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Author Topic: I've never been so torn in my life.
she_who_questions
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I'm in a confusing and painful situation where all of my options seem bad. This past year I joined a national service program and was placed with a team of 8 other people ranging from 18-24. We traveled throughout the midwest doing different projects for ten months. During that time, I became really close with one of my teammates, Cameron, and romantic feelings developed. I've never felt as close with anyone before. I can speak honestly to him and he can do the same with me...sometimes to a fault because we tend all air all our insecurities at times. But generally I think the honesty is liberating and good. Our communication is very solid too.

However, even from the beginning I had concerns about getting too involved (mostly because of circumstance).

The service program ended in mid November. Since we live in different states (him in Indiana and me in Florida), we decided to visit one another asap. I bought a plane ticket to Indiana for December 27th. I also secured a job in Michigan which is within driving distance of him...That position begins in late January.

Yet, since we stopped spending so much time together, all of these doubts are cropping up. I know he wants a committed relationship from me, but I feel unable to give him that. Circumstances seem to forbid it... Distance, professional ambitions, and different ages all play into it. I know we have slightly different maturity levels too. Plus, I'm 24 and I can't fathom the idea of starting a lifelong relationship right now. I just believe that people (me and him) need to give each other room to meet others and make important life choices. I'm not sure I'm ready to do that in tandem yet. I've explained all of this to him and he's tried to go along with it. But it has become clear that my uncertainty is hurting Cameron beyond words, and that he is becoming painfully insecure. I told him that I would focus on our relationship to the exclusion of others, but he still senses the gap in emotional need and is unsatisfied with it.

In some ways it feels like I met him too soon. I know he loves me with everything he's got, and I think I may love him too. Admittedly though, I'm not sure of my feelings sometimes. I care about him tremendously, but I find it difficult to summon the same passion and enthusiasm as he does. I can't tell if my ambivalence is as a result of outside circumstances, emotional unavailability, negative thinking, or things just not working out. I feel like Cameron relies on me more than he should, and that worries me. He says he's working on it but I wonder if he can effectively resolve those kinds of personal issues with me in the picture.

I don't want to continue to hurt him and I want to do the right thing (which seems to be space of some kind). I brought this up and he's absolutely devastated. I feel horrible and don't know how to proceed.

FYI: I was involved in a very codependent and damaging relationship for 5 years before this. I don't know if I've fully recovered from it either. It seems like elements of that old relationship are happening again with this one. I don't know what to do, and I feel like I'm doomed to repeat this pattern. I'm also freaking out because I feel like if I make the wrong decision here I might lose the person I'm supposed to be with forever.

It just seems like a lot of pressure. I don't know whether I'm imagining it or whether I'm creating it or he is. I can't tell if I'm being too pessimistic about the prospects of this relationship and thereby undermining all the possibility in it. I have no idea how to gauge my own emotions right now given the numerous factors at play. Please help me to find perspective. I am terrified that I'm making a huge mistake.

P.S. I can return my plane ticket to Indiana but that feels incredibly negative and finalistic. I also wonder if seeing him would clarify things or simply make action harder.

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Heather
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So, when you say you brought this up with him, do you mean you said things like , "I understand you're after a lifelong, committed relationship, but I know that isn't something I can offer you: is that something you feel there is room for compromise around or not?" that he was devastated? And that you weren't able to really dig into those kinds of discussions to help you decide, together, what to do from here?

I don't think anyone is doomed to repeat relationship patterns, so long as we do some big work in becoming aware of what they are and changing those patterns.

I also don't think there are "people we are supposed to be with forever," decided by some kind of external force. Obviously, we don't all share the same beliefs around this stuff, but whether you do or don't think someone else makes these decisions for you, you at least have to know that you're the one who needs to at least okay them and then manage and live with them. In my book, we decide who we do and don't want to be with and for how long: not someone else. And personally, I think everyone at least has to be on board with that somewhat in order to be an active participant in their relationships and the choices they make with them, you know?

