I know that's a pretty stereotypical title but common wisdom has these as the facts, even though it's also true that sometimes it's men that act clingy and women who act cold and distant, but the real question is why?
An article I read when I was a student and in my first, rather troubled, serious relationship was unequivocal – men act cold and distant so that their girlfriends would do the breaking up. Not only did they get out of having to have the "It's not you, it's me" conversation, but they could also emerge as the good guy. There may have been an element of truth in this, but every time I've got down to having the serious conversation with any guy who was acting cold and distant (and it wasn't just my first boyfriend), he was absolutely determined that he didn't want out. …this would usually be followed by some clingy and needy behaviour (on his part if not mine).
And there may be some serious underlying reasons for some women (and men) to be clingy and needy, or cold and distant but for most people it's not who we really are or how we really feel. What it is, is some seriously effective self-sabotaging behaviour. Much as we say we would like to be in a relationship, most of us have acted at one time or another in such a way as to get out of whatever relationship we're in pretty fast. (And the other downside of clingy and needy behaviour is that the upshot is not usually a serious conversation but the subject of the behaviour running for the hills.)
Why do we self-sabotage? Why do we turn up late for the job, the date, the party? Usually because part of us is afraid of what might happen if we get what we really want. That fear is very normal and natural. That great job, that great relationship, that great party may all require more from us than we think we have, so it's natural for us to want to run away. But the only way we can become capable and comfortable in those jobs, relationships and situations is by being in them. Yes, we will no doubt make mistakes, but in order to make those mistakes and to learn and move on from them we have to be in it.
So if you can get over that first moment of wanting to act clingy and needy what's next? Usually a lot more occasions when you feel like acting clingy and needy, or when that won't work, cold and distant, because, for many of us, the urge to self-sabotage continues.
In the case of turning up late we can make the concerted effort to arrive early, but how do we counter the urge to act clingy, needy or cold and distant?
The middle road, the alternative, is to be open and honest. It's a far cry from Bridget Jones' "aloof, unavailable ice queen" and it is, I have found, the only way to be in a great relationship. Being open and honest is not about telling someone your life story on the first date, or even answering all of their questions if the time isn't right for you to divulge, but it is about saying what's in your head and heart when the time is right.
Open and honest is a hard line to steer, it can feel like a tightrope between the spaces of cold and distant on the one side and needy and clingy on the other. It takes energy, effort, courage and even self-awareness to stay on the line. And it can take even more when the person you're in a relationship with may be veering one way or the other as well.
Open and honest is not necessarily about the truth, or what we think is the truth. "We want different things" could be something we say from the heart, or it could be another self-sabotaging way of making a run for it before we get too involved. Once again, only the people on the inside of a relationship (and most of the time not even they) can know.
When I switched to playing the open and honest game it was hard, it was scary, it was painful at times, but I learned a lot about myself and, at least for a while, I got to be in the best relationship of my life. The only thing I regret is not being able to be open and honest all of the time, if I had I might still be in that relationship.
So what does open and honest look like? It's different for everyone. "I love you" could be a perfect example of being open and honest, it could also be an example of being clingy and needy. You're the only one who knows, because you're the only one who knows how you feel.
Changing the way that we act can take time, like breaking any habit, and it could even be detrimental to the relationship you're in. For example, if your cold and distant behaviour keeps your partner interested, what happens when you relax and start to act, not like The Rules "creature like no other", but an ordinary mortal? Hopefully they'll relax too and you can enjoy a healthy relationship, but some people are still too caught up in playing games to make it work. If you've ever, like the author of "The Year of Yes", decided to accept dates with anyone who asks, you may find yourself saying yes to someone who is so used to chasing women that, like a dog chasing a cat, they have absolutely no idea what to do when they catch you. In the long run though, it works. It may be a bit unflattering when that guy who has been chasing you forever turns and runs the other way, but at least you know: "It's not you, it's them."
I don't agree with that old article that guys act cold and distant so that their girlfriends break up with them, in the same way that I don't believe that everyone who is a few minutes late for their job or a date is looking to get out. I believe that we can all sometimes err on the side of being cold and distant or a bit clingy because it's a habit, because we're tired, we're lazy, we're a bit fearful of where or how fast the relationship is going. In short we do it because we're human, we're fallible, and even though it may mean it takes us longer to find a great relationship, it's part of the journey that we're on.
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(c) Pearl Howie 2015. All rights reserved.