Will my fear of vulnerability doom me to aloneness?
March 26, 2012 9:20 PM   Subscribe

Help me figure things out! I just ended a casual relationship and I'm worried that I will only continue to stop connecting to people due to my deep fear of rejection. The extended explanation is quite long, but I've been needing to vent to a group of strangers for a while so bear with me while I rant my cerebral crazy.

I'm a 24-year-old female living alone in a college town after moving away from the city I went to college in. I needed to move away from the old city just to get a new start, get away from the memories of a couple of failed relationships, and be on my own and figure out what drives me. Needless to say, my romantic qualms affect me more than your average person, but I have stayed single for the past four years or so besides having some extended flings that were never real relationships. This pattern of being sexually involved with men, taking it casually and enjoying life, and then ending up caring about them, and then not having it be what I consider a real relationship, has led me to ... a strange approach when it comes to romantic relationships and I'm worried that I won't be able to fix it.

So I moved to this new city for a job, and after a few months, I left my job because I was just unhappy in it and here, in general. I have been feeling a little bit alone and misguided and furthermore, I didn't really see a future in the field I was in. Since leaving my job, I have decided on a new career trajectory that is more aligned with my natural inclinations (psychology...surprise!) have taken and aced the GRE and applied to a program that I will likely begin in the fall. Since then, I have felt pretty energetic and happy about my decision. I have a couple of friends here, and am friends with some of my former coworkers and hanging out with them is not awkward at all. But I still felt romantically (and sexually) lonely and a need for companionship.

About six weeks ago, I started dating someone I met on an online dating site. This person has a child from a previous marriage and is still not technically divorced from his wife (apparently separation works best in terms of tax advantages). We began dating although I was hesitant, because I told myself that due to my attachment style I am not best suited for casual relationships. However, I then decided that due to the timing (only five more months in this city) I could just have a fling with an expiration date and it would be easier.

Fast forward, I began sleeping with this guy and seeing him relatively consistently. The sex started off extremely wonderful, and I achieved orgasm pretty frequently (which is difficult for me) and he was generally really attentive and sweet, which I enjoyed. I think he is a bit lonely here too and we both kind of just fell into something that felt a lot like a relationship even though I don't want to get emotionally involved re: his baggage and my expiration date. While under the influence of substances, he brought up having "the talk" and I was like, well, why can't two people just enjoy their lives and not worry about it. And then he brought up how I was moving to New York and he just got out of something serious, and we both kind of decided to not bring it up again. However, we continued to hang out almost every day, talking every day, and resembling a couple. I genuinely enjoyed this, besides the fact that I am a woman and enjoy attention and sex from a man who is very complimentary, I am also an ENFP, if that means anything to anyone, and I love the beginnings of relationships and connecting to people on a one on one basis, while being carefree and exploring their interests. We had a great time together, exploring shared interests and restaurants and just being companions to each other in a somewhat transplant-y college town.

However, I just broke up with him because I felt that this prolonged time spent together was resulting in me having feelings for him, and this is something that I want to avoid. Furthermore, there were a couple of red flags that showed up. I want to know if I am overreacting or crazy or just looking for wrong things and preventing myself from connecting with people out of a fear of being hurt.

Three things: the other night he came over and started moving around my furniture and generally cleaning up my apartment. I will admit that it was messy, and for that reason I didn't really want him over in the first place. It was sweet that he wanted to clean things up, and I enjoyed the changes that he made, but I felt like he was overstepping boundaries. Considering I originally planned to be f--- buddies, I felt that this was a symbol of him kind of just barging into my life and changing things without really having my permission. And that bothered me. Furthermore, when I told him it bothered me, but then that it was nice that he did it and I suppose I could say I was lucky, he said "Yes, you are lucky. Most guys would just f--- you and leave, but I care about your environment and want you to have peace of mind." That TOTALLY threw me off.

