How can I let myself be vulnerable in my new relationship?
April 7, 2014 9:42 PM   Subscribe

I think I have some messed up ideas about relationships, that are going to get in the way of me finding true intimacy and being a really good partner to someone. I want to get over these ideas but am terrified that acting in a more authentic and loving way will backfire. Hope me?

I'm a lesbian in my late twenties. Since coming out in my early twenties I feel like I've learned/ingrained some really messed up ideas about how to keep people interested in me and secure their love. I feel horrified writing this and knowing that I think this way/play these games, and I want to stop, but I'm scared that if I do engage with people more authentically that they won't love me and that I'll be alone.

Basically I feel like I've learned that in order to keep someone's interest, I need to make myself indifferent and unavailable. This lesson has come to me by different women falling in love with me over the years. It seems like when I don't reciprocate their love, or give a little but remain uncommitted, they go wild! They want me so bad! I am very sensitive to rejection and would never stick around/pursue someone the way that women I've rejected have continued to pursue me.

Not only that, but it seems like if I start a relationship by being into someone and showing it, they are interested but not really committed. But if I break up with them or am otherwise non committal, and then give them another chance, then they are, like, forever enamoured with me. It feels like I have to threaten that they will lose me in order to make them appreciate me.

I hate having these thoughts and "knowing" this works. The thing is, it does work. But it's an awful way to treat people and I really don't want to do it. The problem is I'm pretty insecure and terrified of rejection, so I have a really hard time being with someone who I don't feel is 100% committed to being with me. So often if I feel someone is ambivalent/slightly doubting it/not head over heels in love with me, then I will act ambivalent/talk about breaking up, until it seems like a switch is hit and they become crazy about me. God I hate myself just writing that haha. But how do I stop this behaviour knowing that it is so effective? What I really want is a genuine, authentic, loving relationship with someone.

I am dating a new person now who I really, really like. I feel overwhelmed by all my love feelings for her. I write poems about her. I fantasize about her all the time, she makes my heart race. I've worked really hard so far to not engage in any game playing. I've had moments where I wanted to kind of express ambivalence or something just to see how she'd react, but I resisted (an ex once told me that it seems like I test her to prove her love to me….sounds about right). So although I've resisted any kind of game playing/anxiety invoking so far, I also really hold back about my feelings about her. I mean, it's only been a month, and I'm pretty upfront about how I really like her/find her really attractive, etc., but I don't really let her see the full extent of it for fear that she'll just feel like she has me, I'm too easy, and will lose interest. I feel like the type of woman I'm attracted to (butchy, tough, charmers) is the type who really likes a chase and a challenge. I know that sounds reductionist and like an overgeneralization etc etc., but I really feel like it's true. I especially feel like I'm holding back on letting her know how much I want her sexually, like she knows I think she's super hot, but I purposefully wait for her to kiss me first, initiate sex, etc. I'm just scared of being overbearing, of scaring her away, of losing her really.

So how does one just be really respectful and genuine and vulnerable in relationships when it feels like you know that holding back and creating ambivalence would kind of solidify their interest in you? How do you just let yourself love when it feels like you date the type of person who wants to always be chasing? It's not like I want to play games forever, just long enough to cement her interest, but gawd, that's awful, of course I don't want to do that.

I'm especially interested in hearing from people for whom rejection makes the crush grow stronger, or who get turned off by a love interest coming on too strong/responding too eagerly. How can I be good to this woman and not scare her away?

Thanks :)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
None of this is crazy or evil or horrible; it is very common, even to the point of cliche, for young folks, just trying out relationships, to be more attracted to what they can't have and also to be generally kind of dysfunctional about relationship power dynamics. That you're now recognizing this as unhealthy, and recognizing your role in the unhealthiness, is both awesome and a sign of maturity.

I've had moments where I wanted to kind of express ambivalence or something just to see how she'd react, but I resisted

Awesome! The key is to keep resisting this impulse. Don't express anything you don't feel--that is your rule going forward.

So although I've resisted any kind of game playing/anxiety invoking so far, I also really hold back about my feelings about her.

THIS IS ALSO OKAY. There's a middle ground between "manipulative game playing" and "100 percent full confessional all the time." You seem to be at the appropriate place on the spectrum, because:

I mean, it's only been a month

It really ISN'T always best to be a fire hydrant of adoration and interest at this early stage.* It doesn't mean you aren't working toward intimacy, it means that intimacy is a process and both people have to earn their way through that process. In the early stages, use reticence to protect your heart, not to manipulate theirs

OK, now for the vaguely shitty part: people who only like to chase are not people that are good to date. Not even if you can "trick" them into staying around.

You are running into more of them now not because "butchy tough charmers are like that" but because "people in their 20s are mostly like that." But while that's a reason, it's not an excuse for them. They too need to mature, and recognize their role in the unhealthiness. And part of how they do that is by dating people who won't put up with their immature nonsense.

So if your initiating a kiss causes her to cool on you? She SUCKS, and you shouldn't date her anymore. And then you have to go keep finding someone to date until you find another grownup who wants to connect instead of chase.

*Yeah yeah, I know, I know, sometimes it does happen that both people are on this exact page at the same time and hooray! But it's the exception, not the rule.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:06 PM on April 7, 2014 [13 favorites]

Not only that, but it seems like if I start a relationship by being into someone and showing it, they are interested but not really committed. But if I break up with them or am otherwise non committal, and then give them another chance, then they are, like, forever enamoured with me. It feels like I have to threaten that they will lose me in order to make them appreciate me.

