A few years ago, I was diagnosed with a condition. Okay, in truth, I self-diagnosed, but that doesn’t make it any less crippling. All hope seems lost as even WebMD can’t help me with my . . . Emotional Claustrophobia.
Yup, emotional claustrophobia is exactly what it sounds like: The closer people get to me, the more suffocated I start to feel, mainly in the area of romance. At first, I thought I invented this term, but turns out someone actually wrote a book about it! (Emotional Claustrophobia: Getting Over Your Fear of Being Engulfed by People or Situations by Aphrodite Matsakis, Ph.D.) When I saw that, I thought, “Thank God! It’s not just me!”
Time and time again, as soon as I sense a guy is starting to get close to me, I can feel myself drawing inward and planning an exit. I have one leg out the door before he can even make himself comfortable. To someone not suffering from this ailment, it must sound like I am exceptionally self-centered or cold, or perhaps just ungrateful. How can you get upset about someone wanting to be with you or falling in love with you quickly? Where’s the harm in someone thinking you are something special and letting their own guard down enough to tell you? When I write it down, even I think I sound ungrateful. But that’s not the issue. Much like with physical claustrophobia, it’s not something you choose to feel. For me, it sets in without much notice and puts me in a mindset to do nothing short of run as fast as I can in the opposite direction.
Call it panic over commitment, call it self-preservation, but the more I analyze this aspect of my personality, the more I think it’s actually about not wanting to hurt someone else. Fast feelings mean fast expectations. And as someone who has been single for as long as I have, I often doubt my abilities to live up to those expectations. Immediately, I find myself questioning: How will this person’s feelings affect the way I am living my life? Will I be obligated to spend my free time with them? Will they want to change me? Is it possible to slow down at this point? There is so much to worry about, so the walls start closing in, and I struggle to breathe, in effect ruining another potential relationship.
And, yes, I have tried being open about this issue to see if that helps. But no one wants to hear, “Go away so I can miss you” and that’s usually how it gets translated. So while no cure for this condition currently exists, I am determined to overcome it. Because as much as I need my space, the thought of ending up alone is a little too close for comfort.