Ask Elizabeth: Is It OK to be Fine with being Single.
I have been single now for about 5 years and to be honest have never been happier! This comes as no surprise to me seeing as my previous relationships have been toxic and the men abusive. My first relationship was when I was 15 and it ended some 15 years later. This relationship has taken me almost as many years to recover from. When that relationship ended, I went from one toxic toad to another until the last 5 or 6 years where I have given men the flick and given myself time to heal, and the love and kindness I have wanted to receive from a partner – and I have thrived ϑ.
I bought a little hobby farm about 5 years ago, (which was a dream of mine) and I study full time externally. I have found it easy to stay single as I’m a homebody.
I have come to realise I am an introvert and I really value and need my alone time. It helps me recharge. I know in the past partners have not understood my need to be alone and I can see how they became anxious and threatened (accusing me of all sorts of things, and often saying I just don’t put in any effort).
I want to be accepted for myself and that means finding a mature relationship. I know I need to be honest with myself about what I want in a partner, and clear about what my needs are. I’m aware I have to negotiate with my partner boundaries particularly in relation to “alone time” so they don’t feel hurt, angry or suspicious about my needs being selfish. In the past, it’s been easier to say I’m busy with family etc. when really, I’m just spending time alone as they don’t ever understand. I end up exhausting myself trying to maintain the facade and I pretty quickly want the relationship over. I become fed up and tired of constantly explaining myself and am left feeling drained, guilty, frustrated and utterly misunderstood.
The pattern is that they push for more and more time, I feel smothered and it all goes to pot and I end it, or better still they end it, and I run for the hills. I have taken the time to reflect and read up attachment, and have since discovered I have a bit of an avoidant attachment style.
Just writing this makes me feel anxious about dating.
I feel strength in knowing myself and what I want. My self-worth has increased as has my confidence in spotting a toxic relationship… so I’m definitely getting there.
I’m still not sure if I’m ready to date, but let’s say I do in the future, my question is, how do I manage dating while being an introvert with a tendency for avoidance? I can also be anxious at times.
I have created a great life for myself, I am connected to the natural environment and am soon to be starting out in a new and exciting career. My life is full and wonderful and is on my terms.
Should I just stay single and become a cat lady?
I’m kinda cool with that idea.
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Thank you for your question
Wow, it is a huge question, and it sounds like you have done a lot of reading in order to understand who you are. You mention a couple of different theories that you have read that help you to understand who you are as well as understanding your pattern in relationships and whether a relationship is toxic or not. All that is great as it gives you insight into yourself, so I am pleased that you have reached out to me. I am pleased you have read about Attachment and introversion and extroversion as it gives you some insight into what might be going on for you.
It’s interesting that as life is going well for you right now, you are contemplating not changing anything and yet earlier in your question to me you talk about finding a life partner.
Something I want you to recognise whether we are introverted, extroverted or have Secure, Anxious, Avoidant or Fearful Avoidant Attachment we all have a strong evolutionary desire to be in a relationship. So it is important to recognise that if your primary attachment style is Avoidant that you will use a deactivating strategy, what this means is that you will repress your emotion to cope when you feel your emotion is elevated. This means that even though it may appear (even to yourself) that you are calm, in fact, research tells us you are as emotionally elevated as a person who has Anxious Attachment and is emotionally acting out how upset they are. So this emotional repression you feel where you choose to withdraw to be a cat lady may seem like it feels better when in fact it is just a coping strategy to mask your feelings. One of those feelings that you are asking me about is whether it is OK to be on your own – so deep inside that desire to be with someone is still there. Only you can decide whether it is the right thing for you to continue to be single or whether you look for a life partner.
I am glad that you have explored more than just your Attachment. Each of the theories we learn about that gives us a window into how we are in the world usually explains just one aspect. It is important to understand the many different theories to get a full picture of ourselves, and very few of us fit exactly into the theory, we are usually a bit of this and that – it isn’t neat and tidy. Also just because we have a preferred way of being or functioning at a certain point in time doesn’t mean that can’t change. We can change in response to self-knowledge, we can change in response to life circumstances, and we can choose to make an effort to be in our non-preferred way of being which is why when you choose to be extroverted you feel exhausted, and why sometimes you can be anxious at times
Some of us are introverted, and some of us are extroverted. It is how we are wired. Some of us take our energy from the external world and are extroverts. This means we are outgoing and often loud and talkative and get our energy from other people and events external to us. Introverted people, on the other hand, are often quieter and they get their energy from their internal world. They process internally, and so they often need time alone to understand and make sense of events around them. This is why introverts often need time out. They need time to process, extroverts are processing all the time (often out loud by talking) and so they don’t need or crave this time alone as much. As an extrovert myself I have found the suggestion that I should slow down and take time to meditate and think to be very helpful. I don’t think I need it, but when I do take time to think it is when I do my best work and funnily enough this suggestion has been made by the introverted mentors I have chosen to have in my life.
Relationships often have a pattern of introverts and extroverts coming together or if you think about Attachment and Avoidant Attachment styles coming together. This creates the pursuer distancer relationship pattern that we so commonly see in relationships. The pursuer distancer pattern is where one partner usually the anxious partner who is often but not always extroverted chase the avoidant partner who is most often but not always introverted for assurance of connection in the relationship. The more the anxious partner is reactive, the more the avoidant partner tries to dampen down the emotion by being non-reactive or retreating. The more the couple repeat this pattern, the more they become caught in it and the more extreme it becomes damaging the relationship every time it happens.