That's because you probably shouldn't be going out with that person, anyway. It's okay, you don't like everyone that likes you and not everyone that you like is also into you. When you find someone that's a good match for you, you don't have to deal with that bullshit.

Basically, if you don't want to play games, don't play games, and you'll find out sooner rather than later if this person is right for you, instead of find out after presenting yourself as someone you aren't for months.
posted by empath at 4:23 AM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're getting older, and as you get older a lot of people around you will get wiser. That whole "I am only into you as long as you don't love me back" thing is much more common among younger folks with less relationship experience, less confidence in their own desires and less self awareness - not because they are terrible, but because so many people (especially IMO young queer folks, says this old queer folk, what with the homophobia and all) have internalized all kinds of bad messages about love and their own desirability.

I myself am the "I only love you if you will never love me back" type, although I have worked through that now - and it's always been about fear of intimacy, fear that I myself am not lovable once you know me, fear that I will fuck up a relationship....If someone is the Great Unattainable, well, I never have to get past just wishing she would go out with me, right? And it used to make it very difficult to see past the Imaginary Unattainable Person to the actual girl and whether we'd be a good fit. In short, I think that when people have played all those bullshit "I love you now that I can't have you" games, what's really going on is that they are not able to be in an intimate relationship, and that it has very little to do with you - you're just the Beautiful Unattainable that they are using to work out their own neuroses. It's a sad pattern, but many people are able to outgrow it (just like you're outgrowing your bad pattern).
posted by Frowner at 4:51 AM on April 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

This isn't about relationships specifically, but there's a TED talk by Brene Brown that's all about vulnerability and how staying safe and in control can put us in a position of being emotionally numb, such that we can't appreciate the joy of our successes (as much as we could, if we were also willing to risk unhappiness at failure).
posted by aimedwander at 5:07 AM on April 8, 2014 [3 favorites]

You seem to be handling it fine and everyone above has very wise comments. Vulnerability can come later, and little by little, as like_a_friend said.

Interestingly, all the charming butch women I've known have been hiding true vulnerability under a tough veneer. As their straight friend, I've been their listening ear more than once about their girlfriend problems. Just give it time. You will both open up to each other. But in the beginning, a little bit of the chase is really okay.
posted by xenophile at 5:19 AM on April 8, 2014

By behaving in an Avoidant fashion, you're pressing the mental panic button of an Anxious person. The book Attached will help you find a way to be more secure in your relationships. The concept isn't without it's flaws, not least the subtle insinuation that avoidant people are somehow worse than anxious ones, but it might help you find a way to handle relationships from a secure, stable place.
posted by Solomon at 2:15 PM on April 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am not someone who gets more crushy from rejection. I am someone who seems to drive people away if I want them and be unable to get rid of them if I reject them. I am 48, so a bit older and more experienced than you. A few thoughts:

I think being too effusive can come across as desperate and needy. It can read as "emotional vampire." It can come across like "I WILL HAVE NO LIFE WITHOUT YOU." These days, I try to make sure I have a life and that I keep on keeping on even if things get in a tangle, relationship-wise.

I also try a lot harder these days to communicate that while I may have BIG FEELINGS for a person, it doesn't mean my life is empty without them or that I think this is True Love and my chance will never come again. It is nice to have big feelings for someone but I have had big feelings before and I likely will again. We can both enjoy them but, no, that does not make me your bitch and, no, that does not mean I won't walk if it gets icky in some way.

The other thing I have learned to do is to expose information about myself with kind of a zen-like attitude. I am old enough to know that whatever I think is awesome about me, someone, somewhere thinks it's awful. And whatever I think is terrible about me, someone, somewhere thinks it's a feature, not a bug. So I try to be honest about who I am without being manipulative in how I reveal info. An intimate relationship has to be based on honestly knowing each other. So I do try to be honest and I know it can get me rejected and sometimes does. But I prefer that to trying to force a situation to work when it really doesn't.

It takes time to get to know someone. Don't latch on too tightly, too soon. It's okay to be kind of ga-ga but that doesn't mean the relationship will last. It can still be a short-lived thing or whatever. So don't read too much into how much you feel. That doesn't by itself determine how successful the relationship will be.
posted by Michele in California at 3:05 PM on April 8, 2014 [6 favorites]

I agree with the other comments that most of the people who lose interest once you're honest about your interest are not people you want to date.

That said, I'm probably one of the people who are the opposite from you. Part of it is that I used to have a really hard time separating the thrill of the chase (someone might like me!) from my actual feelings about the person. So now I try to move much slower, not necessarily in terms of sex (depends on the person) but time spent together, emotional intimacy, and so on.

The other thing is, when someone is over the top with their emotions and gets very serious about a relationship in the beginning, it scares me off. Some of it's feeling like you can't possibly know me well enough at that point to feel that way about the real me, some of it's just feeling way to pressured to return the feeling, even if they don't mean it that way at all. (This might be a personal thing. My first girlfriend went really, really fast with the emotions and I ended up her main emotional support almost instantly and it scared me off.)

What is working for me is finding people that are confident in themselves, so they're both okay with showing their feelings but also independent so I don't feel like I'm the sole target for all their feelings. I think it's totally okay and it's a good thing that you want to think about this woman all the time and write poems about her and your heart races, but continue playing a middle ground where you're open about your feelings but not designing wedding invitations. (And if you want to initiate sex, go for it. If she has a problem with you initiating it, that her problem.)

If the relationship works out, eventually you can tell her all about this and it will be a cute part of your getting together story.
posted by raeka at 8:57 AM on April 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

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