If this is feeling like a repeat in some ways for you, you might try and first think about how to respond differently in this relationship than you did in the last one to similar dynamics. What can you do now that you didn't do then? How CAN you change the pattern by changing your own actions and choices?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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she_who_questions
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I've definitely done a lot of work on myself since the 5-year, unhealthy relationship ended. I've focused on self-awareness and boundaries, tried to at least acknowledge when I'm drawn to unhealthy things, etc. I've also tried to avoid doing things I don't feel internally right about by prioritizing honesty conversation.

This newer relationship with Cameron still reminds me of the unhealthy one, only the tables are somewhat turned. I am the one who is more restrained/practical/distant while he has invested everything from the start. I always feel like a stick in the mud for bringing up likely obstacles and everything. I just feel like the power dynamic is somewhat unequal.

I don't want to put him through the same kind of hurt I experienced before. And if I have, I don't want to prolong it.

I've told Cam all along that I was hesitant to commit at this point in my life, both for practical and emotional reasons. I feel like there is stuff I need to figure out about myself, experiences I need to have, etc. I also think I'm not fully available given my past.

I wish it were possible to fast-forward to better circumstances so that I could see how my relationship with Cam would look then. Obviously we'd both have to have grown up a little bit and become more independent.

I just see so much potential in this and I fear losing it forever. When we talked last night, we couldn't come up with any alternatives or courses of action. I just don't know how to fix something unequal without time and introspection. But by the same token, I don't want to string him along or waste his life with my uncertainty.

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Heather
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I'm not sure that there is inequality in people just wanting different things. I mean, you not wanting things he does doesn't mean you have power he doesn't.

It also sounds like you've been very clear you don't want the same things. If he still stuck around after that, I presume he said those differences were okay with them? If he did and he's not feeling that way anymore, is he owning that? Either deciding he needs to seek out someone who wants what he does, or seeing if he has any room for compromise where he can still be happy?

Can I ask what he's doing to work on his own stuff?

FYI, I think romantic relationships winding up awesome over time that, at the beginning, are rife with conflict, is a thing that happens very rarely. Most typically, if it really doesn't seem to be a fit at or near the start, that's only to get worse over time, not better.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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she_who_questions
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When I say inequality, I also mean in terms of emotional reciprocation, not just wants and needs. I don't think I'm as gung-ho or expressive as he is, and clearly he needs that to feel reassured. I'm not sure if my version of caring/love is as untainted as his...This is my second major partnership and it's his first. I hate that I'm questioning my love for him because it was a very solid thing when we were around each other near the end of the program.

Over this last year, I think Cam has done a lot of work regarding his own issues. But admittedly, a lot of that happened with my help. I feel like I counseled him a lot initially, but he eventually got to the point where he could offer me a great deal of understanding, kindness and help too. Nowadays I think he's in a bit of a rut since the national service program ended. I am too. He has always had a sense of social isolation, self-pity, and victim's mentality. But I know he has the resources to address them. I just think he doesn't want to lose me. I feel like I'm validating all of his worst fears about people by not meeting expectations in this area right now.

Cam did act like he was okay with seeing how things went, not having in a binding commitment, etc. But at the same time he tried to change my position on it a lot. And I guess he should be offended if someone isn't sure about the situation and his/her feelings? I feel like I've done him wrong or something...I got to the point where I felt thoroughly attracted and close with him, and I wanted to be fair to him. Fairness seemed to involve overcoming the pathology of commitment phobia and just going ahead. So I tried for a while to go along with the idea of a sanctified relationship even though I quickly backed off of it.

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Heather
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I'd posit that someone who tried to change where you stood with this stuff might have SAID they were okay with where you're at, but they're making very clear they aren't.

How about revisiting these comversations?

You sound like you're very thoughtful and mindful with this person. I have every confidence you can talk about it with him in a way that isn't hurtful. That doesn't mean he won't feel hurt or disappointed or even sacred, mind, but you can't own his own stuff for him. You aren't actually his counselor or therapist, even though it sounds like you might have taken on that role somewhat. And to negotiate and manage your partnership, you can't be his counselor: you have to be only his girlfriend, lover, friend, whatever it is you actually have wanted to be and want to be with him.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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she_who_questions
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Near the beginning, I tried to keep a distance because of my own emotional and practical situation. And also because I knew I couldn't give Cam what he wanted. But he tried really earnestly to convince me to just go with my feelings and see where things went.

