A couple months ago, I had lunch with a really smart friend of mine. He’s a totally brilliant therapist and an adjunct psychology instructor. I wanted to sit down with him and get his thoughts on relationships, love, and dating. I was curious to hear what he sees come up repeatedly with people who come to see him in his therapy practice.
He said the number one thing that people struggle with is the issue of closeness and distance with the other and with oneself. This is definitely something my own clients in my dating coaching business struggle with – the desire for yet fear of closeness/intimacy with another and the difficulties that come with really being close to and intimate with oneself.
He then asked me if I had ever heard of the porcupine theory or, as it’s sometimes called, the hedgehog’s dilemma? I had not. He explained that it’s an analogy about the challenges of human intimacy. As Wikipedia states:
“It describes a situation in which a group of hedgehogs all seek to become close to one another in order to share heat during cold weather. They must remain apart, however, as they cannot avoid hurting one another with their sharp spines. Though they all share the intention of a close reciprocal relationship, this may not occur, for reasons they cannot avoid. What results is cautious behavior and weak relationships.”
Singles spend a lot of time focusing on what they’re looking for in a partner, their “deal breakers,” their wants; often times, these checklists focus on superficial qualities. With these lists in mind, singles go out and date; if people don’t measure up to items on the list they move on, determined to find the person who will embody all that they are looking for.
There’s nothing wrong with thinking about what’s really important to you in a long-term partner and in a relationship. In fact, I encourage my clients to engage in this type of reflection, specifically, deciphering their wants versus their needs (yes, I get that you want a tall guy, but what is it in a person and a relationship that you really need to feel safe and loved and cared for). But often times, because our focus in our dating lives is so narrowly confined to our lists, our wants, we neglect to focus on how our own fears of closeness and intimacy prevent us from finding healthy, happy love.
If your dating journey has consistently led you down unhealthy or unfulfilling paths, you might think to put aside your focus on lists for the time being and instead consider how your own issues with closeness to another plays into the choices you have made thus far. You can also start reflecting on how difficulties with being truly close to yourself has inhibited you from becoming close with another (at the end of the day, if you can’t be close with yourself, how can you be close with another?).
When you’ve spent a fair amount of time engaged in this type of self-reflection, you’ll slowly start to embrace what real closeness (and all of its attendant joys and scariness) with another flawed human being means, and perhaps then some of the items on that checklist of yours will fade to the background.
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