How to let my defenses down?
November 11, 2016 3:08 AM   Subscribe

I am 48. I had avoided relationships and women generally for several years after a long-term GF cheated on me. I was also emotionally abused for years by my mother, smothered and forced to be her confidant and emotional support even though I was a child.

After my mom died, I decided I was going to live life again, having just seen death. I read a book, No More Mr. Nice Guy and it really helped. I also read some seduction stuff which was generally not helpful, as it is just not me. I also read books on body language.

I also started working out and lost a ton of weight. My life changed seemingly overnight--before only a few women paid attention to me--now women were coming up to me. I got confident with women and they responded.

My problem is my defenses. First, I have been shocked by the number of people in relationships who cross lines and do things that would anger their partners. Sometimes these people will blatantly announce they are married when they approach me. This triggers a defensive and angry response in me. I end up moping for days and I avoid women and do not follow up on texting for dates. It also makes it harder for me to express sexual interest and start kissing and the like.

I have a great therapist, but I don't share enough with friends, so I thought I would ask the hive mind if they have ever had issues like this and how they dealt with it.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
You call your anger "defensive." It's the subsequent withdrawal that's defensive, though understandable with your history of betrayal. Though it's true that some women may betray their partners, it doesn't mean that they all will. You already know that but don't want to take the risk. "Let your defenses down" implies a willingness to take that risk, and it is an actual risk. You may be betrayed again, but you also may not. What's more, women may not know that you won't betray them. Relationships are scary that way, but they can work.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:36 AM on November 11, 2016


Somehow I sense an undercurrent in your question that you are afraid that all women are like the women you describe, overbearing and cheating. (I might be wrong though, so in that case, disregard my advice.) Remember that all women are individuals. Not all women are like this and men can cheat and be overbearing too. These are not characteristics inherent to only one gender, nor is it the case that they are more prevalent in one of these genders. I understand it can be very hard, cause there is no way of proving that a potential partner is not a cheater: until they actually cheat, in your mind, they will always be a potential cheater, but they just didn't do it yet, or you haven't found out yet. The only way to deal with this is to trust, let your defenses down and take the risk. Yes, it is very scary, but you can understand that even with a 'good' partner, this fear will poison every relationship, right?

It is a cliche, love is a numbers game and you will have to kiss a lot of frogs to find your princess. By closing yourself off because of bad experiences you gain nothing.
posted by leopard-skin pill-box hat at 5:50 AM on November 11, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think this would be easier for you if gou can start to be vulnerable and open up with your friends. Sharing in a less intense relationship is like a good start, and may help you safer in romantic relationships.
posted by Kalmya at 6:48 AM on November 11, 2016 [5 favorites]


Your experience sounds strangely like how it feels to be female for me and a lot of people I know. I wonder if that might be because you've made yourself physically attractive (congratulations on getting well and in shape!), and that these women are basically objectifying you? Women tend to get objectified a LOT whether we're "conventionally" attractive or not, because patriarchy says that we are literally just objects/property, so I think I kind of know how you feel.

So basically, I'm sorry you're getting this, and it's not ok. People shouldn't just approach someone for sex or funtimes as if they're entitled to that person's time and attention. If you must do it, you have to do it carefully and sensitively. Perhaps they're trying to do that by being out in the open about their relationship status, but it sounds like they might have been doing a poor job.

But don't be disheartened or feel like you have to close up. Feel free to just walk away from approaches like these, and save your time for people who want to get to know you, and be friends with you, as well as get in your pants. When you meet someone who does this, you can absolutely take as much time as you want to get to the "kissing and the like" because they will be patient and listen to you, by which I mean listen to what you tell them in words and body language and all the other languages.

And if you still feel disheartened, consider talking to women about their experiences of feeling this way. Honestly, there have been times where I've considered wiping men completely off my "to date" list because some of them are SO AWFUL in this situation. But you can't judge all of them by the actions of just some, and I think a lot of my sisters have had to fight through the feelings you're coming up against now.

Best of luck to you, don't lose heart!
posted by greenish at 6:52 AM on November 11, 2016 [10 favorites]


While I don't share the exact same background, I, too, have boundary and defensiveness issues due to things in my past and have had to work hard at it. I'm not sure I'm qualified to give much advice given that, but, shockingly this article from The Date Report has helped me more than pretty much anything else I've found on the web and helped me not jump ship on my current relationship, so I am sharing in case you relate to any of it as well.

http://www.thedatereport.com/dating/being-single/relationship
posted by dubhemerak3000 at 7:04 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


PS: second the comment on kissing a lot of frogs. You wouldn't believe how nuts some of the people I've been on dates with turned out to be (well, actually, sounds like you would). But when you find a good person, someone who seems like they are worthwhile of attempt to have long term relationship, it will be so very refreshing--and, I promise, good people are out there with whom you will want to try relationships. Hang in there.
posted by dubhemerak3000 at 7:08 AM on November 11, 2016


My problem is my defenses. First, I have been shocked by the number of people in relationships who cross lines and do things that would anger their partners. Sometimes these people will blatantly announce they are married when they approach me. This triggers a defensive and angry response in me. I end up moping for days and I avoid women and do not follow up on texting for dates. It also makes it harder for me to express sexual interest and start kissing and the like.

