How do I curb obsessive hypothetical relationship thoughts?
February 11, 2009 9:02 PM   Subscribe

Why do I become obsessive, particularly in the early stage of getting to know someone? How do I stop it?

I tend to get very obsessive over some guys who show romantic interest in me, that I have a "spark" with (sexual/romantic) I repeatedly check my mail (every few minutes), see if they are online on social networking sites, see if they are on IM/chat, etc. This happens usually in the very early stages of getting to know someone -- it is like I fill in the blanks about what I DON'T know about this person with thoughts of how "awesome" the person could be, how compatible we might be, etcetera when I honestly have no evidence that we are so compatible. These "obsessions" don't last terribly long, and I eventually get over them, but by god are they stifling and strong when they do happen. It's like a deep sadness or inability to breathe, that I can't seem to reason myself away from. A truly crushing sort of crush.

I think I externally control it pretty well (it's not like I end up acting really drastically, or (hopefully) scaring people) -- in fact, I doubt anyone would know that I had such thoughts. However, I hate this feeling -- it's really overwhelming, like getting dumped... but over someone I hardly know, and who may not be right for me! Anyone ever experience this, and if so, any tips on how to stem the tide of obsessive feelings in these situations?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
That all sounds like a totally normal crush to me. I know that you're asking for ways to manage these feelings but recognizing that they are very common might help. That all sounds exactly like what I would do in the early stages of a relationship.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:18 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

This sounds pretty normal to me. Especially because you note that it's only in the initial infatuation sort of phase and that they don't last.

You don't say how old you are or how much relationship experience you have. The obsession does grow less as you grow older and more secure that your life is going to be awesome regardless of what happens with your latest crush. But even with that being said - I'm nearly 40, and when I or my friends have begun new relationships, we've checked email constantly too, and had OMG!-type feelings.

I think that life experience may solve this for you. Even though we all will always feel excited about new romantic prospects, your own heart will put the brakes on for you as you go forward. You'll love the infatuation phase, and at the same time you'll know that's what it is, and you'll be able to focus on other stuff as needed. You're right that the person may not be right for you, and over time you'll be better and better at understanding that when things don't work out. Right now, you might allow yourself to just enjoy it. The guys feel this too; don't worry. As far as keeping a hold on your sanity - just be sure your life includes a square meal of other things too - nights out with friends, reading and relaxing, time outdoors, learning, family contact and hot baths, whatever your range of activities normally is. They'll provide you relief from obsession and comfort in your own identity. And as long as you maintain those things that are truly you, you can feel as infatuated as you like and as giddy about message-checking as you want. Don't deprive yourself of the joys of courtship - they fade soon enough.
posted by Miko at 9:21 PM on February 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

The guys feel this too; don't worry.

posted by netbros at 9:25 PM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

It's "normal" except for the fact that our "social networking" society has enabled people to allow their obsessions to completely rule their lives.

Take the relationship offline. Get off facebook and chat and all the rest. Just do it. You won't miss it after the first day or two.

Further, it will strengthen any relationship you have because interactions will require actual phone calls and person to person interaction. That requires devotion. That means something.

Look through past AskMe relationship questions... you'll see that the trend is that social networking sites, chats and im, text messaging and the like all lead to disaster.

Real human interaction is what you need... you're not going to find that online.
posted by wfrgms at 9:27 PM on February 11, 2009 [8 favorites]

Normal/not normal, nobody knows. What's important is that you don't like it.

I work under the theory that when I have obsessive thoughts I do it to avoid thinking about something else. I'd bet that the times you do those things. Think about a work or other issue you don't like next time you do this.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:31 PM on February 11, 2009

anonymous: lots of people feel that way, it's fairly common and a pretty natural reaction. if it makes you uncomfortable, find things to do to distract you, but don't think that it makes you weird or a freak. also:

Take the relationship offline. Get off facebook and chat and all the rest. Just do it. You won't miss it after the first day or two.

well, except for that these days many people only really communicate online through social networks, so if you did what wfrgms says, not only would you be cutting yourself from possible partners but also from friends, relatives, coworkers. which makes his advice pretty bad advice for a lot of people.