I did so under that pretense, but as I predicted, he actually wanted a more concrete, traditional relationship. It's not that I won't want a committed relationship ever, but right now things just don't feel right. The circumstances are all jacked up, he's not in a good place, I'm not in the best place, on some level each of us is playing out our personal/emotional troubles on the relationship, etc.

The only plan I can think of is this:
I will tell him that I hope we can continue to be in each other's lives after we've each had some time and space to reflect on what we want, how we feel, why we feel that way, how we each might be undermining good rapport, etc. I guess I will try to get a refund for my plane ticket and plan to see him at a better time (if that's something that can be agreed upon by both of us). I will still hopefully be moving to that part of the country soon so travel might be easier to manage. Maybe the airline will give me a travel voucher.

I can't bring myself to conclude that I will never want a relationship with him. I'm just not sure; I can't rule it out.

Do you see any possible compromises in this situation? I can't seem to think outside of black-and-white right now and neither can he.

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Heather
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Really, not knowing either of you or hearing from both of you, I couldn't say what room for compromise there is here. You know what you want, what's flexible for you and what isn't: he does, too. But I hear you saying that either you two aren't flexible in some ways you'd need top be, or communication has broken down so much, you can't even talk about that together right now.

I think that if you feel good about what you're suggesting doing and saying here, that it certainly sounds just fine to me, and doesn't sound at all mean or hurtful.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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she_who_questions
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Thanks for your help. I might continue to occasionally post things on this thread over the next couple of days if that's okay. I don't really have many people who can offer me solid advice on things like this.
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Heather
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Of course: you're welcome to talk with us about this as much as you need. [Smile]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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WesLuck
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Best wishes! [Smile]
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she_who_questions
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Hi Heather and WesLuck,

I did what I planned to do several posts ago. Now I'm left with this strange, empty feeling like there is some mystery about the whole ending that I need to solve.

For some reason, I'm having a lot of trouble entertaining the possibility that I may not have been romantically in love with Cameron. It just doesn't sit right...it feels like I'm oversimplifying everything or denying some vital aspects of what happened between us.

When things ended with my first major relationship (a guy named Tom), I went through a period of time where I tried to sort out what happened. During that process, I encountered a lot of articles about emotional unavailability; it was an explanation that seemed very relevant to my situation. Tom fit the description in many ways. Now I'm concerned that maybe I've been emotionally unavailable to Cameron, or I'm sick in some way for being unable or unwilling to reciprocate his feelings. In many ways, I'd almost prefer that to be the case (as opposed to a lack of real, romantic feeling).

On the one hand, I know that I invested in my relationship with Cameron quite a bit. I tried as best I could to be mindful of his needs and give him what he needed/wanted. I even began to believe I wanted the same things, although there was always a nagging doubt in the recesses of my mind. I felt an incredible conflict the whole time.... I still can't tell if that conflict occurred because he is not the right person for me at this time, or because I wanted to love him and couldn't. External vs. internal problem, you know?

I feel guilty for for the way I've treated him. But I don't feel like I led him on just for kicks. I really cared about him and wanted the best for him, although the ways things went down may not have been ideal.

This morning I came across the following article: http://www.thefrisky.com/photos/7-signs-that-youre-the-one-who%E2%80%99s-emotionally-unavailable/
A couple of these "signs" ring somewhat true for me, or at least raise questions about my current emotional place. For example, one slide talks about being "repulsed" by available guys, or believing on some level that they are desperate just because they seek you out and are consistent. It also claims that secretly some women feel undeserving of love from a decent source. I wonder if I'm implicated by that slide.

I feel like I've been able to thoroughly invest in Cameron, and I definitely found him attractive in a lot of ways. But maybe I wrote him off unfairly. I definitely feel like I don't deserve his love... but I'm not sure if that's because his feelings are more intense than mine (i.e. not fully reciprocated) or because I'm emotionally unable to truly love right now. How the heck should I begin to parse this out?

