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Post-traumatic stress dating

Posted by Meredith Goldstein  January 4, 2010 08:46 AM

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Happy New Year.

The first song I heard in 2010 was George Michael’s “Freedom.” I think that’s a good omen for us. "All we have to see … is that I don’t belong to you … and you don’t belong to me …" I think George wrote that one about checking his boyfriend’s text messages.

Another reminder: Reserve the night of Feb. 12 for a Love Letters event. Details to come soon. Get a babysitter or a hair appointment or whatever it is you need to do.

And the first of the year is a biggie …

Q: Hello,

Just found out about this column and thought it would be a good way to get some advice anonymously, so hopefully I can get some type of response. Anyway, I’m a 25-yo, single male and had to deal with a situation when I was 19 that still affects my relationships to this day.

My sophomore year of college, I got a friend of mine pregnant. We were left with a big choice to make that would change us both. She decided that keeping it would cause more problems than not, so we decided to get an abortion. I was on the fence about it, but didn’t stop her. We didn’t talk much after it was done, probably due to immaturity and efforts to move on with our lives. The way I handled it still makes me cringe as I write this six years later.

The whole situation changed how I view relationships, sex, etc. more than I could have thought. I still carry a certain amount of guilt about it today (My Catholic upbringing may have something to do with it) and think about what I could have done differently to make it a better situation. But more so, I am terrified of another unplanned pregnancy.

Due to the experience, even with necessary precautions, I still think "Did I do enough to protect myself? What if something fails again? Is she responsible with her birth control? Would she lie about it?” All these questions -- no matter how ridiculous -- enter my mind. This has strained past relationships. I push women away after a period of time (I have not had a relationship for longer than a couple months), even really nice ones.

Abstinence is unrealistic, so even my fear is overcome by human nature sometimes. The number of women I have been with since is not out of control, but its enough to see an obvious pattern. Meet, date, woman wanting commitment, slowly push away, end. Repeat. I tell myself it’s just that I haven’t found the right one, but I think it’s deeper than that.

I have dealt with this internally, haven’t told anyone, aside from a close friend, about the whole thing. I’m not a real "emotions on my sleeve" kind of guy. But, I need to figure this out somehow, so here I am. There is a new person in my life that I like, and I don’t want her to end up getting hurt like the others.

There are numerous issues to deal with here, but I just need to take some first steps in dealing with them. I am interested in your opinion and readers that may have been through a similar thing. Am I crazy for thinking this much about it? Is it common to be haunted by a past decision like this? Is this a trust issue? Sorry for the long winded/sporadic letter, but it’s honestly the most I’ve said/written about it since it occurred.

Any help would be appreciated.

– Still dealing, Boston


A: SD, I bet it felt good to write that down.

You’re right -- there’s a lot to deal with here. To answer one of your last questions, yes, it’s quite normal to be haunted by traumatic relationship experiences, especially when you’ve gone out of your way to avoid processing them out loud.

You’ve suppressed these emotions for so long that it’s hard to tell whether your serial dating is normal, non-committal behavior (and really, it might be), or if it’s an effect of the confusing abortion experience.

My big advice is (drum roll): therapy, therapy, therapy. You don’t have to tell anyone you’re seeking professional help. You can be very Tony Soprano about it if you want to be. But you have to spend some quality time figuring out what’s going on in your head and why. That’s basically what you’ve asked us – “What is going on in my head? What’s my motive?” And we don’t know. We can’t know. You have to talk and talk and talk until you figure that out for yourself.

My second piece of advice (softer drum roll) is to tell this new woman everything you told us in this letter. You’ve hinted that you like her and that you don’t want to blow it. Disclosing your fears will force a grown-up discussion about birth control, will establish some emotional intimacy, and will be good practice for you, in general. You have to get used to talking about how you feel. Otherwise, you wind up regretting decisions six years later, misunderstanding your own feelings, and avoiding accountability for your dating behavior.

Talk to her, talk to a professional, talk to friends. You can’t really know yourself until you allow other people to be mirrors. It’s honestly the most I’ve said/written about it since it occurred. That just doesn’t work. We’re pretty good mirrors here at Love Letters, but I bet there are people in your life who would do an even better job.

Readers? Can he blame his serial dating and relationship stress on the experience six years ago? Are they related? Am I right to say that bottling his emotions has made a mess of his head? Thoughts? Share.

– Meredith



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ABOUT LOVE LETTERS: Welcome to Love Letters, the place for love advice (giving and getting). Globe relationship columnist Meredith Goldstein and Boston.com readers are ready to take your letters and tell you what's what. Have a question? Click here to submit or email us at loveletters@boston.com.
Blogger Meredith Goldstein

Meredith Goldstein is a Boston Globe columnist who follows relationship trends and entertainment. She offers daily advice on Love Letters — and welcomes your comments. Meredith is also the author of "The Singles," a novel about complicated relationships. Follow Meredith at www.meredithgoldstein.netand on Twitter. Love Letters can be found in the print edition of The Boston Globe every Saturday in the G section.

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