Look through past AskMe relationship questions... you'll see that the trend is that social networking sites, chats and im, text messaging and the like all lead to disaster.

confirmation bias much? of course ask mefi questions deal with bad situations; if things were going well there wouldn't be questions to ask!
posted by lia at 9:45 PM on February 11, 2009 [4 favorites]

I agree with lia; the future of healthfully manageing relationship interactions is going to need to include, not exclude, social networking apps. They're not just a trendy hobby, they're where a lot of people spend a lot of their day and do a lot of interacting - I think it's completely possible to manage them sanely, and being offline for a certain amount of time will always be a healthy thing to do, but just setting online interactions aside as some falsely deceiving or confusing part of life isn't going to work. They're here to stay, so relationship issues are more a question of how to manage our own emotions and communications than a question of avoiding all online contact.

Quite frankly, a lot of my early crushy obsessive interaction was done and gone well before the internet. I hung out in my folks' living room a lot, waiting for the family dog to make the special bark that meant the mailman was coming up the steps with MAYBE a special letter from that awesome guy I met last summer and sent the vaguely flirtatious postcard to last week. Or lingered uselessly in the hallway after my lunch-period-ending bell rang and before the crush's lunch-period-starting bell rang, hoping to 'happen' across him and have some meaningful eye contact or something before having to arrive at Latin class late and get a demerit. These behaviors weren't any more or less healthy than the internet flirtations of today, and we have to find ways of integrating the fact that we can communicate through physical proximity and concrete communication as well as instantaneous and removed electronic communication - but we are dealing with exactly the same emotional impulses, and we need to govern and esteem them in the same ways.
posted by Miko at 10:01 PM on February 11, 2009 [4 favorites]

I think this is reasonably normal crushy behaviour, but that advances in technology have enabled it to be channeled into new manifestations or symptoms of crushiness, that we - as a society in general - probably haven't been able to properly mythologise & integrate into the broader stories we tell ourselves about romantic love.

Old version: waiting endlessly near the landline, hoping for a call; a stock-standard meme that we'd all be familiar with.

New version: what you described, along with whatever kind of snooping might be possible - a new-technology meme; not necessarily stalking, but if your crush has given you access to their livejournal or facebook or told you who they are on metafilter, then hey - that stuff's right in front of you & it's hard not to be tempted into reading it.

The problem I see is not so much the obsessive thinking (we're kinda biologically hardwired to do that) but the ridiculous glut of electronic information that we can find at our disposal, which is a double-edged sword: it can help us to learn more about the person in question, but it can just as easily be misleading, as online profiles & activities can never be perfect mirrors of reality, and you might be far too tempted to read too much into confirmation-biased factoids like that you both love the same author or holiday destination in Italy.

So, I'd advise trying to discipline yourself from too much social networking activity with respect to your crush. Not that it'll kill your chemical buzz, but it might help water down all kinds of false assumptions & interpretations that you might make about them.

[this is very much a work-in-progress theory]
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:31 PM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Relax. If you can - and let the relationship gather at its own speed and velocity without the extra nudges. In most cases, the reason for this kind behavior is/was a father or whichever father figure who was unstable, unreliable and inconsistent and this is a way to ensure that there is closure, followup and ultimate consistency. Would be helpful to talk this over with a professional because it starts out like this and ends up with frantic attempts later at keeping him tethered and close by - with tabs - that ultimately will just push him away.
posted by watercarrier at 4:19 AM on February 12, 2009

Watercarrier, can you cite a source for your psychological theories? And can it be someone other than Freud? Because everyone else is saying that this is totally normal and happens to everyone, while you're claiming that it's a sign of father-trauma and requires professional help. I'd like to see some evidence for that claim.

