Dear Steven Carter,

(11 March 2000)

Q: I am a successful and goodlooking [so I'm told] investment banker age 50, who is in great shape and fairly educated on my feelings and issues from 8 years of therapy in NYC. I liked therapy as it gave me the chance to explore my own feelings of inadequacy from a childhood with parents who were always controlling and very critical. I think I survived though. I recently [about a month ago] met a 35 yr old executive recruiter who had all the externals that I liked, I was very attracted to her and believe her to be a smart woman but untrained in exploring her own feelings. She at first reacted very seductively and said alot of things that led me to have expectations that she was really feeling strongly for me and I am interested in having a real relationship leading to commitment at some point. However, after reading your book, "He's Scared /She's Scared" I see a very similiar pattern to her being the actively avoiding commitment phobic part of this and I the passive partner. I reacted so strongly to her aggressive and sexual behavior in a positive way yet she would only want to see me on Saturday night and reacted phobically to me staying in her bed and staying in her apartment even though she actually invited me. When she said that she did that because she tought that's what I wanted I told her I never wanted her to do anything that she didn't want to do and I certainly didn't force myself on her. In fact she has been calling me everyday to "check in" as you put it and has told me she told her family and friends about having met wonderful man who could be "it". Her mother told her not to blow this one because I sounded so terrific to her. All of a sudden she stopped calling me and I really wasn't pushing her at all. I simply wanted her to see me once during the week since we seem to really have a good time when we are together and she is very affectionate in person.

My question is this. Can someone have these phobic type reactions and learn how to control them or is this totally a lost cause....she seems to be following the paths you lay out in the book and all my women friends are now saying move on, after originally thinking that she was great for me. I think everyone thinks it's a lost cause since she just disappeared this week. I know there's a problem and I have started to date other women to protect myself.

How do I know when to walk away? I know she needs to be in therapy from all that I've read. I am just very sad that she sems to be screwing up her life when she has the opportunity to be with someone who cares a great deal for her. I won't on the other hand allow a woman to pull me back and forth with such closeness then distancing techniques, like using the phone instead of seeing me. She has the time if she wants to make it. She says she needs more time to get close. Seems to me she already got pretty close and got pretty phobic about it. I fear for my heart....so I have backed off totally right now and moved in other directions.

Thanks for your insights

Sincerely,
Charles

Steven Carter:

Dear Charles,

If your diagnosis is an accurate one, which I think it is, I can not encourage you to invest your hope or your energies in this relationship. People with serious commitment problems (men and women) usually need many years of expert professional help to work their way through the emotional history that has shaped their fears. This is a job you can not do. You can get very hurt trying-a lot more hurt than you are already. And there is also a very good chance that this person is not going to want to do any truly therapeutic work. I think your friends are encouraging you to move on because they have a clear read on the problem.

Your instinct to protect yourself is a healthy one. Listen to it. But also ask yourself this: Why are you so 'committed' to someone with these terrible conflicts. I know that you have been in therapy for many years, but it sounds to me like you are still carrying some unresolved conflicts of your own that make this woman look more appealing than a healthier, more available partner. I went through a very similar stage in my own healing process - a stage where I stopped being the runner but kept finding myself drawn to women who would never give me a stable loving relationship. I was healthier, but I was not truly healthy. There is always more work to be done. For more support, I would also suggest reading "Men Who Can't Love" and substituting the word "he" for "she", and vice-versa. This may give you more strength to make smart decisions when you are feeling weak in the knees.