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Simply Solo Spotlight: Men Who Can’t Love

February 15, 2011

Today’s Simply Solo Spotlight is written by Petunia Johnson, who writes a tell-all confessional blog called “The Juice” that chronicles her journey to find the “one.” I really appreciate Petunia’s candor in dissecting her previous relationship so that we can all learn from her experiences.  I hope you’ll enjoy her guest post about men who can’t love.

Quick shameless plug: Do you have a story to tell? Advice to offer? Did you just have literally the worst date of your life and you must write about it? I’d love to have you as the next Simply Solo Spotlight! Contact me at:

Men Who Can’t Love

Men Who Can't Loveby Steven Carter & Julie Sokol (“The Groundbreaking New York Times Bestseller”)

I know the title is awful. Sort of sounds like something the divorced women’s club from Jerry Maguire would be discussing. But I swear to you I’m not like those women. I love men. I think men are beautiful creatures. In fact, sometimes I love them too much.

I started flipping through this book in a Barnes and Noble one day. It’s about me. I’m telling you, the authors of this book lived in my brain for a year and then wrote about what happened to me. It’s not really about men who can’t love. It’s about the phobia of commitment and it can be applied to women as well. If you are someone who has been hurt before and you still have a lot of unanswered questions, read this book. By the way, it was written by a man.

I was in love with a guy named “O” not too long ago. After a year of seeing O, he moved from Montreal to the UK to start a new business. O told me that the long distance would prevent us from continuing our relationship. Shortly after, he began a long distance relationship with the woman he was sleeping with in Montreal before he met me. Nearly two years later, they are still together and she recently moved to the UK to be with him.

Rejection is hard no matter what. It’s very hard to long to be with someone who would rather be with someone else. In my case, however, I have had to suffer through not only the feeling of rejection but also the not knowing why. O and I seemed to have so much fun together. We sat on the same side of the table in restaurants. He told me how beautiful and nice he thought I was – all the time. He made me feel irresistible when he held me close to him in bed. We didn’t have any serious disagreements. We supported each other’s endeavors. We liked each other’s friends and we made each other laugh. To me, it seemed like the beginning of something special. Then we went away together for a long weekend. After the trip I didn’t hear from O for five days. When I confronted him he told me we were done. He blamed it on the need to give his new business his full attention. He said his “heart was closed.” He never shared why he felt we would be incompatible as a couple. He said it wasn’t me. Then, shortly after, I heard he was taking his new girlfriend on a holiday he and I had planned on taking together. A woman he had reassured me in the past was “smart and funny” but whom he was “not physically attracted to.” I was devastated.

Is it because he didn’t think I was smart enough? Not funny enough? Was I just a physical thing for him? Was I too weak? Not supportive or understanding enough? It’s hard not to torture yourself with all this self-doubt. I searched for a rational explanation to explain what set him off. I needed closure. While reading Men Who Can’t Love I realized that there were, indeed, things about me that pushed him away. But I also learned that it’s because I AM certain things, GREAT things, and not because I’m not enough.

According to Carter and Sokol, there is something called “the commitmentphobic response.” This relationship dynamic can be very “destructive and damaging” and can cause a great deal of pain. Typically what happens with this dynamic is that the commitment phobe is extremely threatened by the person who is ready to commit. Sometimes this even occurs right after the first date (see “The Break Up Email” post).

I really related to the book right from the very beginning. In the first chapter, Jamie gives her account of her experiences dating Michael:

“I was overwhelmed by the level of emotional intimacy.” She explains.

“He seemed to like me so much that it outweighed any reservations I might have had.”  

“I found myself going to amazing lengths to prepare special treats and to look good.”  

In the very early stages, I was not as interested in O as he seemed to be in me, but he won me over with the intensity of his attention. I constantly felt high from his seeming attraction towards me. I had such a good time turning him on with cute outfits and thoughtful, little presents. He was the most affectionate and most romantic “boyfriend” I had ever had. It honestly felt like a dream. This is apparently very characteristic of the commitment phobe in the initial stages. Unfortunately, when the behaviors are reciprocated, they run for the hills.  The panic is especially intensified when “to him something about you spells out wife, mother, togetherness – forever – and it terrifies him” (Carter and Sokol, 3).

