One of my dear friends warned me recently of the dangers of opening myself too fully and too soon. Drawing on some very good and apt examples of her own experience, she reminded me how quickly a man’s initial infatuation can fade, and before you know it, it starts. The Back Pedal.
Personally, I would rather be sat down and have a litany of my sins read to me than watch someone gradually disappear from my life without explanation. I suspect that I am not alone in feeling that way, either.
For what dating adult hasn’t experienced that awful feeling of things moving full-throttle ahead, and then *POOF!* suddenly everything changes. Emails grow shorter, texts take longer to be answered, lags in conversation lengthen…. Typically one party — the one who is still pedaling forward — is awash in confusion and self-doubt. Did I invest too much? Is there somebody else? Have I been an utter fool? What the hell just happened???
Maybe the worst thing about The Back Pedal is that over-vigilance of this phenomenon typically results in a self-fulfilling prophecy: He drops the ball in some small way; she thinks “Here it comes!” and begins to retreat; he senses her retreat and backs up into self-protection mode; she sees his pulling away as confirmation of The Back Pedal and builds more emotional walls to protect herself. And voila! No more relationship.
I’m definitely not denying that The Back Pedal happens organically… I’ve seen enough of it since my divorce, and I’ve even been the back pedaling partner on a couple of occasions. It’s hurtful and unfair and immature, but it’s certainly real. It’s not all in our heads.
I don’t know exactly how you avoid The Back Pedal, but one of my friends once told me that the best defense is an offense and I think that applies here. So these days, I just address it head-on. I mean, honestly, if he’s got one foot out the door already, then don’t I want to know that? And if he doesn’t, don’t I want to know that, too? Because if I really like this guy, then I don’t want to start pulling away prematurely, but if he’s already decided that the honeymoon is over, then I do need to back up and protect myself. Addressing it head-on has the added benefit of testing the communication lines that the two of us have established. Can I comfortably share a fear or insecurity with him? How does he respond? Is there something here to build on or are we going to mutually shut-down every time we run into a little problem?
A big caveat here: I’m not talking about throwing The Back Pedal thing out there just to test someone. That’s underhanded and it’s cruel and you might as well forget about ever having some kind of amazing relationship because you’ve pretty much just killed that possibility. But, if that little, niggling suspicion creeps into your head, before you give it residence, you might think about just asking the question outright.
My friend’s words of caution made me sad, and not only because I know that hers is not empty advice, but mostly because it shows me where she is at these days. She, who used to be my most hopelessly romantic girl friend, has given up. And all because of The Back Pedal. It makes my heart very heavy. (And I’d also kind of like to castrate the two bastards who brought her to this place, but that’s a post for another time…)
As I was thinking about her situation and how deeply her fear of opening up is now, I stumbled across this letter from Napoleon Bonaparte to his wife Josephine…. It would seem that The Back Pedal has been around for quite some time, and many a fearful lover has tortured themselves with imaginings of being “loved less”:
Ah! how will things stand in two weeks? …. My spirit is heavy; my heart is fettered and I am terrified by my fantasies…
You love me less, but you will get over the loss. One day you will love me no longer; at least tell me; then I shall know how I have come to deserve this misfortune… Farewell, my wife: the torment, joy, hope and moving which draw me close to Nature, and with violent impulses as tumultuous as thunder, I ask of you neither eternal love, nor fidelity, but simply… truth, unlimited honesty.
The day when you say “I love you less”, will mark the end of my love and the last day of my life.
If my heart were base enough to love without being loved in return I would tear it to pieces.
Josephine! Josephine! Remember what I have sometimes said to you: Nature had endowed me with a virile and decisive character. It has built yours out of lace and gossamer. Have you ceased to love me?
Forgive me, love of my life, my soul is racked by conflicting forces. My heart obsessed by you, is full of fears which prostrate me with misery… I am distressed not to be calling you by name. I shall wait for you to write it.
Farewell! Ah! If you love me less you can never have loved me. In that case I shall truly be pitiable.