Distant Intimacy

Choosing “Safe” People

“I was raised in a very “dysfunctional” family,” writes Lisa F. of Denver. “My parents divorced when I was very young. My father was absent for most of my childhood, except for brief visits once a year. My mother worked long hours to provide for us, and we moved in excess of fifteen times.

“I have always felt very neglected by my parents, and very angry for what has happened to me in my life. I have not spoken to my father in four years, because I finally got fed up with the pain that his neglect, irresponsibility and broken promises have brought me. My current step-father (of 10 years) is very distant and “business-like” with me.

“I am twenty-four, and I am not sure how to get over what happened to me as a child; the pain I have felt, as well as the anger I feel now. It is very difficult to get beyond it all. My mother, to this day, is “too busy” for me, and I feel as though my needing her is a burden to her. I am afraid to let my father back in my life, because I don’t believe I can depend on him.

“I find myself in a pattern of pushing away anyone who hurts me. I have become very afraid to let anyone get close to me, especially men. What can I do to get over what happened in the past?”

Our pasts may have happened a long time ago, but they frequently have control over our lives in the present. Put another way, we seem to always find ways of recreating our pasts in our current intimate relationships.

If you grew up with the experience that people who love you, ignore, misuse or abuse you, you learned that love hurts. Thus, in your adult intimate relationships, you’re going to be afraid to love, fearful of getting close to anyone else, and scared of allowing anyone to get very close to you. You’re going to be more comfortable having “distant intimacy,” because it is so much safer.

How safe was it to trust when you were little? If you learned that trust meant getting hurt, of course you’re going to have a hard time opening up to someone in a relationship now, so you will likely wind up getting involved with someone “safe.”

“Safe” people are those who are emotionally (and sometimes physically) absent. They may be workaholics who never have much time for you, or people who are addicted to some substance like alcohol or drugs. They will likely be people who won’t or can’t commit, and don’t usually have a lot to offer personally.

People already married or taken are “safe,” as are people grieving the loss of a previous relationship. People who are so cognitive that they keep things on an intellectual level, rather than on an emotional or personal level are “safe,” and so are people who ignore you and don’t act as if they value you.

If you haven’t dealt with your issues from your childhood, you will have large obstacles in your way of being close to someone in the present. You may desire more love, but if your are too armored, careful or mistrusting, you will have a hard time loving. And if you choose someone too “safe,” you’re likely not going to feel very

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