they’ll crumble…
…but they’re too scared of rejection to feel comfortable showing their true colors.
If you have close friends who know you for who you really are, consider opening up to them about these worries.
Ask them what it is they like about you – what they consider to be your greatest traits, what they admire about you, why they think you’re an awesome person.
You may be highly self-critical, but hearing positive things from those you know and trust might do wonders for your self-esteem.
You ARE good enough, exactly as you are.
5. You’ve been trained by hookup culture to be afraid of “catching feelings.”
Are you familiar with the expression “catching feelings”?
It’s a key aspect of modern hookup culture, which celebrates hollow, casual sex with super-hot people, while avoiding the grossness of any kind of emotional attachment.
In fact, it implies that “catching” emotions for the person you’re bedding is on par with catching a particularly heinous STI, and should be avoided at all costs.
This modern mindset is reinforced by dating apps such as Tinder, where countless people are looking for brief sexual encounters with those who fit a grocery list of requirements.
There’s little to no emphasis placed on actual intimacy, with all focus placed on what amounts to masturbating with someone else’s body.
If you’re someone who needs to have an emotional connection with a sexual partner, facing these potential options can be horrifying, especially if someone you find attractive is only interested in a one-off.
People who are more sensitive and would prefer to have an emotional bond with someone may be better off with friends setting them up with potential partners.
Friends-of-friends can be vouched for, and are likely in your extended social circle because they’re awesome people.
That’s a lot less daunting than navigating the “pay to play” and “cash fetish” options currently on offer.
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6. You’re nervous about having sex with someone new.
This is one of the most common worries that people have when facing the possibility of a relationship, especially if they’ve been celibate (or close to it) for a long time.
Everyone, regardless of gender, has some kind of hangup about their body, and these insecurities just pile up with age.
In a world where youth = beauty, dealing with wrinkles, bodies that have changed shape in pregnancy, or just the natural aging process may cause a startling amount of anxiety.
Then there’s the emotional aspect of it…
Some people have a lot of difficulty with the vulnerability needed to be physically intimate, and this can be even harder to navigate if a previous relationship involved any kind of sexual abuse or misconduct.
Once again, communication is key.
Don’t rush into bed with someone just because you feel that it’s expected.
As you’re getting to know someone, and find that you’re interested in taking things to the bedroom, be open and honest with them.
If they’re really into you, they’ll be willing to go as slowly as you need to in order to feel comfortable.
And if they’re unwilling to take that time, don’t sleep with them. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.
7. You don’t know if you have space for someone else.
If you’ve been alone for a long time, chances are you’ve gotten really comfortable with your own company, your own preferences and habits, etc.
You might have a really solid schedule that you like to stick to, and you’re not fond of the idea of compromising for the sake of another person’s wants and needs.
You might feel the need for companionship or sexual intimacy, but aren’t sure whether you actually have enough room in your life for another person.
After all, unless you have a very casual “friends with benefits” arrangement, having any kind of intimacy with another person will require a certain amount of time and attention on your part.
As such, ask yourself a few vital questions:
– Do you have a very full life?
– Are you annoyed or resentful when someone else wants your time and attention?
– Do you feel as though you don’t have much time for yourself?
– Why do you feel that you want a relationship at this point in time?
Be honest with yourself, even if it’s difficult to do so.
You may find that you’re not actually “scared” to be in a relationship, so much as worried about losing valuable alone time, or having someone else try to control you.
The latter is common if you’ve been in a relationship with a narcissist, so there’s an underlying fear of having to deal with unwanted drama and attempts to control you.
If that’s the case, acknowledge it, and be aware of it as you start meeting potential dates.
Learn the warning signs to watch out for, and end any kind of relationship with someone who exhibits controlling or manipulative behavior immediately.
8. You’re nervous about your “baggage” (or theirs).
None of us are issue-free, but having to potentially deal with another person’s issues when you’re struggling with your own can be daunting.
Thing is, the older we get, the more life experience we have, and as a result, the more “baggage” we carry with us.
This could range from mental/emotional difficulties to shared parenting responsibilities for children from previous relationships.
The difficulty steps up a notch further if a child has special needs, or if one of you is a caregiver to an elderly parent.
You might feel a bit nervous about explaining to a new date that you can’t go back to your place to have sex because your parent with dementia lives with you.
