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Dating Advice #49 - What's Wrong, Doc?

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

His poor track record leaves him wondering: Is there something fundamentally wrong? Therapy seems to be the answer.

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I have been reading your column for a while now and I appreciate your practical insight and advice. I haven't yet seen my particular issue addressed, so here goes.

I am 30, never married, and get along well with my family. I have a good job and most people would describe me as very intelligent, personable, funny and a "mensch." I have been dating about seven years and people try to set me up all the time.

I usually go out with a woman an average of 2-5 times, unless there's a first-date problem like unattractiveness or different values/attitude. I don't monopolize the conversations and it is a healthy mix of sharing personal (but not too much personal) information, feelings, anecdotes, hopes, along with some superficial and/or light talk to keep it focused, but not intense. I often feel that I am working very hard at keeping the conversation going. Still, I'm good at this and most women have a good time. Most of the time, my dates start to get attached, but I don't ever feel the start of any emotional attachment.

My pattern here is that I am physically attracted to these women and we generally share compatible lifestyles and values. Yet I do not feel the beginning of any emotional attraction even though I wish this would be the case. Nor do I find myself developing feelings of admiration and respect for the person.

I try to give it a chance, but if I feel nothing by 4 or 5 dates, I'm usually the one who ends things. Also, this way it doesn't get dragged out and cause hurt feelings.

As tough as it is to admit, now after a couple of years, I honestly think that I don't want to get married. The idea of emotional intimacy does scare me more and more as time goes by. My parents used to argue all the time when I was growing up, and I understand that this can cause a latent fear of intimacy as well as block any potential feelings now with my dating partners. I've prayed, read all of the recommended dating books, taken a number of "dating vacations," and gone to therapy -- but nothing seems to help.

I still feel a measure of anxiety about emotional intimacy, and generally don't feel like finding someone -- especially since I don't know what I'm missing. I feel stuck. I've stopped dating in general because it's not fair to those who are indeed dating for marriage. On the other hand, I feel I have a duty to try my best and I don't want to look back many years from now and kick myself for not trying to get married.

Any direction and suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


Dear Evan,

We were impressed by the insightfulness of your letter, and you seem to have nailed your problem succinctly. Your fear of emotional intimacy is preventing you from developing a deep relationship with another person.

Even though you are wary about your prospects for the future, fear of intimacy is a difficulty that you can successfully overcome. However, you won't be able to do it alone. You'll need the guidance of the right therapist.

Each qualified therapist uses a different approach, and schools of clinical social work and clinical psychology (as well as psychiatric programs in medical schools) teach several different therapeutic methods, appropriate for different needs. The therapist you saw in the past may have helped you with other issues, but it is our educated guess that he/she did not specifically address your fear of emotional intimacy.

The problem you identified usually stems from a time in a person's childhood or adolescence that he/she has not been able to move past. It could be that you are afraid to repeat the patterns you saw in your parents' marriage. Or it could be that you stopped moving forward emotionally at some point in your development. An intuitive therapist will be able to pinpoint your specific problem in one or two sessions.

We recommend that you find a forward-looking therapist who can identify your problem almost immediately and can devise a program of therapy that addresses it. Experience has shown that the psychodynamic approach and other long-term therapies are not suitable for clients who want to address the specific issue that is holding them back from forming an emotionally intimate relationship.

You may have to meet with a few therapists before you will find the one who is right for you. Nevertheless, we encourage you to stay in therapy until you and your therapist agree it can end. Many people are able to address their difficulties in several months' time, and even those individuals who need a longer period of therapy are very pleased with the success they achieve. While we cannot give any guarantees, experience has shown that men and women who complete this therapy can form the emotional connections that have eluded them for so long, enabling them to build happy and loving marriages.

We think that the insight you displayed in your letter will help you tremendously, both in your work with a therapist and in your future marriage. In the meantime, you're wise to take a break from dating. And in a relatively short time, when you see the positive results of therapy, you'll be able to re-enter the dating maze and find the best route to a happy home. Good luck.

Rosie & Sherry


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