Fear of Intimacy; Has Society Made Singles Too Fickle for Commitment?

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Byline: ANGELA LEVIN

THE number of weddings in Britain has fallen by 20 pc in ten years, two in five marriages end in divorce and one in eight people live alone. More and more of us, it seems, are failing to have intimate relationships.

It's not because we're choosing the wrong partner, have money worries, a difficult mother-in-law or bad sex. The cause is a deep fear of intimacy.

This is the theory advanced by Robert Firestone, an American professor of clinical psychology, in his book Fear Of Intimacy. Initially, his theory seems hard to believe. If anything, we live in an age of too much intimacy.

It's easy come, easy go as far as sex is concerned.

But is this intimacy? Yes, but of the wrong sort. An increasing number of single people would far rather have sex with a new partner than reveal intimate details about themselves. They would rather bare their flesh than their souls.

Some young girls deliberately become pregnant within a few months of meeting a new boyfriend. Only once they've had their baby do they bother to find out if the relationship has any value.

Other women have babies without ever having been in a long-term relationship.

And in a recent magazine survey, a third of women interviewed said they had no intention of ever getting married.

It's all part of our must-have-it-now society, where takeaways replace home-cooked meals and people live vicariously through TV soaps because it takes less effort than having a social life.

GENUINE intimacy takes time, effort and commitment. It also involves revealing your flaws, being vulnerable and risking rejection. It seems this is the stumbling block.

Singles are not prepared to risk commitment if, in the end, it leads to being abandoned. Nor can they cope with the feeling of vulnerability.

Instead, they protect themselves and behave defensively. The rich surround themselves with material trappings.

Others rely on superficial displays of affection to replace something more meaningful. They spend a fortune on flowers for Valentine's Day, then, for the rest of the year, expect the relationship to take care of itself.

Sometimes, if a relationship looks like getting too deep, they will sabotage it. Such individuals often have fantasised about a partner, but can't cope with reality.

I have a friend in her 30s who is good-looking and has a top job.

She knows her biological clock is ticking loudly and claims she longs to settle down. Yet she seems to destroy every relationship.

When she meets a new man, she gets an enormous crush. 'I think he's Mr Perfect almost as he walks through my door,' she admits. 'But it always seems to go wrong and I end up hating him.' He's doomed at the first disagreement or sign of human frailty.

She overreacts and drops him.

Prof Firestone believes this behaviour goes back to childhood: 'Real closeness is precluded by psychological defences formed early in life, under stressful conditions and unsatisfying parenting practices.' If children have a bad relationship, feel let down or see how badly their parents get on together, it shakes them to the core.

In an effort to protect themselves when they grow up, they instinctively distrust anyone who tries to get close and set up a range of barriers.

These defences usually last a lifetime.

Even when they start a relationship, fear that it could go wrong drives them to repeat their parents' bad behaviour patterns until it inevitably does. Film star Julia Roberts's love life is a good example. …