I’ve lost the ability to trust

Hi Meredith,

I am a student who is about to go into a PhD program in science. I try to find people who are in a similar scientific field. I find I just click better with such people – in both friendly and romantic contexts. So in late 2016 when I met this guy in a similar field of study (animals), we clicked pretty quickly. We ended up traveling abroad together, researching for a nonprofit research organization.

His family loved me and I grew close to his siblings. I really loved him, and for the first time in my life, I could see myself marrying someone. He even said once that if we were to get married, the professor who introduced us should perform the ceremony. Then suddenly in May of last year, he just ... left. He couldn't give me a reason except that he just didn't want to be in a relationship anymore. He sort of ghosted me after that.

My trust in love was absolutely shattered. This was someone I truly believed in, and I was exceptionally vulnerable in that relationship. You can imagine that this was especially compounded by the fact that given my preferences for love, it is hard to find such a relationship in the first place. While I am in a much better place now than I was in the middle of last year, I find that I am still struggling with trust. It has been more than half a year since the breakup, and I am still finding myself having difficulty even wanting love at all.

As cliche as this may be, I am afraid I won't ever be able to trust someone again. Add to this the news that someone in my family (not my immediate) cheated on his wife after decades of marriage, breaking the heart of not only his wife but his children. How can you possibly know when love is worth trying? How could you possibly trust someone? How can I feel comfortable believing in someone like that again? That relationship was a beautiful one, despite it ending so horribly. I do not want it to be the last time I feel that way and yet, I feel that if that relationship can end, and a long marriage can end, that any relationship can end. Is it ever worth it? If you can give me advice to help me find the courage to love again, I would greatly appreciate it.

– No trust

I spent a lot of time this week trying to be a researcher – and by that I mean googling "Do animals break up?" I thought I could find some help for you in science. As it turns out, some animals do break up. Birds do, at least. I read some stuff about two swans that broke up even though they're supposed to mate for life. I can't say I found any real answers, but I can report that both of the swans found new mates after the breakup. For those once-happy swans, there were others.

That probably isn't very comforting. But you might find better evidence that love can work if you look at other people in your life. I bet that for every example of a loss and betrayal, you can think of a couple that's still together and pretty happy. You're noticing the worst of everything right now, but there are committed people all around you who manage to show up for each other every day. You should work on balancing the narratives in your brain. When you start thinking too much about that one family member – or your own breakup – shift your focus.

I wish I could tell you there was an easy way to learn to trust again, but there isn't. I do think that over time, you'll want to take some risks. The excitement of a first date will begin to outweigh your fears. Then, if you meet someone nice, you'll want to keep seeing them. Maybe you'll talk to them about how you'd like to communicate about problems in the relationship – so you're not blindsided.

It does help to spend time with people you do trust – friends, family, colleagues. The more you see them, the easier it will be to remember that most people in your life do not want to disappear.

– Meredith

Readers? Thoughts on trust?