A couple of other slides made me slightly uncomfortable as well. There is one that talks about being in love with a fantasy and having specific ideas of how your ideal relationship should look (leading you to deny "real people" any relationship potential). While I don't go around imagining my ideal relationship all the time, I do have some qualities I'd like my significant other to have. For instance, I'd like them to have an artistic bent, and I want them to be kind, challenging, and inspiring to me. I want someone I deeply respect. I would hope that the person is physically attractive to me, but I don't have strict parameters for that.

The final two slides that worried me were about craving chaos and using busyness as a distraction from oneself. I am guilty of both, to a limited extent.

Overall, I have this sense that Cameron might've been a good partner for me, had I been able to fully reciprocate. I feel like I may have had a chance at a kind of redemption from emotional unavailability but passed it up. Or at least that's the box that I'm inclined to paint myself into. There was just too much mental conflict for it to have been a simple matter of me not being interested enough...

I feel so guilty about picking out individual qualities of Cameron's and saying that they weren't right for me long-term. I've never been happier or more comfortable with anybody else in my life. I used to think to myself, "someday I'll probably marry this guy." Was I just forcing it??

I'm sorry if the above makes little to no sense. I'm still very confused and hurting. Can't decide if I'm just far removed from my emotions or too close and not liking the results.

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Heather
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I'm not sure this is something you are going to be able to figure out so quickly. This is big stuff, it's likely to take time. Generally, I find it takes years, sometimes longer, to really sort out our feelings about a relationship after it's over in big ways.

How did the conversation you had with him go? I feel like I'm missing a big hunk of information here not knowing that.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather
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(Just FYI, I really wouldn't put too much stock in an online slideshow that was from a site primarily for entertainment. It sounds like that triggered a lot for you, but it also sounds like you're giving something like that a LOT more weight than I personally think is sound.

Heck, I can't even find a byline for that slideshow to know if it came from someone with any background in relationship dynamics or psychology.)

[ 12-20-2012, 03:04 PM: Message edited by: Heather ]

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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she_who_questions
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My conversation with him went pretty well, although it was very sad. I explained how much I valued him, cared about him, and how confused I was. I told him that I could no longer put him through my ambivalence about my feelings since it was clearly causing him pain. I told him that I couldn't reciprocate in the way he needs or that I would ideally want to, at least right now. I reiterated the circumstances surrounding my confusion and hesitation and told him that I needed to get to the bottom of it. I explained that, emotionally and mentally, my house "may not be in order."

It seemed like he only focused on my admission of being unable to fully reciprocate at this time, and clung to that. I think he's painted me into the box of "commitment-phobic" and was hence unable to fully hear me out. But I did the best I could.

It was mutually decided that we would give each other space for a while, not talk, etc. He told me not to contact him unless I'd had some kind of epiphany, wanted to try again, or wanted to just pursue friendship. The last few days have been rather like dropping off a cliff, but I know I need to respect his need for space and allow him to move on with his life. I know he needs to right his own ship by being more self-sufficient, and that's hard. Now I'm debating whether to send him the Christmas presents I bought. Not sure if he would view that as a transgression.

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Heather
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That helps, thanks.

So, did you only go exploring things around fear of commitment because of what he said?

Mind, now that I have made my way out of the crazy maze that is that website and others like it (I honestly don't get why some of y'all read that stuff, but I suppose that's a conversation for another day!), let me try and say something in a much less shamey, blamey (and very gender-policing, IMO) way than what you read.

Sometimes we -- any of us -- *are* afraid to commit to things. But sometimes we're not scared, we just don't WANT to. One doesn't have to fear commitment to not want to make a certain commitment to a given person or thing. And it's not like it'd be healthy to commit to things we don't want to just because someone else wants us to.

The impression I was getting with this is that you have been figuring out that there are things Cameron wanted you just don't, or know you don't know, and you've been clear about that from the get-go. It's not like you hid any of that, or only figured it out later. It also doesn't sound to me like you promised anything you didn't deliver.

