The Soho Sex Column: How to deal with trust issues
This week our resident sexpert, Olivia Petter, answers a member’s question: can I quash my fear of falling in love after being hurt in a previous relationship?
Friday 8 July 2022 By Olivia Petter Illustration by Jordan Moss
To answer this question, allow me to introduce Reuben Feffer, the character played by Ben Stiller in the 2004 film Along Came Polly. As a risk management analyst, Reuben has to assess potential professional and personal threats – and even though one of his clients is an extreme sports fanatic, it transpires that no risk is greater than love.
Like you, Reuben has been hurt. His wife left him on their honeymoon for a French diving instructor (‘are you for scuba?’) and it takes him the entire film to overcome his fear of falling in love again with someone new: the free-spirited Polly Prince, played by Jennifer Aniston. He even writes a list of pros and cons, assessing a long-term relationship like it’s a competitive stock.
I bring this up because even though Reuben is a hyperbolic example in a deeply average romcom, his behaviour illustrates something we all do when we meet someone we like: we risk-assess. Will they be kind? Honest? Good to our family? It’s essential, too, particularly for those reeling from a bad break-up, their hearts still fragile.
Perhaps your partner also left you for someone else. Maybe they were even having an affair behind your back. Or they might have just fallen out of love with you, which can feel like the most painful betrayal of all. Whatever happened, it won’t be easy for you to dive back into a relationship with someone new. But I don’t think it’s supposed to be. Isn’t the risk part of what makes falling in love so exhilarating? We always go in blind, hoping for the best. There’s never a guaranteed outcome: you could end up dating them for two weeks or having three of their children.
I met my ex shortly after I’d been dumped. At the time, entering into a new relationship was the last thing I had expected, or even wanted. And yet, six weeks after meeting, I found myself being introduced as his girlfriend at a wedding with all of his friends in Zanzibar.
Saying yes to that trip was one of the biggest romantic risks I’ve taken, particularly because I’d only known the man for two weeks when he invited me. But I’m so pleased I did. Even now, knowing we’re no longer together, those are memories I will cherish forever.
My advice is to try to reframe the pain you’re harbouring from your previous relationship. As opposed to fixating on how much that person let you down, think about how wonderful it is that you loved someone enough that they had the capacity to hurt you. Tennyson said it best: ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.’
There’s no rush – and god knows there’s nothing worse than jumping into a new relationship when you’re not ready. I hope you’re giving yourself the time and space you need to grieve your ex and process any pain they might have caused you. But even once you’ve come out the other side, chances are you’ll still feel afraid of falling in love again. Lean into that feeling; when you find the right person, it will make it all the more special.
The quick-fire round
What if you fall in love with someone and don’t approve of their career choice?
I have to question what you mean here. Why don’t you approve of their career? If it’s because they do something that doesn’t align with your core values – perhaps they slaughter cows on a farm and you’re a vegetarian – then that’s fair enough. Evidently, you’re incompatible. But perhaps you’ve made unfair judgements about this person based on their career i.e. #NotAllBankers. If that’s the case, give them a chance. Remember: you’re falling in love with a person, not their job. One doesn’t always have to define the other.
I’ve never been on a date before… best advice for getting over nerves?
How exciting. It sounds like a cliche, but the only tip you really need is to be yourself. It’s the only way you’ll be able to gauge whether or not you have a future with this person. Aside from that, go in with an open mind, free from expectations. Wear something that makes you feel comfortable and confident. And please remember to eat something.
If you want to get in touch, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions will remain anonymous.
Olivia Petter is the relationships writer at The Independent and author of Millennial Love, which is out now in paperback with 4th Estate