All Fluff, No Substance

Dear Neil: A year ago I connected with a woman who was gorgeous, warm and affectionate. She was a model type, very striking in appearance. She appeared to be quite taken by me, and I had visions of this being THE ONE. But a couple of months into the relationship, she began to retract. She became reluctant to socialize with almost anyone, even good friends. She became fearful of new people and new situations. She got agitated, depressed and disturbed by virtually everything. She became very self-centered, focusing on what gave her pleasure or comfort. She pushed away from me dramatically, and became far more inaccessible. I quit verbalizing how I felt or what I wanted, because there seemed to be less and less room in the relationship for me. Before I left the relationship, she told me that she had been like this before we met.

What happened to her? It’s hard to figure out why she withdrew when everything was going well. What lessons would you recommend I take from this experience?

Not Fully Understanding in New York

Dear Not Fully Understanding: Although it’s possible that she just plunged into a clinical depression shortly after you began a relationship with her, it’s more likely that your girlfriend’s real self emerged after the relationship began, and with it came all of the anxiety, fear, depression and withdrawal she carried around with her. She kept all of those emotions under control in the beginning of your relationship, for fear that if she had not you wouldn’t have bonded with her. She may have been looking for a caretaker or rescuer all along, knowing she was close to an emotional collapse.

A fair number of people push away or distance when things get close, because it feels safer and less threatening when things are less intimate. But it doesn’t sound as if that’s what she was doing. She withdrew from life, not from you personally. I have no reason to believe that her losing herself was related to her feelings about you at all.

It is one thing to be in a committed relationship with someone you’re attached to, and if something goes wrong, she will look to you for support and care. But it’s a totally different thing to choose someone who needs a caretaker from the onset. I might suggest you be especially mindful in the future about agreeing to be someone else’s caretaker from the beginning of a relationship. If you’re going to choose someone who doesn’t have her act together from the beginning, you’re agreeing to not have the reciprocal give and take relationship you appear to be seeking.

Find someone who is interested in and has room for you: your wants, needs, likes, dislikes, dreams and feelings. Don’t just look for the most sexually appealing woman. Look for a woman that attracts you—but who also has some breadth and substance to give to you. You don’t need a cotton candy relationship: a woman who offers you a lot of fluff, but has nothing of substance to give. I’m not saying that the fluff isn’t interesting or seductive. It is. But what you got from this visually stunning woman was a mirage. You thought you were getting a dream, but you wound up with only an illusion, like cotton candy.

Has your relationship turned cold and distant? Neil’s book Love, Sex, and Staying Warm can help you rekindle your passion.

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