Could we maybe just kiss a little and then forget this ever happened?
December 21, 2010 2:11 AM   Subscribe

Given that I know my defence mechanisms are still operating on high after leaving an emotionally abusive relationship, and I keep getting cold feet with anyone who tries to get close to me, and yet still crave small doses of intimacy, how can I ethically conduct myself with people who are/could be interested in me?

After getting out of a really, really unhealthy, emotionally abusive relationship almost 2 years ago, I am now simultaneously terrified of, and craving intimacy. I've been getting it in ways that felt safe to me, like one night stands, infatuations with people who I knew were unavailable/inappropriate to date, etc. A few times I have tried to have a relationship, and the feelings it brought up in me were a combination of terror at being "trapped", lots of old, bad memories, massive uncertainty and fear of hurting the other person, panic attacks and completely emotionally pulling away from the person to the point that I found them completely unattractive and wondered what I was thinking. For example, someone trying to hold my hand or say something sweet to me just read as manipulation and made me resent them for not just being straight up about wanting nothing but sex, and angry if they tried to tell me that they didn't just want sex. It's hard to know what's my gut telling me a person is untrustworthy, and what is me being on the defence. I started dating one guy who was supposed to just be a one night stand and he was definitely a good hearted, trustworthy guy, but I just could never relax. I was also really frustrated that he'd want to spend time together and not have sex straight away. I found myself just wanting to get the hell out of there so I could be free to just pick up strangers and have fun, so I broke up with him.

I'm becoming more and more aware that this is all just a defence against getting hurt and losing myself to someone again. Being aware of this kind of sucks cos even though, yay, picking up! still sounds fun, I'm realising more and more that besides the physical aspect and the ego boost I enjoy these things because it's like a tiny, safe relationship. Which explains why I don't want to sleep with someone I have already slept with, and why I'm really picky about who I pick up, and why I always love to chat with them about what their life is like while we're together.

A month ago I was drinking with friends when I met a boy who I had crazy chemistry, good conversation and lots of common interests with, but who had a girlfriend. Obviously nothing could happen, but for a while he held my hand. Because it was safe in that nothing was ever going to happen between us, it felt nice instead of ridiculous, and I actually started to feel emotions. I started to remember why it was nice to have a boyfriend, after being puzzled for so long as to why anyone would want to do anything other than sleep with strangers.

Right now there is a guy I play sport with, who I had a big infatuation with right up until the point that he must have realised, and put his arm around me while we were hanging out, at which point I totally froze up, mentally and physically. Since then we've got to know eachother a bit better, and he keeps suggesting we catch up, and I keep avoiding it. But I really like talking to him and it's nice to have someone to exchange text messages with etc. He's really cute and nice and we have heaps in common but I know I can't really go through with anything so as usual I start to focus on anything that isn't ideal when it seems like something might happen. What is the right thing to do here, and in other similar situations? I am terrified of hurting people or making them turn out the way I have turned out because of how my ex treated me so I try to warn people in advance but at the same time, I don't want to push people away before they even have a chance to make it clear they're interested, cos that's presumptive and arrogant, and I feel like my heart's going to break if I can't have any closeness with anyone. How can I ethically conduct myself? It makes me happy that he seems interested and thinks of me in his spare time, but he deserves better than what I can give him in my present state and I don't feel like I'm ready to stop just going out to pick up. I care for him a lot and want to do the right thing, but I don't know what to do. If I knew that I would never have to see him again, I'd love to spend a day with him, but I see him a few times a week at our club and don't want to have to leave.

In this and other situations, is there a way I can be considerate of other people's feelings, and still get my needs met in some way? Or is the only fair thing to do to have only one night stands with strangers until I am pretty confident I'm not just going to keep getting cold feet and messing people around? Is it ok to flirt with boys you're friends with knowing that even though you might fantasize about it, you're not actually going to kiss them etc. At the moment I feel a bit like that girl out of Strongbad who says "I have a crush on every boy" but I don't want to be someone who makes other people feel bad or used. Even with internet dating, am I just wasting peoples time if I just want to go on lots of dates because I'm still emotionally unavailable?

