Dear Dr. Frankie,
I’m 33 years old and somehow I’ve managed to completely avoid love and relationships. It was easy to avoid getting emotionally involved with men since I never felt any true connection. One of my biggest problems now is trusting someone enough to have a meaningful relationship. While I was trying to figure this out I fell in love with a professor. She broke my heart and I swore off dating once again (not that I had ever begun). Two years later I began trying to date, but somehow I always ended up meeting emotionally unstable women. I’m tired of playing the mother role. A woman recently contacted me. She seemed OK and I felt attracted to her. We e-mailed frequently and one day she wrote that she saw me as a potential girlfriend. I panicked. She even talked about us going away together and we hadn’t even had coffee yet! I explained to her that I wasn’t looking for a girlfriend and that I didn’t have the time to commit to a long-term relationship because I have a very demanding job. My profile stated I was interested in “casual dating” and I wanted to move slowly to avoid heartaches. She said she understood and said she didn’t want to have a girlfriend/wife situation with me. Everything seemed OK but then she stopped writing. I wrote to her but all I got was silence. I asked her to meet me a week earlier than we had originally planned, but nothing. I gave up and wrote her a goodbye e-mail. I told her how I felt and that I had tried my best to reach out to her, but she chose not to share her feeling with me. I blocked her. I can’t help but wonder what I could have done to change the outcome. I believe in honesty and I don’t regret being honest about my feelings. I used a different dating website and she was my first match. I have the feeling we are meant to be together, but I’m afraid if I try to contact her again she’ll reject me. Please, help.
From what you describe, it sounds like you are not just afraid, but fearful of intimacy. Getting close to someone and emotionally attached can be very scary-but it is incredibly rewarding when it’s with the right person.
So lets examine your recent online dating situation. This woman initiated contact and also expressed her interest in you. As you know this can be a very difficult thing to do, even if it is just via email. She opened up and made herself vulnerable to you, which was met with a firm boundary. You told her for a variety of reasons you are not emotionally available. It sounds like she considered accepting that condition, although it wasn’t exactly what she was looking for. It is possible that at this time she met someone else, or its possible that instead of communicating her disappointment, she just disappeared. Most people struggle when it comes to expressing their emotions, especially when it makes them feel vulnerable. It can also be very difficult for people when they are in a situation where they are rejecting someone. The fear hurting someone’s feelings can be overwhelming, so instead they take the path of least resistance and avoid that interaction all together. The unfortunate consequence is that it often causes the other person more pain.
In terms of how to avoid this outcome again, from what you described it sounded as if you two were communicating at length via email before you had ever met. I discourage this practice because no one can really get to know another person over email. I tell my clients to keep their preliminary phone calls and emails brief. Let your stories unfold naturally, face-to-face. Emails and text messages and phone calls often lend themselves to fantasies, which are generally not reflective of real life and real people. Keep it short, sweet and make a date to meet. Don’t beat yourself up over losing “the one”. You never met and didn’t know each other well enough to know if you could even date compatibly.
Let’s keep this in perspective. You are young and recently experienced a painful ending to what sounds like your first significant relationship. You have spent most of your adult years either trying to figure things out or protecting your heart from the very connection you wanted. Because you were either disconnected or guarding yourself from heartache, you did not give yourself the opportunity to practice the different dating phases. A relationship (hopefully) begins by feeling attracted to someone, flirting, pursuing and/or being pursued, dating, discussing commitment and developing a foundation based on respect and reciprocity. Take this as a learning experience not a setback. You live in one of the world’s greatest, most vibrant cities with a large lesbian community.
I recommend you seek a referral for a therapist or a dating/relationship coach who can guide you through your fears into a place of insight, understanding and confidence. I know you feel very alone right now, but be assured that as a dating/relationship coach I often work with individuals struggling with the very issues your facing. Best of luck to you!