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Anxious like a mofo over new relationship. Please help prevent me from sabotaging!
April 8, 2011 12:47 PM   Subscribe

Anxiety over new relationship is killing me. Help me to stop it.

I've been dating this guy I met on an online dating site for 2 months. Everything seems to be going well - I like him, he likes me, we have great sex, he says I'm awesome, I think he's awesome.

The problem is that I am SO INCREDIBLY ANXIOUS from the time the last date ends until the next one begins. Yeah, so I have a problem with anxiety, that's for sure. Normally it's pretty well controlled, but whenever I get into a dating situation, one that I hope will work out, I get extremely anxious and spend a lot of time ruminating about what I might have done wrong on the last date, analyzing what he says, wondering when he's going to call/email next, wondering if I've emailed called too much or not enough, and basically torturing myself into a stress filled human form.

What is it about new relationships that makes me so anxious? And is this only me or have others experienced this horrific anxiety rollercoaster? Part of my issue is that I don't have the best relationship experiences with men to build on. I had a really emotionally abusive father, and then my first real relationship was a physically abusive one, and then there was a lot of latching on to men who weren't available emotionally. So part of me worries that I might be doing it again with this guy, that I might end up getting hurt, and before I get to the hurt part, I torture myself non-stop with the anxious thoughts.

Oh, and here's the biggest anxiety-provoker - since we met online, both of us still have our accounts public. We haven't had any exclusivity talk, I think it's still too early, but I logged in a couple of weeks ago for the first time in weeks and noticed that he was logged on. I logged on again in the following days (with my sockpuppet dating account) and saw that he was continuing to log in. So although I'm not looking to date or have sex with anyone else right now (you know, the whole release of oxytocin thing seems to be making me feel attached to him), I am also not quite ready for the whole exclusive talk. It appears that he's actively looking on the site, and that is amping the anxiety that eventually he'll just meet someone else who he likes better, and I will have gone along for a few months having great sex and getting all emotionally attached just to get dumped in the end. So what in god's name does a woman do? BTW, if it's relevant, I'm in my early thirties and in therapy. Therapist suggests I "sit with my feelings" as if that's so easy. Most days I feel like I'm going to jump out of my skin.

Oh, and just fyi, I think he'd likely be very surprised to hear all of this anxiety exists on my end. We have a great time on our dates, it's just the not knowing that exists between dates that eats away at me.

Thoughts? Strategies? Tips? Am I just crazy? throwaway gmail account is stop.sabotage@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think this kind of anxiety isn't too crazy in a new relationship -- I mean, you're excited about it, but it's not yet clearly defined, and it's hard not to focus on the things you're excited about!

I think that in this type of situation, two things will help you:

1) The cognitive-behavioral approach, where you do think about (and journal about) your thoughts and what is turning them into anxious feelings. Usually when that happens, we are seeing our situation through a cognitive distortion, and often if we work to identify the cognitive distortion and then try and reframe the situation more rationally, we can break the habit of letting ourselves fall into that anxiety trap.

2) Distracting yourself. I don't really think that the advice to "sit with your feelings" is very helpful. It's not like you are in mourning or something. You need to either do something with your thoughts (see suggestion #1), or distract yourself from them. I know it's super hard to distract yourself from new relationship stuff, but if you try focusing on things that engage you in ways that block the ability to ruminate much (sometimes doing crafts, physical exertion, etc) you might find it easier to stop thinking about the relationship.
posted by countess duckula at 1:01 PM on April 8, 2011


Almost everybody experiences this kind of anxiety at the beginning of a relationship, but I think for most it's kind of a pleasant experience. The difference between anxiety and excitement can be perspective--it sounds like you've had so many negative experiences that you're interpreting as "panicked" what most might define as "twitterpated." But if you hate it, of course, you should take the same steps to mitigate it as you would any other anxiety-provoking situation. I'm just saying, yeah, that's normal.

When I was ready to get exclusive with my boyfriend, I told him, "I'm getting pretty attached to you, I'm approaching a point where it's going to be difficult for me to deal with if you're dating other women." This went over well.
posted by milk white peacock at 1:02 PM on April 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


I would spend some time wondering if the desire to latch on like this has been a factor in your past failed relationships, and if so, my advice would be to stop fighting the last battle in the guise of your new relationship.

