Q - After a couple of bad experiences with relationships I feel too scared to try again. I worry that I must be making bad decisions in my choice of men and I don’t trust that I won’t get badly hurt again.
My mother says I’ll be ‘left on the shelf’ – as if that were a bad thing. She keeps telling me about introduction agencies, dating sites and singles adverts in newspapers! She’s pushing me to find a man, get married and have children. That’s her plan, not necessarily mine. Although I do feel lonely at times, I feel safer on my own. What should I do?
A - It can be more lonely to be in the wrong relationship than to be alone.
Metaphorically speaking, in life we all need to find the balance between steering and sailing our ship alone, and having the right sort of help and support when we need it alongside us - to navigate the inevitable rocks and storms ahead. It’s vital that you can work together as a team – otherwise you’re better off sailing alone.
It’s a basic human need to have relationships and social groups to ‘belong’ to. Yet we all have our own individual needs and preferences for the quality of the company we chose to spend our valuable time with.
Your fear of emotional pain, and what you see as relationship failure, has been created by your previous experiences based upon your earlier decisions – and you are now doubting that you can make a better choice in future. You won’t know until you try – but please keep both a clear head and an open heart.
Emotional pain is registered by the brain as similar to physical pain, and you understandably will have made a strong link between such pain and the need to avoid it.
Unfortunately, your fear of pain may close you down to accepting love.
I’m also curious about your past, and how you’ve been impacted by your parent’s relationship, and what you’ve internalised about relationships from what you saw and felt as you were growing up.
Could it be that you have chosen men that your mother (or father) approved of – or were like your parents in some way – and you’ve then found them to be incompatible with you?
Or have you been ‘rebelliously’ choosing men that they would not approve of?
It’s important to be sure about who YOU are, and what you want and who would be compatible with you?
Please don’t let your mother – however well-meaning she may be – induce shame in you with such out-dated terms as being ‘left on the shelf’ – like goods in a supermarket that no-one wants to buy. That may have been the thinking when she was young, but it certainly isn’t these days.
Perhaps you can create a composite of the character and personality traits of the men you’ve had bad experiences with. What it was about them and their behaviour that affected you so badly?
Also think about what it was about you that allowed those things to happen. What were the first warning signs, when did they appear, and what you did in response to them?
We can, and should, learn from our bad experiences and see them as lessons that help us to grow – and not hide away in the shadows in case another lesson comes along!
Any new partner you meet will be different to those earlier men – and at least you will be clearer about the traits that you now want to avoid in a man – the things that show he isn’t compatible with you.
You have a choice about who you allow into your life in the future, and your own reasons for that choice.
You have the responsibility to keep your inner child safe and happy (she is the little girl who’s feeling lonely, scared, betrayed and hurt – perhaps both from childhood and the more recent past).
Remember how much you’ve changed in the last 3 years – and changes will continue to happen. You are not stuck with anything from the past unless you choose to be.
You can give your brain new associations to make and new links to be formed between good, honest, kind and loving men, and you feeling good, happy, loved and safe yourself.With safety comes trust and respect too.
Whatever way you choose to meet men in future please ensure that it allows you both to show up as who you really are.
For instance by meeting at a sports activity club or hobby group. You will be going there to enjoy yourself and meeting a potential partner will be a bonus rather than a mission.
Our brains make an association between heightened emotional experiences and who we’re with at the time – so taking part in fun, playful and exciting activities with a partner will help to build a relationship with them too.
There is no ‘shelf’ to be left on – but there is a solitary place where you can chose to go at those times when you want to be alone, in the special company of your inner child, who most needs a happy relationship - with you!
Maxine Harley (MSc Psychotherapy) MIND HEALER & MENTOR
www.maxineharley.com Where you will find FREE resources designed to help and inform you on your journey of self-knowledge and development
www.maxineharleymentoring.com - helping women who want to understand and manage their emotions, boundaries and behaviours...and to FEEL better, so they can BE, DO and HAVE better!
www.the-ripple-effect.co.uk a series of online self-help workshops - including ones called 'Understanding Yourself' and 'Understanding Relationships'
www.qpp.uk.com - The 'New Paradigm In Therapy' that works to change the deep-seated sub-conscious belief system