Are you afraid of getting into a relationship?

Young man sitting with young woman on couch

Jumping into the world of love and relationships can be really exhilarating and fun, and can bring you so much joy. But it’s also totally normal to feel worried, hesitant or even afraid about the whole thing. 

The truth is, relationships are complicated. And there are many reasons you might be feeling this way. Taking the time to reflect is a great way to understand your feelings, build confidence to move forward and, if needed, seek out support along the way.

In this article, we'll cover:

  • Are you afraid of opening up?

  • Are you afraid of having your heart broken?

  • Are you struggling with feelings of self-doubt?

  • Are you afraid to lose connection to family?

  • Are you afraid to lose your independence?

  • What if I have a fear of intimacy?

Are you afraid of opening up?

Opening up to someone new can be pretty scary at first. In fact, a new relationship is often uncharted territory – and most of us naturally have some fears of the unknown.

While being vulnerable means different things to different people, chances are it’ll mean letting your guard down, opening yourself up to all kinds of emotions, and having honest chats about your needs, desires, thoughts and fears. In short, it means sharing your authentic self, despite the risks this poses. 

If you’re finding this a bit daunting, just remember that opening up doesn’t mean you have to reveal everything all at once. If you’re not there yet, here’s what you could try out:

  • Start journalling your thoughts and feelings, which can help you to become more comfortable about expressing yourself in conversation.

  • Practise being vulnerable with a trusted friend, to build up your confidence.

  • Take small steps to ease into the relationship experience: casual dates, group hangs, relaxed convos and shared activities can help to build trust and comfort.

  • Think of vulnerability as a strength and as something that can help you to build deeper and closer connections with people (and yourself).

Are you afraid of having your heart broken?

Heartbreak clearly sucks, and the fear of it happening can be a pretty strong deterrent to entering a relationship. 

For Sage (23), it was a tough past relationship and breakup that made it difficult for her. ‘I didn’t know how I would handle getting heartbroken again. For quite a while I didn’t feel like I could work through this feeling.’

ReachOut peer worker Lana Barton says this is a totally normal response, but suggests there are things you can do to manage it.

‘I always encourage young people to take some time to focus on themselves and really consider what they want in a relationship. There’s no rush, and you can jump in whenever you feel ready.’

'Once I started focusing on what was best for me and not worrying about others, I began to love myself more again and felt myself recovering. I have learnt to always do what’s best for me,’ Sage says. 

Chatting with someone you trust, such as a friend or family member, can be a great way to unpack what might be driving your fears and feelings. It might also help to:

Are you struggling with feelings of self-doubt?

Lots of things can make us doubt ourselves and believe untrue thoughts like ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I’m not worthy of love’.

Sometimes feelings of self-doubt stem from past hurts and trauma, or from underlying mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. In this sense, it can be really beneficial to talk things out with a professional, who can help you to understand why you might be feeling this way, and can suggest things you can try as a way to be more open to relationships. 

For example, Sarah (18) has doubts about whether she’s capable of getting into a relationship because of how she experiences attraction. 

‘The attraction I’ve experienced so far has been alterous [not simply platonic, but not quite romantic], and I have never wanted someone to exactly be my partner, despite being attracted to them as a person, [but] I reassure myself that conventional romantic attraction isn’t the pinnacle of all attraction.’

Sarah says that a normal amount of fear can be manageable, but taking that extra step to seek help can be really helpful. ‘If you feel like your relationship anxiety is debilitating or causing you dysfunction in any way, I would suggest seeking therapy.’

You could also:

Keep in mind that you don’t always have to wait until your self-esteem is peaking at 100 per cent before being ready for a meaningful relationship, because being with the right person can actually do wonders for your confidence!

Two young women sitting on stairs outside

Are you afraid to lose connection to family?

Sometimes the idea of getting into a relationship can bring up the fear that you’ll drift away from family. There may be all kinds of reasons for this, including cultural expectations, different social values, fear of judgement, or something else.

Sarah says that her family’s views have made the idea of getting into a relationship challenging. ‘I’m a lesbian, and closeted to my homophobic family. I hesitate to begin a relationship knowing that a partner would have to remain a secret.’

While she hasn’t overcome this particular issue, Sarah says she has found great support where she needs it. ‘I gain strength by talking to supportive friends and peers about my queerness.’

While all family situations are different (and some are more complicated than others), great relationships can absolutely coexist with a strong connection to family. Here are some things to consider:

  • Keep the communication lines open with your family so that you can share with them your thoughts, feelings, concerns and boundaries.

  • If talking to your parents is proving tough, check out these helpful tips on how to get your parents to really listen to you. 

  • Think about ways you might schedule specific times for family activities, like a weekly dinner or a movie night.

  • Think of how you could include a partner in regular family gatherings and events, or even create new ones.

  • Chat with friends or seek guidance from people who’ve been in similar situations.

Sage says that being proactive about her worries has been key in her current relationship. ‘I’ve managed by having active discussions with my partner about how we need to stay close to family and make efforts to see them, even if it’s just a quick drop in to say hi and have a coffee.’

Are you afraid to lose your independence?

Lana explains that many young people feel a bit scared about the idea of potentially losing their independence, which is completely understandable if it’s something they value. But when it comes to relationships, Lana says it’s all about finding a healthy balance. 

‘Getting into a relationship should never make you feel like you need to compromise who you are. The right partner is someone who complements you and shares a similar life philosophy. If your partnership is built on shared values, then getting on the same page about the big stuff won’t be too hard.'

Sage believes that early communication is crucial. ‘We hear it all the time, but it’s so important when getting into a relationship that you communicate to potential partners and make sure your goals are similar.’ 

Here are some more things to consider:

  • Think about what your boundaries might be and how to communicate these to a potential partner. This could cover specifying alone time, personal space, goals and aspirations, hobbies, or even emotional boundaries.

  • Reflect on your relationship expectations. Are you looking for a partner, or for something more casual, or are you actually okay with being single right now

  • Try to shift your perspective on change being a ‘threat’ to being an opportunity to grow and embrace amazing new experiences. Romantic partners can bring different perspectives, skills and social opportunities, which can all be areas to grow in, learn from and get excited by.

What if I have a fear of intimacy?

Fear of intimacy is more than just not wanting to open up. It’s more often an issue that comes from a real difficulty in being emotionally or physically close to others (even if this is something you want to do).

It can be a pretty complex experience and is often related to past neglect, betrayal,  trauma or abuse, as well as to fears of rejection, abandonment, engulfment (a fear of being controlled or dominated), or anxiety disorders such as social anxiety

If you’re worried that you have a fear of intimacy, it’s important to know there’s support out there and helpful ways to manage and overcome it. Everyone experiences it differently, so it can help to start with some self-reflection to try and identify where your fears are coming from. Chatting with a trusted friend or family member about this can be really useful, too.

If your experience is taking a big toll on your relationships, mental health and wellbeing, it’s a good idea to seek professional help. You could start with your GP, who can help you understand the nature and impact of your symptoms. They can also refer you to other professionals, such as psychologists or sex therapists, who can help you to come to terms with where your fears might be coming from, and support you with specific tools and coping strategies.

What can I do now?