Prior to me, O was in a five-year relationship with a woman who has a child. This made me assume that he was an extremely dependable and loyal man. We never made it past the stage of infatuation so I’ll never know if that’s true about him or not. The book says that a person can be in a long-term relationship and still never let their partner deep into their heart. Even “a marriage in and of itself does not a commitment make” (Carter and Sokol, Forward).

My mother always says that everything happens for a reason. So far, I haven’t quite figured out what she means. But I have figured out a few other important things: Whatever his limitations, I don’t want to be with a man who is capable of cruelty. That is for sure. When I found out about O’s new girlfriend, I had never felt such heartache in my life. Shamefully, my normally very good judgment and reason flew out the window. I called O to express how hurt I was and, knowing it was me, he didn’t answer the phone. I left many voice messages that I now regret. In response, he indicated in emails and text messages that he felt there was nothing ever between us. Among some other heartless things, his exact words in one message read, “there was no spark.”  Now, I’m no Albert Einstein but I know what chemistry feels like. In fact, the attraction between us was so strong and obvious to us both that he referred to it as “fireworks” when we were together. Now how can a person go from “fireworks” to “no spark?”

Not that this is an excuse but the book explains that “when a man feels trapped, closed in, or suffocated, he simply doesn’t see clearly, and his behaviour… is genuinely outrageous.” O said everything hurtful he could think of that would make me go away. He even went as far as telling me that he is “inspired and in love” – things he never felt with me. Well, it worked. I haven’t seen or spoken to him since I read those words. And I haven’t wanted to.

So I hope I have stirred up something in at least one of you with my personal story and, perhaps, motivated you to find the strength to let go of yours. The hardest part is accepting that the person who caused you so much pain will probably never realize their responsibility in it. In order to realize that, they would have to open up a whole can of worms for themselves and it’s easier to deny and run from your personal conflicts than to work through them. So, instead, take comfort in knowing that so many others have gone through something similar. You are not alone and you are not crazy. Be good to yourself, protect your heart, pay attention to signs, don’t try to change other people, and watch out for relationships that appear to be a storybook fantasy (they are not real). And read “Men Who Can’t Love!”

27 Comments leave one →
  1. Caroline permalink
    February 15, 2011 9:03 am


    I am so sorry that you had to go through this with “O.” I just recently had a very similar experience with a guy I’ll call “T.”

    T had been married for 22 years to a woman he claimed was controlling, belittling, demanding, pretentious, frigid, and a drunk. They divorced (her idea) in 12/09. T immediately got on a dating website, and that’s how we met. (The ink was hardly dry on the divorce papers. I should have known better, I know.)

    Of course, I had heard about the dangers of “rebound relationships,” but, just like in your situation, I was being told how wonderful/beautiful/amazing/smart, etc., I was, and being wined, dined, and generally pampered in a way that I’d never been before. It is easy to get caught up in all that attention, particularly when you were once married to someone who was incredibly distant and selfish. I learned the hard way with T, however, that IF IT SEEMS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT LIKELY IS. I swear by this statement, but struggle with the idea of becoming overly jaded and cynical…

    T, it turns out, is emotionally unavailable to a staggering degree, as well as being a commitmentphobe. After a year together, he claimed that perhaps we needed some time apart while he got his act together (His words — “I really don’t even know MYSELF yet, I’m coming to realize, and need to take the time to do this, as well as to devote time to my business and my high school senior son. This is what my new therapist is telling me, also. Please know that it’s not you — it’s me.”)

    OK, Dude. Fine. Whatever. Go “find” yourself, but I”m not waiting around for your ass to do so. Oh, and by the way — thanks for telling me this after a year together via an EMAIL.

    So this all comes down on a Monday. Fast forward 10 days or so. I have signed up with an online dating site (I know, the eternal optimist!) — one of those sites that claim to be for folks who are “serious” about finding “the one.” Guess who’s mug shot appears in my “Inbox”? RIGHT!

    Oh, am I ever pissed. What a coward. What a complete and utter JERK!

    So I called him out on it. He tried to blame it all on his therapist. “Oh, I don’t even know if I’m going to actually GO OUT with any of the women on there.” Is this not the biggest crock of you-know-what you’ve ever heard?

