12/12/2011 02:20 pm ET Updated Feb 11, 2012

Commitment Phobic? Remember: The Only Person You Meet in a Relationship Is Yourself

My friend Jonny has a theory about commitment phobic serial daters. He came up with this theory after taking his dog to the Berkshires year after year and watching her chase deer through the woods. She would excitedly chase and chase and chase the deer until they outran her out of fear. However, once in a blue moon a deer would not run, but turn around and look the dog in the eyes, completely changing the game. The dog was so uncomfortable with this that she would tear off in the other direction immediately. Game over.

Until recently, I had the experience of operating as a city doe for a very long time. I've been chased around like an animal, maybe stopping along the streets of Manhattan for a few dates and some non-committal fun but ultimately running away when my dogs actually wanted something more. Anything involving commitment scared me. That would mean someone might try to tie me down and tame me. They might want to be with me all the time. I could suffocate! Not to mention, they might want to really know what makes me tick underneath all my false smiles and laughs. They might want to see me vulnerable. The thought of that made me very uncomfortable. After a heartbreaking relationship several years ago, I did not want to share what was underneath my surface with anyone ever again.

However, one day a few years ago a dog came along that I was just not able to run from. He was beautiful, kind and compassionate. The first time I laid eyes on him, I knew I was going to be beat at my own game. He would chase me, I would turn around to look at him, and then he would run for the hills. This cycle lasted for three years. Yes, three years. Each time I turned around to look him in the eyes and he ran, the hurt in my heart grew deeper. Sound familiar to anyone?

I can't speak for the dogs in town, but this city doe grew very tired of this game yet, I was unable to break out of my pattern. It was all I knew, feeling somehow safe, yet miserable. I stewed around for days every time he would run away, and I questioned why he wouldn't want to be with me. Not only did I do that, but I also developed a pretty big backpack filled with guilt about those that I had treated in the same way he was treating me, now that I knew how it felt.

I asked for clarity, answers and relief from my heartache for several years. Deep down, I knew he wasn't ready for a real relationship, and if he was, I had to finally acknowledge that he didn't want it with me. After all, he did very clearly state that to me at least three times. Something in me couldn't quite believe him because he still didn't want to completely let go, either. That had to mean something, right? Wrong. One of the many lessons I've learned from this relationship is that when a man says he does not want a relationship with you, he means he actually doesn't want a relationship with you. He may want some dinners and hanky panky, but he is serious that he does not want a relationship. Trust me. Yes, even if you got flowers from him yesterday but he says he still doesn't want a relationship, he doesn't want one. This seems to be an endless conversation amongst my lady deer friends right now, and this is my final answer.

So what did I do after three years of heartache and the chase? I knew if I didn't do something soon I would stay in what felt like an endless spin cycle, going round and round for years. I would be that girl wondering why we still weren't in an amazing committed relationship seven years later, taking the anger out on him and myself. I absolutely would not let myself be that victim, so I did some soul searching and really thought about the kind of relationship I wanted.
Oddly enough, I had never contemplated this very hard. I always just assumed Mr. Right would come in and sweep me off my feet and we would live happily ever after. Maybe that happens for some, but it wasn't in store for me.

This difficult relationship provided me with an opportunity to heal some unresolved issues and feelings I had buried alive several years ago. As uncomfortable as this idea of healing and bringing up old feelings sounded, if they hadn't killed me the first time I felt them, I figured they certainly wouldn't kill me now. It was time to apply some love to those places inside that were still hurting if I really wanted to move forward.

I found out I had a lot of hurt. To move forward and be at a place where I could welcome in a new and healthy relationship I had to be more self-loving. I was staying in this cycle because I was longing for something from this man that I was not able to provide myself with, which was love. The only way I was able to heal that was to do exercises to help me love myself more. I had to be kinder to myself, to let go of judgments I had about myself as a woman who was only attracted to men who didn't reciprocate my feelings and who ran away from the ones that actually wanted to treat me well. I beat myself up over that one for a really long time, wondering, "What's wrong with me?"

And then I forgave myself.

I know I'm not the only woman who fell down this rabbit hole, and I'm sharing this because I found a way out. I found that after a good year of self-forgiveness, self-appreciation and acknowledging that I still had places inside that were hurting, I was beginning to have a different kind of relationship with myself than I've ever had before. I was starting to think I was pretty awesome, actually. The more empowered I felt, the more I required respect from others, especially from men interested in dating me. I still went back and took part in my old destructive patterns a few more times, but they started to get really boring. Mr. Hot Sexy Dog was still hot and sexy, but it was so clear to me that I was ready to receive more. It wasn't a big "aha" moment, but it happened gradually.

This experience has taught me that the only person you really ever meet in a relationship is yourself. They will put a big mirror up in front of your face and show you everything you need to work on if you let them. I was getting involved with commitment phobes all the time because I was a commitment phobe. How do I know I'm not anymore? Because I'm now attracted to men who are ripe to give, share and love and I'm happy to do the same for them.