The Dangers of Love: Understanding the Love Avoidant and the Fear of Intimacy

I am fascinated of late by the Love Avoider. The neglected one in the crowd. All the attention stolen by the Love Addict. And isn’t that ironic? The Love Avoider has even found a way to hide from that spotlight. Not this time. Got ’em. You get the whole enchilada this month and next. We are focusing on you. And it is about time you got your due. So, pull up to the table. Pass me your plate. We are piling it on. There is love to go around and I want you to have your share …

So, what exactly is a Love Avoider? A Love Avoider is someone who resists nature’s way. As humans, we are born to connect. A plain and simple fact. Nothing to argue here. But a Love Avoider has walled him/herself off as to negate the need and the desire for human contact on a deep and emotionally intimate level. He/she is more interested in protection and survival than connection and relationship. What does this look like behaviorally? 

  • Often come across as superficially pleasant, even charismatic;
  • Hyper – Independent. He/she does not seem to need anything from their partner except to be alone. Often rejects the attempts of others to nurture, help or give;
  • Will often come into the relationship as the giver or the caretaker;
  • Seeks the “juice out there.” He/she spends too much time outside of the relationship – working, involved in sports, with friends, projects, keeping busy. Could be having an emotional or sexual affair;
  • Is not present when together. Mono-syllabic. Gives vague answers to questions. Very contained. You can’t really get to know this person beyond a certain level. Feels like a chore to get them to answer questions. Wants to be alone frequently;
  • Hides behind walls of silence or anger with signs of hidden hostility such as eye rolling, sighing, interrupting;
  • Withdraws or leaves early from social events;
  • Has grown more and more distant since the early stages of a relationship;
  • Often emotionally detached;
  • Perceives and complains that being controlled, smothered, suffocated and/or that partner is too needy;
  • Is non-committal. The partner nevers feels like he/she is totally in the relationship;
  • Experiences the relationship as a duty or obligation;
  • Engages in a possible addiction or other self-medicating behaviors.

That is one long list. But for a moment, let’s consider the possibility that maybe the Love Avoidant has it right. After all, being in a relationship is a risky proposition. Love is the ultimate contact sport. The most dangerous of games. Full engagement not optional. So maybe it is wise to be afraid of it and to do all things necessary to protect ourselves from being flattened. After all … 

1. … Love makes us vulnerable.   Relationships cast us into uncharted territory where the fear of the unknown inevitably rears its head. Falling in love … just as the name implies … is a fall. A fall from control and self-containment. A movement from a one-person to a two-person. Thus, it is a risk. We are placing an immense amount of trust in another person. Will we fall into solid and nurturing arms or will we stumble into the grasp of someone’s need to cause pain? When we attach ourselves to someone, we sign-up to be affected by them. We become exposed and vulnerable. We give another permission to engender all kinds of feelings in us – often ones we would rather not acknowledge, much less feel. 

2. … New love stirs past hurts. When we enter into a new relationship, whether we are conscious of it or not, we are opening the Pandora Box of our history. All the ways we were hurt in the past, starting from our childhood, have a strong influence on how we choose, perceive and experience the people we get close to in the present – no matter how they act. Old, negative dynamics may make us wary of opening ourselves up to someone new. We may steer away from intimacy because it enlivens old feeling of loss, hurt and rejection – not to mention pain that occurs for not having had this type of love in the past.

3. … Being loved challenges our old identity.   Many folks struggle with an underlying feeling of being unlovable. We do not believe in our own value and that anyone could really care for us. Our internal critical voice screams old and ingrained messages that we are unworthy of love and happiness. Although harmful, these attitudes are also comfortable. Thus, when another person sees us differently, loving and appreciating us, we may feel uncomfortable and defensive. Challenging our long-held beliefs about ourselves can be dislodging and unbearable. 

4. … Real joy brings real pain.   Any time we expand our emotional range to experience true joy, we also open ourselves to other more in-depth feelings such as pain and sadness. Thus, many of us shy away from what makes us the happiest because it can also make us feel pain. Going “all in” becomes a risk we would rather not take.

5. … Relationships change your connection to your family.   Being in a partnership can be the ultimate symbol of growing up. We declare a start to our own adult lives as independent, autonomous individuals. This development requires an emotional parting, a differentiation from being a child of one family to the formation of a new, adult one. For some, this healthy form of separation feels like abandonment – an injury that cannot be dealt to generous and adoring parents. So in protecting the original family, we stall our own growth, love possibilities and happiness. 

6. …Falling in love tests the boundaries of the self in ways that are threatening.   In the natural process of falling in love, nature has a way of blending two folks into a false but felt reality of being “one.” This grand union feels fabulous, very similar to the “high” any addict seeks. However, as the relationship progresses, the two selves re-emerge in that we can no longer be connected 24/7 to anyone as if back in the womb of our mother. I am me and you are you and somehow we have to negotiate the space we now call “we” as two separate people. 

