Sexless in the City

Sometimes reading romance novels doesn’t quite prepare you for a love life...

For this 30-year-old urbanite, love is always a misadventure: The Harvard Lickwit, Hippie the Groper, the 5% Man, and the Ad Weasel. These and many other men wander in and out of her life — but never her bed.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Restraining the pain a gain?

Departing scenic Monterey this morning, but before I head off, a reader query requires my reply.
Dear Ms Broadway

I am entangled in a rather frustrating situation. … The concept of commitment sends shivers down my spine and at the same time I cannot allow myself to indulge in any kind of casual relationship (e.g the notorious “friends with benefits” system) for many moral/religious/health-related reasons. At the same time however I need to be “involved” with girls in some way and the method which I use in order to compromise the aforementioned contradictory tendencies is the following: I always “target” the girls which because of their external appearance are most likely to be in a relationship. This way I always get turned down and I can subsequently claim that I “tried but was unlucky”. So far this method has been 100% effective yet for the first time there seems to be an unforeseen glitch: The latest of the “targeted” girls seems to be quite attracted to me and also gives indications of being single. Therefore I find myself in the rather awkward position of hoping she will NOT be single so that I will not “fall in love” with her. … Are these tendencies of mine unhealthy? Do you think I should stop “being involved” with girls until a later point n my life in which I will be mature and ready for a relationship? Perhaps I should channel my energy into work and forget about these things altogether?

Safer Alone

P.S I can only reconcile myself with the concept of commitment within the realm of marriage. Alas I don’t think I will be mature enough to marry for the next 6-7 years.
Dear Safer:

My, my dahling. If you weren’t so good at targeting involved women, I daresay you’d be a class-A Mr. Flirty Pants. Whatever the case, I think we all share the same ailment: fear of intimacy. Oh yes, I’ve got it too. Mine just manifests itself differently. Over the years, I’ve refined a lazer-sharp sensor for those aloof, emotionally distant men most unlikely to let me in. Bad breakups, even broken engagements reoccur in my crushes’ pasts with unsettling consistency. How is it I’ve had dates then, you ask? Quite simple: I only date the men I can safely hold at arm’s length. Sure, I may be some kind of emotional masochist, but at least I can control the amount of damage and pain involved. Which is really what you, too, are hoping to do, no?

Well, I too experienced a glitch in the proceedings. A man I thought would prove to be safe for me to like seemed to like me back for a spell. So much that he inadvertently drew out my affections further than I would usually extend them toward a run-of-the-mill crush (even masochists have our limits, after all). And then, just when I was beginning to trust him: Bam!. Flirtation gone, confusion ensues, Anna starts a bewildered damage control.

What’s the solution here: do I recoil even further, resist “friendship” and flirtation with men all the more? Seal off my heart with stronger duck tape this time? Do you remove yourself from all contact with women whatsoever, never talking to them without some sort of chaperone?

If the problem is getting hurt, then yes, that’s probably not a bad idea. But the problem with not hurting is that you don’t feel much that feels good either. And if my choice is between being human and feeling pain or avoiding pain but barely living life, I’ll take the former. In that case, it’s not our fear of pain that’s the problem, it’s our fear of intimacy.

Why do we fear it? Probably because we’ve let people in and had that trust betrayed. In my situation, it’s easy to think my friend did just that to me. But there’s a difference here. Much as I’d like to brand him some heartless cad who should swiftly be booted into “that asshole jerkwad” status, there’s enough good in him to outweigh the pain he’s caused that I know that’s really not fair. Ditching that friendship won’t help either of us; in this case I’ve gotta figure out how to forgive — which is far better practice for future intimacy than is avoiding the pain and running away.

If you keep avoiding involvement with women, all it’ll set you up for is a distant, lonely marriage someday — if you ever find a woman. If you ever hope to be married someday, you’ve gotta get more comfortable with intimacy and trust. Not that I’m suggesting you run out and expose yourself to just any woman. Guarding your heart is certainly reasonable. But there’s a difference between heartguard that breathes and heartguard stronger than the toughest bullet-proof iBook case. As I’ve blogged about before, maintaining reciprocity’s an important key to building healthy relationships.

But so is humility and forgiveness. Sometimes the pain that enters us is like a needle. Some people deal with the pain of that by cutting off all blood flow to that area. Others let the needle works it’s way into and then out of them enough that it gets added to their arsenal of weapons with which they go around wounding and stabbing others. But when you forgive, you take the needle into yourself so it doesn’t have the capacity to harm others and allow it to stay in you sort of like the blows that tenderize meat. My experience with the Married Man was sort of like that.

I’d rather learn from my pain and grow in loving others better than becoming more an more a weapon because of all my unforgiveness and unhealed wounds, or a day-by-day colder and less-feeling person. That’s where humility comes in. Because the more I forgive, the more I have to deal with my anger at another for how he or she has hurt me. And the more I face that anger determined not to let it poison me, the more I have to think about ways that I’ve hurt others. What about pain I’ve caused, and not felt that bad about? Are the wounds I’ve caused really less bad than those I’m capable of getting so angry about?

Running from this relationship is not the key. And having encouraged this woman to think you might like her, you’ll be defrauding her if you run away in fear. Which is not to say you have to marry her. But have another conversation. Consider letting her know that you like her, a little, but you’re scared about getting close to someone. Take it slow. Instead of guarding against the pain you fear she’ll do you (which response will likely cause her pain), think about how you can help each other grow as people in relating to the opposite sex. How can you be a blessing instead of a curse in each other’s lives?