Also, scooping around with a shill dating account is bad for the brain and is not going to help with anything beyond staying single, it will just add hills to your rollercoaster, hills that you will invent if you have to. You've had some bad relationships and stuff, but being sneaky isn't going to make anxiety over spending more time with this guy go away. Tell your therapist to up their game, their "do nothing" advice is pretty weak tea.
posted by rhizome at 1:08 PM on April 8, 2011


Log on as yourself. You should always keep your ad up until you're exclusive. If he sees you, you will only be mirroring his behaviour back at him.

You don't have to browse with intent, but it will help to remind you he's not the last guy on earth. Not even the last nonabusive guy on earth.

I like milk white peacock's script, and I know you're only two months in, but I'm old-fashioned enough to think that if you're at the body-smooshing stage you have a right to raise the issue, even this early. But do keep it light.
posted by tel3path at 1:17 PM on April 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Just yesterday -- literally just yesterday -- I said to a friend of mine, "being in a new relationship is a great way to feel like you are batshit fucking insane" because seriously? It is so crazy-making. I think what you are experiencing is in the realm of normal and you are fine. Having said that, I think you are definitely overthinking things and it's no really doing you any good.

Here's how I handled the exclusive/online profile thing with the guy I am seeing: I told him that I took my profile down because I did not want to meet anyone else. By the next day he had taken his profile down too.
posted by kate blank at 1:33 PM on April 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I think two months is a perfectly reasonable point at which to raise the topic of exclusiveness with him, if that's something you want (which, based on your reactions to seeing him online, you clearly do).

If, on the other hand, you don't want to have that 'talk' with him, then the consequences of that lay with you. You can't have it both ways (by which I mean, want him to not be actively looking but also for you to not have to decide to be exclusive).

My advice: have a nice adult conversation about how you feel and where you see it heading. And don't tell him you have a sockpuppet account on the dating site that helps you keep tabs on him -- that is, in a word, creepy.
posted by modernnomad at 1:39 PM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Man, you sound like me. The guy actually disabled his profile before I did. He eventually broke up with me anyway (was better for me in the end, I think I just wanted a relationship and he wasn't actually a good fit, probably). I regret not speaking up about my concerns sooner instead of keeping them inside and driving myself insane. Like, I wouldn't bring up stuff that bothered me because I was afraid to scare him away, but my distance probably "scared him away" just as much. It's time to bring up exclusivity.
posted by elpea at 1:51 PM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I really think kate blank has it good - just happen to mention you took yours down, and maybe ask if he has his up? if you feel better about waiting a bit, i'd wait a week, but he is not worthy of you and your precious time if he's not in to you enough to take his down. i have the exact anxieties that you do when i start a relationship. and when i don't have those anxities is when i know i'm not that in to the guy. if there's a future with him, he should be making you feel secure and those anxieties will fade.
posted by dmbfan93 at 2:02 PM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think your axnsiety is pretty normal here. But you need to be carefull not to make yourself go crazy. Sometimes you almost need to consiouly detach yourself from caring in the beginning of a relationship. I know that's easier said then done. In terms of him still being on the dating site I think that after two months of dating and having sex...I think its ok to have a relaxed talk about being exclusive. Don't pressure him. Just be honest. Take it from there. Hope this helps.
posted by ljs30 at 2:34 PM on April 8, 2011


I logged in a couple of weeks ago for the first time in weeks and noticed that he was logged on. I logged on again in the following days (with my sockpuppet dating account) and saw that he was continuing to log in. So although I'm not looking to date or have sex with anyone else right now (you know, the whole release of oxytocin thing seems to be making me feel attached to him), I am also not quite ready for the whole exclusive talk. It appears that he's actively looking on the site, and that is amping the anxiety that eventually he'll just meet someone else who he likes better, and I will have gone along for a few months having great sex and getting all emotionally attached just to get dumped in the end. So what in god's name does a woman do?

