When I was in my 20s, I imagined that I would be married by the time I turned 30.
Well, I was wrong.
Throughout my 20s, I met a lot of men and had several mini-relationships. But there was always a problem: The guy couldn’t commit; he was trying to “find himself”; he was overly critical; he had a girlfriend—the list went on and on. Obviously, I was picking the “wrong” people, whether or not I was conscious of it. I remember endlessly complaining about dating to my friends.
Of course, the problem was not with the guys—it was with me and my beliefs about relationships. It wasn’t until I realized this that I could begin examining these thoughts and how they were holding me back.
Because I know a lot of people have gone through this, I wanted to share the five main beliefs that I realized were keeping me stuck—and that I had to let go of before I could fall in love.
1. If I was “myself” around a guy I liked, I would be rejected.
My fear of rejection during my 20s was so acute that I never knew how to be my warm and engaging self around guys. Whenever I was around someone I liked, I immediately became guarded, cold, and withdrawn. It was totally unconscious.
In fact, I was really friendly and open but found out from friends that the opposite is what came across in my interactions. I wanted people to see me as strong and independent. Anything to avoid seeming lonely or needy.
But the truth was that I was pushing down my real self—funny, chatty, warm, somewhat neurotic (but somewhat charming) self. My fear was shutting me down.
How did I change?
Step one was becoming aware of my anxiety as it was happening—in body and mind. Then I had to question WHY it was happening. I knew I was afraid of rejection—but there was more. Was I not good enough, special enough, pretty enough, smart enough? Deep down I knew that these worries weren’t in line with reality. I began to examine this belief and slowly started to see another possibility.
What I realized was that I was attracted to people who were critical, standoffish, and uncomfortable with themselves. But when I let go of my anxiety, I started seeing attractive qualities in different kinds of people.
2. If I let a guy know I liked him, he would be turned off.
Growing up, I’d always believed that guys liked women who were “hard to get.” The converse also seemed true: If I were to let a guy know I liked him, he would think I was lonely, needy, and desperate—which is often how I felt inside.
In order to keep myself from revealing insecurities, I played the role of a 100-percent independent woman—always busy with work and other plans. The problem was that I was so successful at playing this role that I actually came across as disinterested (I later learned). I never thought about what insecurities anyone else would have because I was so caught up in my own fears.
To make myself more comfortable, I began partaking in more “coed” group activities—film classes after work, weekends away with groups of friends, potluck dinners. I realized that my constant search for a date (whether hanging out at a bar, being fixed up, or looking for single people wherever I went) was not making me feel good in my own skin. But when I was with friends, I could be myself: uninhibited, fun-loving, energetic—and much more appealing to other people!
3. If I saw qualities I didn’t like in someone, then it would be a deal-breaker.
I couldn’t seem to find anyone who didn’t have a few qualities that turned me off. Some of the things I judged so harshly now sound superficial and ridiculous: I hated his glasses; he always wore a dumb hat that he thought was supercool; his job was boring; I never laughed at his jokes; I thought his apartment was ugly.
These judgments aren’t terrible in and of themselves—but I always took them to be significant, and unforgivable. I knew I was being unreasonable and even felt embarrassed about how crazy-judgmental I was about such small details. That is, until I realized why I was thinking this way.
My judgments had become another unconscious tool I had devised to protect me from getting involved with someone. My negative beliefs became my invisible armor. When I eventually realized that these thoughts were trying to keep me safe from vulnerability, they became less powerful.
4. If I didn’t meet someone who had all of the qualities I wanted, I’d be settling.
I always had fantasies about the Perfect Person I wanted to meet, have a relationship with, and eventually marry. Weirdly, I always dreamed of finding someone who shared everything in common with me, thinking that the more similar we were, the better our relationship would be. I wanted to meet someone who’d grown up the same way I had, who was about the same age as I was, and who shared all of my interests. I thought this was the meaning of a compatible and long-lasting relationship.
Of course, this belief limited the pool of people I could pick from; I was excluding most of the population because of fear—I was trying to keep myself safe. So in order to open myself up to a loving relationship, I had to loosen up my criteria and surprise myself with the types of people I could open up to. This enabled me to connect with my fears and start to change my thoughts.
5. If I let a guy know I wanted to get married and have kids, he would run away.
Like many people, I always (incorrectly) believed that ALL men were turned off by commitment. I read about this in magazines, saw it in movies, and, to make matters worse, my mother had always hammered the idea into my head.
So I consistently pretended: I always presented myself as someone who just wanted a casual relationship, nothing too serious. Yet deep down, I was hoping to find someone who wanted to share their life with me and start a family. My fear of acknowledging and showing “my truth” made me live according to false desires and needs.
Eventually, I realized that I was the one afraid of commitment and had to admit that to myself. Instead of exploring the scary reality of my actual desires, I made myself shut down.
I had been protecting myself from my big fears—being in a relationship, having my partner reject me, and ending up alone. So instead of risking that, I relied on my thoughts to keep me from getting involved in a relationship at all. When I finally realized that my fears would actually keep me stuck where I was—alone and fearful—I began to question my thoughts and found evidence to disprove them. I began to take risks, let my guard down, and act like the “real me” even though it was scary at times.