The fine line between vulnerability and neediness

At the age 31 I have no idea what a healthy relationship looks like. I mean there is another drawback for having chased after unavailable guys, besides the obvious ones. See the problem is that I have very little experience in being present in the relationship where we were both open and vulnerable. I mean the whole idea of chasing unavailable guys is that you will not get hurt because the disappointment is kind of coded into the future anyways. So now that I am actually opening myself up to guys who are not obviously unavailable I risk with truly getting hurt. And let me tell you, I have little idea on how to handle these emotions of vulnerability and hurt that come with truly being present with someone.

Since I have no experience I tend to verge between two extremes, either be truly submissive and accepting of shitty behavior or being truly closed off and distant. It is really complicated to hit the middle gear, simply because the whole experience is so new for me.

I am also noticing that I am dealing with the emotions of yearning and longing for someone and I have no good idea on how to manage this either. I mean, I know one should not act needy etc., but I have no idea on when is one acting needy and when is one just vulnerable and open. How should you respond when your love interest is withdrawing – did you somehow act overly distant and drove them away with your wish not to appear needy or are they just in need of space? Am I being needy when I go after them and tell them that I miss them or am I just showing natural vulnerability and interest? Is my judgement on them being less invested than me fair or is my fear of being vulnerable clouding my judgement? I mean there are tons of questions which I now seem to have in connection to this fine line between neediness and vulnerability. I have no idea what is right and wrong and it is not like someone has enough patience to start educating me from the ground up at my age. So I know I need to somehow learn this, but how……well this remains to be seen.

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Hot and cold guys

My relationship with my ex has been potentially one of the longest that you can have with someone who blows hot and cold. It started as a mutual dynamic, taken that I was unable to sustain intimacy of any amount of time. My ex still likes to claim that he does not run hot and cold, he is just reacting on my behaviors. Now, I am finally realizing that this is not true.

 
How? See I met another guy and I am noticing very similar habits and patterns as with my ex in the beginning of our relationship. So, lets call the new guy Tom. Tom is acting all flirty with me and trying to smooth talk me. Now, I am usually not very quick to fall so Tom is doing the smooth talking, emotional supporting etc for months. Finally, I start developing certain feelings about Tom as well. So I become more available and open and what do I see, suddenly Tom is distancing himself. He does this once, twice and the third time. At the point when he does it for the third time I am finally starting to think. So here is what I figured out.

 
The pattern with these guys is awfully similar, it is almost like you were dating the same guy all over again. They like to draw you in with emotional conversations – deep stuff, not some trivial compliments. They let you know they like you and you start becoming more smitten. When they notice that you are becoming smitten, they suddenly distance themselves. They stop being available. The usual dynamic which I followed with my ex was to call him myself, to chase him to a degree. Well, with Tom, I have not been doing this. Instead I become distant and cold myself which initiates another reaction – him question me about my distance and rejection issues. Let me tell you, it is so easy to fall for such things. You really start thinking – maybe I am mistreating poor guy. Maybe I, indeed, have strong rejection issues. It took three times of him distancing himself for me to understand that actually, no, I do not have rejection issues, but rather it is difficult to be consistently open and vulnerable with someone who acts all wishy washy.
I have to be grateful for Tom, I never fully realized my exes patterns in the relationship. Thanks to Tom, however, I am becoming clearer and clearer as to how my ex treated me for years, acting all warm and loving at one moment and then distancing himself, making me think that it was something about my behavior which made him do that. Hell, he was actually telling me constantly how it was about me and how he was just reacting.

 
Now, more interesting question is however, why do I keep falling for these on and off guys? What is it in me that finds them attractive? This is something to explore further through this blog.

Embracing who you are

I am not a very average person. My weirdness or specialness goes to the extent which motivated my ex to tell me that he has never met anyone like me or even comparable to me. Part of my recent struggle has been to accept and embrace this individuality.

