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Dating Advice #33 - Overcoming Fears

May 8, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

Something's holding her back. Before she gets married, she'll have to get to the heart of the matter.

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am ambivalent, not scared, of dating. I don't seem to get asked out much and I am probably part of the problem. Anyhow, I know eventually I want to get married and have a child. I just fear that at 33 years old my chances of meeting a "mensch" are close to nothing.

How do I overcome my fear and persevere? Any thoughts?


Dear Mindy,

It seems that you have two fears: you are afraid of dating, and you are afraid of never getting married. Each fear should be confronted separately.

When you say that "someday" you want to marry, somehow hoping that at some point in the future you'll be "ready" for a relationship, you're unconsciously pushing off dealing with whatever issues are keeping you from moving forward with your life. As uncomfortable as it may be to confront those issues now, they will be much harder to tackle in the future. We think that now is the time for you to examine why you are afraid of marriage, and work on conquering that fear, even though this may be difficult and painful.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to understand the reasons why you are afraid:

  1. Is there anything in your past dating experience that has made you afraid?

  2. Did you grow up in a difficult home situation?

  3. Has anyone ever betrayed your trust or confidence in a way that still haunts you?

  4. Were you ever in a promising courtship that looked as it would lead to marriage and didn't?

  5. Have you had limited dating experiences, or never been in a healthy long-term relationship?

The answers to these questions call for soul-searching and honesty. Beware of rationalizing, or you won't be able to see the picture clearly.

If you can identify the reason you are afraid, we suggest you use a variation of a process called "desensitization" to try to work through and overcome your fearful feelings. Let's say you're afraid because you've never had a courtship and are worried about what to expect. Visualize the first few dates with an imaginary suitor. As you imagine what you might experience on each date, identify each of those elements that make you afraid. Visualize the worst things that can happen in each situation, and then think of different ways you can deal with each possibility. Imagine how you would implement the solution. This process helps many people realize they can deal with extremely uncomfortable situations without the world crashing in on them -- and that they, can, in fact, "survive" and then move on past the anxiety-producing scenario.

Once again, we suggest that any other person who truly wants to get married "someday" to deal with any obstacles to healthy dating now, rather than later. These obstacles usually do not go away on their own. If anything, the longer you live with them, the more work you require to eliminate them. In addition, the longer most women and men delay their efforts to meet, date and marry a future spouse, the more difficulty they have developing a strong relationship, and the smaller the pool of potential suitors.

This brings us to your second fear -- of finding a suitable match. The encouraging news is that there is a big population of potentially "great" men (and, for the men, there are great women) in their 30's and 40's who, like you, haven't yet gotten around to marriage. Some are just getting the idea in their heads now, others have been trying but haven't developed the right formula yet. (Marriage-oriented individuals should not date people who aren't ready for marriage.)

We suggest that you think over your definition of a "mensch," narrow it down to a few basic qualities, and look for men who seem to have most of those characteristics. It's very important for anyone in their thirties to realize three truisms that may keep you from getting to know someone who could be great for you:

  1. Most people are "diamonds in the rough," whose true characters and good qualities won't all be visible until you've taken two, three or four dates to get to know them better. Some of these people may need some superficial polishing for you to see what gems they really are.

  2. Everyone you meet is going to have some flaws. Partners in a healthy, loving marriage aren't blind to each other's imperfections; each person's fine qualities simply eclipse the lesser qualities. If you're dating someone who makes a mistake or says something stupid, they're being human. Give them a chance to show you the bigger picture.

  3. There's a strong chance that you won't feel the "fireworks" we all see in movies and romance novels. A great marriage takes time to build and grow. Those that start out with a flash often burn out quickly. And if they endure, it's not because the fireworks are still burning, but because the couple was lucky enough to develop an emotionally close relationship.

We hope these words have given you the encouragement you need.

Rosie & Sherry


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