Second thing, we were sitting and watching a TV show and a very attractive female character did a seductive sexy song and dance. FYI, I am pretty sexually possessive and generally want to maintain the illusion that I am the only woman that a man I am with desires, and so I am prone to a tiny bit of jealousy that usually is harmless unless a guy is really over the top about his flirtation or interest in another woman. I was fine with watching this, even though he was visibly ogling her, because I think a certain level of jealousy is a good sign of possessiveness. He went on to mention something to the effect of wanting to have a threesome with this woman (WHO IS ON TV, and not even real) and I was even fine with it after he asked me to rewind and watch the scene again. But THEN, he asked me to rewind it again. I said no, I want to watch the show from start to finish and stop rewinding things. He kept asking, persistently, which only served to bother me more and more. This summed up in him asking me about ten or twelve (no exaggeration) more times over the course of the next hour (HE WOULDN'T DROP IT AFTER AN HOUR) to rewind to that scene and rewatch it, and I just felt completely disrespected. First of all, if you're sleeping with a woman, why would you force her to replay a scene that only you are really going to enjoy because it objectifies a woman being sultry and seductive. WATCH IT ON YOUR OWN TIME, I even TOLD him that. I felt disrespected because any man that felt romantically toward me should have been able to discern why this was bothering me and then drop it, but he refused to drop it. Literally, he asked ten more times throughout the rest of the show and it prevented me from enjoying the show which I've been looking forward to for a little over a year (yes, it was the Mad Men S5 premier). I thought maybe he was either dense or an asshole. Anyway, my possessiveness and pride made this incident kind of rub me the wrong way, and I began to resent that I felt any jealousy at all.

After this occurred (last night), he did apologize and say that he'd gone and upset me again, but I honestly don't think he knew why I was upset, because he thought it was just because he kept asking to rewind in general and not because his desperation to ogle this woman was a total turnoff. I just tight-lippedly said that I wasn't upset but I just wanted to be alone and drove him back to his house. This morning he messaged me to talk and I basically broke up with him. It bothered me that I was bothered at all, by feeling possessive over him or jealous that he was attracted to another woman. A normal person might brush off those feelings as normal in a romantic relationship, but instead of doing that, I felt out of control and wanted to avoid those feelings and avoid the vulnerability and demonize myself for even getting attached to this guy that I've been sleeping with. I guess what really bothered me is that my affection for him made me vulnerable and susceptible to being hurt by something that he said or did or felt, in a way that I wouldn't feel if I didn't feel that affection, and it made me want to stop having feelings for him and the only way I could think to do that was to break up with him.

The thing is that we really did have a wonderful time when we were dating and before these things happened, and I'm wondering if I overreacted or am generally crazy. I will say that he never really apologized for being rude or disrespectful and that even in the context of a casual relationship, I think I do deserve better than that. But on the other hand, he was really sweet and attentive and caring before this episode, so was this just one day of bad mistakes or just the cracks beginning to show in a new "relationship"? Another problem is that I ended my last relationship for the same reason (an intense fear of vulnerability and having feelings for someone without a guarantee that there was a future), and ended up regretting it a lot. I am worried that this is a pattern and that I will only feel safe if I know that I am going to marry the person I am with or that they will never hurt, leave, or disrespect me, which completely precludes casual dating.

All of this is compounded by the fact that I don't have too many friends here and that this casual relationship was a source of great comfort and happiness to me over the past six weeks, which is making me question my decision, although it seemed sensible at the time. After all, in my mind this relationship did not have a long-term future - but when I began it, that was what attracted me to it. Am I just one of those people who can't do casual, or was my reaction to his actions justified?
posted by bengalibelle to Human Relations (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
you're confusing yourself by personalizing someone else's behavior. his being a dick has nothing to with any supposed need you might feel to avoid intimacy or whatnot. this could have gone a million different ways - psychological predispositions directly cause outcomes far less than they're believed to. you guys were on different channels...pick your own metaphor. you're off to scholl and this guy fades away before you know it. stay in school and definitely don't do drugs - they're the jumping off point for mountains of illconsidered psychological speculation and psyching yourself out. move on with your life and have a great time.
posted by facetious at 9:34 PM on March 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

1.) Sounds like you can't do casual relationships. You've given it several runs, it seems, and from what you describe, non-committal sex absolutely is not a good option for you. This isn't a failing, btw, a lot of people avoid these scenarios for all the same excellent reasons you seem to have difficulty with them also.

2.) Your casual "relationship" with him seemed great before this because she didn't know him well enough to realize he could be kind of a jerk. Now you know better.

3.) Your reactions were justified. His comments were totally disrespectful.
posted by devymetal at 9:45 PM on March 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

you not she, sorry.
posted by devymetal at 9:45 PM on March 26, 2012

Awesome boundary setting. Your actions in response to this guy's shitty behavior are part of a pattern that will attract healthy people, not keep them away.

Ignoring the word "no" is always a red flag. I think he was starting to feel you out with controlling behavior, and you responded very appropriately.

"Yes, you are lucky. Most guys would just f--- you and leave, but I care about your environment and want you to have peace of mind."

