My dad sexually abused me when I was a kid. And, maybe even worse, I acted as his wife during adolescence when my mom was away for long periods (his date on business dinners, housework, taking care of my younger sibling, making his drinks).
I’ve done years of therapy (over a decade), confronted him, told my extended family (years ago), and dealt with the fallout. I’ve done a shit ton of work. Now I enjoy my work, my friends, my family that I kept, but long-term romantic relationships have eluded me in the years since I dealt with the abuse.
I can fuck people (and I do enjoy sex and it feels like mine now) and there have been times when this felt fun and free, but I’m starting to really want a relationship and finding just sex to be empty. But, I can’t seem to make it work.
It’s nothing dramatic, just one mundane mismatch after another – I’m not attracted to him, he’s not attracted to me, he just wants something casual (this comes up a lot), etc. But I can’t help returning to the thought that I’m doing it wrong, especially since I’ve been dating for about 3 years now with nothing that lasted longer than 5-6 dates.
I suspect that I might be too protective of myself, that I don’t reveal who I really am, so people can’t really get a sense of me. And that I am looking for what’s wrong with people, instead of thinking the best until proved wrong. I can definitely be hesitant to express my positive feelings to men, especially without knowing they feel the same way.
I don’t have an exact question, but am wondering what you think.
You’re not doing it wrong. You’re fine. Normal, actually. You’ve just got one thing left to do, and it may require a little more therapy. (Not the heavy stuff. Don’t worry.)
I’m thinking you know yourself pretty damn well, which means your self-assessment is accurate. You’re too protective of yourself. You’ve got your guard up, and you don’t know when or how to let it down. So, how do you learn? What skills do you need? What’s the solution to your problem? In a word, vulnerability.
You don’t know how to be vulnerable in a romantic relationship. It’s too great a risk for you. You can handle five or six dates worth of emotional investment and intimacy, but you’re not willing to take it any further. You don’t reveal who you really are, because you don’t want people to get a sense of you. It’s all very deliberate.
Why is that, do you think? Could it be because falling in love makes you vulnerable to betrayal? Could it be because you’re simply not willing to put yourself in a position where you could be betrayed by a man that you love? I totally understand why that kind of thing would be too great a risk for you.
Your entire life has been defined by a betrayal of such magnitude that I can barely imagine how you’ve managed to recover. Still, you have, and I’m super impressed with how well you’ve got your shit together. Like I said before, you’ve really only got this one thing left to do, and that’s to embrace some vulnerability.
In order for you to have a long-term relationship, you are going to have to put yourself in a position where you could be betrayed by a man that you love. You are going to have to be vulnerable, and you’re going to have to reveal who you really are. There is no way around it. (The inevitability of it is why I suggest you walk this path with a therapist. You’ll need someone to hold your hand a little. Again, nothing too heavy, but you shouldn’t have to do this kind of thing by yourself.)
Learn how to be vulnerable in a romantic relationship, even though it means risking betrayal. Of course, be picky. Choose your partner wisely, but when you do, put yourself out there. Reveal who your really are. You might get hurt, but it’s the only way a long-term relationship will ever work.