Anxiety, fear and negative emotions related to past relationships have crippling effects on singles and divorcees in today’s dating scene

By Zhang Yihua Source:Global Times Published: 2017/5/10 15:08:39

Many people suffer from philophobia, a phobia caused by fear of falling in love and getting in a relationship. Photo: IC

Li Qinyi, a 26-year-old white-collar worker in Beijing, recently stopped taking phone calls from a man who had been professing his love and affection toward her.

She recalled that her mind went completely blank and she could not say a word when he blurted out the three words - I love you.

"All I could think was to run away from him," she admitted. "It was not that I did not like him, but having a boyfriend was the last thing I wanted in my life, and I just could not accept him," she said. 

According to her, the main reason that she found it hard to step into a romantic relationship was that she was deeply hurt by her ex-boyfriend who cheated on her over a year ago. Since then, she could not trust any other man.

Li is one of the many people who suffer from the abnormal and persistent fear of falling in love or making any other kind of emotional attachment, also known as philophobia.

A survey done by, a Chinese matchmaking website, based on its 90 million members, showed that more than 80 percent of single men and women suffer from philophobia. In addition, 54 percent of them are in fear of falling in love because of their failed romantic experiences, while 36 percent of them contribute their fear to the romantic failures of the people around them. The study also concluded that 10 percent of them are affected by either the divorce of their parents or do not attach great importance to the idea of family, according to The Shanghai Morning Post on May 17, 2016.

 Another relevant article from, a website that especially deals with phobias, also pointed out that the fear for romance may originate from either past painful experiences of romance or chronic phobia. It can affect the quality of life, keeping people away from their loved ones and driving them to solitude.

A post concerning the topic on Zhihu, a Chinese question-and-answer website, has been viewed tens of thousands of times. People share not only their own stories, but also tips on how to overcome the phobia.

Past failures in romance and high divorce rates contribute to people's fear of dating and getting married. Photos: IC

The shadows of yesterday

Li was in a three-year relationship with her ex-boyfriend, and they were about to get married. She used to believe that there would be no one in the whole world who would be nicer to her than him.

However, she found out that he was secretly seeing somebody behind her back, and she was totally crushed.

It took her so long to move on that she started to be afraid that she might never get over him. Somehow she managed to start over six months later, but she knew something about her had changed.

"To many people, I may still be the happy-go-lucky person as I always was, but there is a scar on my heart and I simply feel it is almost impossible to let somebody in again," she explained.

She did go out and meet other men, but every time the relationship started to get more serious and commitment came up, she would have a panic attack. Sometimes, it would even trigger symptoms such as sweating, shortness of breath and feelings of nausea.

Past traumas not only haunt Li, but also others like Daisy Jones, a 40-year-old sales manager from the US.

Jones and her husband got divorced almost two years ago, and since then she has had a fear of letting herself fall in love again.

During her almost 10-year marriage, she had given everything to their family, but the divorce broke her heart and left her deeply scarred.

"My ex-husband and I had very sweet dating days, and the early years of our marriage were also good," she said. "Then things began to change. He did not care for me as much, and we did not talk to each other often, let alone hug and kiss."

Her past experience in marriage made her lose faith not only in marriage, but also the opposite sex. "It is hard for love to survive day-to-day trifles and men change after marriage."

Therefore, even though there has been more than one man who confessed their feelings and even proposed to her, all she could do is reject them and run away from the relationship. 

She said her 21-year-old niece also has less faith in relationships because of watching the marriage fail. "She stops hanging out with boys as soon as they want to define their relationship."

Fear of the unknown

Gao Pingqi, a 23-year-old programmer in Beijing, is dying to have a girlfriend, but he is fearful at the same time and tortured by a number of factors.

 Having absolutely no experience in the romance field, he has been calling himself a "relationship newbie."

"Even if I have a girlfriend in my life, I have no idea how to get along with her. I do not know how to make her happy or how to cheer her up when she is upset," he said. "Sooner or later, my inexperience and stupidity would bore her, and then, she would want to break up. What is the point of stepping into a relationship if you know it is going to end and your heart will be broken?"

Another factor is that he fears it will make him vulnerable. He said when people are in a relationship, they open up to their partner and reveal their "real" self. They will have less control over their own happiness because it starts to largely rely on the responses of their partner.

"The idea of losing some kind of control over myself scares me," he conceded. "I am entangled by my fear for being hurt and the unpredictable future. I have many concerns that make a relationship seem too complicated for me."

Xu Lan, a 19-year-old university student in Beijing, said the main reason she has held back from potential romance is that she believes the boys who are interested in her are too good for her.

When she was a freshman, a sophomore told her he liked her and wished that he could be her boyfriend. However, although she liked him, she declined the offer. "I could not believe someone as handsome as him would like an average looking girl like me." 

She also said no to another boy who was the president of the student union and a Prince Charming in the eyes of many girls. "I am nobody and do not deserve his love," she said.

She has never chased after a boy she has had a crush on, because she was worried that if he rejected her, she would feel twice as embarrassed and humiliated.

Steps to a solution

Zhang Shasha, a relationship expert for, said in the article from Shanghai Morning Post that men are traditionally required to take the initiative in courtship, but meanwhile, they are under more pressure and hold higher expectations. A failed relationship will make them feel more frustrated and have a greater influence on their future romances. While women tend to completely devote themselves to a relationship once they have fallen in love, so they are afraid that they will give too much and not get anything in return.

The article also noted that in first-tier cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, what men dislike the most about women is that they expect too much from them, while women find their disdain in male chauvinism.

According to Liu Fei, a psychologist and relationship counselor in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, a good number of patients have come to her suffering from philophobia, and she believes that high divorce rates in recent years are a factor in this phenomenon.

She noticed that the symptoms of philophobia are irregular and vary from person to person, and can include anxiety about falling in love and getting married, trying to avoid others' wedding ceremonies and isolation from the external world. When people suffering from these symptoms are confronted with love and romance, they may also find themselves sweating, shaking, feeling nauseous and having difficulty breathing.

She advised people to see a doctor if they find the above symptoms are present for more than half a year and are disrupting their regular life.

She said cognitive behavioral therapy could be helpful. For many patients, the fear of what can happen if they fall in love and become involved in relationships is a major cause for their philophobia.

The therapy, however, can help them recognize their fear. Generally, therapists will hold sessions for talking and sharing in order to help change patients' outlook toward love and romance.

"Positive behaviors will be built through time, and patients will find they are more tolerant of themselves when they are experiencing anxiety," she said.

She added that exposure therapy can also be effective for treating philophobia. Scenes where romantic dates or interactions take place, like a movie and a dinner, are created and patients practice how to react with the guidance of the therapy. After some time, regular exposure sessions will help them believe that nothing bad happens when falling in love and they will be less anxious toward the prospect of romance.

She suggested that people who are in love with those suffering from philophobia try to gather more information about the phobia so that they may have an idea of what their loved one is going through. They can show support for their loved one by accompanying them to treatment sessions.

After being haunted by philophobia for quite some time, Xu found that she could not overcome the feelings on her own. She has made up her mind to seek help soon.

"The process may be slow, but I will never back out," she said. "I hope that one day, when a man I like tells me he loves me, I am able to say it back and enjoy the wonders of a real relationship."

Newspaper headline: Love is frightening


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