Often this pattern is described in a gendered way in the popular literature. As a couples therapist when I took relationships workshops I would describe this pattern, and the couples would immediately identify as the man in the couple being the avoidant and the woman being anxious. However, I always discourage getting caught up in gender in explanations of relationship patterns, and this is because the pattern can and often does go the other way – and if we get caught in what usually happens, we miss important details about what happens in our relationships. What is important is to use the patterns and theories as a guide to focus right in on our own personal situation.
To understand this more fully couples can get caught in what they are arguing about – for example, who unloaded the dishwasher. However what they don’t see is the process. They aren’t really arguing about the dishwasher at all but about being loved and cared for. The anxious person who is often extroverted and very verbal needs to step back and give the avoidant person who is often introverted and less verbal time to process what is happening in the argument and respond. However, the avoidant person must step into the relationship, trust the anxious person will not flood them with emotion, and communicate, or the pattern will repeat. This is because the anxious person often lacks trust that issues in the relationship will be resolved, and as the avoidant person withdraws, it ignites their fear of loss of the relationship and their fear of not being loved and cared for. They then are unable to give space as they push harder and harder to get a reaction and this causes the avoidant person to be unable to trust, and so they retreat further and further away. For there to be a shift, the pattern has to change for both members of the partnership.
So how do you manage to date as an introvert with a tendency to avoidance? It is important to remember that when you are single, and you feel anxious about not having someone in your life, it is likely you will use the same emotional coping strategies you use in a relationship when there is an escalation in emotion. This means that you will repress and try to deactivate how you are feeling. So you might say to yourself that being alone is as good as or better than being in a relationship and you might even review in your own mind the benefits of being single. You need to be careful that in processing all your past partners that you don’t set up such high standards of what you want in a partner that nobody can measure up and so you can then justify repressing your emotion and being alone. This might make you send out mixed messages of wanting to be in a relationship but then be hesitant to commit because you feel this person might not measure up and then you might be caught in emotional turmoil again. So rather than stepping into the relationship you step back. Be careful this can also play out in friendships too and cause you to be very alone, when all the while you inner wiring is pushing you to connect. Even the emotional conflict of wanting to be with someone and being so conflicted can cause the emotional turmoil to cause you to withdraw.
So how can you manage your emotion
learn to recognise how you tone down or deactivate your emotion so that it becomes manageable for you.
Notice your triggers when do you feel the need to convince yourself that relationships are not that important, which we know isn’t true we are all wired to want to be with someone. Both anxious and avoidant people feel the same level of distress when their emotions become elevated it is the way they process their emotion that is different. If you can notice your triggers that cause you to start to repress your emotion you can take steps to bring your coping strategies into awareness and manage yourself differently.
Think about your self-reliance.
If you don’t participate in relationships with others, by reaching our for help, talking about your feelings and instead keep to yourself by coping on your own, you aren’t creating a space where people can interact with you and get to know you. In fact, if you have fierce self-reliance it can make it very frustrating for someone to try and break in and get to know you. They can get to a point where they stop trying because you can make it too hard to form a connection with you. When you give someone the opportunity to help and connect with you – you give them a shared experience with you which builds trust, and you give them the gift of friendship. Friendships are one of the best ways to start a relationship.
Think about your expectations of your romantic partners.
Are you realistic? Are you using your expectations of the relationship as an excuse to push your partner away so you can manage how you feel? Talk about your anxiety with your partner rather than shutting down and thinking about your partner’s faults. This will help you to give your partner what they want – closeness, communication and connection and build trust and security in the relationship rather than continue the pattern of disconnection. Talking about your feelings is one of the hardest things for an avoidant person to do but it is incredibly important in a relationship. If you don’t bring yourself into the relationship by actively participating it will cause the anxious person to try to fill the space by over functioning and ultimately pursuing you for a response.
Be aware that people with avoidant attachment can tend to interpret their partner or friends behaviour in negative ways.
This thought pattern then enables you to justify withdrawing. Try to recognise that if your partner is pursuing you that they are trying to connect with you. They want more intimacy and closeness in the relationship that is being triggered by your tendency to withdraw. Recognise that we all have our faults, nobody is perfect, and you can still love someone even if sometimes they are a little crazy.
Think about who you are choosing as a partner.
Thinking about attachment style try to find a secure partner or a partner who is at least able to manage their anxiety in an effective way. If you can find someone more secure in relationships they can help you to feel more secure. What happens is the secure partner is able to give the avoidant person the space they feel they need, something an anxious partner will struggle to do. The avoidant partner takes their time out from the relationship and then because they are able to take time, and there is not the emotional angst in the relationship their need for time out becomes less pronounced. A secure partner also models good communication in a relationship and so the avoidant person feels safer to share their inner feelings.
Make a relationship gratitude list and remind yourself to consciously connect with your partner and tell them things that are on the list.
Think about the things you love about your partner, why being with them is special, and how you appreciate having them in your life. When you communicate this with your partner, it gives them positive reinforcement and fills their love tank. When you fill your partner’s love tank it increases their capacity to manage when things are not going well in the relationship.
Think of projects you can do together in your relationship.
Things that help you build connection as part of the process of doing the activity together. This takes the focus off you to have to be constantly conscious of building connection in the relationship and creates connection through cooperation and activity.
Remember this process of understanding your attachment pattern and orientation in a relationship and how to manage yourself assumes you are in a healthy relationship. This is where it is important to recognise toxic relationship patterns such as physical, emotional and psychological abuse for what it is. You can take great effort to manage yourself, but if you partner is not self reflective or is abusive nothing will change. Recognising this difference is important in maintaining your own emotional and physical health and wellbeing.
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