‘You’re behaving in a way that is damaging for you’: Mariella Frostrup advises a man who gets easily upset.

Your irrational behaviour probably stems from trauma – come to terms with that first, says Mariella Frostrup

The dilemma My friends think my behaviour is leading me in a vicious circle in my relationships. I can see their point. I am a man who is quite sensitive. I get relatively easily upset when women say hurtful things or ignore my contact, and I get very attached to partners.

In my most recent relationship I was ghosted. I tried to reinitiate contact. This was successful, but came at a high emotional cost for me. She then ghosted me again, perhaps because of me appearing clingy. The cycle is now happening for a third time.

I wonder whether I should seek to emulate the self-confident man who would not be affected by such things or could move on easily. This may be more attractive to women and help me avoid situations like this.

But this would be me trying to be a different person and I don’t see how that could be a sustainable solution. Is my only alternative continuing to behave in a way which is helping engender dysfunctional relationships?

Mariella replies Your friends are right. You’re behaving in a way that is damaging for you and unsustainable in your relationships, so this is no time to be getting all high and mighty about staying true to yourself. Shrugging your shoulders and saying that’s just who I am is not acceptable. Setting demanding terms for contact, while displaying a skin so thin as to be virtually translucent is not going to appeal to anyone who isn’t looking for a victim on whom to indulge their own dysfunctions. Dating you sounds like the equivalent of jogging on a sheet of ice – it’s only a matter of time before you’re in trouble and so you’d need to be a masochist or a thrill seeker in order to apply. In a lover, most of us want neither, and I suspect if you were faced with a partner displaying your unreconciled expectations you wouldn’t linger long.

Not that I don’t understand where all this could be coming from. In adolescence and well into my 20s I was the definition of needy, something I can look back on now with a degree of compassion, but also relief that it’s passed. You need to be young and naive to imagine that you can cajole people into caring, or mend those whose actions should instead encourage you to give them a wide berth. Back then, I realise now, having lost my father at an early age, I was desperately seeking someone to transfer the unbearable weight of my unreconciled emotions on to. It’s a burden too heavy for any romantic relationship and I’m sure I frightened off plenty of prospective partners with desperation for a Daddy replacement, before it became clear that I needed to address that void instead of expecting someone else to pad it out for me. You can’t hope for a functional union with anyone else until you have come to terms with your own idiosyncrasies. I daresay there’s a similar trauma in your own background that you’re failing to consider as you overload your adult relationships with the weight of your expectations.

I often think of my correspondents as self-curing, because the act of writing out what’s troubling you can often bring into sharp relief what’s triggering unhappiness. You only need look at your few lines about being ghosted to recognise that your behaviour isn’t rational. You weren’t born needy and the term ghosting didn’t even exist when you were a child, so none of this can be regarded as “you”. Is this how you want to be viewed, as a person who’s more barnacle than boulder, clinging on against the odds and whose existence is unsustainable without its host?

Finding someone and depending entirely on them for survival is tolerable in a canine companion, but less so in our own species. Weighing your own self-worth against how much lovers are prepared to “return your contact” is a route to self-destruction and will be enlarging rather than satisfying this irrational insecurity you need to address. Being valued and loved will always see a person bloom, but you need a base level of self-confidence.

What is it you’re looking to affirm? How much have you thought about the goal you’re chasing? Or are you simply allowing your instinct for pursuit to run rampant until rejection is emphatic? You can push someone into giving you a job interview and convince people to try you out in all matter of practical and skill-related pursuits, but who wants to go down in history for having bullied their lover into dating them? You no doubt see yourself as the victim in all this but, actually, looking from a different angle, you are stubbornly refusing to allow people the right to choose you.

Look at what you’ve written about the woman who ghosted you and tell me that the “high emotional cost” wasn’t simply a squandering of your time. Gaining someone’s attention, if you nag them long and hard enough, may get them looking in your direction, but that isn’t an achievement, it’s a pyrrhic victory. My advice is to step back from dating and work out why you are so dedicated to the pursuit of validation. When you learn to love yourself more, you’ll find people don’t need to be pushed into reciprocal behaviour.

If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to mariella.frostrup@observer.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1

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