Looking back, I know exactly when things changed with Julie. We were at a theater watching a movie with another couple. She was holding my hand, but she suddenly pulled away. I felt something imperceptible change.
I’ll never know what happened, but that was the last time I ever saw her.
Julie and I didn’t date long. It was six or eight weeks, I guess. I was 21 and she was 24. I was the sports editor at the local newspaper and she was a advanced math teacher at the high school where I had graduated just a few years before. She had moved to town to take the place of my favorite teacher, who had died from cancer.
We went to the same church. I had seen her and thought she was attractive, but we had never had reason to speak in the weekly crowd of 600 or so people. But one Friday night, I was on a list of people she needed to call for something church-related. I was working late and she found me in the newsroom around 8 p.m. — and we didn’t stop talking until about 4 a.m.
Julie and I soon became inseparable. We became close very quickly. We had a lot in common and her best friend was dating a friend of mine. We spent all our free time together and never ran out of things to talk about. We were very happy — as far as I knew — until that night at the movies.
By the time I took her home late that night — after we had dropped off the other couple — she didn’t want to talk. She said she was exhausted and starting to feel sick. She said she just needed sleep, but she said nothing was wrong.
Starting the next day, she avoided my calls and avoided me in person. I had never experienced such a thing. I was very confused and very hurt.
When I asked her best friend about it, she first had no idea anything was going on. When Allison tried to talk with Julie about it, she wouldn’t tell her anything. At least that’s what Allison told me. She seemed just as puzzled about it as I was.
I knew that Julie had a long history of bad relationships. She had been with men who had treated her badly. Her most recent long-term boyfriend had used her and abused her, according to the stories she told me and the stories Allison told me separately. More than once, she marveled at having someone who would treat her as well as I did.
Allison and I had one last serious conversation about it and I’ll never forget what she said.
“Julie isn’t accustomed to being treated the way you treat her,” Allison said. “She’s always wanted someone to treat her like you do, but she doesn’t know how to handle it. If you had used her and abused her — treated her like dirt — she would have never been able to let you go, because that’s all she knows. But she’s confused herself so badly because she started feeling something positive for the first time in her life — and now she’s so scared she’s running away from it.”
Julie moved away to go to grad school a few months later. We never talked again after that night at the movies. She simply disappeared.
I was insecure enough at the time that I still felt that whatever happened had to have been my fault. She must have decided something about me wasn’t good enough. She must have suddenly realized she didn’t enjoy my company or she wasn’t attracted to me. My ego was crushed.
In the years since then, I’ve seen things very differently. Whatever happened was about her, not about me. It’s hard to see that clearly when someone just suddenly changes her attitude about you overnight. Especially for someone like me — with a deep fear of abandonment left over from childhood — it was hurtful. But now I know it really wasn’t about me.
Allison was right. Julie was scared about something, because I was offering her what she had always wanted and needed most. She was just so accustomed to a different life that she couldn’t accept me. And that confused her so much she never could even explain it — probably even to herself.
I’ll never know what excuse Julie gave herself to run away, but I’m sure she justified it in her own mind.
In the years since that happened, I’ve seen variations of this over and over. People will say they want and need a particular thing. When they finally discover this thing they’ve always said they want, they first experience euphoria about finally having found it and they’re deliriously happy — until they become uneasy with something so unfamiliar and then find a “good reason” to run away from it.
This happens when people need love and money and success. It happens with all sorts of things which people long for.
Have you ever known someone who is very capable, but he never quite seems to find the success or financial income he wants? A lot of people have a ceiling in their minds. They unconsciously believe they’re worth just enough to survive on — and no more. So when they have the chance to finally have the big success they’ve wanted, they get uncomfortable and sabotage themselves.
We all have self-limiting beliefs. Some of us don’t believe we really deserve the love we long for, so we sabotage it when we get too close. (I’ve done that before.) Some people don’t believe they deserve the success they’ve always wanted, maybe believing they’re really lazy or undeserving, so they sabotage their big chances. (I’ve done that, too.)
In so many ways, our unconscious beliefs limit us and stop us from accepting good things we’re offered. We find “good reasons” to reject those things. We’re absolutely convinced we’re being reasonable and rational in those moments.
But — once again — our old negative programming is pushing us to be what we were programmed to be. Until we can defeat that limiting programming, we will never accept the things we so desperately want and need.
And that’s the secret which most of us are blind to. The things we most want and need are available to us any time we can stop limiting ourselves — and accept the love or success or money or happiness which is right in front of us for the taking.
I don’t know what happened to Julie, but I hope she learned this lesson earlier in life than I did.
Note: Psychologists recognize a condition known as cherophobia or aversion to happiness. Those who exhibit this condition are afraid something bad will happen to punish them for being happy.