As time went on, it perhaps became more clear to you that you still don't want those things, or now, or with this person, that they do, and that they really wanted/needed them more than THEY made clear. And so you then made clear, again, you didn't want what he did, and cut a tie in that regard.

Does all of that sound about right?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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she_who_questions
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It does, yea. I just can't escape the feeling that I've misled him terribly (despite myself). The whole time I knew, on some level, that I wasn't ready or able to be what he needed me to be, but I got swept up in caring about him and started to think that might be some way for us to work out. And yea, I want to be in a position where I feel good committing. Maybe I wanted to skip all the work/time/distance/hardship I knew it would involve, and just enjoy him. He really is one of the best people I've ever met.

In answer to your other question, I started on this "commitment-phobic" idea a while ago. Part of it came as a result of Cameron and part of it was from my own first relationship experiences. In an attempt to make sense of my first partner's behavior toward me, I found yet another website, www.baggagereclaim.co.uk. It dealt with emotional unavailability and really made a lot of sense to me. The woman who writes it, Natalie Lue, emphasizes emotional self-sufficiency, self-respect, boundaries, recognizing unacceptable behaviors, etc. Admittedly she uses some "one-size-fits-all" terms on occasion, but overall she truly helped me recover after that breakup. I see her articles in a more balanced way now, and I'm more able to see how the relationship ended as a result of both my behavior and my partner's.

With Cam, I think I may have subconsciously thrown some of Natalie Lue's ideas around in an effort to further justify my inability to commit to him or give him what he wanted. He couldn't seem to accept or understand my reluctance, and I couldn't fully deal with it either since I was still interested in him. My need to justify might've been the result of applied guilt and bad communication, but it still feels manipulative to me. I dunno.

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Heather
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It sounds to me like you *both* had the idea you could perhaps meet in the middle somewhere. That wasn't just you. And you know, this is kind of how relationships go: we try things out together we both want to try to see how, and if, they work. We can't know in advance how our intimate relationships are going to feel or go. The best we can do is be as clear as possible from the start about the things we DO know about ourselves, our wants and needs, our limits and boundaries, and so forth.

From there, all we and anyone else can do is do our best to be good to each other, keep communicating, and see what works and what doesn't. None of us can see The Relationship Future. It sounds to me like you're trying to take responsibility for some things that you couldn't possibly be responsible for, even if you wanted to be.

You know, a lot of what I keep hearing in this thread and your other is what sounds to me like feeling really bad about saying no to people, and perhaps a propensity to try and give someone else what they want because you feel really bad, or like it's not okay, even, to say no or to lack to desire to do something, or the ability to. Does that sound familiar to you at all?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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Heather
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(I confess, I didn't look at that link. Just feeling a little twitchy from my foray into Girl World from the previous link you left! [Smile] )

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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she_who_questions
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It sounds familiar, yea. I'm trying to figure out where that reluctance comes from. On the surface, it's because I hate ruling people out in any way. It feels cruel to have preferences and force others to deal with my finicky personality. I know that there is something absolutely beautiful to be gotten from every single person on the planet, and sometimes people are only comfortable getting truly close with those that they're romantically or sexually interested in. So sometimes I'm willing to downgrade my own wants and comfort level in order to know people better. Probably the residue of unhealthy habits. But also an extension of how I think about the world.
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Heather
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Don't you think other people ALSO have their own preferences? That, for example, for every person they want to be sexual with, there's at least one person, if not far more, they don't?

quote:
sometimes people are only comfortable getting truly close with those that they're romantically or sexually interested in. So sometimes I'm willing to downgrade my own wants and comfort level in order to know people better.
I'd agree with you that this sounds like a pretty unhealthy strategy. How about instead only choosing to get to know people sexually who you WANT to get to know in that way, and choosing people to get to know via other routes who are also open to only going those other routes?

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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she_who_questions
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I'm realizing that that's pretty much the only way, since other ways cause plenty of pain and confusion too. These threads have essentially converged so I think I'm going to only type of the other one. Sorry to make you jump back and forth.
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Heather
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Okay.

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Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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