Are You A Pleasure Seeker Or A Pain Avoider?

I’m not your usual reader, I’m 18 and I’m not looking for a serious relationship. In fact my problem seems to be the polar opposite of most that I have read. I am terrified of relationships! I would love a partner, but no matter how interested I am in someone, as soon as my feelings are reciprocated, I lose all interest. I always thought I was just fickle, and I would grow out of it, but I’ve come to realise it’s more than that. I am subconsciously ‘putting myself off’ as, I believe, I’m mentally scared remembering my dad’s countless infidelities and the heartbreak it caused my mother, convinced I will be hurt the same way.


I began counseling, but then a friend of mine (who I’ve always been interested in) made it clear it was mutual. For once, I wasn’t terrified , which I think is because we live 250 miles apart. I went out on a date with him a few weeks ago. It went great, he’s made it clear he’s very interested and that he is prepared to wait for me. He’s been ringing me on a daily basis, and I’m managing to overcome my urge to run for the hills, but I think it’s because of the distance. (I’m already in the metaphorical hills so I have no need to run.)

I’m dreading seeing him again! I’m worried I will revert back to my old ways and end up hurting him. Not to mention the fact that he will be expecting me to stay at his place, expecting sex and, as usual, I have ‘put myself off’ him: I no longer find him attractive. I really don’t know what to do. I think the only way I will ever deal with my problem is by forcing myself to bite the bullet and get into a relationship, but we live so far apart I will hardly ever see him and he seems really interested. I don’t want to use him as my guinea pig and ultimately hurt him. Should I force myself into this relationship (surely it can’t work out) but will I ever deal with commitment?



Thank you, Bryony, for saying so eloquently what many women three times your age have great trouble expressing.

“Why even bother to get into a relationship if I have the potential to get hurt?”

What could be safer than being alone and not letting anyone in?

This is something I confront every week as a dating coach, with a handful of clients who pay top dollar to not do anything different than they did when they signed up.

Why? Because change is scary. It’s uncomfortable. And if you actually get your money’s worth with me, you can very well find yourself in love.

What could be more vulnerable than being in love with a man who can hurt you?

What could be safer than being alone and not letting anyone in?

Armed with that logic, you focus more and more energy on your career, your spiritual growth, your friends, your pets, your travel, your hobbies…

And wake up one day to realize that you are alone.

You’re not just alone, you’re lonely.

Sure, you’ve provided many distractions for your life – there’s not a second on your calendar that’s not filled by something – but it’s a frantic energy that serves one main purpose, which you’ve never truly acknowledged out loud.

Being busy allows you to not face your own loneliness.

That’s when women call me – when staying safe and busy is no longer enough to mask the wish that you had a man to wrap his warm arms around you at the end of a long day.

Your problem, Bryony, and the problem with any woman who protects her heart by remaining alone, is that you’re letting fear run your life.

Playing it safe only means one thing: you’ll be playing alone for the rest of your life.

Here is a question I ask some of my clients that I’d like you to ask yourself:

Are you a pleasure-seeker or a pain-avoider?

Pleasure seekers sign up for multiple online dating sites. They go on dates every week. They say yes to set ups from friends. They know there are happy marriages out there and will do anything in their power to be a part of one.

Pain-avoiders play it safe. They say “love happens when you least expect it.” They take solace in their independence. They claim they’ll “never settle”. And they don’t – because if they did, some man would have the key to their heart and the potential to break it.

So, who’s more likely to find true love?

The answer, I believe, is clear.

A pleasure seeker will find love eventually because she’s open to love, she’s making an effort for love, and it’s just a matter of time until she finds it. She may have a few more bumps and bruises along the way – that’s what happens when you’re dating prolifically – but it all pays off in the end when she can sit in her backyard with her husband and kids.

A pain avoider can only find love if she’s virtually struck by lightning. She dates infrequently, trusts no one, and has issues around men that the healthiest men won’t want to have to fight thru. Then she complains that there are no good men out there. It’s the definition of a self-fulfilling prophesy if there ever was one.

This video that I made for the launch of Why He Disappeared provides further insight into this phenomenon, with one vary salient point.

If you build walls or stay single to keep men from hurting you as you’ve been hurt before, you need to believe me when I tell you:

You’re not protecting yourself from bad men, you’re protecting yourself from love.

True love is a beautiful thing and it is possible. But it’s only possible for the risk takers who are willing to fail on the path to success.

Playing it safe only means one thing: you’ll be playing alone for the rest of your life.

Thanks again for the note, Bryony. I hope you find the strength to put yourself out there.

