How do I talk to men?

How can I overcome my painful shyness with the opposite sex? When I meet a man I am attracted to, I have a strongly negative physical reaction. My insides twist into knots. My heart races. I feel nauseated and incapable of being present in the moment or in my body. I feel vaguely aware of talking too much and acting uncomfortable, at which point, the man will look at me strangely, as if to say, “Are you OK?” After that, he usually avoids me. I feel confident and self-assured in the other areas of my life, but my last relationship was three years ago. I know this problem is based on my fear of being hurt and the high expectations I have for a possible relationship. I have tried repeatedly to overcome this, but in the end, I feel like a failure. It almost seems like self-cruelty to keep trying.

I’ve experienced strong physical reactions when I have been tempted to lie. It’s as if my body is urging me to tell the truth and reminding me that bodies are alert to our thoughts and retain memories of our choices. So, as I read your letter, I wondered whether you are willing to share the truth of who you are when you meet men. I’m not suggesting that you attempt instant emotional intimacy, but rather that you gradually and honestly reveal yourself in response to what arises. For example, the next time your body churns, and a man asks (through words or body language), “What’s up?” respond honestly: “I get really nervous whenever I meet new men.”

It probably also would help to flip the switch in your brain that thinks of men as “other.” Even if you’re attracted to a man, can you approach him as if he is a human being first, a potential new friend second and a potential romantic partner third? If not, you risk objectifying him, which does not allow for a healthy relationship to develop between you.

In his powerful audiotape The Soul Work of Sexuality, Bob Bartlett points out what theologians have been saying for centuries: “If you haven’t been hurt, you’ve never really loved anyone.” You can’t protect yourself completely. The risk of being hurt is inherent in the act of opening ourselves to love.

Even though I know I might lose my job, I can’t motivate myself to complete the tasks that I am responsible for at work. I have the same problem at home. There are a million projects I have purchased materials for or have started but only two or three I have finished over the last six years. Why do I procrastinate?

In her book Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists in Their Struggle for Self, psychotherapist Elan Golomb writes, “Procrastination is a common shortcoming of one whose performance has been attacked. Low in self-esteem, many of us think we should put off action until we feel sufficiently confident. It is an error to believe that we must love ourselves before undertaking a difficult project or relationship. We postpone what we think is beyond our grasp, giving ourselves no opportunity to learn from error. Raised to magnify our limitations, inferiority feelings keep us from the world. We fail at school, job, marriage, work, child rearing and so on. We fulfill our predicted destiny.” Hire a psychotherapist to help you determine if your procrastination is a symptom of depression or low self-esteem or if you just need to learn how to relax and play.

Meditation of the Week

“See everything. Overlook much. Improve one thing,” wrote Pope John XXIII. What would happen if you applied this wisdom to the relationship that gives you the most trouble?