Anyone who has been around the block a time or two would agree: dating is definitely not for cowards.
It takes a lot of courage to turn the spotlight on yourself—in public, no less—and let another person take a good, long look at you. Who wouldn’t squirm, at least a little, under such scrutiny? But some people feel more than the usual amounts of stress when in the romantic hot seat. They have a genuine fear of intimacy, a powerful dislike for letting anyone get close enough to see them clearly and know them well. A fear of intimacy places strict limits on a relationship right from the start.
There are lots of reasons for people to keep their guard up:
Fear of intimacy masks a lack of confidence.
People like this are convinced that to be seen as they really are virtually guarantees swift rejection. They are sure they aren’t attractive or interesting or worthy of attention. They just know a new romantic partner will feel that way too. To them, intimacy is synonymous with pain.
Fear of intimacy masks hidden wounds.
Past romantic disasters may have contributed to this lack of confidence. Some people take longer than others to get back in the saddle after being unceremoniously dumped. But an inability to open up may also stem from deeper, more serious wounds. For instance, a victim of domestic violence or childhood abuse may experience a visceral aversion to closeness with others that is difficult to overcome.
Fear of intimacy masks hidden secrets.
The truth is, people who are “guarded” may, in fact, be guarding something they feel is shameful or dangerous. It could take a long time to earn their trust—and you might eventually be sorry you did.
So how can you tell the difference between a person with ordinary dating jitters and someone who may never give you a look at his or her inner thoughts and feelings? Here are three common defense mechanisms to watch for:
Constant motion, constant crowds. The last thing this person wants is to be still and alone with you—a breeding ground for uncomfortable conversation and probing questions. Instead, she will fill your time together with activity and “busyness”; he’ll consistently invite others to “tag along.”
A sarcastic sense of humor. There is a reason we sometimes say a person has a “rapier wit.” Biting humor is as defensive as a drawn sword. Comments that slice are a great way to keep people at arm’s length, especially those who genuinely want to come closer.
Preemptive sex. At first glance, this point may seem counterintuitive. After all, how could a person with a fear of intimacy have a casual attitude about sex, the most intimate act of all? Remember, we are talking about people who are afraid of emotional closeness. What better way to jump right over all that terrifying pillow talk than to treat sex as the only point?
Recognizing the telltale signs that you or your partner suffers from a genuine fear of intimacy is the first step toward patiently overcoming it.