Dear Neil: I am 28 years-old, and my two-year relationship with my boyfriend is the first serious relationship I have been in. Our first six months together were amazing and totally blissful. I was the first to say “I love you.” After six months, I got extremely anxious and scared because I didn’t know how I felt. I love this man, but the thought of forever freaks me out, and I don’t know why.
We have a great foundation, tons in common, same religion, families get along great, friends get along great, we have fun together and we respect each other. We are at the point where we are either going to move forward or we’re not. But I’m just not sure, and still don’t have the “feelings” I always thought I would have when I was ready to marry someone. I talk to him about everything and tell him my fears, and he is very patient with me and respects my feelings. I don’t know why I am so freaked out. I can’t imagine living without him, but I also can’t imagine living with these feelings forever. Can you help me?
Doubtful in Denver
Dear Doubtful: The first step is to figure out what you’re so afraid of.
An intimate partner can be your best friend, but he can also be the person you most fear because he has your sense of stability, well being, peace of mind, self-image and sense of future within his control.
To truly commit to another person exposes the fear that if the other person was to die or otherwise abandon us, we would feel such total rejection, and such complete loneliness and vulnerability, that we just might wither away to nothing. Another common fear of commitment involves being afraid that the other person will eventually take us over, consuming and controlling us to the point where we lose ourselves and our individual identities.
So fearful are we of either abandonment or being taken over, that we are often afraid to wholly give ourselves to another. It is safer not to. We don’t risk so much.
Also, Steven Carter and Julia Sokol, in their excellent book He’s Scared, She’s Scared (M.J.F. Books) remind us that walking along-side each of us is a dream of the ideal partner, the soul mate, the karmic connection. This is the partner we are waiting for. In our dreams, s/he is the Right One. We worry that if we settle down with someone else, we won’t be free if Mr. or Ms. Right shows up. We believe that just maybe there will be someone more attractive, more capable, more affluent or cuter out there for us.
Part of growing up means relinquishing those fantasies about the perfect partner and the perfect relationship. Also accommodating to another can produce a kind emotional claustrophobia, making us feel trapped, stuck, tied down, boxed in, restricted. Figure out the ways in which you fear being controlled by someone else.
It does seem as if you have a fairy tale image of the way things should feel—that you shouldn’t have doubts or fears, that you should be completely swept off your feet, that you shouldn’t feel discomfort or uncertainty. Examine precisely what your fears, hesitations and concerns are. Then tell your boyfriend, and see if the two of you can initiate a very honest discussion about these issues.
This is the time to learn how to address truthful emotions as they arise, which is essential because it relates to you being authentic, genuine and real with your boyfriend. Give this promising relationship an honest chance of making it. As people we have been given the ability to communicate with one another. Use that gift.