One final quote: “The only risk is the one not taken.”


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  1. 1

    I don’t know that this response completely deals with the LW’s issue.  I saw nothing in the letter to indicate that she doesn’t go on dates (or even that she’s not on multiple dating sites).  On the contrary, she seems to go on plenty of them to notice that she has a dating/relationship pattern of not wanting to commit. 

    She sounds a lot like me when I was younger – all my friends thought I was a commitment-phobe because I usually ended up going on 3 dates or less with any given person.  Then I met Jake, and we were exclusive immediately, and it’s been 4.5 years.  He and I were long-distance the first 3 months that we dated (and also for another 8 months during the second year we dated), which helped me get over that initial pulling-away that I so often did in my early/mid-20s.  So I think this may be a good guy for the LW to be involved with at this point.

    I think she should continue to go to counseling and make it clear to the guy she’s seeing that she doesn’t want to have sex right now (and maybe tell him that given the distance, she doesn’t mind seeing him when they are able but she doesn’t want anything exclusive), but other than that, I don’t think she’s doing anything wrong.  18 is almost painfully young; what’s odd is that she seems to expect to be not only naturally commitment-minded, but also skilled at enacting commitment at this age.  There’s no reason she should necessarily expect to be the former, and absolutely no reason to think she should be the latter, at least until she does have some relationships under her belt.

    I do agree with EMK that she should be going on lots of dates, all the time.  This will give her a good idea of what’s out there and then when she does meet the right guy (like when I met Jake) she’ll know it and feel confident pulling the trigger.

  2. 2
    [email protected] from a Peaceful Divorce

    I love what Evan says, “the only risk is the one not taken.” As a divorcee, I can say that I don’t consider the end of my marriage to be a reason not to hope for love again. In fact, I see it as proof that love exists. You sound like an an articulate young woman.  It would be a shame for you to lose out on love because of what you say your parents do.

  3. 3
    Karl R

    Byrony said: (original post)
    “I’m mentally scared remembering my dad’s countless infidelities and the heartbreak it caused my mother, convinced I will be hurt the same way.”
    “I’m worried I will revert back to my old ways and end up hurting him.”

    You’re worried that you’ll get hurt. You’re worried that he’ll get hurt.

    Let me reassure you … both of you will definitely get hurt. It doesn’t matter whether you date him, or another boy. It doesn’t matter whether he dates you or another girl. Getting hurt is part of getting into relationships.

    When I was your age (and a little older), I was afraid of getting hurt in relationships. Then I had one of those “lightning strike” circumstances and ended up in a relationship despite myself. After several passionate and tumultuous months, she cheated on me and went back to her ex.

    It hurt, but I didn’t die. I didn’t end up emotionally crippled. I was depressed for a while, but the pain faded.

    From that experience, I realized that I was stronger than the pain. I didn’t have to fear it. And even if I was afraid, I could plunge ahead, because I was certain I could deal with whatever I faced.

    And even in that dysfunctional relationship, there were more good times than bad. The subsequent relationships were generally better, and none have been as painful.

    And I can give you a way to avoid being heartbroken by countless infidelities, like your mother was. Leave after the first infidelity.

    1. 3.1

      You wrote, “I realized I was stronger than the pain” and “And even in that dysfunctional relationship, there were more good times than bad. The subsequent relationships were generally better, and none have been as painful.” 

      Yes, yes, yes!!! Very well said, thank you!!

  4. 4

    Bryony describes what some men go through….

  5. 5

    This is amazing.  I felt the exact same way you did when I was your age.  I am 44 now and still, feel the same. But, I realized like Evan said, that I was closing myself off.  So, I dated a man a little, found myself falling for him.  I got hurt, for the first time in my life (romantically hurt) and I thought it would kill me (this has been in the past 6 months).  But, I am still alive and moving on.  I am actually proud of myself, proud of the fact that I stepped out of my shell and from behind the walls I usually use to protect me from my fear of getting hurt.  Now I know the potential I have to love and be loved, even though I didn’t get it from this relationship.  Please, do your self a favor…DON”T LET FEAR CONTROL YOUR LIFE.  You will regret it terribly when you get older!!!

