So confused

Dr. Daley on Sex and Relationships

Dear Dr. Daley: I’m a 26-year-old woman, and I’ve only had one serious relationship that ended about a year ago. Ever since then, I can’t commit to anyone. I date several people at once because I’m scared of being alone and want some “fallbacks.” At first I was only dating guys, but I’d always been bi-curious and have gone out with a few women now as well. I thought that would just be sort of an experiment. It’s not just fun, casual dating, though; I’ve gotten emotionally attached to most of the people I’ve dated for any length of time. But I can’t commit. Any time anyone wants to get serious, I freak out. The worst was when I was juggling two guys and two girls for a few weeks. Any one of them would have been happy to have a steady, monogamous relationship, but the thought of it terrified me. At the same time, I couldn’t bring myself to break it off with anyone either. One by one, all four of my love interests got sick of my wishy-washiness and ended the respective relationships. My friends who know about my issues either laugh and call me a player, get mad at me and tell me I’m too old for this kind of thing, or tell me I really need to get help. Sometimes I think I could be happy if I could have relationships with multiple people and not be judged for it. Could I be polyamorous? Or am I just horribly confused and too scared of commitment?

photo / Dano 

Don’t you think it’s terribly clever when the answer to a question begins with a definition?
the philosophy or state of being in love or romantically involved with more than one person at the same time.

I don’t think this is you, and I’ll tell you why. Setting aside the possibility of “romantically involved,” whatever that may mean (lipstick smudges on wineglasses come to mind), the only person you seem to be in love with is yourself.
the philosophy or state of being completely absorbed with one’s own wants, needs, desires, feelings, and well-being.

Okay, I made that up. But don’t you think it’s time you thought about the impact of your shenanigans on all those people you like to “juggle?” You say this all started when your one serious relationship ended a year ago, and, me being the nosy type, I am quite curious about the circumstances of that little trauma. Did someone break your heart, or did you just decide you had a yen to take up human circus acts?

If the former, I would say that you are acting out the pain of the break-up by inflicting similar injuries on as many people as you can lay your speedy little hands on. We don’t generally do such things consciously, or even maliciously. We just find ourselves in a pattern we don’t understand and can’t seem to stop. Usually a mere break-up, no matter how hurtful, is not sufficient for us to wreak havoc on dozens of innocent people. I would guess that the loss of your one serious relationship has broken open a universe of hurt and rage going back to an earlier abandonment. Like, say for instance, by a parental unit.

If the latter, well, now that I think of it, anyone who decides to take up juggling humans has some serious emotional pain going on. At least I hope so, because if not, he or she would be a sociopath (no empathy, no conscience) who only lives to get what they can from anyone unfortunate enough to cross his or her path.

If you were truly polyamorous, it is to be hoped that you would be perfectly straightforward about that from the jump. There wouldn’t be any “juggling,” because your lovers would also be polyamorists. (Or masochists.) You would live your life openly, honestly, and without conflict. You would live up to the “amor” part of the term (from the Latin, “love”), generally caring for your lovers and respectful of their needs and longings. You would not be using people to prove your attractiveness, feed your sexual starvation, or prevent you from encountering your true self in a quiet moment of solitude.

Since you ask, I cast my vote with your friends who think you need help. Do us all a favor and step back from your juggling routine long enough to figure out who you are, what you want to be like in this world, and what sort of intimate relationships you desire. Right now you are not really up to intimate relationships. Quit running from whatever pain, rage, or loneliness is fueling your juggling pattern. Confront the scary stuff inside and work it through. Then you can be a polyamorist or a wife or a Baptist preacher for all we care, as long as you are clear about what your motives are.

You can find a licensed therapist in your yellow pages, or in Austin through the Capital Area Psychological Association, or from a friend who is having good results in their own therapy. Make a few calls, interview a few prospective therapists, and find one who seems reasonably intelligent, non-judgmental, and easy to talk to.

About the author Dr. Nancy Daley is a licensed psychologist and adjunct assistant professor who teaches Human Sexuality at The University of Texas at Austin. If you would like to submit questions for her to answer in this column, please send them to drdaley at thatotherpaper dot com.

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