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Sex + Relationships

Detaching From Detachment: Why We Push Guys Away

As the day of love quickly approaches, I’m reminded of last year’s Valentine’s Day. It was the first holiday my boyfriend Austin and I would share together. And the day before Valentine’s Day would mark our three-month anniversary. That in itself was somewhat of a monumental moment for me.

Putting my current relationship aside, it’s been nearly five years since I was in my first and last official boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. That one ended suddenly via text message from my then-boyfriend on our three-month anniversary. So maybe now you can begin to understand why the whole Valentine’s Day weekend was kind of a big deal to me last year – it marked more than a holiday.

Austin and I went out to eat at the Olive Garden. No big deal, right? Well, the closest one to where we live is about an hour’s drive away. Two hours in the car together felt more like four.

I remember driving down the Interstate, looking out the passenger window at the city lights passing by. Our conversation was lagging so badly that Austin had to turn up the radio to fill the silence between us. He would bring something up every five minutes or so. I would say about ten words and bring the conversation to a screeching halt.

I have no idea what we even talked about on the way back. Not much was said, not by me anyways. All I remember is the lights, his hand on my knee, and my thoughts keeping us a thousand miles away.

Bon voyage!—or whatever they say in Britain

A month earlier, I found out I’d be studying abroad in London during the summer. My plans were working out – minus one little detail. With several sorry attempts at having some kind of love life in college behind me, I planned on going to London and not having to worry about leaving anyone behind.

I hit a point at the beginning of my sophomore year where I was fed up with what meaningless random make-out sessions had to offer and thoroughly sickened by guys who couldn’t commit. I had all but sworn off men and relationships altogether. I simply stopped looking and accepted being alone. And then I met Austin. Yes, I’m one of those annoying girls who could tell you, “Well, if you just stop looking, you’ll find him!”

And then have to leave him. Oh yeah, no one ever mentions that part.

Now I know in other college relationships couples don’t get to spend whole summers together. But Austin doesn’t go to the same college as me. We both grew up in the same area, met through mutual friends, and boom…you have a relationship.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t that simple. But had I not gone to London we would’ve been only 20 minutes away from each other in the summer instead of 4,000 miles away with a six-hour time difference.

Just the same, I couldn’t  not go to London. It was my dream and I had it in reach. So I went.

But I made the months leading up to my leaving harder than they had to be. A prime example was our Valentine’s Day date.

How could I be sitting two feet away from him and be so distant? What was I doing, besides possibly ruining the best relationship I’ve ever had? And for what?

In retrospect, I know I was trying to keep him at arm’s length so I wouldn’t miss him later when I was in London. But then I realized, if I’m not going to miss him, then there’s no point in being together. There’s no connection. No relationship.

My twisted logic suddenly didn’t make much sense. The emotional distance during that car ride was, perhaps, far worse than the physical distance later on.

Giving meaning to the madness

Some of us take great measures to ensure that we don’t get too attached to our hookup buddies, casual dates, and even our boyfriends. Why would we do such a thing?

Turns out, we have plenty of reasons to pick from, especially if we’re chasing after a big career.

Dr. Mark Sharp, clinical psychologist at Aiki Relationship Institute said, “Many women find it difficult to be attached to someone in a relationship and, at the same time, focus enough on themselves to be able to achieve their goals. When women with this experience really want to achieve something for themselves, they often work to stay emotionally detached in relationship.”

You can sign me in. Guilty me, party of one. But I have a feeling I’m not alone.

For me, another less-obvious reason for being emotionally detached was because I didn’t want someone else answering my life questions for me. You know, questions like –  what am I going to do this summer? What if I can’t get a job? Where will I live after college? Do I want to live in New York City? Am I ready for the next stage in my life? What is that stage?

I want to be the one answering those questions. But life would be so much simpler if I let someone else decide, and that’s a trap we risk falling into in relationships in college.

Lesli Doares, licensed marriage and family therapist at Balanced Family, explained, “As trite as it sounds, the way to have a successful relationship is to honor and protect who you are as a person. This is not an easy thing for college-aged women because they are in the process of figuring that out. There are all kinds of pressures in the world for women to ‘conform’ to and it can be very difficult to resist those pressures.”

Doares also mentioned the importance of learning how to be in a relationship without losing yourself. Dr. Sharp reinforced that idea by giving three things that can be done to form healthy attachments:

  1. Develop your own identity.
  2. Gain self-confidence.
  3. Learn how to manage your emotional reactions.

Do you find yourself being too attached or too detached in your relationships?


Mark Sharp, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at Aiki Relationship Institute in Illinois 


Lesli Doares, licensed marriage and family therapist at Balanced Family


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