 
See my whole life I have heard everyone scolding me. No, it was not only my mother who clearly wanted me to be more practical and organized, but it was also teachers, friends and what nots. One of my friends for instance recently criticized me for prioritizing talking in a relationship, I think her exact words were something like – “Guys do not want to talk, you should just accept this, you are living in a dream”. My ex, whereas he noticed my being different from everybody else somehow also wanted me to be more like him – more logical and fact oriented namely.

 
When you are raised with such continuing criticisms, it is easy to feel that something is wrong with you. In fact this is how I have felt my whole life. I have spent years trying to deny and change who I am with varying degrees of success. I still struggle acknowledging that I, in fact, am dreamy, unpractical, a bit messy and unorganized and all the other things which our society seems to condemn.

 
It pains me to acknowledge that some of my closest people, while obviously finding something in my company which they liked, also spent considerable amount of time trying to change and retrain me. I am starting to realize that I have looked for understanding and support my whole life. I have been looking for someone that would see more in me than just this broken thing which needs to be somehow fixed.

 
Last year, whereas painfully difficult, has luckily sent me also some people who were able to see the gifts I have before I was actually becoming aware of those. Chase, in particular was someone who saw something in me, something more than I ever did. His belief in me started this process of changing. Jenny, one of my recent friends, has been another one to believe in me.

 
I cannot believe that it has taken me years to actually find people who do not need me to be different, but can see me for who I am and value this. Now I just need to learn to do this myself to a similar degree as well.

Rejection fear and social anxiety

I am currently working on something in my therapy which I for a long time refused to admit I have – namely social anxiety. See, my ex Marc pointed this out on regular instances that I have issues with small talk, networking, being social. I did not want to believe this, because before I actually left for my new country of residence, I had plenty of friends and acquaintances. Hell, even today when I can actually force myself to go out, people like me. I am funny and charming. However, every time I need to go out on an event where I do not know people or where I have not met those people for a while, I first need to have huge fights with myself.

So what are these fights about? I am afraid that people will judge me. There is always something which I think is substandard, so I get myself worked out about this perceived misgiving of mine and there we go. When I actually enter the event, all I can think of is how everybody will now be able to see this misgiving and how soon enough they will laugh and I am forced to hide in the toilet. There are just way too many social events from my childhood that ended exactly like this…

On side of this fear is hence me imagining that other people will always find me weird, out of the place; they will find something wrong about me and will relentlessly bully me because of this. The other side is that I am afraid I will have no possibility to leave. I have tried to avoid the events which tie me to the place my whole life. I need to have the idea that I can actually leave.

Interestingly my social anxiety has really skyrocketed during last years. I am not quite sure why that is, there could be numerous reasons, starting with the fact that I have had very few social events during the last years and ending with the fact that my ex has done quite a bit to increase my social anxiety by pointing out all the ways I misbehave. The explanation that I secretly hope could be used is however that this fear is now finally swimming to the surface and I am able to deal with it. It was not like it was not there before, it was just that I was constantly pressing it down. What I am hoping is that with some work I can finally say in half a year or so, feel that I can enter to the random social occasion and just feel good and not have to worry about what other people think of me.

Being cherished by someone

It is funny, because I am finally starting to understand the concept of a therapeatic relationship. The idea of therapist is not to point out your flaws, the idea of therapist is to offer you the kind of support and understanding you never received in your life due to your life circumstances. It is this kind of relationship, for many the first supportive relationship, which is going to make a difference.

This deep understanding came with digesting through my experience with Chase and his death. From what I have now found out about him, Chase cherished me. He put me into pjedestal. I am shocked. Nobody has ever done this.

It feels weird, because this kind of relationship and the existance of it seems unreal to me. I am starting to understand that what I have experienced with my current boyfriend and thought was a supportive relationship, was nothing more than my boyfriend pointing out my mistakes and then holding me hostage for those mistakes. All these years, I have been so grateful for him being so accepting and sticking with me despite my various shortcomings. I really thought that well, actually I did not deserve to be loved and cherished.

