While sitting in my favorite coffee store in Brooklyn this morning, a couple sat down at the table beside me and for some reason the obvious display of affection from the male partner was making me so uncomfortable. I could clearly see the woman didn’t want the display of PDA and it was quite obvious to me, a simple bystander, that this man loved her more than she loved him.
I wanted to tell the guy to tone it down a little, that he was being a little too much for her. To me her body language was so obvious that she was forcing herself to hold his hand and be affectionate, but it wasn’t to him.
It made me realize he was in cognitive dissonance. This is a state of believing in one behavior or belief, but accepting or doing another thing.
I could see this guy wanted just the same amount of affection back and was to me so desperately trying to get it. By constantly making psst sounds to get her to look into his eyes and constantly putting his hand out for her to hold his, which she begrudgingly did.
He was accepting a lower standard of affection and love because he obviously was so in love with her.
If he was conscious to the situation, he would have a more frank conversation with her about her feelings for him and if she didn’t feel the same way about him and felt massive displays of PDA were embarrassing, as hard as that pill is to swallow, he would need to pour a bloody big glass of water and gulp that sucker down, not only for his sense of self worth but for his future happiness.
So many of us are petrified to have that “awkward conversation” because our unconscious brains already know the answer. We all know that “gut” feeling we have at the start of a relationship with someone who is not compatible with us but we all ignore them. We say oh but they are hot or tall or beautiful or whatever it is we tell ourselves to stay in the relationship.
But honestly it’s these tough conversations that will set us free and on a path to find someone who is actually compatible with us and who we won’t have to force to hold our hand over coffee.
Can you imagine the difference to that guys self esteem and general outlook on love and life if he had chosen a mate that returned his affection and made him feel just as secure and loved back.
He would feel on top of the world, like he could conquer anything and that would trickle down into every other aspect of his life. Everything in his life would improve just because he picked the right mate.
Now a lot of us put up with this sort of behavior because our brains are on auto pilot searching for anything familiar. So if we were raised by parents who’s love we always had to chase and were not told that we were loved and appreciated, guess what our brains are going to look for in a mate.
This seems “normal” to us, but in the long run it’s not going to make us happy or feel empowered at all. The answer is that have to rewire our brains to what is normal and tell it what we want and let it work out how to get it, as the brain loves problem solving.
So you need to rewire your brain in what you find as attractive traits in the other person and what is now normal. For instance I was always attracted to the aloof, bad boy types. Tall, dark, handsome, tattoos, mysterious and if there was a beard and some emotional baggage in there even better. I also just described my father.
Now I have dated men who were blonde, blue eyes and super sweet and loving and do you know what happened. I got bored and left. Or that’s what I told myself happened.
It wasn’t because they weren’t great guys or a match for me, they just didn’t stir up the danger and insecurities in me that I associated as “familiar” with love so I thought this isn’t love. It sounds weird but I actually felt uncomfortable when I felt safe and loved because I didn’t know how to act in those situations with a male because I had never felt it. I had no implicit memories to conjure up to deal with this behavior. So I would leave them and find a tall dark handsome guy, who would be aloof, not really commit to me, I would stress, doubt my worthiness of being loved and I would be like pheeewww this is better.
I know that sounds crazy but I felt comfort in the drama and detachment from my partners. My brain knew how to cope with these type of men and it was on auto pilot, with the great guys my brain was freaking out. I could just picture the little neurons in my brain screaming at each other “ We are experiencing safety, love and security from a male and there is nothing in the system showing us what this is!!” The master brain thinks and says hmmm it must be a trap, lets stop it at once, it will probably kill us!”
So unconsciously I sabotaged every loving relationship I had. Have you ever said something to someone that you have been so confused where it came from or who said it. I have many times when men have been sweet to me. I remember after our first date, my ex walked me home and said to me “ I want to do this again, you’re so lovely and I really like you.” Do you know what my brain decided to say back to that. “Well you’re weird.” I laughed and ran inside to my apartment. When I got inside I literally said to myself WTF did I just say.
But I now know it was my brain responding in a way to repel this weird unfamiliar feeling of feeling love and vulnerability. My brain was like hell no, danger, danger, shut this down. You’re probably thinking this guy ran, but no to my surprise, he stayed and we had a beautiful relationship which was a massive growth period for me and my coping mechanisms. I remember when we would fight about something I had to override my desire to want to run away from the situation and leave, block him and never have to deal with it. Instead I learnt to stay through my fear and work on being vulnerable which believe me takes a lot of strength and courage. I told my brain that this wasn’t scary and this was a great guy in my life and I wanted to stay and talk things out. Over time I became more open and vulnerable and talking about things and letting him in felt safe and familiar and I came to despise the drama I used to crave.
