We always assume humans are innately fearful of loneliness.
After all, how long have we (and or other people we know) stayed in a bad relationship? Those uninspiring, unfulfilling and abusive ones. All because we’re so afraid of the alternative: being single.
It could be the fear of missing out or losing out on something that makes us settle. Perhaps in our irrational minds eye, that can wander into thinking catastrophically, it’s the daunting prospect of dying alone! It could be the meanings that we attach to the ending of relationships - it being seen as ’a failure’ for example.
Gigi Engle (@GigiEngle) from Elite Daily bravely shared 11 reasons why she’s not scared of being single, she's afraid of dating. In this article we offer some help by addressing these common fears from a Mind Set Match perspective.
Before we look into each of her reasons, it's helpful to keep in mind that human brains are made up of a series of ‘mini-brains’ if you like, each having different functions. Through neural pathways they talk to each other to drive our thoughts, feelings and actions. To keep it simple, let’s assume that we essentially have two independent thinking brains. One is more evolved, it's logical, rational and solutions focused. This is you on a good day - fully conscious and in full competency mode. The other is your survival thinking system. It thinks irrationally, impulsively, instinctively and much more emotionally. Its entire agenda is TO KEEP YOU SAFE and it's the most powerful of the two. Meaning it gets the first bite in any given situation. Great in life or death situations, but not so helpful in our modern every-day lives!
Each of these thinking systems have access to the parts of your brain that act like a hard drive. This hard drive stores your beliefs, memories, experiences and automatic behaviours. Most of these can be rewritten. The key to getting ahead of your survival system, to stop it from hijacking you, is to modify your hard drive. This process helps you to shift your perspective and change your behaviours, to be more in line with being your best and true self. This takes self-awareness, regular reflection, planning and practice.
So what's going on for Gigi?...
Reason 1. “I’m not afraid of sleeping alone; I’m afraid of sleeping with the wrong person. I’m scared of getting intimate with someone, and then coming to regret it afterwards. It’s giving the power to someone who may not deserve it that is so unappealing.”
Our primal survival system has innate emotional and physical needs. These are largely determined by our genetics, but can also be triggered by significant past experiences. We all have these needs, but the intensity of these vary from person to person. One of these needs is power, so Gigi shows great self-awareness in her reasoning by identifying that she is uncomfortable in handing this over. The power drive can be described as the extent one needs to be in control of situations or oneself. People with a need for control can have tendencies of perfectionism, and be very wary of making the ‘wrong’ decision or call. The reality is that no one is perfect - everyone makes mistakes, and there are risks in everything we do. It would be helpful for Gigi to challenge some of the unhelpful expectations and beliefs that she may have about herself and her date. She could also work on recognising what's in her control and what’s not. And then focus her energy on what she can control. She might get more clarity on what and who she’s looking for. She could take the lead in planning the date. These steps can help her increase her chances of success.
Reason 2. “I’m not afraid of eating alone; I’m afraid of wasting a meal with bad conversation. A random guy may spit a lot of game over text and yet be completely mundane over a dinner table.”
This is really interesting - so he’s great over text but loses his spark face to face... what could be going on here? Is he in competency mode or survival mode on the date? It sounds like an emotional hijack. Dating can be an incredibly high pressured situation. Especially when we are sooo focused on the outcome, getting it right, saying the right things, or taking all of the the responsibility for its success. Gigi could help the situation by taking a deep breath and being a bit more empathetic. She could take time to consider the underlying reasons behind this behaviour, rather than writing her date off as being ‘completely mundane’. She might recognise that they each have 50% of the responsibility for how the conversation flows. Injecting some humour into the situation is a great way to break tension!
Reason 3. “I’m not afraid of not getting laid; I’m afraid of bad sex. And I’m afraid of getting herpes, for that matter. I don’t mind being celibate if it alleviates me of the possibility of an unremarkable (or even remarkably terrible) sexual experience.”
Ok so let's start with the easy bit - safety first! There are many steps we can take to practice and enjoy safe sex. There can often be some unhelpful beliefs around roles and responsibilities with this one, and waiting for the other person to take charge can often lead to mishaps. Your health and happiness is your responsibility. So identify what you need and want, communicate your expectations and boundaries and come prepared. To address her fear of bad sex, our advice here is to focus on the process and not the outcome! It takes two to tango, so don’t let your mind wander into making comparisons with the past or projecting forward towards how you think it’s going to end. Stay in the present moment. Know what it is you enjoy. If something’s not working, change it by communicating with your words or actions, sensitively and with a smile.