    I reconnected with my therapist after all this went down. After hearing me describe T’s upbringing and unhappy marriage, my therapist told me that T has way too much pathology (abandoment/attachment issues, etc.), that he’s just too damaged to be able to be in a committed relationship. He also informed me that in his 30+ years of practice, he’s NEVER seen a rebound relationship work out. Most, he said, last about 6 months, so the fact that T and I lasted a year was actually pretty incredible.

    Petunia, thanks for the book recommendation and for sharing your story. We will both approach our next relationship with a much wiser pair of eyes, right? Best of luck to you, me, and anyone else out there who’s had the misfortune of hooking up with this type of sorry loser.


  2. February 15, 2011 9:26 am

    I’m sorry about how O treated you. =(

    Thanks for the book recommendation! I’m definitely going to check it out.

  3. 2blu2btru permalink
    February 15, 2011 9:43 am

    I’m going to have to get this book. I thought I knew what commitment phobic men looked like, but this is a different take altogether. I really loved this post. There’s a lot to take in from here.

    I hope that you find someone special who is actual worth the effort.

    Thanks for sharing this with your readers, Catherine! I’ll definitely be checking out Petunia’s blog. 😀

  4. February 15, 2011 10:44 am

    I completely cried while reading this! It was as if I was reading my own story.

    “In the very early stages, I was not as interested in O as he seemed to be in me, but he won me over with the intensity of his attention. I constantly felt high from his seeming attraction towards me.” –THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED!

    Then he disappeared for a week and a half then said we needed to talk…decided to blame me for having my own career and being a strong independent woman. Then yesterday I found out from one of my really close friends that he had contacted her through a dating website flirting and such. She replied back, “no thanks, I’m a strong independent loud italian woman with male tendencies like my best friend, Sara” lol He was caught!

    I still sit here wondering, what I did wrong so when I go home tonight, I will grab my nook and download that book ASAP!


  5. February 15, 2011 11:13 am

    Thank you for your comments Ladies! This post was probably one of the most difficult ones for me to write. I had to revisit a place where I hold a lot of pain. But I’m glad I wrote it! And I’m glad you’re reading it! The book is great and really helps me a lot. I continue to refer to it when I think about my experience with “O” and start feeling bad about myself again.

    Caroline, good for you for being an eternal optimist. I, too, am very hopeful that I will find someone wonderful who loves and accepts me for me. Life is too short to sit around feeling bitter. Live it up! As for “T,” it’s so interesting to me that he saw a therapist. Unfortunately, to work out your personal issues, it takes more than just a therapist. It also takes insight and honesty with yourself. Not everyone is necessarily a good candidate for therapy even if they go and sit in the office. And it sounds like he doesn’t take much accountability for his actions.

    Sometimes, when the sweetest grapes are very high up the vine and you have to put in a lot of your energy to reach them, you tell yourself that they’re sour anyways. Be with someone who is willing and capable of giving you everything you are capable of giving to them. Don’t settle for anything less!

  6. February 15, 2011 2:15 pm

    What a wonderful post and great comment. Thank you!

    It’s heartbreaking and lonely to be where you were. I know, I am there right now. While my ex was not a commitment-phobe, he certainly has his own demons (issues with abandonment/needing to feel attached to someone) that he will probably never address. I really connected to what you said here:

    ‘The hardest part is accepting that the person who caused you so much pain will probably never realize their responsibility in it.’

    I just want him to recognize that it was him, not me, that caused things to unravel. Or, I just want some recognition that I meant something to him and affected his life positively for 5 years, even though we are no longer together. And then I have to say, it just doesn’t matter any more.

    Thanks for your wise words. I’ll need to pick up the book!

  7. February 15, 2011 3:58 pm

    This has happened to me too! Bastards!

  8. February 15, 2011 4:16 pm

    I’m telling you! You assume that you get dumped because the person thinks there’s something wrong with you. And they probably tell themselves that there is. But really it’s because they don’t have as much to offer you as you have to offer them. This makes them feel inadequate and threatened. The bar is just too high! You are too pretty, too smart, too kind, too wonderful!

    Go find yourselves some stronger men!

  9. February 15, 2011 4:28 pm

    He should have at least been honest and said “the spark fizzled out.” To refuse to acknowledge that there was one initially is a cop-out.

  10. February 15, 2011 5:43 pm

    Except that would have been a lie too. He took off when things were at their hottest. He got scared.

