Dear Vix

‘I can’t bear the idea of settling down – why am I so afraid of commitment?’

Dear Vix: We each carry a set of beliefs or personal definitions about what different life stages entail, and they’re usually based on our own experiences, writes Victoria Richards

Thursday 02 December 2021 18:56
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<p>‘Remember that only you are in control of your life – of course you don’t “have” to get married’ </p>

‘Remember that only you are in control of your life – of course you don’t “have” to get married’

Dear Vix,

I spent most of my twenties and thirties having a great time on Tinder – exactly the way you should spend your wild and carefree years! But I’ve just turned 40 and most of my friends are now either settled down with kids and spouses – or they’re getting divorced and doing it all over again, when I haven’t even done it the first time round. The problem is, I’m just not sure I want to settle down – and I wonder if I ever will. Part of me would love to meet the kind of woman who would make me want to commit and be faithful, to build a home together and maybe even have children. I have had some pretty serious relationships but they always ended the same way – I got bored and needed to get out. I sometimes wonder if there’s something wrong with me – why does the idea of commitment make me feel so trapped and so suffocated? Am I going to be alone forever? And is it a problem if I am? People keep telling me I should feel differently, but I don’t and I don’t know why. I’m reasonably happy – is is really such a bad thing to be on my own and keep my options open?

L, Bristol

Dear L,

First things first – there’s nothing wrong with you. I’d imagine there will be a hell of a lot of people reading this – male and female – and nodding along to what you have written. We all ache for novelty, most of us love adventure, and routine very quickly gets boring, not to mention the tedium of everyday humdrum domestic routine.

What I think might be interesting, though, would be to try to delve a little deeper into your thoughts and ideas around what being in a committed, long-term relationship means – for you specifically. That’s because we each carry a set of beliefs or personal definitions about what different life stages entail, and they’re usually based on our own experiences.

Sometimes these can be formed in early childhood, depending on the kind of love relationship we saw modelled at home. If we witnessed our parents being unhappily married, or grew up through an acrimonious divorce, that can inform the way we see marriage as a whole, even if our personal situations in adulthood are very different.

It can also polarise us – you very often hear of people whose parents divorced when they were kids vowing never to do the same to their kids, because divorce becomes anathema – something they swear to avoid at all costs. So, they cling on bitterly to a relationship, even if that relationship isn’t working anymore (something I would gently suggest is no good for kids, either). Or, it can work the other way: some people can be so frightened of repeating their parents’ mistakes that they swear never to get married.

The work lies in learning – and convincing yourself – that you are not your parents, if that’s where your early impressions of relationships have come from. You are not destined to repeat their mistakes, no matter how much you believe that you are, and you have every chance in the world to carve out a different path for yourself. One, dare I say it, in which you can form a happy and fulfilling connection with someone – as long as you’re honest with yourself about your feelings and the baggage you may be carrying.

This makes it sound like I’m telling you that you should feel differently, or blaming it all on your family of origin, and I promise you that I’m not. It’s perfectly reasonable for someone to be content and independent, to not to want to “settle down”, as you put it.

Remember that only you are in control of your life – of course you don’t “have” to get married, or have kids, or live in a two-up two-down in Billericay, or whatever it is that makes you shudder. If you want to look, I’m betting you’d be able to find a woman who doesn’t want a “conventional” life, either. Like attracts like, after all.

Whatever makes you genuinely happy and fulfilled is the right way for you to be – to hell with what everyone else says you “should” do.

But if you’re writing this letter, it means you’re doing some self-reflection and wondering what’s going on for you. This is good. I firmly believe that it’s only by rigorous self-awareness (and self-analysis) that we can achieve any sort of enlightenment, and establish proper bonds with other people. If you don’t love yourself, you can’t love other people. It’s a cliché, but it’s true.

Lastly, I think it would be worth you unpicking what it is you believe you get out of being alone – and if there’s anything you might be avoiding. Is it intimacy? If you “give in” to another person and fully invest in them, it means revealing much of yourself in return. What might you be scared of revealing?

Is it really your independence you’re so frightened of giving up, or is it the defensive wall you’ve built up around yourself to protect you from being truly vulnerable with another person? If you take down that wall, you risk being hurt, yes. We all do. But sometimes that’s where the real living lies.

I’ll finish on this: I notice that you use the term “reasonably” happy – is “reasonable” happiness really the best you hope for? Don’t you deserve to be blissfully, giddily, outrageously happy? Because I think you do. It’s time for you to look deep inside yourself and find out what you really want in order to make that happen.

Victoria Richards is The Independent’s advice columnist. Having problems with work, love, family or friends? Contact DearVix@independent.co.uk

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