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Relationships • Finding Love

How We May Be Creating The Lovers We Fear

Some of us wander through the world with a particularly intense dread of getting involved with certain sorts of people. Perhaps someone who will cheat on us. Or someone who will always be distant and unaffectionate towards us. 

We tell ourselves – maybe after a few bad experiences – that we never, ever want to be around such a type (again) and head out into the dating scene with a powerful wish to locate someone different: someone kind, present and good.

Then, very strangely and unfortunately, despite some very good initial signs, we discover that once again, we do seem to have landed on just the kind of person we were terrified of: another unfaithful person! Another cold and distant one! We really deserve pity for our bad luck.

But there’s another, even more complicated possibility: that there may be absolutely nothing amiss with the people we have landed on. They might be rather nice and kind. They could have been viable partners. The problem lies with us. We are so scared of the wrong people that we keep turning the right people into the wrong ones – through a slew of near imperceptible panicky behaviours of which we’re unaware. Our fear twists reality in its direction. 

Imagine, for example, someone who is terrified of being cheated on and who ends up with a lover who, on paper, seems loyal and devoted. But imagine that many times a day, this person with little intention of cheating is suspected of having found someone else online or at work. The partner asks them where they have been, there are enormous scenes of jealousy every time they talk to anyone else, their clothes are inspected for stray hairs, every notification on their phone is interpreted as a harbinger of betrayal.

By a desperate irony, after months of this, the well-intentioned partner may – in despair, almost without understanding what they are doing – go off and have the very affair they’ve been suspected of, and hounded for, having for a long time.

Paolo and Francesca, c. 1814-20
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Paolo and Francesca, c. 1814-20, Wikimedia Commons

Or, in a similar vein, imagine a person who is terrified of landing up with someone avoidant and distant. Constantly throughout the day, they ask their partner for signs of reassurance. They ask them ‘what they are thinking about’ throughout each meal. They get angry whenever the partner arrives a few minutes late from work. It’s a crisis every time they have another engagement with old friends. After a while of this, something equally ironic can happen: the previously rather devoted and present lover can become… distant and avoidant under the pressure to be continually available.

The starting point of any way out has to be a careful exploration of our relationship with the parent whose gender we are attracted to. Perhaps there was a father who left the family after an affair, with a devastating impact on our lives. Or perhaps, there was a mum who never made us feel safe, reeling us in and then rejecting us whenever we got close to her.

If we can see that the person we fear meeting now is also exactly the type of person who we dreaded and yet had to endure in childhood, we have a possible clue. There may be a panicky incentive for us to believe that we have refound the very frustrating figure who disappointed us in the past – not because we necessarily have, but because we need to keep scratching a wound that hasn’t been healed or understood.

Of course, one difficulty is that we may indeed have met the person we fear. Fearing a particular type doesn’t – sadly – insulate us from actually getting involved with them. But we should also be ready for a more complicated and yet in a way also more hopeful scenario: that we are turning possibly very viable candidates into unsatisfactory figures in order to fit a script of how we presume – and dread that – life must go. 

Whatever our suspicion of ourselves, we should leave room for a hugely unfamiliar but beautiful possibility: that we have met someone who deserves our trust. The past was painful; once it has been understood and mourned, the future doesn’t need to be.

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