I hear over and over from women who email or meet with me: "Why can’t I allow myself to be vulnerable with men?" Or: "How come I feel like running every time he seems to take our relationship to the next level."
Theresa, an outgoing twenty-nine year old, reflects on an interesting trend she has noticed in romantic relationships when she says, "I always tend to go for guys who don’t make a lot of money. I think it’s because I like to be in control of money. I like to know a guy needs me or might depend on me."
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Although Theresa is by no means wealthy, she is still a competent professional who makes a decent salary. Her choice of partners who lack career ambition reflects her need for others to depend on her, and to rely solely on herself for financial security.
For a relationship to be balanced, partners must be able to depend on one another and feel they are needed and appreciated for support they give. If they have been let down in the past, the prospect of needing someone can be frightening. Women with a fear of depending on their partner usually aren’t aware of it. Often they complain that their partner is not meeting their needs.
The vast majority of the women that I’ve interviewed over the last several years for my book Love We Can Be Sure Of describe themselves as independent, steadfast, loyal and conscientious. They are hardworking, trustworthy, and self-reliant – and pride themselves on these traits. They may feel self-assured and autonomous – confident they can take care of themselves while others can’t. The truth is that self-reliance is a double-edged sword. While it has many virtues, extreme self-reliance can rob women of true intimacy and the type of partnerships they deserve.
Many women who are fearful of love fall into one of two categories. They are either fiercely independent, or become enmeshed with their partners and constantly look to them for approval. Our society prizes independence and it’s encouraged in divorced or high-conflict families when parents are preoccupied with their own issues. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with working hard and becoming self-sufficient. But at its root, ultra self-reliance is about fear of being vulnerable.
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It’s unfortunate that we often equate vulnerability with weakness. In her landmark book Daring Greatly, Dr. Brené Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Given this definition, the act of falling in love is the ultimate risk. Love is uncertain. It’s inherently risky because our partner could leave us at a moment’s notice, betray us, or stop loving us.
Take a moment to consider that you might be sabotaging relationship after relationship if you don’t get beyond your fear of being vulnerable. Your fear of showing weakness or exposing yourself to others, for instance, might be preventing you from being totally engaged in an intimate relationship. You may be freezing out the opportunity for love because you are fearful of sharing your inner most thoughts, feelings, and wishes.