Ambivalence: The Hamlet Syndrome

Dear Neil:  I’m hoping you can help me figure out what I’m doing wrong in my romantic relationships.

I meet a nice man, we date several times, he starts to make intimations of getting closer, and I freak out and end our relationship.  I then meet another man.  We date a few times, I find myself increasingly attracted to him—but I wind up picking a fight and then dumping him.  I meet a third man.  We date for awhile.  He is very interested in me and starts getting emotionally involved—and I freak and run away again.

But I really do want a relationship with a man.  I fantasize about it all the time—and I’m always talking with my friends about men.

Why am I running away from a relationship I would actually like to have, and what can I do to change this behavior?

Running Away in Stonington, Connecticut

Dear Running Away:  It sounds as if you have a bad case of the Hamlet Syndrome.  You’re mired in ambivalence and indecision, just like Hamlet was in his famous “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy.  You want a relationship, but on the other hand you don’t want a relationship, and you’re too frightened to let someone get close to you.

This ambivalence and fear is likely rooted in your childhood past—and is related to how well you could trust and rely on your parents or (adult caregivers), and how safe and protected you felt in their presence.  Either that, or you haven’t gotten over and truly let go of your last important relationship—and you’re therefore still emotionally attached to your previous intimate partner—even if that relationship ended a long time ago.

You’re acting ambivalent and hard to get close to because you’re protecting yourself from getting hurt.  But as I’ve said in the past, there’s no joy in being so emotionally held back, and in the end you risk becoming jaded, bitter and cynical—and having tons of regrets—for not allowing yourself to truly have what your heart and spirit craves.

So what do you do?  First, openly explore what your fears are about being in a relationship.  Be very specific about what you’re trying to avoid or protect yourself from.  Do you have a fear of making a mistake?  Repeating a mistake?  Feeling trapped?  Losing your freedom?

Second, look at relationship patterns about controlling and/or being controlled.  Do you have huge fears of being controlled by someone else, and therefore you feel a strong need to be in control yourself?

Third, answer the question:  “I’m afraid I won’t be able to cope with…”

Fourth, when you’re in a relationship, confront and address conflicts, issues and problems  as they arise, rather than bolting for the door and leaving the relationship when conflicts surface.  Do the same whenever your fears get triggered.

Fifth, thoroughly explore your fears about not being good enough or not measuring up.

Sixth, examine your fears of rejection and disapproval.

Take a time out from dating for awhile—say, six months—so you can examine the fears that are getting generated, and that are causing you to turn men away.  The timeout will assist you in regenerating your heart and spirit, and hopefully re-energize your dreams about what kind of intimate relationship you’re trying to have. 

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