The promise and peril of young love: the epic email exchange

MARK YOUR CALENDARS: I will be doing the first Tao of Dating LIVE lecture/workshop in San Francisco from 7-9pm on Tuesday 20 May. Details coming right up…

Ever been in love? It’s a consuming preoccupation, liable to bring out the best, the worst and the dumbest in ourselves. It’s particularly potent when we’re young. Sure, older people do silly things when they’re in love, too, but a less-experienced youngster possessed in the clutches of romance is a bit like a 5-year old behind the wheel of a Ford F-150 pickup truck: things are gonna get wrecked. Here’s an email exchange with a Canadian university student that illuminates some tricky aspects of this whole love thing:

Hi Dr. Binazir, hope you’re well! I came across your blog months ago when I was looking up medical school information and, lo and behold, I found the most valuable dating advice I have ever come across. I ended up purchasing your Tao of Dating for Women on Kindle and downloaded your second book for free.

I am in need of relationship advice and I am not sure how I should approach you regarding this because I honestly think you should charge a fee for your services and I am willing to pay because I think I may explode if I don’t seek help from you.

I’m 21 years old and during my year at school I became friends with an individual, I’ll refer to him as Frank. When I met Frank, he was very quiet and in general his demeanor was quite insecure. He was very nice and we became good friends but I never thought of him in a relationship context. At that time, I was dating an individual who I was contemplating breaking up with for months.

I was working out vigorously, eating well and bringing meals to school and soon, Frank started doing the same. He started working out and bringing his meals to school and when we would talk occasionally, he expressed a strong interest in me and said that I had also encouraged him to start exercising. His body changed and so did he, his confidence grew and he began talking to me more and more.

After a few months of long talks and text message conversations ranging from philosophy to Jersey Shore, he asked me out. We went to dinner and we shared a kiss. He was holding my hand the entire night (although he was a tad bit drunk) and he expressed a very strong interest in me, so strong that I was sure he was into me. He told our common friends that he liked me a lot and every time we talked I could see in his eyes that he enjoyed my company and he was a changed man from when I knew him at the beginning of the year.

On our third date, he asked me if I wanted to be his girlfriend. I told him that I had just gotten out of a long-term relationship and felt like I needed a short sabbatical. He was very understanding and said that he himself had just finished his sabbatical and that at the beginning of the school year, he had just broken up with his girlfriend too. As everyone knows each other here, I came to figure out that his ex is a nice girl but she is wildly unstable and has an addiction to narcotics. She had cheated on him and left him for another man and he was crushed. This was 6 months ago. 

I have never felt this level of attraction or chemistry to anyone before and he expressed that he has never felt this way about a woman before (he said this before I did and I nodded in agreement). We shared a lot of laughs, finishing each other’s sentences and he couldn’t keep his hands off me which made me even more passionate about him. He opened up to me about his somewhat difficult past and his family.

I have dated ”bad boys” in the past but this man is definitely a good guy at heart. We have not had sex or seen each other naked so we were taking things slow in that department (and me retaining some of my Iranian culture, I wanted to wait despite the early attraction). When I saw him again, I said that I wanted to take him up on his offer of me being his girlfriend and that I would forgo my sabbatical because I liked him.

I guess this sent him into a frenzy or something because all of a sudden he changed. He texted me the next night and said that he was having weird feelings and doubts because his past relationship had really fucked him up for lack of a better word. He said the doubt comes from a place of fear and he has never before been hit so hard with these feelings and that he thinks it’s a subconscious defense mechanism.

We met today for lunch and he said that he thinks we can work through it but that he is confused and unsure about his feelings. And he said that he wanted to postpone sex so I wouldn’t get hurt. This crushed me like a ton of bricks because I think this man has provoked some strong feelings in me but I managed to hold it together.