My shock about Chase shows that, I do not fully believe this yet. However, I am starting to see that my boyfriends behavior is not right. One should not feel in the relationship as if one is just being mercifully tolerated. I have spent years trying to address my various misgivings in therapy with my boyfriend coming up with new and new ones. I was even grateful for him for seeing all my issues and helping me to find those. However, now I see, that a truly supportive partner would have perhaps helped me finding these issues, but also never made me feel as if I was somehow defective and unlovable.

The experience with Chase has shown me how there is a different kind of love. The kind of love that is not merely grudingly accepting, but rather supportive and forgiving. This is the kind of love I want to experience in my life.

The feeling that I do not matter

I have been exploring a little bit more on my recent demotivation. Nothing seemed to be quite worthwhile pursuing. I have not been disinterested or low on motivation for quite a while, ever since basic school I would say, so there was a definite need to explore further these feelings.

So what I have discovered is that my core issue (because I believe everyone has one core trauma) might be that I felt I never mattered. I was not important. My thoughts were not important, my feelings were not important. I am still exploring this, so I cannot provide very elaborate discussions on as to why I felt that way.

However I can talk about compensation strategies which I have used over the years in order to escape this feeling. Mostly I have tried to compensate through achievements and through making myself socially more acceptable, more desirable. I have sought attention and desiring eyes. I have sought after people who would care about me, extensively. At the level which is probably over the top for any grownup relationship.

My feelings of insignificance have on the other hand also led other people to disregard me. To abuse and use me both in private and work situations. Let me tell you, if you do not believe you matter, others pick up on that pretty quickly as well. So this will be one of my major challenges still ahead.

Attracting people with a fake personality

So, this is the topic that I am still exploring about myself, hence my thoughts might not be completely clear at this point.

Lets start by saying that I find myself disconnected from a lot of my earlier friends. Why? Because I am starting suspect that there was never an authentic connection there. There was a connection built on me playing the role of achiever and successful person and never actually showing everything that was behind this mask. Unfortunately once people who mostly hanged out with an achiever type of personality find out how broken you are, there is very little common left.

I have tried to force relationships based on false grounds my whole life. I never thought my real self (whatever that is) was good enough. I am still exploring where this feeling came from, but it probably had a lot to do with my mother’s constant criticism and bullying. The fact is, I never dared to tell anyone how afraid of social crowds I was, or how I was depressed on a regular basis wondering why no one loved me. I thought – who would like such a person?

I still struggle showing my face to the world. Most of the time I do not. I cover it up, I try to look more successful etc. What would I say? Hey, I feel like I have faked my whole life, but here is the secret truth about how I am really feeling about myself and my life? This is a real challenge for me. See I know I cannot continue pretending and hope that I will bond with people I actually like and who I actually care about me, but I also do not want to degrade myself.

Here comes another unfortunate aspect of my rejection issues. People, who actually do know me and like me seem to not be the kind of people I want to associate myself with. All I can see is their low self-esteem and their issues and my own reflection in them scares me to the core. See the problem, I guess is, I do not want to be me. My long standing rejection from both my parents and the world has led me to want to be someone else. Which I was for many years. But it hardly led anywhere but this feeling of disconnect and misery, as I was not really accepted nor loved for who I was.

So as you can see, I am still struggling.

Escaping from rejection

I am starting to realize how I have spent my life running away from rejection. Yes, I have also pushed myself to ignore my rejection issues by going to social events which really scared me. However, I have also kept myself and invested in self-development as if finally becoming good enough would take away my fear. If only I became more beautiful, more sociable etc., I would not have this incapacitating fear anymore.

