For too many years, the most frightening thing I could think of was to become emotionally intimate with a woman. Physical intimacy was never an issue because, in my mind, it had nothing to do with commitment or any other implied consequence. Not surprisingly, I was in one relationship after another. I was too blind to understand why.
When I hit my fortieth birthday, my fear that I would never be in a permanent relationship became so real that I felt compelled to dig deep and find out why I was so phobic about intimacy. All I knew for certain was that each time I became embroiled in a new relationship, I began looking for the exit sign. I was so frightened by the potential consequences of opening my heart, that I froze up and ran. I was determined to find a woman who didn’t require emotional intimacy to be in a relationship.
The bad news is that I finally found that woman. The good news is that I finally “got it” about intimacy. I met a woman who had no need for intimacy and no need for commitment either. She just wanted to have sex, hang out, and go home. We had wild, monkey sex in every room of my house. I was thrilled for a while. Then it hit me, I was starving for a woman to hold me gently and make me feel warm and fuzzy. What I was missing became palpable. It finally hit me that I couldn’t have what I needed and wanted unless I was willing to give the same in return. What I’d held back, emotional commitment, was on the table now for the first time in my life.
I told my story to my men friends, most of whom had worked through the same issue in their lives. I was afraid. Actually, I was terrified. I had grown up in a home where trust didn’t exist, and worse, whenever I tried to trust anyone in my family, I ended up hurt and disappointed. I buried the idea that I could ever trust anyone as a boy, and spent the next several decades bumping up against my fear.
One of my friends suggested that before I could ever find love, I would have to love myself. That was hard to hear, and even harder to imagine doing. I didn’t like myself all that much, let alone love myself. So I sat with the idea of self-love for a few months until it wasn’t so difficult to imagine that I was in fact loveable. I began to see my inner hero more clearly, and he wasn’t fearful of intimacy. He was my best vision of myself and I began paying attention to him.
But the hardest lesson was actually trusting a woman not to break my heart. I had tried to tell my story to a woman I’d been involved with, but instead of honoring what I’d told her about myself, she chose to use it against me in an argument. That set me back a while, but I was determined not to let one bad experience ruin my opportunities.
I began dating women who I thought were potential life partners, wives. The difference was immediately noticeable because each appreciated my willingness to open my heart and trust them. While none became the love of my life, I could feel in my heart that I was on the right path.
I finally did meet the woman I feel I was meant to be with and we married shortly after we met. That was four years ago, and while we’ve had our share of marital issues, trust has never been one of them. My wife is an authentic friend, which means that if I ask her for advice, her answer has nothing to do with what’s best for her, and everything to do with what’s best for me. Sometimes I’m amazed at how willing she is to help me even when that help works against her best interests. That’s a trusted friend in my book.
Here’s what women need to know. Men are terrified of being hurt, and making themselves vulnerable is a part of that fear. I know that women probably have the same fear, but that doesn’t seem to prevent them from being intimate. Once a man suffers the pain of a broken heart, he becomes wary of ever sticking his toe in that water again. But men can be drawn out of their emotional shells that protect them. They can become vulnerable and intimate with a woman who’s willing to understand their fear, and who will gently draw them out. Building trust takes some amount of time. If you’re willing to be patient and a good listener, your relationship will take root and grow.