Dear Sara: I am scared of dating or trusting a guy again because the last relationship I had almost destroyed me. He broke my heart into pieces. I had never fallen in love like this before. I gave him everything. I almost forgot to leave anything for myself. Now I am scared that if I am going to go back and date again I’m going to get hurt and heartbroken again. I feel like all men are just the same. I don’t trust all men. My ex destroyed all my hopes that someone will love me for who I am and not just use me. Now I don’t know if I can be a good girlfriend. I am scared to try again and take a risk, especially since I have kids and I don’t want to see my kids get hurt by someone they love. – K
Dear K: There is nothing wrong with being afraid to fall in love again—everyone feels that way sometimes. So fear itself is not the problem—it’s just a feeling and it actually won’t hurt you. The problem comes when you allow fear to limit your ability to move forward. That’s why I’m very fond of a quote by Susan Jeffers: “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
You say that your relationship almost destroyed you, but the key point is … it didn’t. You’re still here. And while you may feel extremely wounded and vulnerable, you did in fact live. Your heart is still beating. You’re still breathing air. This might sound like a silly thing to point out, but we forget that a lot. We behave as if heartbreak will kill or maim us, but when you get right down to it, all it does is make you feel very, very bad. The pain can feel intolerable at times but still … you did in fact get through it.
Naturally, you want avoid repeating that experience—of course you do! But as you have noticed, this comes with the territory. If you want to fall in love, you’re going to have to risk being hurt. I don’t think there is any way around it. So here is my suggestion: Train yourself to relax in discomfort. Start small. You’re waiting in a long line, but instead of taking your phone out to entertain yourself allow yourself to feel the boredom and frustration of having to wait without a distraction. Or say you have to give a speech or have a confrontation with a boss or relative and you’re nervous. Before you go in, take a minute and allow yourself to feel whatever is happening physically in your body—just allow yourself to feel and have compassion for your nervousness. Just feel it without judgment.
If you’re on a date or talking to someone you’re interested in, allow yourself to feel that anxiety or fear. Notice that the feeling is happening and remind yourself that even though it isn’t pleasant, it actually won’t kill you. You know that for a fact, because you’ve had those feelings before. There are many people who have written more eloquently on this topic than I have, and I have gathered some of my favorite resources if you’d like to explore this further.
One final note: This is difficult work if you take it seriously, but it can be enormously fruitful. However, I do think your instinct to avoid disappointing your children again is a good one. I would avoid introducing a new boyfriend to your kids until you have some kind of commitment from him. Only you can know when the right time is, but I would set the bar pretty high. Putting your own feelings on the line is, unfortunately, part of being in adult relationships, but I think it’s a good idea to shield children from this risk for as long as possible. That said, if a future boyfriend proves unworthy of your trust in this regard, forgive yourself. Heartbreak is part of life, and we can do our best to protect our children from it, but its something that everyone has to deal with eventually.
Sara Eckel is a personal coach and the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at saraeckel.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her questions here.