When I was about 14, I developed a huge crush on a boy I met on a school tennis holiday to Spain. Nothing happened - we were too nervous and shy. But my heart skipped a beat when we timidly exchanged home addresses on the last day.
Back in Liverpool, I wrote to him down south, baring my soul, telling him that I liked him. He wrote back, saying he liked me too. My heart did cartwheels. With Mum's agreement, I invited him to stay for the weekend. I could barely contain my excitement. I floated around on a pink cloud until he arrived.
Only when I saw him, my heart sank. I didn't fancy him anymore. Worse than that, I could barely be in the same room as him. I felt repulsed.
The poor boy didn't have a clue what had hit him. Why my sudden change of heart? He looked downcast, confused and crushed as he headed home. I felt guilty and ashamed, but I'd simply gone off him, I reasoned. What could I do?
Fast forward to my late 20s and I had a similar experience. I fell for a charming and handsome Irish rugby player. We spent a romantic weekend together in Donegal and I fantasised about a future with him. But the next time we met, everything had changed. It was like a switch had flipped inside me. I didn't like him anymore. Again, I felt repelled.
There were even times with my now fiancé when I blew hot and cold - moments when I found him the most attractive man on earth, followed by times when I felt like I had to get out of the room, get out of the house, get away from him. This must be wrong, I thought. I'm going to have to end it.
Fortunately by then, I'd done a huge amount of personal development and therapy, and I'd studied psychotherapy. I had an awareness of my relationship patterns in my 40s that I didn't have in my teens, 20s or 30s. I understood that I was prone to push-pull, or rather pull-push.
One moment, I'd desperately want a guy and I'd do whatever I could to reel him in, to draw him close. The next moment, I'd flip and I'd want to push him away or run for the hills. I'd find reasons why it wouldn't work out. I'd decide I didn't like his nose, his shoes or his approach to life. If we'd had mobile phones when I was young, I'd likely have been guilty of ghosting - of disappearing without word or trace.
Pull, push. Pull, push.
So what was going on? Well, I was desperate to love and to be loved, so desperate that I craved being with a man. I had low self-esteem and I wanted to feel attractive and worthy. But as much as I craved love and intimacy, I was also terrified of it. I was petrified of being hurt and abandoned, and of being suffocated. So as soon as I got close to love, I turned on my heels.
Eventually, I saw the light. I understood that my subconscious was in the driving seat of my romantic life - hurling me into relationships because I was desperate for love and affection but yanking me out of them before I got in too deep so that I didn't get hurt, rejected or trapped.
My subconscious was trying to keep me safe because it remembered the very first time I'd been in relationship with a man - my dad - and how painful that had been. It remembered that my heart had cracked when my father sat me on his knee and told me he was moving out, and it wanted to protect me from feeling so sad again. It also remembered feeling responsible for my mum's happiness, so I feared being burdened and trapped.
My subconscious also led me into relationships with men who were unavailable emotionally, physically or geographically - again to protect me from potential hurt. If he was married to someone else, addicted to drink or living on another continent, I could date him without getting too close. I'd never have to risk my heart because he couldn't commit his.
In my inner child's eyes, love and intimacy equalled hurt, pain and loss. Why would I want to go through that again?
But by avoiding love and intimacy, I only lived a half life. I didn't get to experience true connection. If I'd have carried on that way, I would have allowed my past to rob me of a beautiful present and future.
I'm happy to say that by understanding my patterns and their roots, I managed to change them. It wasn't easy. I needed support to stay in my relationship and to walk through my fears of intimacy and commitment. But I got there in the end. I will marry next June. I have committed to one man. I have allowed myself to fall in love. Needless to say, it was worth the risk.
If you are stuck in a push-pull routine, if you adore someone one minute and dislike them the next or if you are drawn to commitment-phobes or to unavailable types, the first step on the journey to healing is to open your eyes.
Explore your relationship history, going right back to your relationships with the people you first loved (your parents or caregivers) or to those early courtships.
Did you get hurt? Did you feel pain? Did you feel trapped or suffocated? Did your subconscious decide that you would never feel such heartache again? Has it been trying to keep you safe from hurt or free of commitment all these years?
As you uncover the truth, you might feel grief. But we have to feel the pain to heal it. Don't be afraid. Sit with the feelings. Soothe yourself and find healthy ways to feel safe and supported - try meditation, nature, coaching or counselling, rather than too much chocolate, alcohol, or a phone call to your ex.
As you heal, you'll begin to accept that love and life involve risk and that if we don't take a chance, we won't reap the rewards. As you grow in awareness and mature emotionally, you'll feel safe enough to be truly vulnerable with someone else.
So open your eyes. Understand yourself. Allow yourself to heal. Get support. Then take a leap of faith, embrace uncertainty and let love in.
******Being Real, Becoming Whole.
For courses, workshops, retreats, webinars, relationship coaching, midlife mentoring and other resources, go to www.katherinebaldwin.com