Reason 4. “I’m not afraid of having my bed to myself; I’m afraid of waking up to a stranger. I’d rather keep the sacred space that is my bed untainted. I’d rather spread out than spread my legs for someone who means nothing to me.”
Another emotional and physical need that our survival brain has is around territory. The intensity of the territory drive can be described as the extent it’s protective of its material or psychological space. Give yourself permission to take your own sweet time to build the relationship and trust. Invite only someone that you are happy to share this intimate space with. Avoid falling into the trap of going along with the norms or what we think is expected. Be clear about what you want, say it and do it. Alternatively, you can take the party somewhere else if you want to.
Reason 5. “I’m not afraid of not getting a text; I’m afraid of staring at my phone, waiting for one. When you don’t have dating on your mind, not getting a text means nothing to you. When you just went out on a great date you then spend countless hours starting at your phone, praying for a response.”
This is normal, you’ve had a great date, you’re mind is playing through the showreel of the nights events. And now your brain can’t wait to get its next hit. Dopamine is the chemical responsible for this, it’s a neurotransmitter all about focused attention and reward. The longer you anticipate the reward the bigger the dopamine hit. So when you get the text you are left with a sense of relief or release. Under a brain scanner, the brain mechanisms involved would look like any other addiction. Gigi could check her expectations and the meanings she’s places on the frequency of texts. Or she could manage the situation by planning to check her phone for his message only at the end of the day. If she hasn’t heard anything by the end of the day, recognise that there could be a number of reasons, take charge and send one herself. In reality what’s the worst that could happen?
Reason 6. “I’m not afraid of wasting my paycheck; I’m afraid of wasting my time. It’s not the whole riff raff about wasting money on a bad date that irks me; it’s my precious time that could be wasted. I would rather spend it with people of substance than potentially drain it.”
It is fantastic that Gigi has a strong sense of self-worth, her time is indeed very precious. She’s looking to spend her time with the radiators and not the drains, which is great. By clearly defining what ‘people of substance’ look like in action, generally and day-to-day - their likes, dislikes, behaviours and values etc - Gigi can create her unique system to filter out her type of people. This could look like five key questions to ask in the early stages, that emphasise the things that matter most to her, or distinguishes her catch of the day from the typical fish in the sea.
Reason 7. “I’m not afraid of being myself; I’m afraid of being with someone who makes me feel like I can’t be myself. I can’t be with someone who isn’t okay with taking me exactly as I am. I’m not afraid of not getting someone; I’m afraid of someone not getting me.”
We would invite Gigi to explore where these fears are coming from. Is there any link to previous experiences in childhood, adulthood, perhaps in past relationships? If so, revisiting and reframing this could be helpful. It’s great that Gigi has a strong sense of self and is comfortable in her own skin and we would absolutely advocate walking away from a relationship where the other party isn't prepared to accept her and love her just the way she is. She deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Communication is key. So in instances when she feels the other person is crushing her wings, let them know. What does she need and want? What is the other person saying or doing that isn’t OK? How does it make her feel? What specifically does she want? And what are the consequences? An example might be: "I want you to know that I need more time to myself with a good book. When you roll you eyes at me and suggest other things it makes me feel like you don’t respect me and my needs. I get that you like doing things together. I want to spend the morning chilling and reading my book. We can go and do something together later. If you can’t respect that then this isn’t the right relationship for me."
Reason 8. “I’m not afraid of being without a plus one; I’m afraid the next one might not be the one. I’d prefer to go to parties and weddings alone rather than be questioned by every person I know. Will he stick? Is he the one? Is this finally it? I really don’t know, and I’d rather not discuss it or give my mother any more false hope.”
So here we would look at unpicking the beliefs Gigi holds around love and finding love. And check that they are realistic. Plot twist: the One may not actually be real, it is more likely a myth! If it were real, the One is highly unlikely to turn up on the door step as a perfectly formed package. We are all works in progress. The One may not be the One until later on. And the One might not be what we think it is. Our construct of the One is influenced by all sorts of explicit and hidden messages we receive from our parents, friends, the media etc. At best, we can get out there and immerse ourselves in learning from our experiences. We can then create a list of the ingredients that are essential to us, as well as the ingredients that we might not choose, but could work with. It's important to identify the ingredients that would flat out spoil it, and so needs to be avoided. Only then, can we look for someone who brings the ingredients to the table that we can work with, and make something beautiful together!
