Confessions of a Self-Saboteur

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By Kate Lois Elliott

Don’t judge: we’re all fighting a battle

Commitment Phobia is often acquainted to men of all ages, who spend their youth womanising and ‘playing the field’, who very occasionally fall for women who don’t want them either, and deal with this by playing the field even harder than before.

Self-Saboteur is a name given to anyone who manages to mess up every opportunity for happiness by finding nifty ways to nip it in the bud before it’s even started. Most of the ‘out’ self-saboteurs I know are women, and most of the commitment-phobes I know are men. *Carrie Bradshaw picks up laptop and types by window of flat with ciggie in hand*…and as I pondered this strange divide, I couldn’t help but wonder: in terms of relationships, aren’t they pretty much the same thing? Are these phrases just different outlooks of the same coin: being scared and acting immature VS being scared and acting immature? Is this akin to the Slut/Player rule? Probably.

If a man does it he’s Casanova, but if a woman does it there are no self-sabotaging literary characters that we can compare her to, except for maybe Nancy in Oliver, or Eponine in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables - the tragic whores who die. However I think Casanova is hurting just as much as poor Nancy is, though he’s probably a bit less aware of it and a bit less dead. Perhaps at least, in modern dating, men and women have found equality in that they can both be as crap as each other at dealing with their emotions.

So what causes both men and women to self-sabotage relationships?

Dating, in general, can often feel like we’re all flailing around in the pool like blind lemmings. We’re just too exhausted from the daily grind, and would much rather go home and watch Great British Bakeoff.

When I was younger, family members and such would try and push me towards various boys and I was, for one reason or another, grossed out by every suggestion. I didn’t like the idea of being told who to fancy, or that other people might be able to see what was good for me. It made me think of being forced to play with other children in the kids area on package holidays in Menorca when all I wanted to do was go and read The Chamber of Secrets in peace, or of poor Rose Dewit-be-what-be in Titanic having her corset tightened whilst her mum tries to get her to marry a man who isn’t Leonardo DiCaprio.

Instead I dated dangerous looking boys with tattoos, who took art at college and smoked behind the bike sheds. I am convinced that any time a person who might have been a healthy fit for me came along I’d run away before they could even get to me. I think we all do this to some extent, especially when we don’t feel we’re ready, or that we aren’t good enough. I said this to a very glamorous lady in her 50s the other day and she responded with this: ‘On reflection, that may be why I had so many affairs with married men in my early 20s, no chance of commitment there’.

As we navigate adulthood whilst carrying the layers of baggage that we pick up through nature and nurture The problem then is that we get to a certain stage of development and learning, but the patterns we develop in our early dating life are so engraved that we still feel the fear and act on it. But there is no reason to - you aren’t what you once were. We then go into a culture of blame - he’s a dick, she’s scared, he treated her so she treated him - it’s all the same thing.

There are many reasons for self-sabotage, and if you’re aware you’re doing it it’s important to figure out whether it’s because you’re on a journey that you’d much rather not mar with more confusing encounters just for now, or whether you’ve completed that journey and you’re now acting just out of fear.

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Feeling the fear and doing it anyway

I’m a feminist but there have been times when I’ve been so exhausted with the entire dating thing that I’ve been half prepared to go home and ask to be passed on with a small dowry or swapped for some camels, just so that I didn’t have to think about it ever again.

Then the other day I had a sobering moment. I went on a date with a really lovely man in his late twenties. He was good looking, had an interesting job, similar tastes in music, and a good sense of humour. He was, on paper, a winner - and though I don’t think I’ll be seeing him again, we had a lovely evening. But here lies the rub: he was so visibly nervous but he’d turned up. I remember thinking to myself, why do I waste so much time on people who are never quite sure, or scared of trying? There are people out there who feel the fear and do it anyway. No one likes being vulnerable, but in spite of that there are people who show up, who put themselves out of their comfort zone, and they try - like this guy. 

We're all a mix of experiences, complexes and learnt behaviours that perhaps once were put in place to protect us, but can often become obsolete whilst still remaining embedded into our fundamental behavioural patterns. I'm not saying we should make excuses, but that we should jump to conclusions less and say what we feel more. It’s all relative, and not even the happiest person you know has their shit together all the time, and pride and prejudice are not healthy traits on any side of the fence. It’s OK to make mistakes and it’s also OK to try and rectify them.

So do the hard thing - self-sabotaging isn’t voluntary or even a conscious decision, but it’s what we do afterwards that can make the difference. Go back and say the thing, be the thing, turn up to the thing - and if in doubt do it with candidness, kindness and calm.

I’ll end with this story

A few years ago a family friend got a call from a man who had once known her sister, saying that he’d been trying on and off to contact her for the past few years. He said that they’d once had a chance to be together but he’d messed it up, and by the time he’d realised what he’d done it was too late, and he never went back to try and fix it. He said that he had always loved her and wanted to find her to tell her. My friend then had to tell this poor man that her sister had moved away and died in a tragic accident. My friend was so angry with him, because if he’d just been a bit braver then her sister might have stayed with him and would still be alive.

I don’t know if you can blame someone for that. I don’t know if you can blame something so big and unexpected on the indirect actions of one person, but the saddest thing is that he never got to tell her how he felt. She spent most of her adult life with this unrequited heart break and no matter what she believed or didn’t believe she never knew. My friend told me this a few years ago and I remember thinking in that moment that it was the most heart breaking thing I’d ever heard.

Fear isn't the enemy, pride is. In the words of John Mayer: say it, even if your hands are shaking…This is not a dress rehearsal. We have but one life. So feel the fear and get on with it.

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Kate-Lois Elliott is a writer, producer and actor. She has contributed for publications that include VICE, Caboodle, Femini, XYZ Magazine and Mouth London. She is also co-host of the Podcast Diversify. Kate was the assistant editor for The Shapers Project book with The Creative Society, Jazz FM and Mishcon De Reya, has had her short fiction read out on Wandsworth Radio/Either-Author and had her work staged at Theatre 503. She regularly champions first time playwrights with her company Backbone Theatre, who run workshops and readings at London venues.

Twitter and Instagram: @kateloiselliott

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