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What seems to be driving this ...
What seems to be driving this "inside-out" dynamic, says Dr. Wetzler, is our increasing inability to tolerate the uncomfortable feelings that intimacy arouses--anger, anxiety, frustration, disappointment, or self-doubt. We have become utterly cynical about love and find it easier to hold our partners responsible for our psychological frailties than to own up to and work through the confusing emotions that inevitably accompany falling and being in love.
Written in a strong narrative style with illuminating case examples throughout, here is a book of relationship advice for grownups.
How does this inside-out dynamic work? How does it change our view of relationships? And why does it lead to so much confusion between people? The case of Nina, a woman who blamed others for her own vulnerability provides a dramatic example. Nina saw herself as threatened by those closest to her. To defend herself she would attack them, but in attacking them, she was attacking a mirage, a projection of an enemy who actually existed within.
From the moment Nina stepped into my office, I was struck by her intensity. Everything about her, from the dark, stylishly tailored suit she wore to the sharp, angular movements she used to punctuate her sentences, gave off an aura of edginess. She spoke quickly, without mincing words: She had just celebrated her fortieth birthday--alone--and with no romantic possibility on the horizon, she was convinced that she would always be alone.
"Why is that?" I asked, surprised. She was tall, trim, and attractive, and her long black hair was neatly pulled back to reveal a sculpted face with high cheekbones. Raising her dark eyebrows for emphasis as she spoke, she came across as a formidable woman with a highly competent professional presence. In her direct fashion, Nina told me she was uncomfortable revealing the personal concerns that had brought her to therapy. Indeed, as she sat tensely perched on the edge of my couch, unwilling to sit back, it was evident that she was extremely uncomfortable.
"Idon't mean I'll never get another date."she stated matter-offactly. "I meet guys all the time. Even if I do work long hours, I'monly one of a handful of women lawyers who negotiate the kindof deals I do. Getting a boyfriend isn't the problem. It's just thatthings never seem to work out . "She paused, then added abruptly,"What else do you want to know?"
Her increasingly edgy tone, I thought, was less proud than defensive. But what was she defending herself against?
"Tell me about some of these relationships, "l said.
Nina pursed her lips. In what I would learn was her typically analytical fashion, she reviewed the history of at least six different relationships, including her most recent affair, with Jack, which had ended in the last few weeks. Although the men were quite different in their personalities and eagerness to be involved with her and she had had varying levels of interest in them, I began to detect what I thought was a recurrent pattern. Just as she had not yet found a way to sit comfortably on the couch in my office, she had never found a level of comfort with any of these men.
In some cases, not "feeling right" in the relationship led her to keep things at an emotionally distant and superficial level. In other cases, she ignored her instincts and tried to "dive in," as she put it-with equally unsuccessful results. Regardless of her approach, she didn't know how to get "in sync" with the men in her life.
She continued, "Going to bed with someone doesn't make things any better. I feel just as self-conscious once we've had sex as I did before. I haven't found a man yet who can give me what I need or want in a relationship, and it makes me mad. If I keep my expectations low, at least I won't be disappointed'
It seemed odd that someone so attractive and so in command of her professional life would feel so hopeless about her personal life.The more Nina talked, the clearer the contrast became: Though she was outwardly strong and self-assured, she was inwardly vulnerable and oversensitive.
It struck me that when it came to romance, Nina viewed relationships through a glass darkly. By her own admission, she brought to the realm of romance a skeptical, cynical outlook. She was mistrustful, a mistrust that colored everything she saw. For instance, if someone she had just met asked her out, she jumped to the conclusion that all he wanted was to go to bed with her; but if someone showed sincere interest in her, she felt he was only trying to hook her in and set her up for disappointment. I wondered whether her mistrust was justified or whether she was blaming her partners for her own feelings of vulnerability. Were these men as malevolent and threatening as she portrayed them, or was she misreading the relationships? Was she truly just unlucky in her choice of men, or was she herself contributing to her romantic failures?
I asked her to describe her recently ended relationship with Jack in more detail.
Without hesitation Nina told me they had dated for several months, seeing each other primarily on Saturday nights because her work schedule prevented their getting together more frequently Jack was a courtly man who enjoyed sending her flowers and liked to call her at her office just to say hello, even when she told him she was too busy to take personal calls. Although there were many clear indications of Jack's deepening interest, Nina seemed to prefer a slow pace.
Six months into the relationship, Nina was still not comfortable opening herself to Jack. She could not shake her awkward self consciousness, fearing that showing certain sides of her personality would reveal too much. But Jack was clearly smitten, and when he broached the possibility of their moving in together, Nina became even more frightened. She liked Jack, but if he moved in, she was concerned that she would lose her sanctuary, the one place where she could escape from her self-consciousness.
I asked what specifically frightened her about the prospect of Jack's moving in.
"Well, you know, I can get pretty irritable," she said, "especially when things don't go well at work. I need my own space to decompress'
Yet when Jack first made his suggestion, she had answered him without mentioning at all her fears or her need for privacy She did not tell him she felt self-conscious or discuss her desire to keep the pace slower. Instead, she accused Jack of trying to use her. She told him point-blank, "You're just a freeloader." As Nina saw it, all Jack wanted was a rent-free living arrangement; the flowers and phone calls merely had been ploys to make her fall for him. Jack couldn't be trusted.
In fact, Jack had been struggling financially to open his own consulting business and was having serious cash-flow problems. Putting two and two together, Nina deduced that his suggestion was a means for him to save thousands of dollars in rent. In her view, Jack was an exploitative, uncaring man, looking to take advantage of her. But this view didn't jibe with other things she had told me about Jack: that he was a sensitive, emotionally expressive person who truly seemed to be head over heels in love with her...Is It You or Is It Me?. Copyright © by Scott Wetzler. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.