This is f---ing creepy, and the subtext about your worthlessness, that you don't have peace of mind, and that he can give it to you without your permission, cloaked with a message of "care" is awful.

You deserve a baseline amount of respect from people, regardless of how casual the arrangement is.
posted by alphanerd at 9:46 PM on March 26, 2012 [14 favorites]

I see a lot of parallels between your life and where I was a few months ago, and I'm now in the best relationship of my life, so here's my life advice. Stop dating. When a guy who wants to date you because he wants a relationship with you falls into your lap, date him. But stop seeking him out. The pattern you're in right now is trying to get affirmation and emotional support from guys who just can't and won't give it to you. The longer you do this, the more the negative emotions will get validated. Focus on your goals and friends, and find happiness in yourself. You don't need a man to bring you happiness - you need one who augments the happiness you bring yourself.
posted by DoubleLune at 9:50 PM on March 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Thank you all...I can convince myself of many different possibilities in looking at a situation and so it's nice to get objectivity. Alphanerd, your words were very helpful especially as I think my permissiveness and desire for harmony has attracted some controlling guys, so it was nice to hear that I was reacting in an appropriate way.

I'd like to add, by the way, that I did try to keep it casual, but after about three weeks he suggested that I move into his apartment since his roommate was moving out in a few weeks. He said that I would save X dollars on rent and that it would be convenient and would help him not have to find another roommate, and I had begun spending a lot of time at his place anyway. He said this about twenty minutes before bringing up having the talk and then us deciding not to have it... I thought that was extremely bizarre but shrugged it off and just said I couldn't break my lease. I guess this one was a bit of a weirdie. He brought it up again the next day but I said that it was probably a bad idea for people sleeping together to also live together (especially if they're trying to keep it casual). So the boundary-control tip is making more and more sense in that light. I didn't know guys could be casual and completely overstep boundaries at the same time..
posted by bengalibelle at 11:09 PM on March 26, 2012

I didn't know guys could be casual and completely overstep boundaries at the same time..

I was unwittingly in a casual relationship with a guy who completely overstepped my boundaries. Quick backstory first so this paradox makes sense: we met online, he had nearly finalized his divorce (this was true), and we began a relationship based on the mutual agreement that it was exclusive and that was what we both preferred in relationships. The very last day (you'll understand why I made it the last day), he got an SMS and said, while sitting on my couch after a dinner together, "Oh, it's the other woman I'm dating. I need to step out, she wouldn't be happy if she heard your cats meowing, it might hurt her feelings." Completely casually. As if it were nothing. I was just the piece of ass he'd been screwing for a year. And it turned out, alongside 4 other women at the same time.

So, for some people, it does seem that "casual" can equate to objectification which equates to overstepping boundaries. That's what comes through from this guy's treatment of you – as if he saw this relationship as a way for him to construct his own reality, in which you were "the woman" and not an individual. You deserve to be seen as an individual, whether a relationship is casual or not.

Am I just one of those people who can't do casual, or was my reaction to his actions justified?

Your reaction to his actions was justified. You enforced your boundaries.

As for not being able to do casual, that depends on you. Sit with your emotions about it, listen to them, let them guide you to your own answer. It can take a while, and that's okay.
posted by fraula at 12:27 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

sweetie no amount of orgasms is worth this! Mejor sola que mal acompaƱada! I was willing to give his approach some leeway as he is a Dad and so in the back of my mind I was thinking he feel really hard and was more serious than you expected and was seeing the potential to bring his child into this relationship.
Your problem is that you bond when you have sex, don't worry, the majority of women do. However, you really need some romance without sex for a while to see the difference.

Don't cut yourself off from guys, but make it clear that sex of off the cards for a while. Be specific so you're not leading anyone on, give yourself a time period, 6 months a year, whatever you decide but stick to it. Explore relationships without the added complications of sex. I think it's far easier to get the measure of the individual that way at your age.
posted by Wilder at 1:01 AM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's not you - it's him. You did the right thing in dumping him. Don't waste your energy beanplating your psychological condition as it's an energy sink you don't need when you have so much to look forward to this year. I would have done the same.
posted by honey-barbara at 4:41 AM on March 27, 2012

The moving furniture around -- you might be able to let this slide if everything else were perfect. It's strange, and I wouldn't like it, but it might be forgivable.

But the rewinding the video ten or twelve times? That's super weird. I think you saw a little bit of craziness there, and I think you should be worried.

