I am being driven to distraction by my girlfriend. For the first few weeks after we met, we got on very well and I felt we were in love, though I was too shy to say so. But the minute I told her my feelings, she backed away and refused to see me. A month or two later, I got a tearful phone call from her saying she missed me and wanted to get back together. I was a bit cool, but the moment I started to trust her again, she backed off. This has now happened for a third time. I can't bear to be hurt again, but I do love her. What can I do?
Yours sincerely, Tom
Tom, I do feel for you, becoming trapped in this horrible hot and cold relationship. I suspect, though, that your girlfriend is a very troubled person who, for some reason, has come to associate close relationships with longing rather than resolution or fulfilment. I'm certain that for some people who have never been properly loved when they were small, this constant yearning for security, unhappy though it is, becomes, for them, familiar and comforting territory. But, as soon as the yearning is satisfied, they become terrified, never having experienced proper closeness, and run a mile. They then start the whole procedure all over again, longing for what they've lost.
If my hunch chimes with what you know of your girlfriend's background, then I do think the only solution is for you to discuss your feelings honestly with her. Tell her how hurt you feel when she distances herself from you, and explain that you're frightened of her behaving the same way yet again. Confront the situation, rather than just allowing it to repeat itself again and again. Try, if you can, to be as compassionate about her behaviour as you can, rather than blame her and accuse her, because I'm sure she hates herself for hurting you so often, just as much as you hate being hurt. And also try to think of your own role in this relationship. Most men would, I think, have been extremely wary of accepting this girl back once, let alone twice. Is there something in your own past that seeks out this kind of behaviour? At the risk of sounding like a therapist, did your mother blow and hot and cold? Is this a familiar situation for you, too?
And I can't help wondering whether you become, when you admit your feelings to her, rather too "full on". Do you write her love poems, tell her you can't live without her, order daily roses for her, and show a frightening (to her) neediness and dependency? If so, she may become understandably alarmed. We all want to be loved, but no one likes being utterly doted on, to feel that the other person's love envelops and stifles us like a great blanket, and that the other person might actually die without us being around. Not only does it make it seem as if the other person is utterly weak and needy, but also that they haven't really got the hang of you, either, seeing you as some sort of dependable rock on which to cling, rather than an average human being, full of strengths, true, but frailties also.
Rather than stumble around in areas about which I know nothing - because I don't know either of you properly - I'd suggest that if you can't sort this out by talking honestly together, you go and visit a Relate counsellor. If you both sincerely want this to work, then I am sure you can find a way through, by understanding each other's emotional fears and anxieties.
Don't be a doormat
I am very curious about both of your ages. If you are in your early twenties, this kind of behaviour is to be expected, in a way, as people are reluctant to commit at an early age. If this is the case, then play the field. There plenty of others out there.
She sounds as though she has commitment phobia. Be straight with her and tell her that you need proof of some kind of commitment, even if it is just being friends, rather than being tossed around like a used box of crayons, but that it is unfair on you to be treated this way.
This kind of behaviour when you are older than 30 might mean a more serious case of relationship phobia. What is she afraid of? Why does she come back? Why do you allow her back? Try to take stock, and realise that there is nothing wrong with you, and relationships are complex.
Getting over-anxious and over-analytical can ruin everything. Keep it simple. Tell her to take some time to think, as you need to think, too, but stand your ground and don't just give in every time she calls in tears.
You sound like a nice, caring guy, but don't be a doormat. Ask yourself what being in love means.
Don't tell her you love her
Most of us have made the mistake you are making: you are not getting the message! Your girlfriend wants to be your girlfriend and may even want to have sex with you, but she is not ready for a long-term commitment. So when you come on too strongly, she panics. The solution is to be her boyfriend and enjoy her company; tell her she is great to be with, but don't tell her you love her. When she is ready, she will let you know. If you have not received the signal after several months, it may be time to move on. In the meantime, be patient.
You're being used
Three times? How much more punishment do you want? I suspect that, deep down, you know that you are being used as a useful ego-boost, and you need to be firm and refuse to play this game any longer. I expect that you have lots of love to give, so find someone who deserves it. It will be so much more rewarding.
Next week's dilemma
I was the only and much-loved daughter of committed Christian parents and our only social life centred on the Evangelical church. Having missed a normal teenage life, I never fitted in to university life. Now, retired and widowed, I know many people through a variety of interests and clubs. But I'm always envious of those who talk of doing something with "my friend". Over the years, if anyone has invited me to join them in an event, I've always declined. I'm not lonely, I enjoy my own company. But I don't understand what it is to have a friend. Is it possible to learn?
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