The mystery of ambivalence revealed
Come closer…Go away, I need space: When you’re wondering why you’re being pulled and pushed… I so often remember the state of being ambivalent over some guy. And by ambivalent I mean that sometimes I loved the person and wanted to be close to him, while other times, he repulsed me and I wanted nothing to do with him except to break up. I learned to accept this behavior as part of my “fear of intimacy.” The pushing away then pulling closer behavior was a sure sign that I was simply scared of commitment and closeness with another human being. In fact, at one point in my life, I was engaged to be married to a guy that my family really liked. It was at first a very passionate affair, but as soon as we moved in together and got engaged I had what everyone assumed was a typical case of “cold feet.” Trouble is, it didn’t go away, it nagged at me and it got stronger to the point where I felt I couldn’t ignore it anymore.
My ambivalence usually went like this: I’d meet someone, clearly see red flags right away (I’m very good at detecting red flags), push the guy away, and once I pushed, he generally liked me even more, so he would insist we were meant to be together. When he’d pursue me more aggressively that was always such a turn on for me (I thought that aggressiveness was a sure sign of true love). And then I would give in. I would fall madly in love with him a week or two into a relationship, promise my devotion and we’d have this whirlwind affair.
And then………I’d come to my senses, but keep quiet about it because I was embarrassed.
How could I have made such a mistake? Maybe I didn’t make a mistake. Maybe I’m just scared. Once the initial chemistry of love wore off, I was faced with what I believed was the real nitty gritty of the relationship (the unglamorous living day to day stuff), something I couldn’t handle no matter how great the guy. And so, I believed I was incapable of true intimacy with someone and that everyone I would ever meet would have this same effect on me. I believed my lot in life was to overcome my fear of intimacy and so I tended to force myself to remain with someone longer than I normally would (hello marriage!) so that I could learn what intimacy was. But there was a much larger (and simpler) issue at play that caused my ambivalence, and it was something I remained in denial about for MANY YEARS (sadly, when we put ourselves into a box, we deny ourselves other possibilities): Shockingly, my ambivalence was caused by the simple fact that I just didn’t like the guy. Sure, I liked him in certain situations, in others I even loved him, but clearly I had an unnatural aversion to parts of him that I simply should not have overlooked, but did. Remember, to be in a healthy relationship you and your partner need to like the WHOLE PERSON.
You are not dating PARTS. But, you see, what I craved and wanted was the relationship, not the guy. Aside from ambivalence, this is relationship addiction and I believe it comes into play when we force ourselves to love someone whom we inherently, naturally do not love just for the sake of maintaining a committed relationship because the relationship is what we truly crave. Ambivalence, too, can be tricky because love or friendship may exist in part, and so we tend to believe if we have this small amount of love for a person, then we truly do love them and should be in a relationship with them. Mentally and emotionally you might even tell yourself, I’m just scared, that’s all, or I’m being too picky.
But here’s the deal, there’s good, healthy fear or trepidation about moving forward with someone and then there’s red flag-scared. And if you’re not being true to your body mind and spirit or paying attention to your own red flags, your body will start screaming at you to listen. If that happens, the problem of ambivalence can turn into physical and emotional pain, hatred, anger or resentment. Below is a list of the bad kind of ambivalence that generally means there’s something wrong and you may be staying in the relationship that you shouldn’t:
- Having trouble looking someone in the eyes (not in the beginning, mind you. In the beginning when all those juicy chemicals are coursing through the veins, you can do and feel virtually ANYTHING).
- Being turned off consistently with someone’s breath.
- Having an aversion to their style or the way they dress (I would always suggest other outfits or buy them clothes that suited me).
- Becoming sexually anorexic after a time and not wanting to be touched.
- Finding their jokes, or topics of conversation consistently uninteresting.
- Wanting to avoid them more frequently than not.
- Having strong positive feelings for them over the phone, computer or through e-mail, but not in person (or vice versa).
- Dreaming or fantasizing about someone else “better” or “sexier” or more “passionate.”
- Feeling momentarily happier at the point of break up.
- Constantly preferring to be alone.
- Having consistent feelings of disgust, anger, frustration, hatred, ambivalence, apathy, or coldness within the relationship
- Having little or no respect for the person.
- Feeling “ashamed” or embarrassed to be out with them in public
- Feeling uncomfortable around this person.
- Feeling physically sick or weak around this person.
I think because we so desperately want something (a loving relationship), we sell ourselves short. We deny our instincts and don’t listen to our gut. We think that there must be some secret meaning behind our behavior, so we analyze ourselves and the relationship to the point of ignoring the basic truths. But sadly, the truth (as I have found) cannot be denied, and the longer you stay in a bad relationship, the more your body will start screaming at you to pay attention. Staying in a bad relationship can cause physical ailments, depression, frustration, a loss of belief in yourself and your instincts, and overall pain and suffering.
So, is there such a thing as healthy ambivalence? Yes! Ambivalence is necessary in the beginning of a relationship when you are trying to decide if a certain person is right for you. Remember, ambivalence means “doubt.” And doubt is healthy when you do not know what you’re getting into. It’s when you are STILL having a lot of doubts after a longer period of time. After 6 months to a year you should know when someone is right for you. You may not know them completely. But you should have a pretty good sense. If you’re still ambivalent, here are a few signs that you may be in a good relationship:
- Having no trouble looking someone in the eyes, long after the chemicals have worn off
- Being turned on by someone’s breath.
- Accepting and feeling comfortable with their style or the way they dress
- Having a healthy desire for sex (pay attention to the idea of cycles; our sexual desires wax and wane, and there will be times in both your lives when you have less of a desire to have sex. But your attraction to the person never changes).
- Finding their jokes, or topics of conversation consistently interesting.
- Wanting to be with them more frequently than not.
- Having strong positive feelings for them both over the phone, computer, through e-mail, and in person (or vice versa).
- Absence of dreaming or fantasizing about someone else “better” or “sexier” or more “passionate.”
- Feeling sad at the idea of a break up.
- Sometimes preferring to be alone, but not always.
- Feeling the full range of emotions within the relationship, but for the most part feeling love, peace, stability, warmth, etc.
- Feeling proud of them when you go out in public
- Having respect for the person.
- Feeling comfortable around this person.
- Feeling physically healthy around this person.