Or that you’re only available for dates on a few weeknights every other week because of your childcare schedule.
Some people feel that it’s important to blurt out all their heavy stuff on the first date because they want to make sure that the person they’re interested in knows what they’re getting themselves into.
This can work, but can also be potentially off-putting to someone who wants to take things slowly and get to know you.
It’s also important to keep in mind that pretty much everyone is struggling.
TV shows and films might give the impression that everyone your age has their life fully under control, and is financially stable, with a great house and a car, but that’s rarely the case.
Just about everyone is struggling on some level, so please don’t feel like you have to live up to some kind of societal standard or consensual reality that you never personally consented to.
9. You’re afraid of the pain of loss.
Let’s say you allow yourself to be vulnerable, and open, and fall in love with the partner of your dreams.
You’re happier than you’ve ever been in your entire life, and you have so much to look forward to together…
…and then, suddenly, they’re gone. And can never come back.
We don’t like to talk – or even think about – death in western culture, but it’s a very real topic that we need to consider.
None of us know when we’re going to exit stage left, and we’re just as likely to keel over from sudden illness or injury as we are at the age of 90.
For people who are widowed, dating after a devastating loss like this is absolutely terrifying.
Ultimately, the more we have, the more we risk losing.
If we allow ourselves to really open up and love someone else with everything we have, we risk utter and complete devastation if anything were to happen to them.
And if you’ve already lost one partner, the thought of opening up and experiencing this kind of agony again may be unbearable.
This is a bit beyond reason #1 with the “afraid of getting hurt” bit. If a relationship doesn’t work out, that will hurt. A lot.
But if you really open up and give everything you have to someone and they get killed in a car accident, that is absolutely devastating.
And this is a real risk, especially as we get older.
If you find yourself in this situation, you need to ask yourself what you can handle. And be honest.
There’s no shame in admitting that you’re not ready to love again, and it’s absolutely okay to just seek a more casual arrangement with a potential lover.
When and if you feel like you want to get more seriously involved, you can go slowly, especially with the help of a relationship therapist.
Be kind and gentle with yourself, please.
10. You’re unsure whether you want a relationship, or just don’t want to be alone.
This one’s a bit trickier to sort out. After all, there’s a huge difference between knowing that you want to pursue a connection with another person, and just not wanting to be alone.
Truth be told, a lot of people pursue relationships due to the latter reason, rather than the former.
That’s why you hear so much about people “settling,” especially when they believe that they’re “past their prime.”
We’ve been led to believe that we’re only attractive to other people until we reach a certain age, and after that, we’re either no longer sexually appealing, or have too much baggage for someone else to contend with.
As a result, when and if people find themselves single after being in a long-term relationship, they might be terrified that they’ll never find anyone else.
This often leads people to either dive into a relationship with the first person they get along with, or has them shying away from any kind of intimate connection for the rest of their lives.
To thine own self be true, darling. Being honest with yourself may be difficult, but you’ll be a lot happier in the long run.
Remember that communication is absolutely vital.
As with literally every other aspect of a relationship, the most important thing you can ever do is communicate with your partner.
You won’t know each other’s capabilities, insecurities, and boundaries unless you discuss them honestly, right?
And once you’re both aware of everything that each other is feeling or worrying about, you can take steps to sort the issues out.
Negotiate these issues together, and you’ll have a greater idea of where you can meet halfway.
In areas where you both may be overwhelmed, see if you can alleviate certain pressures by reaching out to your respective families or social circles, or even get assistance from a counselor or therapist.
Counselling can be particularly helpful if you’re dealing with unresolved traumas from your childhood, or if you haven’t processed pain from previous abusive relationships.
Therapists can offer insights that might not occur to you, can see your blind spots, and suggest various different ways to help get you out of a rut you may be stuck in.
However you choose to move forward, having a healthy, supportive relationship can be incredibly good for everyone involved.
We all crave authentic connections with other people, and a loving relationship can do wonders for you – body, mind, and soul.
Still not sure how to overcome your fear of relationships? Get that relationship counselling we just spoke of rather than attempting to go it alone. It really does help to talk things through with someone. We highly recommend the online service provided by Relationship Hero whose trained experts can help you work through things. Simply click here to chat.