I can only speak for myself, but in my world, anyone who is married and is approaching someone who is single in a dating/demonstratively sexual way is exhibiting shitty behavior. So, for you to be angry at this is entirely appropriate. Not defensive. I would need to take some time to regroup from that too. So don't beat yourself up about feeling irritated about that situation.

Maybe spending more time establishing friendships with women before having sexytimes might be helpful. Because then you can get to know how someone rolls before dating or relationships come into the picture. You might find that someone that you wouldn't ordinarily be interested in initially really turns out to be a great gal.

And along your dating journey, remember, if your gut is telling you that something just ain't right, even if you can't put your finger on it, go ahead and walk away. Your intuition will most likely serve you well.

Your hard work will pay off. Good luck!
posted by strelitzia at 10:37 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


You may find yourself most comfortable dating (or at least talking to) someone who has been cheated on, and devastated by that, so that you're fairly confident that she can understand your pain and fear, and also that she wouldn't do that to you knowing how bloody awful it is.

You may also feel better about being outspoken to people who blatantly tell you they're cheating. And the victims of their cheating will likely feel better if they ever find out that their wives were cheating, and that someone stood against that. My husband betrayed me, badly, and the people I most appreciate are the ones who called him on it to his face. Those who just looked past his hurtful behavior have my utter disdain. You can perhaps help yourself by providing this kind of help to others. This sort of pro-active reaction is going to feel better for you than moping for days.

And finally, remember that if you ghost another woman because you're angry about a different woman attempting to cheat on her husband, the ghosted woman will feel at least slightly betrayed. Don't let the cheater cause you to hurt someone else.
posted by Capri at 12:51 PM on November 11, 2016


Why not use this as an opportunity to refine/recalibrate your defenses? Try using mindfulness to observe your defenses as they arise, and speak consciously to them/yourself as to whether they're reacting to a situation from your past vs a real threat in your present. Sometimes it may be one, the other, or even both.

As some people have suggested, sometimes you are actually receiving rude and inappropriate advances. In those situations, it is appropriate and healthy to have a 'defensive' reaction to that. In those moments I'd suggest validating to yourself that you are seeing the unwanted behavior for what it is, and yes it possibly aligns with some previous experience of similar unwanted behavior. Other times you might find yourself noticing unwanted behavior that is actually a *novel* threat to your internal system, in which case affirm to yourself that even though this doesn't resemble any situation from your past, you are certain there is a threat in the behavior presented here. There will probably also be times when a present situation is reminding you of a past experience, even though there is no threat in the present situation. That will be trickiest to navigate, but if you can observe to yourself what is happening for you -- what is your experience of this particular situation -- the more likely you will be able to work through it in a positive way. Let it be okay if a present situation is not feasible because it's simply generating too much internal static.

I think it's really easy, after some negative experiences in relationships and intimacy, to over-assume all your defenses and responses have been permanently altered/damaged. Cultivating a conscious mindful dialogue as you move forward into unfamiliar territory may really help you to gain confidence in your original instincts (i.e. those instincts you had to suppress due to parental interference/emotional abuse). Yes there is certainly risk involved, so do tread carefully. Actively differentiate the jerks from the non-jerks (i.e. probably some of the women you end up not following up with). Do listen to your gut responses, and recognize those reactive sensations as they arise. Sometimes they will arise appropriately, and sometimes in reaction to a past situation. Either way, validate yourself especially for having good instincts, and especially for reacting appropriately to those specific (married, shameless jerky) individuals who approach you with blatant disrespect. Help yourself best by internally guiding yourself along, and do it pro-actively because you already know you did not get enough validation for exhibiting good instincts while you were growing up. I think if you keep working at this, you will find that something great you're intuitively searching for. Good luck!
posted by human ecologist at 12:54 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]


From the OP:
Your experience sounds strangely like how it feels to be female for me and a lot of people I know. I wonder if that might be because you've made yourself physically attractive (congratulations on getting well and in shape!), and that these women are basically objectifying you?

Yes, I am being objectified a lot. It creates a lot of pressure because I am approached agressively a lot. It would appear under that fat was an attractive face. I have been catcalled a bunch and I have had feels copped on me a lot. I usually get two feelings, one liking it, followed by feeling uneasy with it. One woman pretended to stumble so she could run her hands up and down my arms. Its definitely not cool. Total strangers call me handsome on the street which is weirdly not cool. I am also feeling a lot of pressure because these women are usually quite attractive and I fear I will lose control and have a hard time getting out of situations because I would be more attached.

A lot of this is me not being used to being attractive. I never, ever thought this would happen to me and I don't know what it would be like to date these women, they are very attractive.

So I think these comments have been very helpful and human ecologist's mindful approach is one of the things I will try.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 4:48 PM on November 11, 2016


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