Dating will not cure a lonely heart

“Just call and tell him it’s over,” I advised my client, Jennifer. I had listened to her for months lament her relationship with Darren and how she could not stand his cycle of manipulation and emotional oppression. Frankly, even therapists have limits. Besides, concerned that nothing seemed capable of piercing her denial about Darren’s true character, I began the process of helping her reestablish contact with reality.

Finally, she took the plunge – she broke it off.

Predictably he went crazy and launched into coercive behaviors intended to lead her back into the dysfunctional relationship. He would show up at her door begging for her to reconsider. Then came the promises of change and the usual refrains people in denial say when threatened with the loss of “love.”

I was not surprised that Jennifer called two days later to cancel her next appointment. When I pressed her for the truth, she admitted she had capitulated to Darren’s overtures. I convinced her to keep the appointment anyway so we could process the situation in person.

Jennifer revealed that the ordeal caused some very real feelings of loneliness and self-degradation to surface. We continued to talk and explored her history revealing a cycle of repetition. She admitted that she would rather be in a bad relationship than have no relationship at all.

This is a pivotal point in dating. Make sure you are not giving up boundaries in the romance for fear of being alone. And before you determine whether or not you are guilty of such transgressions, ask yourself if you have ever:

  • Put up with behavior that is disrespectful

  • Given in to things that are not in line with your values

  • Settled for less than you know you desire or need

  • Stayed in a relationship that you know is over

  • Gone back to a relationship you know should be over

  • Gotten into a relationship that you knew had no future

  • Smothered the person you are dating with excessive needs or control

At the core of all of these compromises is the reality that you are being ruled by your fear of isolation rather than by God, goals, values, or spiritual commitments. Remaining in a dysfunctional relationship prevents you from growing into a person who does not have to be in a relationship to be happy – which is the ultimate objective. Put another way, to be happy in a healthy relationship requires you to be happy when you are without one.

Fear of aloneness is a condition that must be cured as a precondition to entering a mutually satisfying romance.

How? What do I need to do to ameliorate anxiety related to being alone?

  1. Strengthen your relationship with God. Make Him first. Spend time in prayer, meditation, study and confession with the Savior. God, and God alone, will meet your needs.
  2. Strengthen your relationship with safe, healthy Christians. Look to friendships as resources for meeting needs rather than depending on a lone individual. The fact of the matter is that when you depend on a single individual to meet all your social/emotional needs, you have created an idol. If you are dealing with past hurts, and looking to a romantic relationship to heal those hurts, you are setting yourself up for failure. Find the support you need outside the romance in order to maintain healthy boundaries with the person you are dating.
  3. Be vulnerable in support settings. Many people have friends but do not allow themselves to show weaknesses, express fears, or accept help. Simply having friends and spending time with them does not mean that you are being healed. You may include counseling as a part of this system.
  4. Have a full life of spiritual growth, personal growth, vocational growth, expression of creativity, hobbies, and intellectual growth. The more active you are in life, the less etiolated you will feel in the absence of a dating.
  5. Pursue wholeness. In addition to adding activity to your life, work on your soul. Resolve past issues in childhood, failed marriages, recurring patterns, and addictive behaviors. Perhaps your fear of aloneness is related to a specific issue. Issues don’t go away. They require explicit processing with a nonjudgmental friend who will explore with you. You must do the work yourself, but a trusted companion keeps you honest and accountable.

The bottom line is this: the best way to avoid the quagmire of less-than-healthy relationships is the freedom to live without one. But that freedom is only found in God. Surrender to the Savior, ground yourself with a support system, work on your deficiencies, and pursue an active, whole life.