04/22/2014 07:52 am ET Updated Jun 16, 2014

I Panicked When She Said 'You're My Guy'

Stubborn Old Demons
Sarah and I are nearly halfway through our second year. It's been a unique relationship for me because I've allowed myself to be openhearted and vulnerable. What's also special is that we've become best friends as well as lovers, and while this isn't necessarily rare in boomer relationships it's not ubiquitous. I've struggled with vulnerability in past relationships and mostly failed, and deepening our intimacy has meant facing my trust demons. They lurk in the dark recesses of my psyche waiting for an opportunity to tweak my joy, and when I notice they've surfaced I say a quick hello and good-bye.

What Was I Thinking?

I've waited a long time for the right woman to tell me I'm special to her, and at a dinner celebrating our first year together a while ago, Sarah looked into my eyes and said, "You're my guy." But rather than soak up what should have been a joyful moment, I sat stunned and speechless. She'd told me she loved me on many occasions, but for reasons I didn't fully comprehend at the time, her comment made me panic. Instead of sharing her enthusiasm about our having found love later in life, I froze like a deer in the headlights. Her surprised, hurt expression made me feel ashamed.

Old Tapes
I'd spent my adult dating life convincing myself that my relationship fears were based on whether or not I was the right woman, always wondering if there might be a better one. I finally woke up to what was behind that flawed reasoning. It was just a mask for my real issue, which is fear of trusting a woman. The roots of my trust demons go back to my boyhood, and I'll share them in another article shortly because I've discovered that a lot of men have trust issues around women.

Mentors And Muses
I'm wholeheartedly grateful for the people who have shown up when I've needed them most. They've altered the course of my life. I was an angry forty-year old guy and I was incredibly fortunate that I met an older man who offered to mentor me. I overcame a lifelong fear and mistrust of other men through his guidance. My journey from a loner to a fully socialized man was arduous, but the close men friends I've developed in the past thirty years have made that trek profoundly worthwhile. My newly acquired trust in men didn't extend to women however. Learning to trust women has been a challenge I've met with Sarah's help.

Sarah has been my relationship mentor although she's far too modest to take credit for that. She built her trust credentials by never giving me reason to doubt her trustworthiness. She's selfless when appropriate, and does what she says she'll do. She never pulls out a laundry list of my past mistakes when I screw up because she knows that using a laundry list in an argument is a trust killer.

Sarah was my muse when I was writing my boomer, dating book, You Gotta Have Heart, and she's always been patient when I've had to work through weekends. When I ask for advice she offers what she thinks will work best for me without considering whether or not it works for her too. That's the stuff of a best friend.

Fear Isn't A Relationship Tool
The difficulty I had with her comment about being her guy was letting go of my fear around fully trusting her. So I exposed my trust demons to the daylight, which meant trusting Sarah instead of my demons. It also meant knocking down the wall I'd built around my heart since boyhood. Sarah repeatedly proved her trustworthiness and I felt it was time for my demons to take a long vacation.

Remain Openhearted
But trust demons don't disappear forever and when they surface I talk openly and candidly about them with Sarah. It's her gentle reassurance that helps me remain vulnerable. Relationships succeed or fail largely on whether or not they embody trust. The notion of trusting a woman sufficient to become vulnerable is a scary one for lots of men for lots of reasons. And those men who struggle with trust would benefit from understanding the genesis of their issue. When I allow Sarah into my heart she responds from a place deep within hers. Now when she tells me "You're my guy" my heart catches a wave. No fear.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

Things I Know About Women Now That I'm Post50