You're Not Heartless, You Just Have Sarmassophobia
The Debrief: A fear of dating and relationships is actually a thing
Illustration by Sophie Cunningham
'You're just a cock-teaser, aren't you?' said the message. If that were the first time I had upset a guy this way, maybe I would have been offended. Unfortunately, this was a familiar occurrence and his message actually brought a feeling of relief. It meant that I could stop stressing, obsessing, calling friends and asking myself over and over: ‘do I have to?’
I could have told him that our first (and last) date gave me nightmares. That it ruined my entire week as I couldn't wait for it to happen only for it to be over. I could've told him how I almost ran back to the tube, but forced myself encouraged by friends who told me 'it's just one date.' I could've defended myself and say 'I'm not a cock-teaser. I'm not heartless, I just have sarmassophobia.' Instead, I blissfully went back to my room and, more importantly, to being myself.
'Sarmassophobia is a fear of dating and relationships,' explains Krystal Woodbridge, Psychosexual Therapist and Relationship Counsellor. 'It very often comes from childhood experiences. That can happen when, as a child, you have been neglected a lot. In childhood, you learn that it's safe to express your emotions thanks to your parents. If a parent doesn't have an instinct to provide that, this person can become untrustworthy to others. They don't trust other people to take control because they don't trust that other person can be there for them.'
Woodbridge stresses that there can be different 'attachment styles', such as our lifestyles for instance. This couldn't be more true. Since moving to London I have been feeling more free than ever. There is no judgement, no push from society (most of my friends back home are in relationships and seem unsure on why really they are), we are just like kids running around, deciding on what is most important to us. Somehow, somewhere, love has lost the spotlight.
'Having a job, having a car, having a house, these are measures of success. We don't have the same opportunities to buy a house, it's impossible, especially when living in London. People are putting off having children because of careers and financial elements. Without having a house and a mortgage, we think about it differently. Everything is disposable,' says Woodbridge.
There comes my best excuse. It's called 'I know he's not my future husband' and it's completely absurd. I used it then when I jumped through a window after a date with a guy. When I cancelled three dates in a row before the guy just gave up. When I blocked a number, stopped replying, ran to hide in a bus and ended up getting lost. With the idea of that perfect someone still being there, with Friday nights at pubs meeting new people every week, our minds are going through endless catalogues and suddenly we're incapable of being in a relationship with anyone other than ourselves. Add online dating into the mix and you can’t help but feel that a zombie apocalypse is fast approaching.
Woodbridge says 'With dating apps, it's all very quick. We don't have an ability to tolerate anything if we don't have to. We're constantly dissatisfied, we can go to the next one and next one, we're not sticking with things. We don't like an imperfection. It's like we have a shopping list going on a dating app so we do it unconsciously.'
‘Can all this really develop into a phobia’, you might be wondering? Perhaps the question you ought to ask is ‘how can it not’? The constant struggle to get to the top, the comparisons we make, wanting the best in times that just can't provide it, we seem to be exhausted and done before we get to the actual finish line. Even once in a relationship, Woodbridge believes, we have lost the ability to talk to each other. 'Couples argue by texts and Facebook messages, they don't know how to communicate. I'm not against it, but there is no replacement for sitting down face to face.'
Woodbridge reminds how important it is not to let this affect our lives. My premature move to London was a result of the light harassment I was getting from the people around me. Living in a small town for two years during university I tried to be myself, but found that difficult with a group of people discussing my private life. I was quickly labelled in typically clichéd fashion as the Samantha type character from 'Sex and the City' because of my inability to commit to someone. They were people who didn't know me, girls who watched me from a distance, guys who got upset over the fact that I didn't want to see them again. Unable to cope in such an environment, I decided to finish my studies in London.
'We should be careful not to speak about people like this. The issue is not sleeping with a lot of people if they're being responsible, the issue is that it's limiting them and they can't find a relationship. Just because someone is sleeping with a lot of people, it does not mean they are having a great time, we can't know what is going on underneath,' the therapist says.
If there is one good thing about being Millennial, it's the freedom to choose what's important for us. Be adventurous if you like, chase after your career, start a family. Fight your demons, but be good to yourself. Maybe we're forgetting what love is in times where you can swipe through fifty humans without a blink of an eye. Maybe we're becoming terrified of the idea of deciding on one person and giving them some control over that freedom.
Woodbridge's solution is: 'Don't force it. Not if its making you uncomfortable, every time you have a negative experience, it will make it worse. Take a step back. If you had a phobia of snakes you wouldn't jump into the snake nest.'
Maybe we're not heartless after all, maybe we're just a little scared. And maybe, when you lay it all out, that’s totally understandable.
You might also be interested in:
At work? With your gran?
You might want to think about the fact you're about to read something that wouldn't exactly get a PG rating