Your fears are holding you back
Feeling apprehensive or anxious are signs that you feel afraid. If you’re thinking you never meet anybody or that your boyfriend won’t commit, you may have more hesitancy than you realize about risking your heart.
No matter what stage your relationship (or lack thereof), your fears will keep you from progressing to the next level.
Becoming the right woman means finding your courage.
You probably don’t think of yourself as someone who’s afraid to date or commit to marriage. If you can’t seem to meet the right guy, however, it’s probably not because there aren’t any great guys available to date and marry.
“What are you talking about?” you might be saying. “It’s really hard to find the right guy!” That may be. But another possibility is that your subconscious fears are keeping you from moving forward.
This is especially true if you find yourself:
- Rarely being approached for dates
- Turning down opportunities to date
- Going on lots of dates but hardly ever finding someone you want to continue dating
- Staying in or returning to a relationship that’s unfulfilling
- Telling yourself you’ll never get married
- Finding a new boyfriend every year or six months
- Waffling about whether you should marry your longtime beau
- Dating or living with a man indefinitely without getting married
Even if it’s just looking away when a stranger tries to make eye contact with you, your unspoken message to him is “Go away.” These defense mechanisms are so ingrained you may not even realize they’re there. But they’re standing between you and the lasting love you say you crave.
If you’re dating and not finding anyone worth committing to, your fearful belief is probably something like this: “You would eventually leave me anyway,” or “I’ll only get my heart broken.”
You may tell yourself that no guy you’ve dated has been right for you, but if no mortal man can meet your standards, they’re simply too high for a mere mortal man. You’re using them to protect yourself from being disappointed.
Perhaps that has kept the kind of man who’s right for you from approaching you. Or maybe you’ve been out with someone who was terrific that you dismissed. You did this because you’re afraid—not because absolutely everyone you’ve met has been substandard.
If you do form intimate relationships but don’t stick with them, you may be using a defensive strategy that says, “I’m leaving you before you leave me,” or else you pick men who are losers to begin with so that you can feel like you have the upper hand.
You can tell the difference by reflecting on your earliest feelings about him. Was it admiration for how smart and competent he was that attracted you? Or was it pity because he needed your help in some way? If you were drawn to him because you felt needed, you picked a man you feel superior to. You might feel safer with a man who seems to need mothering, but you’ll never feel satisfied as his lover.
Dating the same guy steadily without ever working your way up to marriage is either about knowing that he’s not the right man for you and hanging around anyway or fearing that your relationship won’t stand the test of time.
It could also be the fear of being alone that keeps you together. You’re keeping one foot out the door so you won’t suffer disappointment later.
You might use the excuse that men are the ones who never want to commit. Some men are confirmed bachelors and will never walk down the aisle. Hoping to get a commitment from such a man is a setup for failure and a waste of your time. There are plenty of guys who are the marrying type—when they find the right woman.
Part of being “the right woman” is overcoming your own fear of investing in a romantic relationship so that you can attract the right man.
Fears are not facts.
Before you can find the courage to overcome your fears, you have to know what they are. Until you consciously identify each and every one of your doubts, they will be difficult to override. That’s why it’s important to make a thorough inventory of what you’re anxious about.
Here are some of the fears that women identify when I ask them to complete the sentence ” I'm afraid that if I meet and marry a man I love…”:
- I’ll have to live somewhere I hate
- I’ll have to support him financially
- He’ll be unfaithful to me
- I’ll have to do everything
- I’ll have to give up my life
- He’ll die
- We’ll get divorced and traumatize our kids
- I’ll get too dependent
- He'll expect me to clean up after him
- I’ll find out I made a mistake/picked the wrong man/could have done better
- He’ll reject me
- I’ll be smothered
- I’ll lose myself
- The sex will get old
- I’ll find out I’m the type of person who can’t be married
If you identify with some or all of these fears, you’re not alone. No wonder you resist getting into a relationship. Why would you? According to these beliefs, you’d only be taking the first step toward ruining your life or giving up something dear to you.
Subconscious fears influence the way you behave every day.
For instance, if you believe you’ll have to clean up after him, because that’s what happened in your first marriage, you’re not going to be very enthusiastic about smiling at men to make yourself available. Why would you? So you can date, marry, and clean his toilets?
Or if you’re convinced that your boyfriend is eventually going to reject you, then you’ll resist making a long-term commitment to him because you’re not a masochist and don’t want to go through the pain of a breakup.
Fortunately, your fears don’t have to be your reality. Facing them means you don’t let them run amok.
Uncover Thinly Veiled Phobias
When we’re afraid of something, we generally come up with a rationale to justify the behavior rather than just admit that we’re afraid. I had a thinly veiled phobia of marriage when I was single.
Most women want to get married, but I didn’t. I craved a man’s attention and devotion, but I was afraid of divorce. By the time I met John, I had already decided marriage wasn’t for me. I was too afraid that I would end up like my parents, whose brutal divorce devastated the entire family. Above all, I wanted to avoid the years of bickering that finally deteriorated into mutual destruction, anger, and ugly resentment.
My subconscious note-to-self read: Can’t get divorced if you don’t get married. I was also afraid that I would miss the glamorous, fun-filled life of a single girl. Why settle down at all? I thought dating one man after another without ever taking on the burden of a commitment was the way to really enjoy life as a modern woman.
To disguise my fear, I said that marriage was outmoded.
