The Running Woman: How Do I Stop and Love?

 By Nina Atwood

Hi Nina: I am attracted to emotionally unavailable men. However I am also emotionally unavailable; I always look for an escape clause. I watched my parents, who loved each other, have a miserable marriage for over 30 yrs (they divorced when I was 26). I swore that if I cared for someone & he or I wasn’t happy I would be strong enough to leave. I was in a relationship with a man for 6 yrs & as usual I left. I believe this was the right thing to do, for both of us. Now when I meet someone I am interested in I automatically start to push them away, even before there is a chance to know if they are interested. I am very independent & have been told by my mother & others that I am too independent. My mother even went so far as to say that no man would ever want me because I would make him feel emasculated. So instead of waiting to find out if someone is interested in me I pull up my independent socks, push them away & tell myself that he wouldn’t be interested because I am too independent & I am not willing to change that part of myself. Without losing my independence how do I become emotionally available & not push people away? How do I discern between someone who likes my independence & someone who wants a caretaker? Like many others I want a fulfilling relationship with someone who I can learn from, grow with and love. – Marin

Dear Marin: You are wrestling with several issues here, so let’s separate them and look at them one at a time. First, you are trying to learn from your parents’ mistakes but I think you may have drawn the wrong conclusion about their divorce. Thirty years is a long time, and you’ve said they loved each other. Maybe they gave up too soon. Far too many couples throw in the towel these days, usually over issues that could have been addressed and healed. That would have given you the model you seek – one of love, forgiveness, and healthy re-connection.

Second, you are trying to understand when it’s appropriate to stay and when it’s appropriate to leave a relationship. I am guessing your six year relationship probably should have ended at about six months. Why? Because it is usually fundamental differences in values and lifestyle issues that cause long-term dating relationships to end. Or, it was a lack of sufficient love and commitment on one or both of your parts – you may have settled up front. Bottom line is this: date with a strong intention to meet your right partner and move forward into marriage. If the relationship doesn’t meet your basic criteria early on, move on!

Third, I think you’re confusing independence with other issues. If you are strong and you date someone who is looking for a caretaker, you have a need to be with someone who “needs” you. That can feel like false security – if he needs you, he’s less likely to leave you.

I’m reading insecurity all over your question – you are fearful of settling, fearful of rejection (for being who you are – independent), and fearful of making a big mistake. The “independent socks” you are pulling up are really the socks you put on with your running shoes. F.E.A.R. is driving you away from new men – false evidence appearing real – “he won’t like my independence” and other self-created assumptions.

The healing for you is finding the courage to stay until you really know what you have or do not have with someone. It is trusting yourself to know when something is unhealthy and to leave when it is truly appropriate, not out of the fear of rejection. Develop and trust your “inner compass” – that part of you that knows, deep down, when something is right for you, or not. Look for strong men to date, and be willing to take the risk that it might not work out. By taking the risk of dating someone who is your equal, and hanging in there, you will find your own emotional security, and that will lead you into a healthy, loving connection. Get coaching to help you make these discernments along the way and support to stay in the game.

Entry Filed under: Advice for Women,Breaking Up,Dating,Marriage,Personal Growth,Relationships


  • 1. Kali  |  January 12th, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    After reading Marins story I thought to myself how I would answer it. I must say, I couldn’t have answered this better myself. The part that I felt strongest about is giving up too soon. I believe in relationships these days people really are throwing in the towel way too early. I’ve been with my husband for 5 years now and there are times when we both could have ended it but that’s not what a relationship is about. You are there for each other during good and bad. Obviously, if you’re unhappy and the relationship isn’t healthy then yes it is better for both parties to part ways. A relationship isn’t always going to be easy but if it’s worth fighting for, I say fight!

  • 2. Angelyn  |  May 4th, 2012 at 6:30 am

    I can relate so much to the running womans story. I have a successful career and i get so much affirmation from it that but sometimes i wonder if my job has become my husband,my family and my boyfriend. My running away in relationships comes from me shutting down and being frozen with fear when i think there is a possibility of a real relationship. I start to feel invisible and im sure guys interpret this as rejection and the wheels just come off from there.
    Can you give me some incite about how to get over the frozen, shut down reaction that happens when i initially meet someone that i am interested in?

  • 3. Nina Atwood  |  May 7th, 2012 at 11:40 am


    What you are describing is F.E.A.R. (false evidence appearing real), which is a mental model that can be overcome. Over time, irrational fears can become tangled up with real concerns, so much so that it’s like a huge ball of tangled yarn. What is real and what is not? Chances are you’ve had some negative experiences in the past that have contributed to your fears. I recommend a two-part process to unravel the mess.

    One, put together your VISION of the kind of relationship you want and desire; focus on the relationship qualities that you want, such as mutual respect, kindness, devotion, and so on.

    Two, tackle that fear of becoming invisible head on. Talk it through with an objective and caring person; a friend, family member, coach or therapist. What does it mean to you to become invisible? How have you experienced that in the past? If you weren’t invisible in a relationship, what would you be?

    Describe in detail what you would be if you weren’t invisible. Use that description to add to your vision statement of a good relationship, focusing on the qualities that you would bring in order to achieve it. For example, “I am a strong woman with the ability to clearly communicate my emotional boundaries and needs in a relationship with a man. I am resilient so that even if I feel let down or disappointed, I can handle it, and respond appropriately.” Things like that.

    Reinforce the strength that you have in work and bring it over to the personal side. When you feel strong and resilient in matters of the heart, you can take the risk to love deeply.


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