After two failed engagements, one man despairs of losing his current love because he can’t open up.
Dear Dr. Gilda,
I often read your advice and you always seem dead-on, but I am different from all the others I have ever read about, and I need a different kind of help. I have never talked to a therapist before. I am shut off from the world when it comes to talking about feelings and emotions. I have never pursued any woman. I’ve always waited for someone to find me, and then once it happened, I’d act upon it and a relationship would form. I’m not shy; I’m just not a hunter. I’ve been engaged twice, but both relationships failed once the women started to get to know me and realized I am empty. Things in my past from when I was a child have shut me off emotionally, and I don’t feel emotions. I am very fond of the woman I’m now dating, but I feel I’m losing her because I won’t or can’t open up to her; I don’t know how. She always wants to talk about how I’m feeling. I care for this woman, and I don’t want to lose her, but I wonder if that’s just because I want someone to be there for me. Please help!
— Lost in Translation
My dear, dear man! If you were to meet someone who described herself as “empty,” would you be interested in getting to know her? The word empty connotes lifelessness. Is that how you really consider yourself?
For starters, do some major introspection and determine why you assess yourself this way. Just because you don’t choose to discuss your feelings doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Three statements you made revealed some clues that you actually DO have feelings and emotions:
1. “Things in my past from when I was a child have shut me off emotionally.”
Anyone who has been hurt in the past DOES INDEED feel.
2. “I care for this woman, and don’t want to lose her.”
Caring about someone is a feeling.
3. “…I wonder if it’s because I just want someone to be there for me.”
Wanting someone to be there for you is a lovely and healthy feeling.
The first thing for you to do is to define your childhood hurts. Write them down, and then think about how they affected you. If you have a blockage
regarding them, get some professional help so you do not take this journey alone.
The next thing to do is to determine what kind of payoffs you’re getting from continuing to declare yourself “empty.” As ironic as it may seem, every behavior we assume has a payoff; otherwise we would not be continuing it. What benefits are you deriving from your “empty” title? At face value, you might not want to admit there’s any benefit to putting yourself down. But you might be surprised to learn that perhaps you’re actually enjoying your role as a victim of your past hurts so others can take the lead role in your relationships. Explore this with a therapist who will perceive more than you can since you’re so close to the situation. No matter how you process this information, as long as these blocks continue, THEY will function as your true love, rather than the woman you don’t want to lose!
While you declare you’re not a hunter, a little indication that you’re interested in your lady would make her feel that her investment of feelings toward you is not going to waste. Obviously, you fear this kind of emotional honesty. Why? Undoubtedly, this has something to do with your past. Explore with your counselor why your former fiancées chose to leave. Just stating that it was because they discovered that you’re “empty” does not get at the heart of your issue.
The reason you emailed me is that you DO feel deeply and you finally want to tear down your walls. This is great news. The greatest payoff of all for you will be that, with your new self-confidence, your woman will certainly want to remain with you. As my Gilda-Gram says, “Nothing is more attractive than a partner who is sure of himself.” But you will have to feel it within yourself before you are able to communicate it.
Relationship expert Dr. Gilda Carle, (Ph.D.) has a private practice and is an associate professor at Mercy College in New York. Her best-selling books include 99 Prescriptions for Fidelity and How to Win When Your Mate Cheats. Please visit www.DrGilda.com for more information.