The dilemma I was asked out by someone I work with. I was put on the spot and said yes because I couldn’t bring myself to reject him. I am friends with this person and didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I have problems with relationships, as they make me stressed rather than happy. After I said yes I immediately regretted it. Being in a relationship makes me vulnerable, I open myself up to the other person, causing me pain, and all I can think about is how I am no longer “hard”. When my mother died I shut off most emotion and I don’t want to let it affect me now. I don’t want to hurt his feelings but I don’t feel comfortable with a boyfriend. What should I do?
Mariella replies Thank goodness for people who put us on the spot. How else would we get the encouragement to step out of our comfort zones and put our emotional lives in peril? Avoiding relationship repercussions is like avoiding sunlight. The rays may be harmful, but think of all the good stuff you’re missing out on too, from beach holidays to vitamin D.
There is a yin and yang argument here – you need a little sour with the sweet, good with the bad, hot with the cold, if you are to experience the full range of what life has to offer. Increasingly, we’ve grown wary of extremes and our caution denies us golden opportunities for euphoria. We’re so busy creating safety features that we forget the sublime satisfaction that comes when sad times turn sweet again.
You may be acting ice cold in denying yourself the potential of passion but, as you admit, you are more vulnerable than you have perhaps ever been. Losing people you love, particularly those who provided the foundations of your early life, can be immensely traumatic and take many years to recover from. When my dad died I was 15 and I cowered in the shadow of that loss until my mid-30s. Only after I stopped mourning him daily was I ready to marry and have my kids.
I understand your fear, but allowing it to rule your choices reduces your capacity to maximise your brief tenure on this earth and that is a duty we are all charged with. You are suffering a very contemporary malaise. Damage limitation is all the rage, from Kafkaesque health-and-safety initiatives to non-slip surfaces and stickered barbecues that read “hot when lit”.
We focus on ensuring that the worst can’t happen yet such efforts are in vain. Life is unpredictable. Whatever plans you have in store, there will always be a scenario you haven’t prepared for to take you by surprise. There is nothing scarier than “losing your heart” and also nothing more incredible. The full wonder of our complicated biology is only explored when our pheromones go into overdrive on exposure to a fellow human. Part of that delectable delight comes from the sense of losing control, of having our fate taken out of our hands for a brief time, while we explore the terrain of reckless abandon. It leaves you open to pain, but without that possibility you deny yourself the chance of ecstasy.
You’re clearly suffering a bad case of vulnerability, but it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It just makes you part of the human race. Your colleague has done you a favour. It’s an act of friendship to ask you out and it deserved that act of faith from you in accepting. Going on a date isn’t a commitment – it’s just a tiny tentative step towards the future.
On these pages I’m forever chastising people who make bad romantic judgments and then blame their errors on the madness of love, whether it’s dating your best friend’s husband or a vicious drugs baron. Love is only blind if you insist on covering your eyes. You are the polar opposite of fools who rush in but are equally happy to pronounce yourself defenceless, without reason or choice. We both know you have both, so you can make cautious forays into the emotional unknown, little by little, and reclaim your resilience. Your colleague has extended you a lifeline. You have nothing to lose but your fearfulness by seeing where it swings. Whether or not he’s boyfriend material is irrelevant, you just need a bit of practice to get you off the ground.
If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Mariella on Twitter @mariellaf1