Agony Aunt Annie offers advice to a reader who has been hurt and is afraid to trust and love again.

Hi Annie
I am a single mother whose baby daddy left when I was still pregnant. Ever since then I have had a phobia about relationships. I have been in two since my child was born: the first one ended due to the guy being rather violent but I actually fell in love with the second one and thought I may have finally found the person I would marry.
Except he came with plenty of his own baggage i.e. ex-wife and young child
My child and I were put very far down on his priority list and eventually I realised I was holding onto something that wasnâ??t really there and I allowed this man to treat me badly because I did not want to be left alone. I so badly wanted a family for my child that I was almost willing to settle for a life I didnâ??t deserve.
I have met a few people since then, going on casual dates – nothing serious – and trying to see what is out there, but my fear of getting hurt is getting in the way of me actually giving anyone a real chance.
I allow outside opinions to make decisions for me instead of actually giving anyone a chance.
I feel as though I have become shallow: I used to go for love but now I’m looking at financial stability, no baggage and not exactly ugly…
I want so badly to have a family like everyone else, but as soon as anyone gets too close, I sabotage the relationship thinking that there might be something better out there .. what is wrong with me?
Dear Shannon  
Thank you for your letter.  Sit with me for a moment in a coffee shop and let’s watch people of all shapes and sizes go by. (I think, that as an adult, it is ok to have imaginary friends if they are therapists.)
As people pass one of us might say: â??What the hell is she wearing?â? Let’s make the meow comments from you. Ok, I’d probably add: â?? shoot me if I ever look like that. …â?
We all want to belong
The truth is that all those heels, takkies, sloppies, wanna-be-slippers and crocs trotting by have something in common with us: Every single one of us wants to belong. 
This need drives us to join mothers’ groups, social groups, serve on committees and some of us even join cults â?? other than what I have already mentioned.
If at this point I could give you the number of a potential Mr-stable-not-too-ugly-who-will-adore-you I would have a big enough following to start my very own cult.
Perhaps you need to consider what your definition of family is?
Mom, Dad and 2,3 kids is perhaps the dream, but that is seldom the reality anymore. Statistics in South Africa show that only one third of children grow up with both parents. 
We need to redefine family
Can people who we share mutual love and respect for, who live close to us, physically or emotionally, be considered our family? Your child needs to feel the safety and comfort of being in a family. Can you consider that the two of you are a family, albeit a little unit? 
Families have traditions and ways that children keep as memories when they have long moved on to their own families. Think about what traditions your little family has and what new traditions you would like to create. 
You get to write your families unique flavour and you donâ??t need to wait for a man before you feel that you, together with your child, are a complete unit. 
Sometimes pets form part of our families. Sometimes extended family members or other long-term close friends do.
You deserve to belong and be loved
I hope that one day Mr All-I-dreamed-of-with-a-credit-card arrives and becomes part of your family. Either way, look around you now and build your unique family with those who you love and those who value and love you.
Your daughter is blessed to have you as her family.
You are beautiful!
Love and blessings
Annie