Cognitive dissonance

How can I relax and get the jury in my head to shut up about this new relationship?


Cary Tennis
January 27, 2004 1:43AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

Last month I did something completely out of character and approached a man I was interested in. We talked the night away. We made out like a pair of teenagers. We watched the sun come up. All this even though he told me right away he was involved with someone else and had been for a several months.

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We promised we wouldn't let our physical attraction get the better of us and we'd be friends. He called me; I called him. We flirted and laughed and talked. We wound up in bed. He broke it off with his girlfriend. We talk just about every day. He's the first man I've dated in a long while that calls just to see how I'm doing. Yet I can count the number of days since he broke up on my two hands. He told me a few nights ago, as we were lying together, that he wasn't ready for another girlfriend and needed time to figure some things out. That I shouldn't take that to mean he doesn't want me. He just isn't looking right now.

He explained that if he were in a different place in his life, things would be different. He wants us to continue to see each other, and we have. I've met his friends. We've made plans to spend time together. I like this man. He's the first man I've liked since having my heart torn out by the last person I was in love with. He makes me laugh. We have fun together. He tells me to enjoy it, that we'll figure our way through it. That for the time being we'll get to know one another, and if nothing else, build a friendship. But I can't keep the jury out of my head. The one that tells me I'm the rebound. That he's using me for sex. That in spite of his telling me otherwise, I'm really just not right enough to be the women he wants to commit to. That this whole thing is a dead end that can only result in me, once again, having my heart ripped out.

I'm not sure what to think. Or how to stop thinking and just enjoy myself. What do you think?

Judged and Confused

Dear Judged and Confused,

I know all about stupid voices in the head. I've got them. Lots of people I know have them. There are ways you can learn to deal with them.

I feel a little funny telling you this in a letter, though.

What you really should do is go to a psychotherapist and say that you want to do a short course of cognitive therapy. Tell him that you understand that if you can identify these voices, these "dysfunctional thoughts," if you can hear them clearly as distinct from yourself and then begin to evaluate their truth, you know that eventually you can get free of them.

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I was almost going to say you should go and buy the book that my psychotherapist asked me to buy -- but then I thought better of it. Because if I tell you to buy the book, you might just buy the book and read it and not do what it says and conclude it's an interesting bunch of baloney. That's what's dangerous about self-help books. You can read them and think you're done. You have a vicarious experience. That doesn't work.

So wherever you are, look up "therapist" or "cognitive therapy" in the phone book, or on the Web, or whatever, and present your problem. Don't be scared. It's not like you're calling Sigmund Freud. These days, it's a very practical, matter-of-fact proposition. Like if you had a hangnail or bunion and wrote to me and I would say, Oh, yes, I've had that, I went to a foot doctor and he fixed it.

As to the man you're seeing and what his intentions are, that's a little more complex, but you will come to understand that he belongs to the universe of phenomena that are beyond your control and thus his actions, in a certain sense, are beyond your concern. It's not that you don't have feelings about him or what happens. But his actions are beyond your conscious control. So the energy you spend trying to determine what his actions might be is energy better spent on your own possible actions. But that's not easy -- it's not easy to change the way you are consciously oriented toward him. To do that, you must achieve a posture, an imaginative posture of disinterested power, in which he is beyond your concern. And that is best done with a little help.

That's just a bunch of words. It may not make much sense right now, because it's based on certain experiences that you can have if you can find someone to give you a little periodic direction and understanding.

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Pick up the phone.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read the Since You Asked directory.


Cary Tennis

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