When two people fall in love with one another, the world becomes a beautiful place no matter what else goes on. This sense of euphoria, Greek for “good feeling,” is one of the most pleasurable parts of establishing an emotional relationship with someone. This wonderful prospect becomes tragic, however, when one of the potential partners harbors an unwarranted, persistent fear of love. This fear is known as “philophobia.”
What causes such a disturbing mental condition? For some people, being in the throes of love means losing control of their emotions, something that terrifies them. In this instance, romantic love makes it impossible for them to maintain their emotional control, because their well-being relies on the responses of their partners.
Philophobia certainly ranks as one of the most unusual phobic conditions. Most people can understand when a person fears snakes or spiders, which pose an actual bodily threat. There’s also sympathy for people who fear heights (acrophobia), crowds (agoraphobia) or enclosed spaces (claustrophobia). In each of those cases, people can relate somewhat to the negative emotions and physical sensations that can result. It’s easier to understand how a natural caution against bodily harm can develop into a more lasting and unreasonable mental condition.
However, philophobia can be mystifying to people, even to those who suffer from it. One way to understand the condition a little better may be to consider the life of one of the most famous philophobics of all history, England’s Queen Elizabeth I. Historians have recorded how the Virgin Queen both invited and resisted the courtship of all the eligible royal bachelors of her era. There’s also no doubt that Good Queen Bess had a long romance with Lord Robert Dudley, who she eventually elevated to the rank of Earl of Leicester but would never marry, even after his first wife died. In middle age, Elizabeth came very close to marrying the young Duke of Anjou, brother of the King of France, but in the end she rejected him as well. All the best historical evidence is that while Elizabeth adored the attention of many men in her life, she never let her romantic attachments progress to the point where she became subordinate in any relationship. She never lost control.
Centuries after this remarkable woman leader lived and ruled, forensic psychologists now believe that Queen Elizabeth may have been so affected by the execution of her mother, Queen Anne Boleyn, and her cousin, Queen Katharine Howard, that she feared marriage, equating it with death. This is understandable given that during Elizabeth’s time, even the noblest and most royal women were forced into subordinate roles. Her cultural situation was compounded by the ruthless ways in which her father, King Henry VIII, disposed of his unwanted wives. Although unlike many philophobics she was able to form some relationships, Queen Elizabeth nonetheless actively resisted taking the final step to a lasting relationship, namely marriage.
The emotional struggle faced by Queen Elizabeth I and by anyone today who suffers from philophobia can’t be underestimated. They endure a rollercoaster of conflicting emotions; they long for love and closeness just like everyone else, and yet they can’t bring themselves to let go of their emotional control. This mental anguish runs deep, and can be enormously debilitating.