  6. 6

    You know, Karl #3, this is a really awesome way to look at things! Getting hurt is a part of life, period. It’s not all bad… it makes you a wiser and better person. I’m kind of only now starting to realize this myself. I may have to get back out on the dating market very soon and I’ve been feeling pretty awful about this – not because I don’t want to get hurt – that part, I’m fine with – but because I know I’m going to hurt other people in the process. Since I can only end up with one man, at most, this means I’m going to hurt everybody else I’ll date, because they will need to be rejected. It just killed me to even think of that. Well after reading Karl’s post, I had this thought… if getting hurt isn’t all bad for me, it won’t be all bad for those guys too. They need life experiences as much as I do.
    I write as a hobby, and I’ve got to tell you, whenever something bad happens to or around me (short of a major tragedy, or my kids getting hurt), I feel terrible, but at the same time there’s always this little voice telling me: hey, this is good writing material!
    I like the way this was worded in South Park, in their Raisins episode, when Butters is heartbroken after a girl leaves him, and the goth kids ask him to join them. He says no…
    Butters: Uh, uhm no thanks. I I love life.
    Stan: Huh? But you just got dumped
    Butters: Wuh-ell yeah, and I’m sad, but at the same time I’m really happy that somethin’ could make me feel that sad. It’s like, ih ih, ih it makes me feel alive, you know? It makes me feel human. And the only way I could feel this sad now is if I felt somethin’ really good before. So I have to take the bad with the good, so I guess what I’m feelin’ is like a, beautiful sadness. I guess that sounds stupid…”
    I really like what he’s saying in here 🙂

  7. 7
    Karl R

    Goldie said: (#6)
    “I had this thought… if getting hurt isn’t all bad for me, it won’t be all bad for those guys too.”

    That’s a very good point. Let me take it one step further.

    You’re not in charge of deciding whether he can take the risk of getting hurt.

    As an adult, you have the right to decide whether you join the military, ride a motorcycle, go skydiving, or dozens of activities where you may get hurt. Even if you have no interest in doing those things, how would you feel if I decided to intervene and prevent you from taking that risk?

    You’d probably think I was sexist.

    Finally, I’ve had at least three ex-girlfriends who were still worried about how much I’d gotten hurt months after my pain had faded. You may be overestimating the amount of pain the other person is going to experience.

  8. 8


    Thanks for the convo from South Park :)…funny enough, Butters is right (I cannot believe I am saying this, LOL).  How can we recognize the good times from the bad if we’ve never experienced bad?

    It’s like if we were on ‘vacation’ all the time, would we appreciate it?  or would we have to work to know to the value of vacation?

  9. 9

    What is strange about an 18 year old not being ready for a relationship or hesitating about sex? I’m guessing she’ll be ready soon enough. So what if it takes her a few months or a couple of years to get there?

  10. 10

    Bingo Ruby.

  11. 11

    I agree with Ruby as well, maybe she’s just not ready!  She’s putting a lot of pressure on herself.

  12. 12

    To answer Bryony’s question, “No. You shouldn’t force yourself into a relationship.” This would be a recipe for disaster because you’re simply not ready. It would also not be fair to the other party.
    Part of the reason for your not being ready is that you seem to be placing an inordinate amount of pressure on yourself to forcefully feel some kind of relationship commitment based on a flawed expectation. Dating should feel like that Cover Girl commercial: “easy, breezy.” Fun and simple, especially at 18.
    Let life and your feelings and not your mind lead the way. Rather than trying so hard to think ahead to the finish line with your current interest, and see into your non-existent crystal ball of what your future holds regarding commitment, go with the flow. If you can meet for a second date, then go and have another good time; nothing more. Stop the insanity of over analyzing the situation. If he wants to have sex and you’re not feeling ready, then let him know how you feel. If he truly likes you and respects you, he’ll wait. And if not with this guy, then with another.
    The counseling will hopefully help you to understand and discover that while letting your guard down opens you up to the possibility of being hurt, you will heal and live to love again. And remember, you are not your mother. Just because she chose for whatever reason(s) to continually subject herself to what sounds like unending grief and abuse doesn’t mean you have to. A-l-w-a-y-s love yourself more, and never tolerate an abusive man. You may be surprised by just how strong you really are.

  13. 13

    Goldie, I have heard therapists say, “if you can’t hurt other people, you are going to hurt yourself”.  

  14. 14

    Karl R –

    I absolutely agree with your entire post.  I was in a relationship that was very painful and emotionally and mentally draining.  I kept hoping that things would work out for the best because of “feelings”.  He cheated, I walked.  He begged me to come back, but continued pursuing other women.  I stopped having sex with him after the 1st time he cheated and didn’t have sex with him for well over a year (and still haven’t).  I kept trying to distance myself so that I could get over the pain.  He kept invading my space and I kept allowing him in.  I’m finally coming full circle with acceptance and I’m trying to heal in order to open my heart to new relationships.  I know now that in the future, as you said, I WILL leave after the FIRST infidelity.

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