If my sense of separateness is not solid and secure, contained within my own healthy ego boundaries, then I fear that you will take over and swallow me whole. The “we” becomes synonymous to the “you” forcing the “I” to no longer exist. Thus, my walled-offness is a defensive stance to physically keep you from annihilating me. Sheer survival – that is the name of the game. However, the more I can trust that I will stand, my connection to you can be more easily established. I can afford to be fluid, flexible and open because I do not have to worry that I will be taken over and crushed. 

So, after all that, why the hell should we bother with love? Just put a bag over my head, turn on the TV and pass the Doritos. 

In an upcoming article, we will discuss how the Love Avoidant got that way. What the benefits are of reconsidering. And how one can go about doing so. Stay tuned.

On Being A Fatherless Daughter

The last time I saw him was Labor Day Weekend 1987. Our family was gathering in Memphis for my brother’s first college football game of the season. Before my car came to a complete stop, he was there, greeting me. He covered me with an outpouring of enthusiasm and love – much like a dog awaiting the homecoming of its master. Little did I know that three weeks later, he would be dead.  
It seems like a lifetime ago. When I had a father. Some dads are not very good ones. I was lucky. Mine happened to be one of the better ones – or at least, I think so. He died before he turned fifty and I was all but still a child. 

Sometimes, I wonder if it was all planned out. As if he set my brothers and I up on the next course of our lives and then exited stage left. My older brother had just gotten married. My younger brother just left home for college. And I was set to begin a graduate program in psychology. Weeks before he died, he had a long talk with me about how proud he was that I had chosen a profession of meaning and significance. To prepare me for my studies, he settled me into my first apartment – complete with homemade bookshelves and freshly painted furniture all at his hands. And then he vanished. Went out into the woods to deer hunt with a friend. And when he never showed back up, they went looking for him. He was found breathless on the ground. 

No warning. No good-byes. No nothing. I got one of those emergency phone calls – antiquated compared to today’s cell technology. My dad’s best friend was on the other end. He told me that my Dad had been in an accident. “He didn’t make it” – his exact words. 

Getting out of Hattiesburg, Mississippi (a long story for another time!) was a trip in and of itself. Not wanting to have me drive the eight hours solo, my family sent my Uncle, his pilot friend and a four-seater plane down to bring me home for the funeral. I don’t think anyone said a word the whole flight. Upon entering my childhood home, it was standing room only. I turned a blind eye to the crowd, their Southern casseroles and beelined for the back bedroom where the inner circle stood dumbfounded. 

Somehow, we rallied. We mustered the something somehow we needed to get him buried, clean out his stuff, move my mother and begin to build our adult lives without his presence, his strength, his contagious energy, his love, his advice as well as all his pain-in-the-ass parts too. 

And here I am. A grown-up woman. Tweny-six years of his absence. More time without him than I ever had with him. Not only do I still miss him, but I often wonder what life would have been like if he had been around longer. Would I have been launched more securely into the adult world? Would I have made fewer mistakes? Would I have saved more money and made better financial decisions under his advisement? Would he have warned me not to marry that one? Would he like my children and delight in their being as much as I do? 

And then, or course, there is the other side. Without such significant loss so early in my life, would I be a different person today? Would I be spoiled, entitled, superficial? Would I have less space inside to understand and hold the pain of others? Would I be less aware that life can change in a flash, with the ring of one phone call? 

The answers to these questions … and more … I will never know. 

I recall one poignant and humorous conversation we had toward the end of his life. As a young collegiate and budding woman of the world, I told him one day, with much gratitude, that he had raised a feminist. Now my good ole’ southern boy father did not know how to spell, pronounce or use the word “feminist” properly in any of his vernacular. So, as you can only imagine, he vehemently denied my claim. But I told him that it was too late. That the job had been done. He raised me to believe in myself, to set goals and achieve them, to be determined to develop and utilize all my gifts and talents, my particular sex never to stand in the way. I guess the joke was really on him.

Although being a fatherless daughter has been my life’s path, without even trying, I often catch myself channeling his energy, refusing to let his vitality completely dissipate. Such a realization came to mind again recently. Just as there was many a day when Dad stood beside the track yelling “Go Ginge!”, I too have become the obnoxious parental cheerleader. Yes, I admit it … I am by far the loudest soccer mom on the sidelines. The one that ends up standing next to all the over-involved dads who are actually watching the game. During one game last season, some two-ton-tessy on the opponent’s team pushed my daughter. I screamed across the field to my daughter, “Push her back!” Of course, I was immediately shamed by the more proper soccer moms … “Ginger!” 

Oops, I thought. I really should be more demure. But it is probably never gonna happen. I am my father’s daughter. And some legacies cannot, will not, ever die.