Sometimes the people we most want to attract are not ready for friendship or for a romantic relationship. Sometimes it seems as if the other person runs away the minute you reach out. Going after him or her almost feels like the child’s game of peekaboo: now you see me, now you don’t.
Do any of the situations described below sound familiar? All of them can apply to men and women alike.
- He hides behind technology. This guy doesn’t seem able to carry on a conversation with you unless he has his smart phone in hand. He is always alert to it, glancing down every time it receives a text message or takes a call even if the two of you are in the middle of a conversation. He will also frequently use his phone to look up information on the Web. He can’t bear to turn it off. It’s clear that you do not have his undivided attention.
- The love of her life is really her dog or cat. You’re not sure she is listening to you, because she seems constantly preoccupied with her pet. It may be between the two of you on the couch or even in bed, and she objects when you want to move it out of the way. She may beg off dates or cut them short on the pretext that she needs to go home early to walk or feed the animal.
- He leaves the television on during conversations, with or without the sound turned up. When the two of you are talking, the flickering light from the television is distracting. The sound in the background may compete for his attention. He occasionally channel surfs to check on various game scores. If the conversation with you becomes dull, apparently, he can tune in to the big box while remaining at least physically present.
- She smokes. You don’t like the smell or the taste of cigarettes and smoke. You are also worried about the risk to her health. You want a lover who takes good care of herself, not one who is courting cancer or emphysema. And you don’t want secondhand smoke for yourself either.
- He constantly nibbles on snacks and candy. He seems to need junk food to calm himself, but the empty calories are giving him a belly. Junk food is bad for our bodies. People who combat their anxiety with food, once again, are not taking care of themselves.
- She is overweight and has grooming issues. A woman who does not care about her physical appearance is advertising her low self-esteem and will discourage almost any self-respecting man. Unbeknownst to many men, women also like their date to look trim and neat. A man whose hair or beard needs trimming and who doesn’t wear clean, attractive clothes may be depressed. He is also showing a lack of regard for his date.
- His house is a mess. Women want a self-possessed man with a responsible, take-charge attitude toward life. Major housekeeping issues can indicate dependency needs, as if the man were looking for a woman to rescue him. Do you need another project?
- She is sedentary. Rather than go out to movies, concerts, or shows, she always wants to sit at home. Maybe she fancies a glass of wine (or a beer) in front of a video, and that’s as good as it gets. Healthy people stay active. They engage in regular physical exercise, and they go out to explore the world at large. People who perpetually isolate on the sofa are not leading a healthy lifestyle. All of us need goals, values, and a balance in our lives between work and play.
- He wants nonstop attention and will object if you fall silent or focus on something else even briefly. For a long-term relationship to succeed, you need to be able to spend time together and time apart. When you are under the same roof, you want to be able to interact but also to read a book together without interruption. Insecure people sometimes require constant affirmation to feel okay about themselves.
- She treats you like an app. She forgets that she promised to get back to you about a date. You are there for her only when she wants something from you, perhaps to help with laundry, to cook her dinner, or to make her a short-term loan. Otherwise her mind is elsewhere.
In all of these scenarios, you feel frustrated. How can you make this person respond as you would like?
The answer is probably, “You can’t.” You can ask for the change you want to see, but you may be dealing with a person who is afraid of connecting and not ready to acknowledge fear or to take responsibility for making a relationship work. In subtle and not-so-subtle ways, this person will always keep you at a distance.
Sometimes such people have been betrayed repeatedly early in life. They may believe that others are inherently unreliable. Perhaps they learned in their families of origin that it is dangerous to share your feelings—that you will be hurt or exploited if you do. They may also worry that they are different from everyone else. Once disclosed, their feelings would expose them as somehow inadequate or inferior.
All of us tend to duplicate patterns established early in life, when we learned mainly by watching the behavior of important members of our families. We follow the old patterns naturally, without thinking. Although the past may have been thoroughly unsatisfactory, we work to keep things the way they have always been just because it’s familiar and comfortable.
The antidote to anxiety, fear, and lack of trust is understanding of ourselves and self-acceptance.
We can only be good to others if we are first good to ourselves. We all need to be aware of our feelings and needs, able to share them without embarrassment, secure in the knowledge that we are all more like our fellow men and women than not.