ASK ABDI: HOW DO I HELP A FRIEND WITH INTIMACY ISSUES?
QUESTION: I have a friend, a loving and beautiful woman, who, by all appearances, lives a noble and giving life. She has spent much of the last 25 years in love and service, spiritual study, meditation, yoga, and countless disciplines.
For all of this life devoted to awakening herself, she is obsessed by the lack of any long-term meaningful romantic relationships. She agonizes like a 15-year-old girl who fears she will never be loved.
After reading your book, Shadows on the Path, I see the signs of commitment issues and her selection of men and situations that are always unavailable. She throws herself to the wind, moving from city to city (continent to continent), in search of this elusive missing element.
Is it my place to discuss this with her? Do I point out the pattern I see? She has read your book and even gave me my copy! Is it my ego that feels the need to bring it to her attention by pointing out my perspective? I’ve tried subtly to guide the conversation by discussing your writings on the subject, but these attempts seem lost on her. Thank you for any insight.
ANSWER: She is lucky to have a friend like you who cares. Wonderful that you are cognizant of boundary issues here. One can ask permission in such situations to share one’s insight. Do remember that these issues are unconscious, so logical explanations or emotional discharge will do no good unless the recipient is ready to hear them. One needs to check oneself here, as well. Is this an issue that I struggle with, as well, and hence it being charged for me? Have I been not caretaking of myself by listening to my friend tell the same story for so many years, while seeing no active participation in her own healing? The problem with unconscious material is the simple fact that we are absolutely blind to the issue at hand. It is common to have abject terror unconsciously around something that we so desperately crave on a conscious level. Your description of her issue is exactly that: “obsessed by the lack of any long-term meaningful romantic relationships”, while you're seeing ”signs of commitment issues and her selection of men and situations that are always unavailable”. Of course, many, if not most, of us have some variation of this wounding, which is fear of vulnerability while desiring to be loved. We all have our specific dance and coping mechanism around this wounding, but the frustrating push-pull is there.
A difficult truth to witness is how committed we are to our suffering since we are so terrified of other possibilities. As a friend, partner, healer, or ally, we have to be okay with someone’s choices. We can ask permission to share our piece of the truth. After that, we have to take responsibility for our part in the relationship. If your friend does not want to or is not capable of hearing what you have to say, you can still remain in a friendship, but make it clear that you do not want to have the same conversation over and over about relationships. This is the best gift you can give your friend, so she has to sit with the frustration of her situation without discharging the feeling by constant chatter about it.
Lastly, one can spend the “last 25 years in love and service, spiritual study, meditation, yoga, and countless disciplines” without touching intimacy issues. In fact, many times we go towards arduous practice exactly because of our issues around this topic. It is a common misconception around spirituality that because a person has developed deeply in one area, that depth transfers to other areas automatically.