The small apartment where I lived after the divorce was nice. A small private deck shaded by two giant redwoods was just outside the main room. I spent afternoons and evenings on the deck reading my latest acquisitions from the local book fair; classic psychology from Jung, James, and Fromm were valued discoveries. After raising three beautiful children and struggling through a difficult twenty-year relationship, I relished the time alone. I gratefully welcomed the quiet apartment; but soon came to hate it. Aloneness often sets internal alarms off, warning of a threat to our basic need to belong. Somehow, from the perfectly normal behaviors to bond emerges intense fears of being alone.
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be alone. They say we must learn to be alone first, then we can enjoy the healthy bonds of a relationship. Sometimes old wisdom isn’t practical for everybody in every situation.
The drive to escape loneliness can be powerful, conflicting with the fears of another miserable relationship. In the end, for me, it worked out. I met a cute gal and married. I still have fears. But the fears are easier to confront when enjoying security, love and companionship. Now and then, however, I long for the peaceful solitude of the redwood shaded deck that I hated so much.
We are complicated creatures with conflicting motivations. Often one desire rivals with other wants, fighting internally for dominance; we can’t have everything. Chasing one urge often requires abandoning other conflicting desires. These complicated trade-offs continually impinge on simplicity. A commitment to a lover also includes abandoning some benefits of singlehood. Many believe they can cheat, engage in conflicting wants, and get it all, but juggling the unjuggleable eventually leads to feelings getting hurt, and futures destroyed.
Trade-offs, whether recognized or not, are part of most decisions.
We either blindly follow the strongest impulse or carefully weigh the costs and benefits; and then move in one direction or the other—a choice is made. After the choice, the conditions, consequences and new feelings follow. We adapt. The new path becomes our baseline—our new normal.
See Opposing Demands for more on this topic
“Loneliness feels different for everyone. It’s deeply personal.” ~Stefanie Groner
Loneliness Motivates Togetherness
In a relationship, the pangs of loneliness dissipate, no longer a salient motivator and we easily overlook the security and warmth. Loneliness doesn’t carry the same motivating oomph when in a relationship, at least not at first. We must draw energy from the fading memories of past feelings. We may promptly lose sight of the previous debilitating feelings of being alone and begin to hearken to new calls pushing for novelty. The lost benefits of being free loom large when we no longer suffer from the maddening hours alone. Our underlying balance shifts, adjusting motivations for action.
The ex-lover haunts. We promise to never stray again, reengaging in compromise, and begging for forgiveness for any improprieties. But once forgiven, taken back, the same conditions of the past return. The fear of abandonment temporarily satisfied dims and the driving demons of the past return—the sofa, the beer, the affairs. The circumstances changed the desires, appearing as legitimate change; but the same beastly reality returns when life resumes. But next time, we promise, they will really change.
Freedom is most salient when people are in bondage. But when freedom reigns, as the years pass, the courageous fight to protect rights begin to wane, and slowly they give up privileges paid for by the blood of their forefathers.
“The circumstances changed the desires, appearing as legitimate change; but the same beastly reality returns when life resumes.”~T. Franklin Murphy
Balancing Autonomy and Connection
Although motivations shift with conditions, we can remain resolute in new paths by remembering the trade-offs and the sorrows. Cognitively evaluating what is gained and what is lost. Autonomy is delicately balanced with connection.
We all want security and freedom, but not with the same balance; some need more freedom while others need more security. One partner may adapt to love and push for greater freedom while the other partner’s security needs demand more nurturing. The first partner’s push for more aloneness triggers greater drive in the other for togetherness. This battle is won through compromise, understanding and respect, not by one partner overpowering and negating the will of the other. Neither fear of engulfment or abandonment should be the driving force. Partners must find balance, setting standards, and working together to find a path that can work for both people in the relationship. When fears of being alone are strong, compromise is difficult.
Fear is a powerful motivator. When the soul convulses with fear, the person defensively clings, sacrificing trust in a losing battle foe security. When fear shrouds the attempt to attach, the relationship teeters on a dramatic edge, small behaviors intensifying anxiety, and increase attempts to manipulate. The fear sparks defenses to claw and scratch rather than comforting trust and warmth.
“In our society to admit loneliness seems like a big admission of failure. It’s uncomfortable to hear. The subtext is that our loneliness is a result of our inability to make connections. It’s all our fault.” ~Kaylia Dunstan
Development of A Fear of Being Alone
The fear of connection is an emotional learned response. Biological givens intertwine with childhood experience and traumatic encounters, interfering with normal brain development. The hapless child develops a schema that the world is not safe.
In a cruel cycle, the fear of being alone prevents openness the very action secure connections demand. The give and take of intimacy is not understood or artfully applied; where healthy boundaries are void, selfish partners exploit. The motivating force shifts from the natural bonds of intimacy to simply avoiding physical aloneness—at all costs. An intense fear of being alone motivates unhealthy relationships. To maintain personal boundaries, one must be willingly to leave partners who flauntingly infringe. An inner-confidence that we can survive without a partner is paramount, settling the fears and allowing for occasional aloneness.
Powerful insecurities take over; the fear of being alone exceeds self-respect, and we sacrifice welfare, lose the self, suffer abuse, and eventually drown in depression. Neither being single nor being in a relationship can be enjoyed when the need for a partner trumps the need for intimacy.
“Autophobia is a phobia, or fear-based disorder. If you suspect you have autophobia, you should visit your general practitioner.”~ Erica Cirino | Healthline
Fear and love are not friendly traveling companions. Out of fear manipulation thrives, welcoming damaging connections; when we should flee. Relationships have power to enhance our beauty or expose our more shadowy side. Without mindful awareness, behaviors easily shift from love to sinister manipulations. No relationship is completely free of fear. Relationships grow from significant investments of time and energy; to lose one is costly to emotions and well-being. We feel both emotions in important relationships.
Our work is to refine love, recognize fear and courageously set and enforce personal boundaries. Refining love and managing fear protects the devastation of a long hurtful relationships (because we flee instead of cling), strengthens our healthy connections, and builds life-giving self-confidence.