    • February 17, 2011 9:18 am

      That’s when it crushes you the most and blind sides you! You think all is well and you are doing great and then BAM! Then that inner critic comes out to evaluate every little thing you did. *sighs*

  11. February 15, 2011 8:24 pm

    I felt like I was reading my own story! A very painful place, BUT I am healing. Thanks for such a great post!! 🙂

  12. Rowena permalink
    February 16, 2011 6:09 am

    Hmm..why do men do this? They create some BS about how they are so messed up and all that, making us feel pity for them and then within days they would hook up with someone else?

    • February 16, 2011 10:07 am

      Relationships are so complex. People are complex. We all have our anxieties and our fears – conscious and subconscious – which stem from different childhood experiences. We also have little voices inside us (egos) responsible for our judgments, anger, lack of forgiveness, control, expectations, doubt, and many other negative thoughts and emotions. Believe it or not, your GOOD qualities might trigger one of these negative emotions in someone, especially fear. And someone else, who does not have the same wonderful qualities as you, may not trigger this fear. Perhaps because the wonderfulness doesn’t have to be reciprocated in return. It’s easier.

      You don’t want to be with a man who is afraid of being with someone wonderful.

  13. February 16, 2011 10:46 am

    Just posted the finale of a 3-part series about another lover, Dave. Was a rollercoaster of a ride for 3 years. It’s kind of long but if you have the time you’ll probably be able to relate to this story as well.

  14. February 16, 2011 5:05 pm

    Thank you for sharing! This really hit home for me, for many people I’m sure. I’m still nursing a rejection that I can’t quite seem to get over. This line especially hit hard: The hardest part is accepting that the person who caused you so much pain will probably never realize their responsibility in it.
    Must find ways to move on – it feels good to know that others relate 🙂

  15. Casey permalink
    February 18, 2011 4:02 pm

    I cannot believe how true your words are. That is exactly what my relationship was like. He was the most incredibly attentive, romantic, complimentary, sweet man to man. It was something I had never experienced before. He made me feel so loved and cherished. Then we moved into together. Everything changed. He started drinking and disappearing on his days off. I wasn’t guilt free. I pushed him away, because something never rang true to me. Sure enough, we went from so happy, to arguing, to he moving to California with two day notice. How is that possible? How does it go from you are my everything… gone? I have got to move on…..but I don’t know how. I am devastated.

  16. February 22, 2011 12:42 pm

    You will move on and your heart will heal but it will take some time. Give yourself a break and allow yourself to go through the process of grieving. By the way, doesn’t sound like this guy is such a gem anyways. You deserve better. Read “Men Who Can’t Love.” It will make you feel sooo much better. Good luck. You’ll be fine!

  17. February 22, 2011 3:06 pm

    The idea that there are men who can’t love actually makes sense. It also makes me feel relieved about a couple bad experiences from the past. I wonder if there are women who can’t love…. It’ll help the world shift into balance for sure. You will find love more quickly than you know it :)! K

    • February 23, 2011 10:55 am

      I actually recently spoke to a 35-year-old woman who told me that, for the first time in her life, she is ready to open herself up to love. I think women put walls up too, just not as much as men do. People are afraid to allow themselves to be vulnerable because they don’t want to end up with a broken heart. This isn’t always a conscious thing. Sometimes it’s because they experienced some kind of loss in childhood, which they internalized and stored somewhere in a drawer to protect themselves from future loss. Who knows? Just know that it’s not you.

  18. Joy Whitman permalink
    July 30, 2011 11:41 am

    Ladies, ladies. I too was involved in a six year on and off relationship with an individual like this. It is so hard to comprehend when you think that there is ‘something’ there. Truth be told he had girlfriends most of the time, but what was weird about it is that I had a feeling something was amiss, yet, was still shocked when I came to find out that he had girlfriends. Some may say that this just means he is a player and a liar and a cheat. That he very well may be. But the thing that tips me off the most is that when he no longer had a girlfriend and re-approached me about getting into a casual relationship with him, and I did, when it got too close, guess what happened? Yes, you guessed correctly-he pushed me away. I mean in seriously hurtful ways. The last round he said, “I’m just being honest and I’m tired of beating around the bush with you, I just want to have sex and have fun!” “You don’t want to date me and besides, I like chick with big tits and my eyes will wander, I know me.”
    So when I said to him that I deserved better and let him go (again), because of past experience, I still have this haunting feeling that I will hear from him again. Now, someone that is totally arrogant and truly does NOT want to commit, would walk away and stay away if someone told him no.