I have kid myself many years that me living abroad is a problem. Yes, it is indeed a problem, but this also allowed me to ignore the fact that even when I lived in my home country, I lived in constant fear. I felt constantly pushed to impress everybody and to perform, so that nobody could potentially point a finger to me. I hoped that once my life was perfect or at least once I will land a perfect boyfriend, this fear will go away. The truth is, no boyfriend and no amount of success could ever take the fear away.

As I started peeling off the layers (in therapy), I stopped performing, but the fear was and still is there. So instead of meeting people and performing perfection to them, I am currently at the phase of avoiding them, in the fear of becoming a subject of criticism. I am sincerely hoping that I can soon leave behind my fear of rejection. However it has been shocking to discover how big of a role it has played for me so far.

Dependency and independency needs

As I deal with my own commitment issues, I have found the idea of dependency vs independency in relationships to be very useful. Dependency indicates to your need for care-taking, support and wish to rely on someone; whereas independency refers to the wish to define your own being and identity.

In the past I have struggled with my need for independency. Before my therapy and even during the first years of my therapy, I had the idea that I will have to submit myself totally to what other person wants me to be. I was keen on fulfilling their every expectation, but also never understood why the idea of living together with someone made me crawl inside. Now, of course, it is understandable that if living together equals you never being able to say no or having the will of your own it will become captivating pretty quickly.

As I worked through my issues with independency and setting borders, for some time I became the opposite. As much as I had avoided enforcing my borders earlier, I now started saying no to everything. This was a necessary step and I think I am slowly coming out of this phase as well.

Now the other issue is dependency needs. I started of being extremely dependent on my boyfriend. I really struggled with individual emotional management and always relied on him to take care for my emotional needs. Him leaving for trips or whatnot was always extremely hard for me, because suddenly there was no one to take care for me.

So now, interestingly, I think I have moved to the other extreme with my dependency needs as well. Namely, I am trying to cut them down radically, distancing myself from my partner. It suddenly feels unsafe for me to rely on someone else, because they might go away. I am starting to understand how I have always found it troubling to rely on someone else, but previously was just so unable to take care for my own needs that, I felt I had no choice. I am still working on get a grip on my dependency needs and finding a healthy balance there.

Shift away from the question – does he want to marry me to do I want to marry him

I think I am not exaggerating much when I say that women are taught to be obsessed about male approval. I mean, look at the journals – seven ways to cook delicious dinner for your boyfriend, sex tricks to keep him hooked etc etc. I wonder when we will see the day that one male magazine will start talking about how to impress women with seven course dinner or at least recommendations on which kind of restaurant to take the wife. One could argue that men impress women differently, through making money etc etc, but I would still assert that there is so much stress around will he like me and nearly not enough stress on will she like me.

I read relationship blogs for fun. I like to analyze people and forums are the perfect place for this. Once in a while you get a woman asking questions like – my man cheated on me with another woman and now he cannot make up his mind as to with whom he wants to be, what can I do to make him stay? Again, at this point alarm bells should start ringing, because the real question should be, what can and should he do. By rewarding his bad behavior – cheating, you are just going to send out the message, that this is a good strategy to get you working harder.

This all is of course very personal, because I have dedicated my life to being liked by guys. My own relationship has not moved much during the last couple of years and we have had many heated discussions on family and kids. All this time I was trying to figure out how to make him commit, but to be honest, that was the wrong question to begin with. The real question is, do I want to commit to him. Is he measuring up to my standards?

Now this is a question which presumes that you do not have strong abandonment issues. My abandonment issues made it impossible for me to ask this sooner. They also made sure that my boyfriend felt like he was in total control because I would never leave him. I am currently working on my abandonment issues and to be honest as a result I understand how tired I am. I am so tired of guys who cannot make up their mind and drag the relationship on and on. I am so tired of guys who assume that of course it is woman’s dream to have a family and marriage and hence it is the woman who needs to impress him and sell him this idea. I guess I am in general tired of convincing someone of anything. In the end if the commitment is so difficult to make for one side, what is the value or the point?