I love my boyfriend Alan more than anything. If it were up to me I would spend all our free time together — I feel safe and happy when I’m with him. But I’m afraid I’m pushing him away. He tells me that he feels smothered a lot of the time and I don’t know what I can do to change this. I am always careful not to push myself on him too much, because he makes it clear that he likes his space. I usually let him be the one to make plans. But somehow he is picking up on my vibe and tells me that I seem needy.
I suppose I am needy — I hate being alone. Growing up I was an outcast and I was so relieved when I met my first boyfriend in freshman year of college. We were together for six years and when he broke up with me, I was miserable. I hated being alone again and went on a lot of first dates looking for Mr. Right. When Alan came along, it seemed too good to be true. We have so much in common and were really attracted to each other. Lately, sex is falling off a lot as I feel he is pushing me away. I’m so scared of being alone again and would do anything to make this work. Do you have any pointers for what I can do to avoid losing this relationship?
Alan is somehow picking up on an issue that you will be very well served to tackle. When you look to another person to be your main source of safety and happiness, you are putting yourself in a very shaky position. There is no guarantee that the other person will always be there. Even if he does stay, it’s inevitable that at some point he will not want to play this role.
That is what is happening in your relationship now. You believe that you need to be with Alan to feel OK, and not coincidentally, Alan wants distance. As long as you believe that you need Alan, you will remain scared. And you will continue to put a lot of excess weight on the relationship, wanting Alan to hold you up.
You ask for pointers to avoid losing this relationship. I understand how important it is for you not to be alone, but the most important point to focus on is shifting the foundation of your well being from Alan to yourself. If you can develop the ability to tolerate standing on your own and ultimately enjoy the strength of doing so, you may build a resilient relationship with Alan. Even if you and Alan part, you will be in a better position to be in a future relationship, because a stronger partner makes for a stronger relationship. Most important, if you can learn to provide yourself with a sense of well-being rather than looking to another person, you will be a far more solid and secure guy. If you don’t work on this issue, you will continue to be on shaky ground in your relationships.
Are you wondering how to become a more independent, stable man? You might start spending some time on your own, and with people other than Alan, pursuing things that give you enjoyment, fulfillment and a sense of well-being. Doing so will help you to start constructing a self that can stand alone, separate from the self that is all wrapped up with Alan, and will reduce the pressure that you are putting on your relationship.
Keep in mind that when you try new behaviors, it is normal to feel scared and anxious. When this happens (and it will), make the conscious decision to calm yourself rather than letting your feelings overwhelm you. You might talk back to your fear, reassuring yourself that you will get though the experience and grow from it. Or, you might meditate: simply focusing your attention on breathing in and out, gently bringing your attention back to your breathing whenever your mind wanders to fearful or anxious thoughts, is a great way to build your ability to tolerate discomfort.
Of course, this isn’t only about you. I’m sure that Alan has his own issues that influence how he handles closeness and distance. Nonetheless, there’s much useful work to do on your side. A lifetime of experiences have led you to fear being alone and you haven’t yet worked at standing on your own. Alan’s unhappiness is giving you the opportunity to become a much stronger person. Good luck, and please remember that you can achieve big changes with time and consistent effort.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.