    This person has said so many horrible things to me, and I to him, and yet, he has continued to come back. I’ve gone back some of the time too as I did become very dysfunctionally attached to him, but then again, I don’t know of anyone of any guy (especially a very prideful guy), that would claim he doesn’t want any drama in his life, and yet, go back and pursue the very person he claims starts all the drama. It truly doesn’t make any sense. I read this book and the chapter about ‘Houdini’ hit me like a flash of lighting. It truly made me feel so much better about the entire thing and that it really had (and has) very little to do with me, and I mean very little. I truly thought I was all the things that he said I was: too much, not enough, needy and overbearing, cute and sexy and so good to him, but my breasts weren’t large enough and I wasn’t attractive (or whatever) enough to take out on dates and be seen in public with him. Then again, I’d get emails and text messages while he was out of town and who does that if you’re really not into the person? I would hear from him just about everyday and then not hear from him for maybe two weeks. So confusing and so heart wrenching.

    Again, I don’t know of anyone that gets angry, truly angry and annoyed, when you’ve told them you loved them and that it hurt you but then comes BACK to you and says they know they pushed you away but that they did it for you and that they miss you. The only thing that makes any sense is the idea that this person was so hurt at some point(s) in his life, that he is afraid of getting too close to someone, and although he does want love, has no idea how to truly let it in nor how to keep it without feeling like he will be suffocated by it and in turn pushes it away. Round and round and round. CUT ALL CONTACT with these types. It’s the only way to truly move on and open yourself up to someone that is capable of returning love. Seek help for yourself, also, to learn why you are attracted to this type. All of it really helps the healing process move faster.

  19. evelin permalink
    September 24, 2012 10:04 am

    Wow, my ex did exactly what you described in your post, he would shower me with gifts and affection. At first I didn’t know how to react to it all but eventually I caved in and did indeed begin to show him the same kind of affection. Maybe it was to much for him to handle. The one thing i do regret is the fact that he fell out of love with me long before he actually ended our relationship. In a search to find closure I have discovered he began having contact with old lovers and crushes while still dating me. The one thing I am certain of is the fact that when I came out pregnant, which was not planned, it scared him. It was the beginning of the end but he just didn’t have enough strength to end it. It was not until he began seeing a therapist that he decided to end our relationship. I kind of knew that it would end when he began seeing the therapist but I also wanted to believe he was still madly in love with me. When he ended the relationship he told me his therapist had told him he needed to ended it now before he continued to hurt me. If he cared for me the way he said he did he had to end it. After he dumped me he stop going to see his therapist. Now, he says he broke up with me before the actual date than he did, and was not until this morning I realized that he had already checked out but just had not told me. I see him everyday at work and it makes moving on difficult but now I am ready to move on with my life. Wish me luck and any words of advice.My story is long and hurtful.

  20. liz permalink
    March 15, 2013 11:37 am

    thank you. I’m crying now but thank you.

  21. Niyati permalink
    April 28, 2014 8:11 am

    Oh my good God!Uncannily similar situation…it makes sense now at least!A little bit at least…..its some consolation at least. Thanks for the re-assurance that I’m not crazy, because I honestly started to think I was! really helped reading this 🙂

  22. James J permalink
    June 21, 2020 5:43 pm

    Very similar to my recent break up. He was in hot pursuit in the begining. He instigated the relationship, he wooed me with sweet messages and brought me flowers. He sat and cuddled on the sofa, said he had such a hard time keeping his hands off me! All of the mushy stuff. I had been single for years and wasn’t really interested in a relationship with a co-worker, I fought my feelings for months. But he finally reeled me in, treated me well, and made me feel things i hadn’t felt in years. I fell head over heels and the stronger my feelings got for him the more he pushed me away. When i finally worked up the courage to tell him I was in love, he broke up with me, saying his heart was cold, hard, and not capable of love.
    It’s been 2 weeks and I am still just a mess. And when I think I’m doing better, I see him at work and my heart sinks into my stomach. I have to hide in the bathroom to cry for a few minutes and pull myself together.


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