I told him that I respected and appreciated that he came to share this with me, knew what I wanted and that I wanted him to know the same. So I suggested he take time out of the relationship to think. He agreed, much to my surprise of saying earlier that he thought we can work through it… and a few minutes later he said that he wasn’t sure he was ready for a relationship. Pretty much a minute prior to that he said that after meeting me he had become a better man and I had helped him get the confidence he needed to ask me out. I am just so confused and hurt. 

I always think of myself as having strong intuition and spotting these things far in advance but this hit me like a truck. I was certain he really liked me, I almost thought he may love me. I hate coming up with excuses for myself, saying he’s not ready for a relationship or he’s jaded from his past relationships…when it’s just that he’s not into me? What is your take on this and how should I proceed? Do I continue talking to him as we are in the same class or do I make myself totally unavailable so he can be on his own and think comfortably? But what do I say when he texts?  

This happened an hour ago and my first instinct was to come email you. I’m sorry that this has turned into a research paper and honestly I am willing to pay a fee because your advice is the only one I am seeking right now. I admire you and your work immensely and I look so forward to hearing from you.

Kind regards, Miriam from Toronto

Miriam — Thanks for the kind words and the letter. It’s definitely more than 200 words, and it doesn’t have a question in it. “What’s your take?” and “What should I do?” are not valid questions. When you have a well-formed question which addresses what you want, send it my way and I’ll see what I can do. My guess is that in the process of coming up with the question, you’ll have greater insight into what’s going on. — AB

Hi Dr. Binazir, thanks for your reply! You’re right — I guess I didn’t explore the situation enough to even realize what I was asking! Thank you for taking the time to notice that.

I guess my question is: when a man shows strong interest in a woman and has a strong connection with her physically and emotionally and asks to be exclusive, what are some common reasons that can cause him to pull back or have doubts when the exclusivity actually does happen? And is there anything a woman can do to prevent this in the future or even change the situation at hand? I guess that saved me some ~400 words right there! Thanks again for your time :) –Miriam

Ok, this is better, but not quite there yet: WHAT DO YOU WANT? You need to address that as concretely as possible – e.g. “I want a boyfriend, I want this guy to be my boyfriend, I want him to kiss me and hold me forever till we get old, I want to understand men but don’t need to have a relationship, I want to be released from the psychic turmoil of uncertainty ’cause it sucks worse than rejection”, etc.
This is not a term paper, so no asking term-paper questions. This is your life! Give it some thought then send it my way.
PS: For the record, if you haven’t gotten naked together, you don’t have a complete sense of whether you have a strong physical connection yet.

Many thanks for your reply and for taking the time to probe to explore my own wants. What do I want? Well, in my most recent relationship, physical connection and attraction were lacking and we had very little in common anymore. I did not look forward to being intimate with him or even seeing/conversing with him. 

So when I met this new man, it was a 180-degree shift for me. The attraction was present, an 8 on a scale of 1-10, and we had a lot in common. I wanted and still want to feel those intense feelings of attraction and ”passion”, even if it’s just during the honeymoon phase with someone. I want to have a boyfriend that I look forward to being intimate with and feel like he can challenge me and encourage me to be my best, physically/intellectually.

Those feelings of attraction and passion make me happy because I honestly thought I couldn’t feel those same feelings again. This man awakened my sexual attraction. We haven’t gotten naked but we have had hot and heavy makeout sessions, so I base my attraction levels on that so I’m not sure how accurate that is. I also want this individual to want ME… and feel those same feelings towards me, so that I can feel validated: “This attractive, interesting person likes me just as much as I like him. This must mean I’m attractive and interesting and if he doesn’t then it means there is something wrong with me.” Well, that escalated quickly :)

I guess this is why I’m hurting so much: I’m taking this all very personally and his very quick change in behavior is making me feel very insecure. I hope that’s slightly better! :) Thank you once again. Miriam

Well, that’s a lot to sort through! All told, you’ve got a pretty good list here for what you want out of a relationship: real intimacy, growth, passion, attraction, validation.

