How to fall in love

Do your dates end without a spark and your relationships fail before they start? This was my experience for years, until I discovered where I was going wrong.

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I'm going to begin this post with some thoughts about how not to fall in love.

Why? Because we can't change our unhealthy relationship patterns unless we're aware of them, and one way to become aware of them is to see ourselves reflected in the experience of others. 

So let me share my experience and let's see if you can relate to any of it.

For years, I couldn't understand why I was single. I felt like I was doing all the right things but nothing worked out. My dates ended without a spark and many of my relationships broke down before they'd really got started. I repeatedly fell for men who weren't that keen on me, and I couldn't bring myself to fancy the trustworthy, reliable types. It continued like this into my 40s.

Fed up with the status quo, I went on an inner quest to work out my blocks to love and, after a lot of soul-searching, I unearthed some patterns and behaviours that were keeping me single. Here are a few of them:

I was completely disconnected from my feelings

In my earlier years, I binged on food, starved and compulsively exercised as a way to avoid, numb or medicate my feelings. This disconnection from my feelings also disconnected me from myself, from my heart, soul and intuition.

It's hard to have a healthy, intimate relationship with someone else when you have a faulty relationship with yourself. It's difficult to discern what's right for you when you are disconnected in this way. And it's hard to value yourself in relationships when you are actively mistreating yourself, which is why I accepted poor behaviour from others. I didn't believe I deserved any better. 

I eventually healed my relationship with food and my body but I found other ways to run or hide from my feelings, to harm myself and to stay disconnected - compulsive work, compulsive doing and obsessive thinking and worrying.

The solution: I had to learn to slow down, sit still, meditate (imperfectly), connect to my breath, connect to my body through gentle exercise, and allow all my feelings to surface.

This was uncomfortable. I was avoiding my feelings because they were painful. I thought they'd overwhelm me. But I found I was able to cry through and work through the feelings that came up, on my own and with support. This gradual process healed my relationship with myself so that I could go on to have a healthy relationship with another.

I was living and working inauthentically

I was trying to date in an arena in which I no longer belonged and was no longer happy. I was working as a news journalist, moving in media circles, thinking that I wanted or needed a partner who was like me and who worked in a similar field. I imagined I'd meet an equally driven journalist, doctor, lawyer or other Alpha male whose career matched mine. Only I had changed. I had grown out of my first profession.

The solution: I had to get in touch with my authentic self, understand the true desires of my heart and find the courage to follow my dreams rather than continue down a career path that was no longer for me. In my case, I had to leave the high-stress job that was making me miserable and find a more authentic way to live and work.

I began to write from the heart on my blog and explore a career as a writer, coach and speaker. I started to work at my own rhythm, respecting my energy levels and my body. I reconnected with my true self - the woman who loved to be outdoors, by the sea or in the countryside. And on one of my outdoor adventures, I met my now fiancé who isn't anything like me or the high-achieving doctor or lawyer I thought I'd marry. He is a kind, gentle soul who loves the outdoors and works to live, not the other way around.

I blamed others for being the commitment-phobes and didn't look inside myself

For years, I dated men who turned out to be unavailable in some way. They were either scared of commitment, emotionally detached, addicted to something, or they lived on another continent. Every time, I blamed the guys. They were the commitment-phobes! But I couldn't fancy the men who were available or who wanted to stick around.

The solution: I had to go on a journey of transformation and understand the root cause of my relationship difficulties. I was a commitment-phobe. I was scared of intimacy and commitment. I was terrified of getting hurt.

The small child inside me remembered the moment her dad moved out when she was seven or eight. She remembered how much it hurt to lose a man she truly loved and she didn't want to repeat that experience so she decided to keep herself 'safe'.

She deliberately sought out commitment-phobes because with them, there was no chance of a relationship working out. And she avoided the good guys because, as much as she wanted to be in love, she was petrified of getting too close. I had to understand this truth first and work through my fears in order to break my dysfunctional relationship patterns.

These three traits kept me single for years and I know from the women I coach that they are not unique to me.

There are other steps I had to take before I could fall in love, of course, and I can't cover them all in this post but in summary: I had to let go of the fantasy of Mr Right; I had to mature emotionally; I had to learn to set healthy boundaries with myself and with others; and I had to make time and space in my life for love.

If you're confused about love or tired of being single and can relate to the experiences I share above, rest assured there is a way through. And by being willing to read this blog and look deep inside yourself, you are on the right path.

If you have any thoughts you'd like to share with me, please do comment or get in touch.

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Katherine Baldwin

Midlife Mentor, Dating & Relationships Coach, Author of 'How to Fall in Love'

I work with women and men who are ready to change their lives or careers and with those who want to find love. I guide people on a journey of inner transformation, similar to the journey I've been on. I know how it feels to be stuck in life and to be reluctantly single, and I know what it takes to change and find love. My book 'How to Fall in Love - A 10-Step Journey to the Heart' describes how I went from being a single woman, living in London, bored with my work and longing for a more fulfilling life to a woman in love, engaged to be married, living on the Dorset coast and doing work that makes my heart sing. I have been in recovery from an eating disorder, workaholism and dysfunctional relationship patterns for 14 years, during which time I've mentored and coached others on their journey to a healthier, happier life. I have a Diploma in Counselling and Psychotherapy Skills from the Westminster Pastoral Foundation. In my former life as a news journalist, I reported for Reuters from the Houses of Parliament and travelled with the prime minister. I climbed high but despite my external success, I felt empty inside. Since then, I've turned my life upside down in the best possible way. I work 1-2-1 and in groups, run workshops, courses and seaside retreats. I write for the national media and have appeared on radio and TV, most recently on Woman's Hour. I also speak to business leaders, students and school children about the importance of authenticity and of sharing our internal battles. I'm an advocate of wholehearted living. I do my best to walk the walk.