So next time you are having a fight or feeling the urge to run away and put up your defense mechanisms. Ask yourself is this person in front of me really acting as badly as my perception is telling me they are, are they worth staying for and working this out with or am I experiencing cognitive dissonance and I need to walk away because the reason I am feeling uncomfortable is because they are really not treating me the way I want to be treated.
You really have to think about this, because as much as our brains are a fascinating and amazing piece of machinery, it is there to protect you and usually it’s fact checking is through your perception of what you have told it. It’s rarely based on reality. So all I am asking is that you take a moment and think whether your perceptions and actions are actually true and just.
Being more vulnerable and not living in fear of having honest conversations and telling our partners what we want is a positive step in having healtheir relationships. If you want to be hugged more tell your partner you want to be hugged more and if you want more affection but it feels unnatural to you, hold your partner for a little longer, get out of your head and just feel how good it feels. The dopamine will release and now you have an implicit positive memory to affection and your brain will now seek it.
However remember we are all wired differently. For instance I am very much a stage 5 clinger when it comes to snuggling at night. I dated someone who when we were intimate told me that he doesn’t hug at night because he sleeps better. He said he cuddles before falling asleep and then in the morning otherwise it ruins his sleep and affects his productivity the next day.
Now this is fine, he has a system that works for him and he shouldn’t have to change that. But I knew myself and my koala clinging ways, so having a relationship with someone who doesn’t cuddle through the night was not going to work for me. So we were not compatible. That is the thing, don’t try to mold people to become compatible and think you can change them. Get in tune with what you really want and what will make you happy in the long run and if you find someone who has found what makes them happy and it’s not the same as you, that is fine. Don’t say it is ok with you when it’s not or worse, ask them to change because that’s when resentment will raise it’s ugly head. If making a change is going to have a negative affect on either partners long term happiness, then you need to be strong enough to recognize the incompatibility early on and part ways so you can both find the right partners.
The non snuggler and I remained friends after realizing this incompatibility and he did find a girl who hates snuggling at night and they are now married with children. If we had forced our relationship it would have been disastrous. I would have been resentful not being able to show affection that I love and he would have always felt like he was disappointing me by doing something that doesn’t bring him joy. Instead we walked away and he found absolute bliss with a non hugger and I found happiness with a stage 5 snuggler too.
So the good news is like any other aspects of our lives we can rewire our brains into what is the “new” normal and familiar when it comes to finding a romantic partner. I did, and that is how I have never dated emotionally unavailable men since discovering this hack.
Whenever my eyes wandered to the leather jacket wearing, motorbike riding, tall dark and handsome, tattooed guys. I quickly stopped my thoughts and said no, thats not what we like anymore. It’s fun what happens, now when I see this type of guy, my brain recognizes he’s attractive, but then I look away again because it knows that I don’t want that type of partner anymore. I hear you saying, oh but I can’t help it, that’s my type. I like bad boys or bitches. I would like you to actually stop and think about that. Are they really your type, do you really like being treated lower than you want to be treated or is it your brain taking over so you stay with what is easy and familiar.
This is why it’s so important to have solitude in between your romantic relationships and recover completely emotionally. Because if you don’t, you will seek the same people and end up with the same results again and again and dating these types of people will just kill your self esteem and you will never live up to your full potential while you are in them. As hard as it is, we need to stop living with a scarcity mindset by telling ourselves, well I can’t walk away because what if I don’t find someone. I will be all alone.
Living in constant fear that if you show your true self and express your true needs that you will be abandoned is a more terrifying way to live than being happy on your own if you ask me.
When you are brave enough to walk away from a partner who is not good for your mental health, you may actually be doing the person you’re walking away from a favor too. Unless the person you are dating is a true sociopath, when you set boundaries and walk away, you are telling them their standards of giving and love is not enough. They may actually think about it, take some solitude themselves and be a better loving partner in the future.
We can all help to break the cycle of bad relationships just by letting go of ones that no longer serve us. So please, if you know for sure that you are in the wrong relationship, please let go, not only for you, but for humanity.