Afraid to Get Hurt Again
Q: I met my girlfriend through an internet dating site. She lives about two hours away, and we've only met once in person, though we talk almost every day for at least an hour. I asked her to be my girlfriend last month, and after some hesitation she told me yes. She said the hesitation was related to her own fears of being hurt. I have a couple concerns. One is that, although I'm starting to think this is love, it scares me a little. I had a really bad experience with a violent, mean, and manipulative girlfriend 8 years ago (my last official relationship). I really care about her and she seems to also care about me. But I'm worried about getting hurt, mislabeling this as love, and hurting her.
The other concern is that every once in a while I have trouble picturing her face. It didn't seem like a big deal because I also had a little trouble making a clear mental picture of other important people in my life. However, another advice column said this means I don't think she's the one for me. Maybe its just me thinking too much (which I've been accused of in the past). What do you think? -- Matt, 26
Dr. Susan: There's actually no such thing as "thinking too much," though you can certainly think dysfunctionally. One kind of wrong thinking is to ruminate, obsess, go round and round in the same mental grooves, make decisions and then question them endlessly. Not being able to picture someone's face whom you've hardly seen is nothing. But it could be hinting to you that you haven't yet spent enough time together.
Your main question is about whether this is love and how to deal with the fear of hurt, both your own and hers. I can only tell you that those who live tightly defended lives, in fear of letting love in because of what might happen down the road, tend not to get what they most want. You have to risk the hurt in order to get to the real intimacy. However, and this is crucial, you most likely aren't going to be able to make a good decision without spending more personal time together. Talking daily on the phone is a whole other experience from spending daily hours together.
How about this: Suggest that you both don't get intimate with anyone else while you're testing your new relationship, but don't make any other commitments yet. Agree not to define what your feelings are yet, but just to get to know one another. Some people are way too quick to label what they are or have (we're boyfriend and girlfriend), and then the label affects what they actually do have. There's nothing to fear if you keep your expectations as open as possible. Sure, you may feel pain if this doesn't work out, or you wouldn't be human. Still, make the effort to spend time together, whatever it takes.
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.