OP, I'll reiterate. This is completely normal. It happens to everyone. The ups and downs of dating can make even the most even-keeled person feel a little nutso. Try to cut back on the amount of time you spend online. Fill your life with other fun activities so that you don't have as much time to sit around waiting for your crush to contact you. Call the person when you want to talk (within reason) rather than waiting to be called. And don't beat yourself up over this. You're just excited and happy, and that's a good thing.
posted by decathecting at 8:13 AM on February 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Try to date multiple people at once. No, really. It will keep you from obsessing about one single person.
posted by comatose at 9:25 AM on February 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

How about assume you are a utility-maximizing individual, and actually, crushing on someone is really really fun. And that's why you're doing it, so there's no reason to stop.
posted by ihope at 11:43 AM on February 12, 2009

Yes. Citing just for you decathecting -
posted by watercarrier at 11:55 AM on February 12, 2009

I know what you mean -- it's can be a desperate, out-of-control feeling, and I don't much like it either. I think it stems from the fact that, when you first meet someone, you don't know them well at all and you can't quite gauge whether they're actually really into you, if you're both on the same page, or if you're on the verge of being dumped. And, well, it tends to go away over time precisely because you learn their feelings, how to read their body language, etc. You also establish trust and a deeper relationship ensues, which is not so easy to walk away from (hence, more security).

I've had incredible success in my current (newish, 5 months) relationship with being much more of an open book than I would have in the past. If something is bugging me, I bring it up instead of keeping it in. Your constant e-mail/Facebook/chat monitoring is the result of you trying to collect information from every source possible except the one source that would likely give you the most information (the person). I suppose there are limits to the subject matter until you know someone better, but this approach has brought me and my guy much closer, much more quickly than we would have been otherwise by this point. It's like, by knowing that he wasn't totally put off by talking about thing A made it easier to talk about thing B, and for him to bring up thing C, and so on.

Also, remember that if you're freaked because you don't know what the other person is thinking, then the other person is likely just as freaked because they don't know what you're thinking.
posted by penchant at 12:57 PM on February 12, 2009 [2 favorites]

Try to date multiple people at once. No, really. It will keep you from obsessing about one single person.

I havenĀ“t found this to be true. It seems even easier to think about someone that you like if you are on a date with a different someone and finding that you are not all that interested in them.
posted by yohko at 12:58 PM on February 12, 2009

Also, while the theories cited by Watercarrier may be applicable in certain cases, I didn't get the impression that the OP's feelings are anything but a run-of-the-mill crush, and the OP doesn't quite like the way it feels to have a crush. Some people do; I know I don't, for these exact reasons, and I certainly wouldn't say that my father or my relationship with him is or ever was unstable, unreliable, or inconsistent by any stretch of the imagination.

Basically said -- OP, I don't think there's anything abnormal going on with you. And neither do most of the people here, it seems.
posted by penchant at 1:06 PM on February 12, 2009

Penchant - I think you need to re-examine the word obsessive and its terminology. We don't just pick words out of the air. Apparently this *crush* has moved into the *I have to do/know/become or else I will go crazy* compulsive realm, which is an abnormality and in most if not all cases can be traced back to the original formation of primal attachment, pre-natal or post whether conscious or un - those primary relationships set down the blueprint for all relationships and the emotional responses they produce.

The dictionary defines an obsession as:

1. Compulsive preoccupation with a fixed idea or an unwanted feeling or emotion, often accompanied by symptoms of anxiety.
2. A compulsive, often unreasonable idea or emotion.
An irrational preoccupation: fetish, fixation, mania. Informal thing. See concern/unconcern.
posted by watercarrier at 1:24 PM on February 12, 2009

I disagree -- I think many of us do pick words out of the air--at least in terms of tending toward popular usage rather than deferring to dictionary definition. Furthermore, situations of heightened emotion, whether they enter the realm of abnormality, can cause some to tend to wax hyperbolic.

In light of your adhering to strict dictionary definitions, though, perhaps we all might need to reexamine "vulgar" word use given their dictionary definitions: I doubt, for example, that most things are as "awesome" or "radical" as some might suggest.
posted by penchant at 2:21 PM on February 12, 2009

Obsessive has a specific medical meaning. Quoting the dictionary is not helping this discussion.
posted by bradbane at 8:49 PM on February 12, 2009

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