Advice,  Feelings Involved

Feelings Involved #1: sabotage & dating FOMO

Dear Kitty,

I’m a 41 year old gay man. I’m romantic, giving, caring, financially stable, self reliant, I keep my word, funny, cute (if I do say so myself) and I can carry on a nice conversation. On paper, I am a total catch. And I would love nothing more than to find love. I have had a couple LTRs that have lasted a couple years each. However, I have a lifetime of paralyzing FOMO. I am afraid of committing myself to someone (in part maybe because I am a product of divorced parents). I realize I push many potentially wonderful guys away. Water water everywhere not a drop I’ll drink.

Often, I will meet a nice guy, develop chemistry with him, get to know him a bit. But always leave the side door open for someone that I think may come along who is better. I even will subconsciously or consciously sabotage the interaction before the guy even has a chance to share his own unique gifts with me. I find that I have these loaded hopes that “this guy” I am talking with will be “the one” and then I will pick out minute flaws and drop him like a gay hot potato. And on the flip side, I will also fear being rejected down the road if I do make myself vulnerable.

I’d love to overcome whatever this is. I’d love to give a guy a chance even if he really isn’t the right guy. Nothing like being isolated at home alone during a pandemic to give me a sobering reality check.

Thanks in advance,

FOMO-usly Missing OUT

Dear FOMO-usly,

I think you can add “self-reflective” to the list of reasons why you’re a total catch! It’s clear from your letter that you’ve given this pattern a lot of thought, and even if you haven’t figured out how to change course just yet, you’ve already gained some valuable insights.

Setting impossible standards for potential partners is a very handy way of protecting ourselves. Your “loaded hopes” set Mr Maybe up to fail: as soon as he says or does something to indicate he’s not perfect, you can move on with your heart intact and your conscience clean. Nothing you could do about it – he just wasn’t Mr Right. The quotation marks suggest that you already know “the one” is a myth: we all have our unique gifts, and our own package of imperfections.

You describe yourself as having paralysing FOMO, and I see why that label works for you: you struggle to be truly satisfied with what you have, always wondering if something, or someone, better is around the corner. Classic fear of missing out. But something else is at play here, which we could label FOLI: fear of letting in. You call your fear of vulnerability and rejection the “flip side” of your FOMO, but it may be its root cause – so let’s look at this FOLI first.

What happens if you allow yourself to sit with the idea of truly opening up and letting someone in? Fear often leads us to an imaginative dead-end: “if I tell my friend how I feel, they’ll be angry at me”; “if I go for promotion and don’t get it, I’ll be devastated”; or, in your case, “if I make myself vulnerable, I could be rejected”. It can be helpful to gently ask ourselves “and then what might happen?” All kinds of things might come up, from “I’ll never get over it” to “I’ll be heartbroken for a time, and then I’ll slowly heal” or “I’ll realise that I’m stronger than I think I am”. Just giving ourselves space to imagine beyond what scares us can help loosen the grip of our fears.

This exercise can also unearth some core beliefs that we may not have known we were carrying around: things like “loving another means losing myself” or “men can’t be trusted”. It may be interesting for you to reflect on any ideas about love and relationships that you learned from your parents’ marriage and divorce, too. These are usually things we believe on a deep emotional level, rather than with our rational minds, and so we can’t easily reason our way out of them. But familiarising yourself with these beliefs means you’ll be more able to spot when fear is driving your actions.

The next time you notice yourself wanting to push a guy away, try to take a few breaths and see what’s motivating that. If you recognise fear taking over, gently encourage it to take a back seat and see how you want to proceed. It will be scary at first! If you let someone in, you may indeed get hurt; opening up is also a prerequisite for building enough trust to feel safe in a relationship.

To tackle the FOMO head-on, try making a list of your non-negotiables in a partner, keeping it to a maximum of 5 qualities. Commit to pursuing things with the next nice guy until you have (strong!) evidence that he isn’t, for example, kind, reliable, funny, and sexually appealing to you. Another tactic would be to quantify how important different attributes are to you, to put those “minute flaws” in perspective. If you dislike the way a guy styles his hair/punctuates his messages/takes his coffee, remind yourself that that is a 1 or 2 out of 10 issue – and remember that he’s also considerate, charming, or a great cook, which might be a 7 or 8 for you.

Finally, you don’t say if you use dating apps, but I want to mention them briefly. Though awesome in many ways, dating and hook-up apps are rocket-fuel for FOMO. Not only might someone better be around the corner, he may just be one swipe away! Designed to be addictive, these apps can stoke dissatisfaction and encourage “shopping around”. I’m not saying that meeting someone IRL is superior to meeting them online. But if these apps are part of your life, you might want to consider deleting them the next time you’re developing chemistry with a new guy and wanting to give him a chance. If it doesn’t work out, you can easily reinstall them, but removing that one ever-present temptation to check out other options could help you stay present and explore what is unfolding. Think of it as closing that side-door you mentioned.

Good luck, FOMO-usly: may you miss out no more!


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