The experience of heartache doesn’t just leave when lovers do. People like to say time heals all wounds, but the truth is that time might simply fade them in intensity. In other cases, time doesn’t heal the wound because the wound didn’t get the care it needed to properly heal. Instead, it’s festered. Metaphors aside, it’s hard to love again when we know that it can lead to being hurt. Opening up after a heartache can be scary but living a life without love is far more terrifying.
The reality is that someone might like you but be afraid of getting hurt. Let’s be honest: We can all self-sabotage from time to time. That fear of loss can project intentions onto actions that were never there. We can overreact because the memory of the last hurt is still fresh no matter how long it’s been since it happened. Our feelings are fragile, and it might seem easier to keep our distance than to risk the pain.
Despite all of that, it’s possible to have healthy relationships even after the worst heartache. I’ll tell you how, but first, let’s review some of the ways someone might show that they like you but fear getting hurt. It’s important to recognize that some behaviors come from fear and heartache and aren’t intentionally manipulative or insensitive.
9 Signs He Likes You But Is Afraid of Getting Hurt
Crushes are both the best and worst feelings — and appropriately named. When you like someone or someone likes you, the feeling starts out warm and fuzzy. It feels good to be infatuated with someone and daydream about them. However, for those of us who have been hurt before, crushes take on that crushing element when we begin to feel afraid. We’re afraid of getting hurt. We’re afraid of being rejected because they don’t like us back. We’re afraid they do like us back, but it won’t work out, and that will hurt, too. We have so many fears that the first glow of the crush becomes a white-hot intensity that often burns. Ouch!
There are signs that he likes you but is afraid of getting hurt. If you’re paying attention, you might notice the following behavioral patterns. They’re particularly common when fear is in play during a crush.
1. He’s Recently Out of a Relationship
Beware of anyone who is recently out of a relationship. Honestly, it’s so common for people to jump right into the next one without doing the work of healing from the last one. Maybe it works out. I couldn’t say. I often expect that those issues come out later and make the relationship far more challenging than it should have been. If he’s just out of a relationship, you might want to ask yourself if he’s had the time to do the inner healing work. You might also want to know if he’s the kind of person who is emotionally mature enough to want to do that work to get better.
You’ll be able to tell that he likes you but is afraid of getting hurt when he’s flirtatious after his relationship ended but doesn’t seem to take it any further than that. Give him a break. He’s still fresh off that last heartbreak even if he’s the one who ended it. He knows all too well that relationships end, and he might not be ready to jump into the deep end with you quite yet. But if all the signs are there that he really likes you as more than a friend, you might want to give him some time to heal.
If he keeps mentioning his recent relationship, you know he’s unlikely to be ready for the next. If he can’t stop talking about his ex, that’s another sign. He might even talk about how much he hates his ex, and it’s still an indication that he hasn’t healed yet. If he’s fresh off one love affair, he might be testing the waters to see if he’s ready for a new one. Of course, if he’s testing a lot of different waters, you don’t want to assume that he’s interested in you in particular. It could be that he’s busy enjoying his newly single status.
2. He’s Taking His Time Getting to Know You
Another sign that he likes you but is afraid of getting hurt is when he takes his time getting to know you. You might be wondering what’s the holdup and why he won’t just make your relationship committed and exclusive. His fear might be the reason. The good news is that he’s being careful to truly know you before entering a relationship. It’s a healthy thing to do. The bad news is that you might not be updating your relationship status any time soon.
There’s a big difference between taking weeks or months to get to know you and taking years. If you’re waiting years for this person to commit to you, then it’s entirely possible you’ve got a bigger problem than just his fear of getting hurt. But if it’s been a reasonable amount of time and he’s just getting to know you naturally, even if it’s at a slower pace than you like, then it’s probably fear-based — or frankly, just smart decision-making.
The question you might want to ask yourself is if you have realistic ideas about how quickly someone should commit. Have you gone exclusive with this person long before he’s exclusive with you? Are you trying to truly get to know him, or have you just decided he’s perfect for you and are unwilling to look any further in case you’re wrong about that? That snail’s pace that might annoy you could save you a lot of heartache if you use the time to get to know him, too. If you end up together, you’ll likely have a stronger relationship for it.
3. He Talks About What’s Gone Wrong in the Past
Listen to how he talks about his past relationship history. If he spends a lot of time talking about what went wrong, he might have some leftover fears about relationships. This is particularly true if he’s been betrayed in the past. His trust issues could make him fearful of ever trusting again.
As much as you like him and want to feel bad for his pain, you also need to listen to the context clues that could be red flags for your own relationship with him. Is he ever accountable in his stories for his own actions? Does he ever admit to having made mistakes? He might have genuinely been treated poorly in past relationships, but you also have to wonder if he’s done any work toward personal growth if all his relationships follow the same pattern. He clearly hasn’t been learning from his experiences — are you learning from yours?
4. He’s Defensive About Having Flaws and Making Mistakes
Someone who likes you but is afraid of getting hurt will become defensive when his flaws show or when he makes mistakes. He’s not going to like that at all. It will make him feel vulnerable, and he might be afraid you’ll leave him because he’s not perfect. His defensiveness might annoy a more mature communicator, but it’s possible that it stems from fear.
It can help to remind someone who is defensive that you aren’t attacking them. You aren’t, are you? If you want to tell him how something made you feel with a genuine desire to find a solution and improve the relationship, then his defensiveness is something he’s going to need to work on. If you are being critical, aggressive, or just plain mean, his defensiveness is understandable under the circumstances.
