Have you ever thought about viewing the way people approach relationships as similar to the way they respond when offered a piece of chocolate? I never did until recently. Then I began to see a rash of individuals in therapy, all of whom had experienced similar problems with dating and forming relationships. Several had never been married. The majority had walked down the aisle at least once before.
Despite their diversity, all of them shared several things in common. They had been disappointed, hurt, rejected and/or betrayed by someone they previously considered a loving parent or partner. As a result, they were all deathly frightened of entering into a meaningful relationship; however, they were all highly desirous of having one. This paradox was the source of considerable confusion and emotional stress, which manifested itself in a number of very specific behavioral patterns.
By this time, you very likely are asking yourself: What does all this have to do with chocolates? Let me explain. Imagine yourself offering someone an open box of chocolates. Most individuals seem initially delighted by the offer. Then the differences begin to set in. These differences fall into five distinct groups:
1. The abstainer: They raise their hands, palms outstretched, as though to push the box away. This behavior is usually accompanied by a statement such as “I’m on a diet,” “I’m allergic to chocolate” or “If I start with one, I won’t be able to stop.”
2. The conflicted: Their eyes give them away. They are filled with anticipation, but they reluctantly push the box away. Their reaction is often coupled with the words, “I really shouldn’t.” Then, a questioning expression on their faces all but says to you, “What do you think? Encourage me; convince me that it’s okay.” These individuals can’t seem to win for losing. If you encourage them, just have one piece, they wolf it down and follow the act with an expression of soul-wrenching guilt. If they refuse the second time, their facial expression is one of terrible deprivation and anguish. Their life is tortured by their inability to integrate their behavior with their decisions.
3. The addict: They reach with both hands, while uttering phrases such as, “How did you know I’m a chocoholic? I love the caramels, but I’ll try the peanut brittle and one of the chocolate-covered creams.” Left to their own devices, they would consume the entire box. They accept their addiction, display little control, and dive in with abandon. In the end, they are often remorseful and repentant but, by then, it’s too late to alter their behavior. The only choice left is to feel sickened by their actions.
4. The cautious one. They carefully scrutinize the box of chocolates. If the top lid has a diagram indicating the location and flavor of each piece, they study it. This individual is prone to be the one who presses a finger through the bottom of each chocolate, trying to establish its identity once and for all. However, after having examined every piece, they are unlikely to consume any. Instead, he/she is apt to either take a small bite, express dissatisfaction, or reject it totally, explaining that he/she was unable to find one to their liking.
5. The healthy one. These individuals know what they want. They go after it with a minimal amount of deliberation. They’re willing to make a selection. If it’s a mistake, they acknowledge it. If they enjoy it, they express that emotion, because they aren’t afraid to take a risk, or make a commitment. They behave on the basis of reason and desires. If the box contains a diagram indicating that location or shape of each selection, it’s all the better.
By this moment, you probably already see how these five approaches are analogous to the way most individuals react when faced with dating someone who is available and interested.
1. Abstainers refuse to date. They justify their behavior through
rationalization, denial and excuses. When questioned regarding their reluctance, they can become defensive or even angry. Despite feelings of extreme loneliness, they avoid venturing out; all the while claiming they desperately want a piece of chocolate. Their fear of being hurt is so overwhelming that they are terrified of the involvement they desire.
2. The conflicted. They are radically different from the abstainers and only one step away from the addict. They approach new relationships with both desire and hesitancy, but there is little doubt that they will succumb to their impulses. Similar to the abstainer, they, too, desperately want to be involved. Consequently, they leap into relationships full speed ahead, but the moment they feel loving emotions inside themselves, they retreat and set about sabotaging the relationship.
3. The addicts. They know no boundaries. Their eyes are bigger than their stomachs. Consequently, they never stop looking for that perfect partner and frequently make themselves sick, by sampling more than they should. They believe they love but, in fact, they are so emotionally fearful that they need to taste everyone, but can settle on no one. They unconsciously deal with their fear of being hurt or rejected by getting involved, over and over again, but never making a permanent commitment.
4. Cautious individuals become victim to their own indecision. They frequently encounter very viable partners but, by the time they make a decision, the person is long gone. Figuratively speaking, after offering them a chocolate, you become so frustrated with their decision-making process that you wish you had never started with them in the first place. As a result, these individuals, more often than not, perceive themselves as victims, and fail to take responsibility for the pain or frustration they inflict on themselves and others. Ironically, they then expect your sympathy for their sadness over their loss.
5. The healthy approach is what everyone needs to take. Despite these individuals’ previous hurts and disappointments, they know that loving can be good. They realize life isn’t a bed of roses but, in spite of it, they are willing to take risks and learn from their pasts. They realize that their mistakes are not necessarily a reflection of who they are and that they’ll have to taste a few bad chocolates before they discover their favorite.
The question is, “What category do you fall in and which one do you want to fit in from now on out?”