I reasoned that since people live longer now than they did years ago, the challenge for a couple to stay together for life is too great. The more modern approach, I decided, was to be a Cosmo woman—one who knew how to drive a man wild in bed, enjoy casual sex, and wear a crocheted dress. I wasn’t aware that my view of matrimony as old-fashioned was a thinly veiled divorce phobia.
When I started dating John, I told him about my resolve not to get married. He was elated that I had no designs on his future. I had just bestowed on him the freedom to be with me without pressure to make serious plans for our future. As far as I knew, I was sincere. He thought so, too, until he mentioned what I had said to his sister, Claire.
“If she’s not interested in getting married,” Claire asked him, “why did she bring up the topic of marriage?”
She had a point.
In the beginning, I was confused.
As soon as I knew I was rapturously in love with John, I completely reversed my position. More accurately, I acknowledged my true desires. I realized I wanted to be with him for the rest of my life and suddenly marriage didn’t seem like such a bad idea. In fact, I very much wanted to have the permanence of a mutual commitment and to announce to the whole world that this man was special in my life.
Since I was only twenty-one when John and I met, I hadn’t engaged in much casual sex or learned how to drive a man wild in bed.
Even the crocheted dress was not a realistic ambition for me. John’s guitar playing and blue eyes and my hormones overcame the promise of happiness I associated with being an independent, modern woman. I was forced to reexamine my beliefs.
My fears about the risk and potential havoc of a marriage gone wrong were still alive and well, but instead of addressing them, I simply changed my rationale.
Some people could stay married for life, I decided. Just because my parents, their siblings, and their friends weren’t able to didn’t mean that I wouldn’t. I figured I could stay wedded to John because we were different. When it no longer served me, I took off the veil that covered my fears about marriage. My desire to experience the supreme intimacy of being husband and wife outweighed my fear of becoming an ex-wife.
While my confidence in the future success of my marriage was based on a foolhardy naiveté that I was somehow immune to the problems that plague nearly half of all couples in the U.S., it still launched me into the healing realm of intimacy.
As surely as cuts heal and bones mend with the right treatment, falling in love with John and having him love me back helped restore smashed parts of me to wholeness. Instead of continuing to suffer from and compensate for the wounds of my parents’ divorce, I felt restored by the constant reassurance and rocklike steadiness of John’s affection for me.
I also felt relief from my constant internal pressure to be completely independent. Hope for a lifetime of happiness replaced my formerly gloomy outlook.
To embark on an intimate relationship, you have to override your anxiety.
Surrendering to the wonderful feeling you get from being loved and loving a man will help you find the courage to banish worry. As you continue to enjoy each other, your fear of divorce, having to clean up after him, or being rejected will diminish.
Focus on the euphoric sensation you feel when you’re together and how much you’d like to have it in your life forever. You too can make the leap into the healing realm of intimacy.
When monsters are in the closet, turn on the light
Taking inventory of what you dread is the equivalent of turning on the lights for a child who fears a monster in the closet. When you pull your fears out into the light, they often lose their power. Sometimes you realize they don’t even make sense. Just being aware of what your fears are may not give you the nerve to override them, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction.
For now, work on identifying your fears.
Next, change your negative beliefs into affirmations by writing down statements that are opposite of your fear. I’m not suggesting that your fears will leave you when you affirm the opposite. However, you can overcome them by making a conscious decision to do so. For instance, “I’ll have to live somewhere I hate” becomes “I’ll live somewhere I love.”
Colleen was afraid that if she married Dan, she would have to move to Boston, which she hated. Knowing this, Dan suggested that they move to San Diego, but Colleen was afraid she would miss her parents and the seasons on the East Coast. “How do I come up with a positive affirmation about this?” she wondered. But Colleen also realized that Dan would happily live close to where she grew up and that her fear was of a worst-case scenario, not a likelihood.
Whenever she felt herself feeling afraid about the location of their future home together, she reminded herself that she would most likely live somewhere that she loved. Most issues like this one are relatively easy to resolve, since the man who loves you will want to make you happy.
You might argue that affirming something positive in place of your fear doesn’t really help, because the fear is still there.
Yet, while a belief might feel like an immutable fact, it’s actually a choice.
Just as the optimist chooses to believe that the glass is half full, you can make the decision to believe, for instance, that you will enjoy a home you really like when you meet and commit to your beloved. Since you aren’t even in that situation yet, it’s not unrealistic to make the assumption that when you are there, it will be a good experience. You are simply choosing to focus your energies on the reality you prefer.
If I had been conscious of my fear that I would eventually get divorced because my parents did, I could have affirmed something like this: “I will find my own path to a long and happy marriage.”
It turns out, that’s exactly what I did.
Excerpted from The Surrendered Single: A Practical Guide to Attracting and Marrying the Man Who’s Right for You by Laura Doyle. Copyright 2002 © Laura Doyle. Reprinted with Permission of Touchstone, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
About the author
She is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and the founder of Laura Doyle Connect, a multi-national company that provides relationship coaching for single women, girlfriends and wives all over the world. In 2013 she was named a quarter-finalist for Change The World: Search for the Next Global Thought Leader.
She has appeared on CBS Evening News, Dateline NBC, The Today Show and The View. She has been written about in The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The London Telegraph and The New Yorker.
Laura lives in Newport Beach, California with her hilarious husband John Doyle, who has been dressing himself since before she was born.
To know more about Laura, visit her website www.lauradoyle.org.