(3 minute read)
Human beings are hardwired to need each other. As babies, if we are not touched, held or cuddled, we may die, even though our other physical needs are met. For adults, solitary confinement is often considered torture. And it’s not just human contact or physical touch that we crave: it’s love and intimacy, the ability to care for another person and be cared for in return.
Usually, the most intimate relationship we form is with a romantic partner. And yet for some of us — perhaps many of us — things don’t work out very well. Sometimes that’s because we are unconsciously frightened of the very thing that we are searching for: intimacy. We’re caught in a terrible bind. We want it and need it, but we also fear it.
Here are five signs you may have a fear of intimacy.
You're Too Busy
On the surface, your life looks pretty good. You are most likely single, but if you’re married, your partner doesn't know the real you. You probably have a good career. And when it comes to decisions about where to invest your time, your job wins every time. Even when you do spend time with your partner, you’re not really there — you’re thinking about work. Things are simple and clear at the job, while your relationship with your partner is messy, difficult — and scary.
You Can’t Stop Cheating on Your Partner
There are many reasons for infidelity that have nothing to do with a fear of intimacy. But if you find yourself relentlessly searching for other people, yet never forming intimate relationships, you may indeed be trying unconsciously to avoid getting close to another person. Cheating on your partner destroys the intimacy you have with him or her: you cannot be close to someone when every day you are hiding a secret that could destroy the relationship. Your partner is the last person in the world with whom you can let down your guard, so intimacy is impossible.
Some people flee unsatisfactory relationships and because they welcome intimacy, find it with other people. But the person who is afraid of intimacy destroys any chance of getting close to their partner, without creating it with another person. Generally, they move from one extra marital affair to another, or keep partners at a distance, perhaps tantalizing them with the possibility of more intimacy, but never able to deliver.
You Fall In Love With People Who Can’t Love You Back
When you fall in love with someone who loves you back, you’re going to get close to them. But when you fall for someone who can’t love you back, it’s a different story. Perhaps you pine for someone who just isn’t interested in you, or is married to someone else and can’t offer you much time, or loves alcohol or drugs more than you. Maybe they just don’t open up to anyone, or they’re abusive in some way. You may think that everything would be perfect if they didn’t have such-and-such a problem, but perhaps you fell in love with them specifically BECAUSE they had that problem. While there are other reasons to fall in love with someone who can’t love you back, this is one to be aware of.
You Can’t Commit To One Person
You have no problem forming romantic relationships. You might even have several at the same time, and make sure that each partner understands that you want an open relationship. From time to time, you do start getting closer to one person. The problem is, as soon as you that happens, you start to question whether they’re right for you. Now, I’m not talking about what happens six to 24 months after you fall in love, as the excitement fades and things you used to find so cute become a bit irritating. That happens to everyone. Rather, this is about having second thoughts almost right after you start dating (or maybe sleeping together). You start wondering if you’re settling: “Is she pretty enough?” “Is he interesting enough? “Other people at the party look like more fun than him.” “Could I find someone who’s got a better career?” This becomes a pattern for you, and perhaps your friends criticize you, saying that you lose interest as soon you catch what you’re pursuing. But it’s not that you’ve lost interest — you’ve caught what you want, but now it scares you off.
Your Relationships Fizzle Out
You’re not quite sure why, but time and again, things don’t work out. Your relationships end not with a bang, but a whimper. You lose interest, or perhaps the other person loses interest in you. You don’t feel very upset at the end — maybe even a bit relieved. If this is a pattern, you might consider whether you’re picking people who you can’t get close to, or you’re behaving in a way that ensures they don’t get close to you. Either way, the relationship doesn’t last, so there’s no danger of becoming too intimate.
Why would anyone be afraid of intimacy? Perhaps a better question is why more people aren’t afraid of intimacy. Truly letting another person into our life has lots of risks around rejection, engulfment, loss of independence and the possibility of being deeply hurt. But the alternative — living our life without truly loving another person and being loved in return — is far worse.