(FWIW tomorrow I am going to book in to restart therapy next year)
posted by Chrysalis to Human Relations (6 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

I don't know what the hypothetical average person would want, but what hurts from my point of view is when I perceive that someone is not playing fair in some way, or that they are not respecting me. I don't go in for casual relationships or one-nighters, but if I did, I wouldn't consider doing so with anyone that I didn't respect or who had disrespected me.

The way you've written your post suggests that you've gone into things flipflapping about what you want. Not saying everybody has to go into every interaction with everybody knowing exactly what they want and able to provide a written spec on demand. But this kind of apparent flipflapping is highly likely to hurt someone if it hasn't already. It's also quite likely to be experienced as disrespect by the other person even if disrespect was the furthest thing from your mind.

As for the guy you play sport with, you may be thinking too far ahead. Asking to get coffee with you or hang out is only that - you don't have to oppress yourself with the thought of a committed multiyear relationship with him, which is likely what's spooking you. OTOH, if you are so scared that you couldn't commit to a coffee date at a specific day and time next week, you are probably too scared for him right now. The easy way to test this is to write an email saying, "hey sportguy, would you like to meet for coffee on Wednesday at 4pm at the Cafe Nervosa?" If you couldn't stand to send that email with that much detail, or you think you'd probably chicken out if he said yes, you know you are not in the right frame of mind right now.
posted by tel3path at 5:17 AM on December 21, 2010

Am at work, but your post was very sad, so I'll post something quickly:

First, we're all imperfect creatures with insecurities and self doubts. And you aren't any more screwed up than the rest of us are.

Second, we get the love we think we deserve. Which is another way of saying you should believe in yourself and you should believe you deserve love, because that's the only way you'll ever find it.
posted by moiraine at 5:21 AM on December 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

Therapy is an important step you're taking. Good for you.

You're worrying too much about hurting guys by hanging out with them for a while and then deciding you don't want a long-term relationship. Relationships never work out until they do. Getting rejected isn't that big of a deal.

I don't see how one-night stands are helpful here. If you want some closeness, go for it, and then if it becomes too much, just say "sorry, I can't do this right now, it's over." I think that would satisfy all of your ethical concerns about mistreating people.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:12 AM on December 21, 2010

you seem to be projecting your fear of being manipulated and hurt onto the dudes you're dating. free yourself of the burden of thinking you have to know and control what they're feeling and just focus on taking care of yourself - you seem like a very decent and sensitive person. congrats on seeking counseling - good call - you'll get to a point where you can cope with having a great guy in your life - just give it a little time...
posted by facetious at 6:44 AM on December 21, 2010

You seem to think you have only two options: have one-night stands, or long term relationships. But there are many other options, ranging from being single and celibate, to having some sort of friends-with-benefits arrangement, or even being in a plural marriage. It's really about whatever works, and you seem to be saying that your two regular options aren't doing it for you. You are afraid of hurting others, thereby hurting yourself in the process. Have you considered staying single and celibate for a while? From your description, it sounds like you haven't done much of that, and (in my opinion anyway), that is something you should try. Work on yourself, for the sake of yourself alone. Don't clutter the process. Don't make it about anyone else but you. You don't say how long your other relationship was, or how old you are (which are important aspects), but two years without truly moving on seems like too long. Don't be afraid of putting yourself first.
posted by neblina_matinal at 6:54 AM on December 21, 2010

I believe the only way to completely get over bad relationships is to have a good one so take that with a grain of salt.

Every person goes into any relationship with the possibility that it won't work out. Yours might not work out because you're not in the right head place. This might not be completely fair to your partners, but it's not a lot different than every other reason why Person X might not work out in a relationship with Person Y. Going into a relationship everybody has to manage those risks; some of them we can know about and should come up on a first date, some of them don't need to. In my opinion, as long as you aren't promising these guys the moon, a lot of yours don't need to come up.

You're going to have a lot more fun and your past is going to be a lot easier to get over if you start hooking up with people whose hands you want to hold.

Good luck.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:05 AM on December 21, 2010

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