Guys don’t want to be in a relationship with me. What am I doing wrong?
Ask Roe: I feel I’ll never find someone who will truly love me, who I will love back
“You need to embrace your self-worth so that when someone worthy does love you, you can love them back.”
I am 26 and was in a seven-year relationship which turned out to be abusive. The guy cheated on me and since then I’ve been craving for the love he once had for me.
I started meeting new guys and also slept with few of them. I met a man two years ago and we talked for a year but it wasn’t clear what relationship we had. I needed stability but he never confirmed anything from his side.
We don’t talk anymore but I got really attached to him and I find it difficult to not think of all the ‘what ifs’ if we were still talking. Then I met another guy and have been in a physical relationship with him. It’s been six months now and he has clearly stated that it’s casual. I feel lonely and sleep with him because he is honest about what he wants.
I’ve started having feelings for him but I know he will never love me. I am at a stage in life where I think and look back that all the guys I have met have never wanted to be in a relationship with me. Is something wrong with me? I just feel I’ll never find someone who will truly love me, would want to be with me – and that I’ll also have the same feelings for him.
I will be grateful if you could show me the things I am not able to see for myself and what I have been doing wrong.
I think you can see yourself more clearly than you’re acknowledging. You’ve laid out a pattern quite clearly, beginning with an early, long-term relationship that was abusive, dishonest, dehumanising, and left you longing for love, both during and after the relationship. Since then, you’ve only connected with men who are unable or unwilling to commit to you, leaving you longing for love. Men tell you they cannot commit to you, and instead of leaving, you stay, knowing you will spend every moment with them longing for love.
And then you perfectly outline your predicament. “I just feel that I’ll never find someone who will truly love me, would want to be with me – and I’ll also have the same feelings for him.” Pay attention to the last part of that sentence, we’ll be coming back to it, because it’s important.
Abusive relationships have a way of skewing our perception of love in horrific and insidious ways. Your first relationship – a long-term, serious, abusive relationship – was formative. It taught you what love looked and felt like, and you internalised these lessons. The problem is, these lessons were wrong. Wrong morally, in that you should not have been abused. And wrong factually, in that what you learned about what a loving relationship feels like, was incorrect.
You learned that love should constantly feel like you exist to serve someone else’s needs, and never express your own. You learned that love feels like not being able to trust your partner, but not trusting yourself, and so never feeling sure of anything.
You learned that love is filled with intense cruelty, then intense relief in the moments the explicit cruelty stops. You learned that love feels like you’re constantly chasing someone, like you’re auditioning for someone else’s approval, like someone else has the power to decide your worth. You learned that love is longing for safety, respect, affection – and never receiving them. You learned that love is never feeling loved back. You learned that you do not deserve love, and should be grateful for any attention you get.
These lessons were wrong, so wrong. But they’re what you know. And so you gravitate towards the familiar, staying in dynamics where you devote yourself to someone and end up feeling unworthy, unwanted, unloved.
You need to break this pattern. You need to get comfortable with the idea that you are worthy of love, and that your self-worth exists entirely independently of the opinion of whatever man happens to wander into your life.
Only when you begin to believe yourself worthy, only when you can imagine yourself as being valuable and lovable and able to thrive on your own, will you be able to pick better partners – because you will know you have choices. You won’t believe your only options are feeling neglected, or being alone. You will have realised that just because one person does not love you does not mean no one ever will. You will finally understand that you can walk away from someone who cannot give you what you need – and you will not just be okay, but you will feel stronger for having left, for having advocated for yourself, for freeing yourself up for something better.
But being open to that something better is why we must return to the second part of that sentence. You need to embrace your self-worth so that when someone worthy does love you, you can love them back. The danger with internalising the belief that we are unlovable, that we should always be chasing someone, that being abused is normal, is that we can become deeply uncomfortable with really being loved. Being appreciated can feel like a trick. Safety and stability can feel dull. Affection can feel like too much. If you believe you are not lovable, you won’t trust anyone who loves you – and so you won’t let yourself love them back.
Please leave these entanglements with men who cannot give you what you want, that make you feel unlovable. Focus on you right now. Find a therapist who specialises in recovery from abuse, and self-esteem building. Commit to the process of unlearning what an abusive person told you about yourself, and re-learning about your self and your worth.
This process won’t be easy or immediate – but you have invested your energy in other people’s needs before. Do it for yourself, now. Invest in friendships, creative pursuits, hobbies that make you happy. Remember what happiness feels like, cherish it, so you won’t let someone steal it from you.
You asked me to show you what you’re not seeing clearly. You’re not seeing yourself clearly. You are worthy of effort, of happiness, of love. Learn how to see that – and to believe when other people see it, too.
Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford.
If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at irishtimes.com/dearroe