I think you have a right to be anxious. I want you to feel better and come up with some reasonable explanation for why he would do that, but then I'd be lying to you about what I honestly think is likely going on. The only way to stop driving yourself bonkers with anxiety is to either wait and prepare yourself for the the worst, or just stop caring.

Both approaches are probably bad for your mental health. I think you should stop worrying, though, and start looking for new dates/potential boyfriends just in case, and just accept that he might be trying to "trade up" or "add to his portfolio" of sexual partners.

You've had some bad relationships and stuff, but being sneaky isn't going to make anxiety over spending more time with this guy go away.

I personally don't think you're being sneaky. I think you sense that you don't trust him (it might have to do with your prior experiences or it might be that this guy isn't trustworthy) and not feeling trust for someone isn't a bad thing. You don't have to trust everybody all the time in order to be a good person. Lots of people would even say that since you guys haven't explicitly said you're boyfriend-girlfriend, he isn't "technically" doing anything wrong. But who cares what he's doing? You're feeling anxious and it's time to figure out how to manage that anxiety when the cause is out of your control.

I also want to say that it's not your job to coax him into exclusivity or worry about "pressuring him" because, right now, he's not the one suffering from anxiety and feeling bad. You have a right to ask for what you want, and you're not being "uncool" for wanting it. He's either interested in a monogamous relationship, or he's not. He's either sure or not. If he said he wasn't sure, you'd have to put your self esteem at risk, and that alone means you shouldn't have to date someone so wishy washy about having sex with someone he's not sure about.

Go be straightforward, ask him, accept his response and move along. Also, don't have sex with him again unless you really think he genuinely wants to be with you, because I don't think him logging onto his online profile is a great sign that he's really stuck on you. It's a disrespectful thing for him to do after you guys have spent time together and slept together.

If you guys decide that you don't want to be in a monogamous relationship and part ways, be careful about having sex before asking for exclusivity. Then, at least you don't have to waste time and energy on feeling anxious. (You could train yourself to have casual sex, I'm sure, but I don't know how it's done. I'm sure someone knows how.)

Do what you can to avoid getting used for sex and made to feel bad about yourself. In short, don't put all your eggs in this guy's basket until he has made it completely clear that he really wants to be exclusive and is a trustworthy guy.
posted by anniecat at 3:06 PM on April 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think you need to talk to this guy about exclusivity.

Knowing that you can face your fears head on and bounce back from them even if it doesn't work out is what I think you need to eliminate the pattern of anxiety you described, and giving yourself control over your emotional destiny is the key to the broader pattern of unhealthy relationships you mentioned.

You NEED situations where you have to put yourself in the hot seat and have discussions about your boundaries. This is a HUGE opportunity for you to make progress for yourself personally, a chance for you to get into this relationship if it's slated to be a good one, or at least to find out if this guy respects you enough to have a civil conversation with you, even if you disagree.
posted by alphanerd at 3:14 PM on April 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


then there was a lot of latching on to men who weren't available emotionally. So part of me worries that I might be doing it again with this guy, that I might end up getting hurt, and before I get to the hurt part, I torture myself non-stop with the anxious thoughts.

I don't want to question your therapist, but how, exactly, is the "latching on" your fault? Did the guys say explicitly to you that they didn't like you, didn't want to be in a relationship with you, that you had no chance with them? Did they have sex with you and give you a sense that if you did this or that they might consider asking you to be their girlfriend or wife? Did they ever say, "I'm not emotionally available"? Or did they sort of run hot and cold on you, and cause you to feel anxious? Wouldn't any sane person feel the way you did in that situation?

Like I said, I don't want to question your therapist, but I don't see why you think you could have had total control over a situation like that. It's hard work to figure out what's off about some people, and I'm having a hard time believing that you're the one at fault because you're beating yourself up for having what sounds like really normal feelings given the situation.

Now I realize that you're probably worried that you're going to be thought of as "needy" or "clingy," especially when you're so ashamed for what you call "latching on" but you should really stand up for yourself to yourself. You have needs and the modern dating climate shames a lot of women into not being very assertive about their needs. Don't let your fears of being called needy or clingy turn you into a pushover, because, ultimately, that is what's going to make you more susceptible to being taken advantage of by these "emotionally unavailable" men.
posted by anniecat at 3:23 PM on April 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Wow. Thanks for asking this question, which I have been debating asking for the last week. My situation is exactly identical.