At events like parties, weddings and family get-togethers people ask these questions for all sorts of reasons - it could be that they care, they’re inquisitive in nature, they find the topic all very exciting, they’re trying to make conversation, or something else. Whether you take your date or not, you'll probably still get asked the same questions. What they think is irrelevant and you don’t need to explain yourself. Gigi could have a simple and clear response ready, that stops these people in their tracks, like “He’s lovely. It’s early days and we’re really enjoying taking it one step at a time, thank you for asking. Now tell me about…”
Reason 9. “I’m not afraid of losing my friendships; I’m afraid of compromising them for the wrong person. I want to share my time only with someone who can be my best friend as well as my lover.”
Building relationships takes time to develop. It’s possible to allocate some time to see how it goes. If the friendship with the lover isn’t developing, you can call it a day and move on. Make a helpful and grateful note of all the things learnt along the way. With our existing friendships it’s not quantity but the quality of time spent that matters most. FOMO is a thing for our survival system, but we can keep it in check. Gigi’s survival systems may have fallen into some ‘black and white’ or ‘all or nothing thinking’ here. It would be helpful for Gigi to establish what her goal is and what matters most to her in the long run. And take it one small step at a time.
Reason 10. “I’m not afraid of being cold; I’m afraid of being vulnerable. I’d rather be an ice queen than be susceptible to heartbreak. I know we all say we need to get back out in the game and never give up on love, but doesn’t that just seem like masochism?”
This conflicts with reason 7. Gigi says that she’s not not afraid of being herself, yet she is also afraid of being vulnerable and so she puts on her ice jacket, or could it be a perfection coat? You can come across as too perfect. People warm more quickly to those who can be open about their vulnerabilities. Gigi allows herself to be beautifully honest and vulnerable in her article, so why is it a challenge for her on a date? This tough, cold exterior is likely a coping and defence mechanism developed by her survival system, to protect her from her fears of rejection. Rejection is a part of life. Most of us have experienced love and loss, and some scars of rejection run way deeper than we realise. We know that rejection hurts, and neuroscience has concluded that our brains appear to process relationship breakups in the same regions as physical pain. That doesn't mean that romantic rejection causes actual physical pain. Rather, your brain is signalling that both are important events to pay attention to, and that protective and preventative action must be taken. Gigi has a choice here to accept herself as perfectly imperfect, a work in progress, and work on being her true self. She can also accept that she will not be everyone’s cuppa, and what these people think of her does not matter to her. Or she can take her survival system’s offering of being cold and playing it safe. Only she can weigh up the real costs and benefits to her for each option.
Reason 11. “I’m not afraid of being alone; I’m afraid of being with someone who makes me feel alone. The greatest tragedy of all is to wind up paired off with someone who is anything but right for you.”
It’s true that many people in relationships experience loneliness. Those feelings of sadness, loneliness, anxiety or stress are a normal response. It's your brain’s way of signalling that something needs to be done. It could be that needs are not being met, and whatever is missing can be addressed. It could be that some emotions or fears are being bottled up, so twist the cap to gently release them - in other words find a healthy way to express them. Relationships take work and commitment from both sides. It starts with each party having a good understanding of what makes them happy, and what they need out of life and from their partner. Anyone can develop the skills to work out what’s going on for them, and the skills to talk things through with their partner, with honesty, kindness and best intentions. We each need to feel loved and valued. We need to be heard and acknowledged. We can’t expect people to read or know our minds, or fill in the gaps for us.
To summarise: “It’s not being single that is the sole proprietor of unhappiness. It’s playing the game, getting knocked down, choosing wrong out of desperation and ending up with a life that is incomplete.”
It’s true that happiness and unhappiness occurs regardless of our relationship status. The game of life and love is tough and is full of setbacks. It all comes down to the meanings we attach to the knocks that causes our unhappiness. Or when we let our fears dictate our actions.
We can choose our perspective as quickly as switching our metaphorical sunglasses. In relationships, if something’s not working we can choose our pessimistic specs - blame the other person, point fingers, view them as entirely wrong, write it off as a failure and then beat ourselves up for making a mistake. OR we can choose our opportunity lenses - take a step back, get to the root of the problem, see what role we are playing and change it, then talk to our partner about what could be done on their part and why. We can apologise for any mistakes we've made and take it all on board as opportunities to grow.
We can explore our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, to recognise what scares us and where it is coming from for us. Know that it's normal - just that old survival mechanism in our brain - and accept that it is what it is, and we can work on it. We can feel the fear and do it anyway - especially if it get’s us closer to what we truly want. Remember a ship in harbour is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for!
We can reflect daily and celebrate our successes as we watch ourselves grow. Life and love has its challenges, but nothing worth having comes easy. There is never any shame in asking for help - they don't teach us this stuff in schools guys!... But before I get on THAT soapbox I'll leave you with these two questions:
What's getting in the way of your success and happiness in life and love?
What one thing could you do today to overcome this?