5. He Has a Hard Time Being Vulnerable with You
Someone who has been hurt and is truly afraid of being hurt again will struggle with vulnerability. He might prefer to be the person who swoops in to save you. He might have a hard time telling you when he’s struggling and needs support. It will be hard for him to be vulnerable with you and that could be frustrating as the relationship develops.
Even healthy, happy people can struggle with vulnerability at times. It takes courage to truly let someone see you and know you. If he’s struggling with opening up more to you, it’s possible that he doesn’t know how to be more vulnerable or he’s afraid that if he allows himself to open up, there’s a better chance you’ll hurt him. It could be a reflection of his past experience, or it could stem from other anxiety.
If he does make the attempt to be vulnerable with you, be careful how you handle it. Don’t shame him for having feelings even if you don’t understand them. Don’t perpetuate the sexist and entirely socially constructed idea that boys and men aren’t supposed to cry. If that were true, they wouldn’t have tear ducts and feelings. If he opens up, be a safe space for him to be heard. Encourage his vulnerability by listening and by being equally open.
6. He Needs Extra Reassurance About Your Feelings
It’s possible that he might need extra reassurance about your feelings if he likes you but has been hurt in the past. His fear of being hurt again could make him feel a little insecure — even clingy. If you’re a person who needs a lot of space, this could make you uncomfortable. You might want to offer reassurance while talking about relationship boundaries. You can reassure his fears and make space for yourself. It’s entirely possible if you’re willing to have a conversation about it.
Some people might have anxious attachment in relationships from childhood and will naturally need a little more reassurance. It’s possible that they’ve dealt with inconsistency in the past and have a hard time trusting affection to be constant. Whatever you do, don’t shame someone for asking for reassurance. Find ways of showing them how you feel, but don’t forget to tell them, too. You’re going to have to learn each other’s love languages if you want this relationship to work.
7. He Distances Himself When You Grow Closer
It’s possible that he might distance himself as you grow closer if he likes you but is scared he’s going to get hurt. He might truly enjoy the intimacy of the relationship but then remember the pain of the last time he felt that way. You might notice that he pulls away and takes some space after you’ve gotten the closest you’ve ever been.
If he takes space and distance in the relationship, you might have your own fears and emotions about it. Remember that you’ll need to articulate what you need and how you’re feeling. He’s not a mind reader any more than you are, and it’s important to talk about what you need in the relationship. Everyone deserves space in a relationship, but if he is closing himself off to you, it’s worth a conversation to find out why.
8. His Jokes Are Self-Deprecating
Self-deprecating jokes can be funny and charming, but they can also display insecurity. It’s possible that he really likes you but is afraid of getting hurt. These jokes could be his way of pointing out his flaws and fears in a way that doesn’t make him feel vulnerable. If he jokes that you can do a lot better than him, he might be afraid that’s true and you’ll leave him. Pay attention to what he jokes about, and if it reveals insecurities, he might not be able to discuss it any other way.
You might think he’s funny and charming, but it’s possible that this might be the way he copes with his fears. Even if he’s joking, you might want to let him know that you don’t see him the same way he sees himself. He might seem like a confident person, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need his partner to hype him up sometimes.
9. He Runs Hot and Cold with You
Even though you can tell he likes you, sometimes he gives you the cold shoulder or ghosts for a while. He’s constantly running hot and cold, and you might be trying to decide if he’s an insensitive jerk who’s playing you or if he likes you but is afraid of getting hurt. It can be difficult to tell. You might have to look for other context clues. Better yet, you might need to have a conversation with him about how this behavior impacts you.
It’s possible that he gets close to you, gets scared, and tries to make space so he doesn’t get hurt. His hot and cold behavior could make you wonder how he feels about you. It could even create insecurity within the relationship. While his reaction might be understandable if he’s afraid of getting hurt, it’s also not okay to hurt you by being inconsistent. Talk this out. If he’s having some feelings he needs to work out on his own, he needs to communicate that with you, so you don’t feel like he’s avoiding or ignoring you.
What You Should Do
I’ve been there. I can still remember the last time I got truly hurt by a relationship. It’s a terrible feeling, and it can be scary to risk ever feeling that way again. But imagine a world where you never loved or experienced love. Isn’t that so much worse?
Become a Better Communicator
If you like someone who likes you back but is still afraid of the hurt relationships can cause, you need to improve your communication skills. You’re going to need them. You’ll need to be able to confront these issues when they come up. He’ll get triggered — or you will. Then, you’ll need to talk about it in a way that makes your relationship stronger. These fears don’t have to break you down — not if you’re willing to be honest about them and work through them in healthy ways.
Accept Where You Both Are on Your Journey
It’s also possible that you’re ready for a committed, healthy relationship, and he’s still too afraid to try. You’re going to have to accept that you might be in different places along your healing journeys. As much as you might want him to be ready for a relationship with you, you can’t make that happen or make him want it as much as you. You might have to walk away and let him heal on his own. It’s not your responsibility to get him there, and you can’t assume he’ll choose you once he does. Decide if you’re willing to wait for him to face his fears or if you’ve waited long enough.
If you really like each other, you’ll be okay with slowing things down if that’s what he needs to feel safe. Of course, it’s not all his way or the highway. You need to make sure he’s open to addressing your needs, too. You might be okay with a slower pace if you’re getting your needs met in the process. This might give you both a chance to truly build your relationship on a stronger foundation. You might learn to be better friends to each other so that your relationship can start from the solid ground of two people who know, love, and appreciate each other.
If you like each other, don’t you deserve the chance to let the relationship develop naturally? Fear of being hurt is natural in relationships. Any time you love someone, you take the risk that it doesn’t work out. Love anyway.
Originally published on The Truly Charming