The only solution I've found of late is to tell myself this is a casual, "friends-with-benefits" relationship until *he* suggests otherwise. Of course, I want more, but I can't really force someone else to feel the same, even with the most carefully worded questions. So I'm managing my expectations, continuing to force myself to look for alternative dates (though, like you, I don't really feel like it), and basically letting myself not build up this one too much until more time has passed and we have a commitment in place.

But yeah: in the meantime it REALLY, really sucks. I sometimes feel like calling it all off just so I don't have to go through these incredible highs and lows on a regular basis. Yuck.
posted by Pomo at 3:26 PM on April 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Nthing this for truth:
You're probably worried that you're going to be thought of as "needy" or "clingy," especially when you're so ashamed for what you call "latching on" but you should really stand up for yourself to yourself. You have needs and the modern dating climate shames a lot of women into not being very assertive about their needs. Don't let your fears of being called needy or clingy turn you into a pushover, because, ultimately, that is what's going to make you more susceptible to being taken advantage of by these "emotionally unavailable" men.

Its not clingy or needy to feel bad about being in a non-exclusive relationship if its not the right thing for you: you have a right to insist behaviors that make you feel respected and on exclusivity. Its assertive and your therapist should be coaching you on how to do this in a calm fruitful way. Not sure why US dating climate forces women to lower their standards to this degree and then feel like the resulting anxiety is a pathology. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU. You are experiencing anxiety because there is something wrong with the situation. Your gut is telling you the situation is wrong- don't hesitate to make it clear in a clear, assertive way
posted by zia at 3:37 PM on April 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


The only solution I've found of late is to tell myself this is a casual, "friends-with-benefits" relationship until *he* suggests otherwise. Of course, I want more, but I can't really force someone else to feel the same, even with the most carefully worded questions.

But yeah: in the meantime it REALLY, really sucks. I sometimes feel like calling it all off just so I don't have to go through these incredible highs and lows on a regular basis. Yuck.


Pomo, I hope you read all the answers here and in similar questions that have been posted this week. It's fucking awful that you're letting yourself feel that way by remaining in a relationship that is having a bad effect on your mental health.

If I had the energy, I'd make a Metatalk about the questions I've seen this week alone from anxious women whose male sexual partners are treating them like that. It's hurting you.
posted by anniecat at 4:22 PM on April 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's fucking awful that you're letting yourself feel that way

And please know, I'm not blaming you and I'm not a good enough writer to fix this into relaying how sorry I feel that you're trapped in this. I just want to encourage you and OP to dump these guys and forget about them. You guys are better than that.
posted by anniecat at 4:25 PM on April 8, 2011


Thanks, Anniecat. It's reassuring to hear that maybe I'm not completely crazy for expecting more! There really is a lot of pressure to be cool with letting guys set the pace, for fear of losing out in a competitive dating game. Thanks for the good advice!
posted by Pomo at 4:38 PM on April 8, 2011


I think you have to figure out the source of the anxiety - you suggest that it is all yours, but others are suggesting that the guy is provoking it.

I think both can happen, but quite frankly, from what you've described, it doesn't sound like he's doing anything wrong, at all.

Technology is fun and all, and I've had major stalking moments in my life - but you really gotta stop attaching so much importance to what his perceived online behaviors are. The internet is MADE for looking/lurking/stalking and all kinds of other behaviors that frequently don't have much meaning in the real world.

Seeing that he's logged in the dating website doesn't mean much. It definitely doesn't mean what you *fear* it might mean - that's coming from you. You could just ask him, "By the way, are you still meeting people from that dating site?" He knows you can tell his logged in, but since he doesn't think he's doing anything "wrong" he's probably not even thinking about it.

Your anxiety may be some twisted form of desire to control outcomes (I speak from years of experience!) and ... the truth is: you can't control what he will do or not do, or if he's going to turn in to a jerk or drop out, or whatever.

All you can do is enjoy yourself, contribute to your half of the relationship, ask for you what you want or need and ... see what happens.