And finally, I just don't get the bit about how you don't want to have feelings for him in the midst of an active sexual/companionship relationship.
posted by jayder at 5:40 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your thing about wanting to be the only woman the guy you're fucking finds attractive is ridiculous, and something that you should probably work through because it's like having the oxidation/reduction cycle hurt your feelings. The majority of humans of all genders notice other humans they find attractive. If you don't lust after Idris Elba or Channing Tatum or the cute barista or anyone but the guy you're dating when you're dating, that's not because you're a paragon of fidelity or constancy; it's just a quirk in how you're wired or socialized.

That said, the thing this douchebag did with the rewinding and ogling? That's disrespectful. So is the moving furniture without your permission, or indeed, enthusiastic consent. He's clearly someone who has issues with respecting your boundaries and comfort levels, which is to me a red red flag.

No, your fear of vulnerability will not doom you to aloneness. Being able to recognize disrespectful and controlling behavior and showing those people the door will bless you with the clarity and relationship skills to find really fruitful partnership(s).
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:40 AM on March 27, 2012

I probably should have said "illogical" rather than "ridiculous" above; that came off far more judgey than I intended because of my poor word choice. Apologies.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:50 AM on March 27, 2012

Your thing about wanting to be the only woman the guy you're fucking finds attractive is ridiculous

I don't think it's ridiculous, I think it's caused by insecurity when you're not getting your needs met by the guy you're with. I felt this way a lot with my previous bfs and fuck-buddies, because I never had a guy who I felt secure with. My current bf, I can deal with him admiring other women because I know he finds me sexy as hell and I have no reason to be jealous.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:21 AM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Good point, DoubleLune, which is why I wish I'd written "illogical" in the first place. It's illogical because the problem is that you're not getting what you want from your partner--a sense of connection and admiration and devotion--but instead of identifying that as the problem, you set up an arbitrary ideal of "he should want nobody but me" that isn't relevant to most people.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:50 AM on March 27, 2012

Abstract "you" there, I should say.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:51 AM on March 27, 2012

He sounds crazy. If my boyfriend had wanted to rewind that scene, whatever. I wouldn't have cared. It was a cute scene. If he had asked 12 times? Um, run far away from this weirdo.


This person has a child from a previous marriage and is still not technically divorced from his wife (apparently separation works best in terms of tax advantages).

LOL. What is this mess? Girl, don't even. Is he even really separated? He didn't divorce because of tax reasons? Your hangups are totally warranted. Everything about this creep is one big red flag, and (from what I've heard) casual relationships aren't supposed to be about sleeping with people who are awful. Get AWAY from him. He's 100% trouble...and not in the 'dangerous livin on da edge motorcycles and cigarettes and whisky' kind of way.
posted by 200burritos at 11:00 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Help me hone my creepometer
Give me the benefit of your hindsight!

Two threads on, well, honing your creep-o-meter. Pay attention to the stuff about "testing behavior".

Because seriously, who asks for ANYTHING twelve times when the answer is "No"? Is he two?

By the way, you will probably be much less easily tweaked about your partner being attracted to other women when you're dating someone who isn't a jerk about it. "No ostentatious ogling while in my presence" is a very NORMAL boundary.

One of the problems with believing that there's something wrong with ones own relationship compass is that one tends to cast all relationship difficulties in light of that compass -- "what's wrong with me?" Honey, this one ain't you.
posted by endless_forms at 2:24 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't let the fact that a guy can be great sonetimes or great in bed or whatever, confuse you into thinking that there's something wrong with you when he's the problem. He's out of line. You will keep pushing away assholes until you find someone who is actually worthwhile... because somewhere under that insecurity that lets you put up with bullshit for way too long, you have something called a survival instinct. This guy is clearly a douche, plus he was totally negging you.

It makes perfect sense that you'd want to avoid relationships or being vulnerable if these are the kind of guys that you deal with. Being a woman means being capable of falling in love with almost anyone, so you've gotta be hard headed until you know the guy is safe. And if all you want right now is sex, that's fine. In my experience, the key to making that work is Never Do Relationshipy Stuff With Those guys. Not even eating together. Don't hang out. Don't let it feel like a relationship or a part of you will, you know, feel like his girlfriend, and it gets harder to draw strong lines.

One last piece of advice: if you want a relationship with a guy, don't sleep with him. Sleeping with guys messes up your head. Keep it about the emotional and mental connection. Good guys will wait as long as you need them to, and its really important to be able to relate on a nonsexual level.
posted by windykites at 4:42 AM on March 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

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