Friday 22 September 2017

Dear Patricia: Do my sexual flings mean I'm scared of commitment?

Patricia Redlich

I have a weird relationship issue. In a nutshell, I had my first boyfriend at 15, had sex two days after I turned 16, have been in and out of relationships, some of which lasted for over five years, and am now 34 years old.

Of all my relationships, half of them were with married men. And I never reached the point with any of these men where I wanted the person concerned to leave his wife for me. Having affairs with married men doesn't bother me at all. In fact, I kind of prefer to see married men because chances of real intimacy are low. I've also been married once, but within one month of the marriage I realised that I didn't know him at all and wasn't in love with him. It took over three years to get out of that.

I've been in a steady relationship with a guy for three years now. He has been waiting for a long time for me to set a wedding date. In the meantime, I'm hooking up with another guy who lives in my neighbourhood, and recently had a one- night stand -- two nights, actually -- with someone I met at a work-related function. And let me not go down the road of the "potential" men I want to hook up with, just because I can.

Is everyone like this? When will I become sensible and want to settle down? Do I have a commitment phobia?

Patricia replies:

I don't like that expression. Saying someone has a commitment phobia is meaningless, a trendy catchphrase which only serves to obscure issues, rather than explain them. You've told me yourself what's going on. You are avoiding real emotional intimacy -- which is why, as you said yourself, you liked those married men.

You are also flourishing in a world which now allows people to speak of real immorality as if it were great fun, the thing to do, acceptable. You're boasting, not so much about your conquests, but about your lack of inhibition. Your questions aren't honest. You know everyone doesn't behave as you do -- that's the whole point. You know it's not about being sensible and settling down, which you not-so-secretly scoff at anyway. You're on a high.

Even when we're soaring above the stratosphere, a part of us remains concerned about the inevitable bumpy landing, a voice in the back of our heads wondering when we'll fall to earth, fear lurking at the corner of our consciousness. You didn't write to me to boast. You wrote to me because your behaviour worries you. And so it should.

Happiness doesn't lie in being able to take every man in sight. Happiness lies in being able to handle our own needs, to be in charge of them, rather than being a slave to them. Without that capacity, we cannot be close to another human being, because we use others to feed our need, rather than loving them for themselves.

Much is made today of sexual addiction. It's no different than any other addiction -- except that the permissive society allows open promiscuity the way it once only allowed vast alcohol consumption. You are chasing men not just because you can, you are chasing them because you can't do without it. You are not powerful. You are powerless.

The weakness found at the heart of all addiction is an emotional incapacity for self-consolation. The addict is crippled by his inability to handle the inevitable isolation of being an individual human being, separate from everyone else, ultimately alone, inevitably frustrated, as we all are. He has a hole at the centre of his being which he finds hard to handle. So he deadens the pain, with alcohol, sex, drugs, excessive work.

This weakness lies in an incomplete learning process during childhood, where the child fails to move from dependence to independence at a rate he can handle. And of course "he" stands for human-kind. It applies to you too.

We can, of course, complete that learning process in adulthood. But it's hard work. And we need help. Go check it out.

Sunday Independent

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