Dear Neil: I feel as if my whole life has been ruined because I was gang raped as a teenager. I have never received counseling for this, and I have never confided in anyone about it. Now at 35, I go to extraordinary lengths to place obstacles in the way—and run away from—anyone who shows an interest in me. I keep men remote, although deep down what I want most is a relationship. I just can’t trust. Can you help me?
Somewhere In New Zealand
Dear Somewhere: There are a variety of things that you can do, but all of them are going to require that you have a willingness to let go of your past hurt and pain, open up to men again, and be willing to be vulnerable to someone.
You’ll give yourself opportunities to trust men by increasing your exposure to them. Join groups, clubs, organizations and take classes that provide an opportunity for men and women to be paired together, and ask for friends to introduce you to available men.
Trust is developed by giving someone a honest chance to be close to you, and then determining whether he indeed behaves in a reliable and trustworthy manner. This is going to require considerable emotional risk for you, so make sure you take every precaution to keep yourself physically safe.
The old adage about if you risk nothing you’ll gain nothing is true in your case. You have to be willing to let men emotionally in. Perhaps this would be a good time for you to seek therapy and to talk about your fears. You could use a good ally.
Dear Neil: Thirty-five years ago, my wife walked out on me and took the children, the money and the furniture. I have been on my own for the past 30 years and have never looked at another woman since. However, five years ago I met an attractive woman whom I came to grow very fond of. I was somewhat skeptical of women, and I treated her like a brother.
Well, my strong affection has blossomed into love. However, lately another man has written her a love letter. So, I decided to act and wrote to her saying that I loved her. Her response was that she was not ready for another romance. I do not want to lose her by over-stepping the mark. So do I lay low or act now?
Christchurch, New Zealand
Dear Christchurch: It is impossible for me to judge whether the woman you speak about is really not ready for another romantic relationship, or if she is just being polite so you don’t get your feelings hurt.
You are not in danger of over-stepping the mark. But you are in serious danger of under- stepping the mark by being too cautious and careful, and therefore not being romantically bold enough. Also, most women wish to be treated as women, not brothers.
Increase your romantic attention toward her (inviting her to dinner, the movies, a walk, etc.). Don’t pressure her to get serious, but keep asking her out and act romantic and loving. If she doesn’t warm up to you then, she’s not interested in having a romantic relationship with you. If you’re now ready for the possibility of an intimate relationship, and if this woman doesn’t respond, keep on looking. Eventually you will find someone who will respond.