As far as your anxiety, well, you know, do exercise, write about it, get busy, and continue to work on your sense of self-worth and security in dealing with uncertain things. You sound like you are doing pretty well, and you know where you want to be! Good luck!
posted by Locochona at 5:43 PM on April 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wouldn't necessarily condemn this guy, because he is just going along with the dating culture as it is. He may not even be looking for new partners, which I admit is a reach-case scenario, but it's possible - the OP's sockpuppet wasn't looking for new partners, after all.

Nevertheless, OP, even if he went in thinking you had this arrangement and have let him think you're OK with it, you have every right to change your mind. He might experience it as unfair, or that you've done a bait-and-switch, so you might have to acknowledge that. But in the end, if it's making you miserable, you don't have to stick with it. Also, if worst comes to worst and it turns out that he really is a hard-liner about rigidly enforcing the strictest casualness at all times, no exceptions... you can walk away from a casual arrangement just as... er, casually... as he can. And it might turn out that he was only on that site because he was wangsting about whether you were still online somewhere and oh god oh god what if she notices I'm not playing it cool enough.[1]

One last thing. I know that from your point of view nonabusive relationships don't grow on trees. But the only way you're going to be able to hold your own in any relationship is if you're willing to walk away when the terms aren't favourable to you.


[1] Some scholars believe that men have feelings too and are not always totally ruthless.
posted by tel3path at 6:05 PM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I just want to favourite zia 100 times: Not sure why US dating climate forces women to lower their standards to this degree and then feel like the resulting anxiety is a pathology. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU. You are experiencing anxiety because there is something wrong with the situation.

Maybe you'd benefit from reading Why Men Love Bitches. I give it a lot of credit for getting me through a similarly anxious situation in one piece.
posted by tel3path at 6:09 PM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Part of being in a good, healthy relationship is feeling comfortable and being able to talk about this stuff. I think girls have a tendency to hold stuff in for fear of seeming like a cliche. But you know, it's really okay to ask about being exclusive after 2 months.

This is important enough to you to write it out here, so it's important enough to talk about with him. If he doesn't respond in a caring, kind way to that conversation, that says more about him than about you.
posted by pourtant at 9:21 PM on April 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


" even if he went in thinking you had this arrangement and have let him think you're OK with it, you have every right to change your mind. He might experience it as unfair, or that you've done a bait-and-switch, so you might have to acknowledge that."

My experience with online dating is that unless the person your dating mentioned that they were only looking for casual or short term dating then the assumption is that as things progress you become exclusive. Not after the first date or anything but eventually.

After a couple months of dating having a "hey you know I really like you are you seeing other people still, because I'd like it if we were exclusive" shouldn't be a big deal and I wouldn't consider it a bait and switch either.

If the person you're with wants casual and/ or short term you're better off finding out now anyway if thats not what you want. Don't be embarrassed you need to find a man who wants the same kind of relationship you do and talking about it with them is the best way to find out if you two have the possibility of becoming that.

Some nervous anxiety can be fun at the begining of a relationship but when it stops being minor or fun in a butterflies in the tummy sort of way you should address it and I seriously think two months into a relationship where you're sleeping with a person is a perfectly appropriate time to do so.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 8:55 AM on April 9, 2011


I know I'm chiming in late, but I'm a guy and I thought I'd share my perspective.

I met the girl I've been dating 4-5 months now online. After about 3 weeks and 5 dates and a few emails in between, I told her that I liked her, had a lot of fun with her, and I'm not interested in meeting any new women. Whenever she wanted to have the exclusivity talk, she should let me know.

I said this expecting her to say "okay" and then bring it up sometime later, but she said we could just have that talk right now! And that's how it began.

My advice to you is to ask for what you want. Nothing is inherently wrong in asking for what you want - the other person can acquiesce or not. Two months in lots of great sex sounds like it's a pretty good time to be exclusive, especially if it's causing you so much anxiety. I get that it's an exciting time, and you're becoming vulnerable and developing attachments, and while a certain degree of anxiety goes hand in hand with this, it starting to sound as if you're not getting your needs met.
posted by althanis at 9:29 AM on April 14, 2011


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