Parents as Role Models for Love

Dear Dating Coach,

I know that parents are the ones who teach you to walk, talk and prepare for life. They set the example for how we should treat each other and even how we will raise our own children. But it just hit me like a bolt of lightning how much of an influence they can be on one's love life!

I am a 36 year old woman, intelligent, funny and attractive, someone everyone seems to like. I am also financially secure, independent, and successful in my career. Yet, I have never had a boyfriend, and it is beginning to feel somewhat humiliating. I guess I've always felt like there must be something wrong with me. Today, the lightning bolt that hit me was when I figured out that I NEVER heard my parents say "I love you" to each other. I never saw them show each other any kind of affection...I barely remember a few quick pecks as Dad left for work. And in their 40 years of marriage, I don't think I've ever heard them even say anything nice about each other. I've always wondered why they got married since they are pretty much indifferent towards each other emotionally.

This realization clarifies why I have always behaved indifferently towards men, even when I am interested--which is probably confusing to a man, so every first encounter becomes a dead end. What can I do to take this new understanding and make it work positively for me? How do I "get over it"? Do I need to start seeing a psychologist or counselor or something? Where do I go from here?
--Born Again Dater

Dear Born Again Dater--

It's amazing how an epiphany can strike, like a lightning bolt, where and when you least expect it. For this to happen, it seems that several things need to come together all at once--an openness to seeing something in a new way, some life experience and maturity, and a readiness to use the new information to make a desired change. It sounds to me like you have all of these and are therefore ready to take this information, make a plan, and move towards the intimacy you seek. There is no one right approach, but wherever you choose to begin, making small behavioral changes will be a necessary component. You will also need to carve out specific time to both identify and implement the resources you will need along the way.

Conscious awareness coupled with action will move you in the right direction. Counseling can be useful for gaining new insights, having a safe place to share them, and to provide a support system as you work to bring down your defenses, therefore allowing you to be more open and vulnerable with others. I'd also recommend you read the classic book on this topic The Dance of Intimacy, which will help you to increase your understanding of what true intimacy is, why some people struggle with it, and some things you can do to overcome your fear of it. Consider going online and studying up on what various relationship experts have to say about the fear of intimacy in dating. Lastly, spend some time practicing being more open and vulnerable with safe people, friends, family members, etc. It will be easier to start with folks who are familiar, supportive, and who have already demonstrated that they love you just the way you are.

Remember that this is a process. It won't happen overnight, but instead you will feel small changes happening with each new day and every new encounter with an interesting stranger. If you stay the course, you will overcome your fear of intimacy and open yourself up to the possibility of finally having the loving, close family that you desire.

(from November 2008)

Want to read other columns on this subject?

"Being Single in a "Coupled" World"
List of more
"Self growth & Self Improvement"

This is the last "Self growth & Self Improvement" column.


Toni Coleman, LCSW
Phone: 703-847-1768


Copyright 2008-2015 Antoinette Coleman. All rights reserved.

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