You also have some excellent insight into the whole validation game: “This attractive, interesting person likes me just as much as I like him. This must mean I’m attractive and interesting and if he doesn’t, then it means there is something wrong with me.” Helluva trap, that one – so powerful that you can know you’re caught in it and still can’t escape.

At the same time, you may be wanting too much, to the point that it’s basically impossible not to disappoint yourself. Right now, at the tender age of 21, there are two things you should want in relationships: to have fun, and to practice being more loving. Instead, you’re expecting to win Wimbledon on your first tennis lesson. Ain’t happenin’, hon.

Sounds like right now you’re also stuck in this thing called limerence. It’s not you; it’s not real. It just happens. It’s a lot like being addicted to crack. Make sure you click on the link and read the Wikipedia entry.

Third, he’s just a kid — a male kid whose body is flooded with testosterone and doesn’t know his head from his butt. So he’s going to screw this up, big time — especially if he likes you a lot. And is a little gun-shy from his last relationship. Accept that, loosen your grip, and things get a lot easier.

Fourth, you’re just a kid — and you’re going to screw this up, too. In fact, you’re going to screw this up well into your twenties, thirties, and probably far beyond (it’s called being human – incurable condition, always terminal).

People’s executive control center — the part that makes good decisions — doesn’t really come on board until age 25-26. The more you like the guy, the more you’re likely to hurt him. So, once again, take this as an opportunity to practice being loving — both to yourself and him. What does that look like? What does it feel like? How do you like to be treated? What’s important to you? These are things that you need to learn, and you can only learn them through relationship. So it’s just practice. Practice is fun! Enjoy the process.

Fifth, it’s not personal. Really. At all. Nothing that he does has anything to do with who you are, your self-worth, your attractiveness, whatever. Seriously. You have no idea what’s going on in his hormone-addled brain, his fears, his childhood traumas, his first girlfriend who broke his heart, or maybe he’s never had one and he’s terrified, or maybe he’s scared of breaking your heart ’cause he likes you too much which paradoxically makes him want to pull away… There’s no way to tell. Even he doesn’t have access to that information because it’s unconscious. So don’t try. Accept the current moment as it is.

When it rains, it’s not raining personally on you. This is rain. Take it the same way. If I were you, I’d go read The Power of Now or even better, listen to the audiobook. Might be a useful tonic for the moment. It was for me: right about the same time that you wrote me, I was going through something similar. Eckhart talked some sense into my head. It took that, plus all of my tricks of meditation and hypnosis, to get me back to normal. And, as they say in medical school, sometimes the best treatment is a little tincture of time. You’ll do fine.

Hi Dr. Binazir, — You’re amazing, thank you. You gave me a lot to think about and reflect on. You’re right (you probably hear that very often :))

I am wanting too much and deep down I know that all I want is to have fun. And to focus more on becoming more loving and accepting, just going with the flow, accepting the world as is and not forcing it to be the way I want it to be like you say.

And I need to stop taking other people’s actions and decisions so personally. Easier said than done, but with the advice you’ve given me both through your email and your books, I know I can get better at this. I just purchased The Power of Now and will start reading it tonight.

And you are spot on with the limerence. I am in love with being in love. So I see things as I want to be and not how they actually are. I even see people differently so that they align with my feelings. Many thanks for sharing that. 

“Practice is fun, enjoy the process!” Just that sentence on its own made me smile and think about how I can start enjoying this process more. Thank you!! 

Just as a side note: I absolutely loved that part in your book where you said ”az to harekat, az khoda barekat” (from you, motion; from god, blessings). Your entire book is a gem. I have recommended it to all of my single and even attached female friends. I’m really happy to hear you’re thinking of writing a new book. 

Again, many many thanks. Your email saved me several weeks of tears and negative self talk. Please consider coming to Vancouver to do a talk or event!!!

Gladly. And to all my readers: if you can assemble a crowd of 20 or more customers in a room, I’ll be happy to pay your city a visit. Write to me at DrAli(at) to make your case.