Stopping the inner crazy
August 21, 2010 9:33 AM   Subscribe

How do I stop worrying that history will repeat itself in regards to my relationship?

I'm a 21 year old girl and can't shake the feeling that my new relationship will end like all (all three of them, heh) the others.

In my first relationship, my boyfriend told me after 7 months that he didn't love me, he never had and he'd only told me that he did to keep me happy (despite him saying it first). The second, he randomly cut off all contact after 8 months and when I finally confronted him he said it was because he wanted to pursue other people (it was a semi-long distance relationship, a few hours apart). And the third, three months in, went from loving to breaking up with me because he'd decided he wasn't in love with me in the space of a day.

How do I fight the phobia that my new boyfriend will do the same thing? I know it's irrational and I hate thinking that because he hasn't returned my call yet he's gone off me. It's crazy!
posted by daysocks to Human Relations (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
If you're 21, chances are you've been dating 18-21 year old guys, right?

18-21 year old guys are often immature, and fall out of what they call love easily.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:43 AM on August 21, 2010 [8 favorites]

Are you at the sharing-confidences stage yet? If so, tell him you worry about this. Don't make it a tearful confession, just sigh and say, "I'm honestly pretty flinchy because of [the whole story]. I'm sorry if it gets in the way sometimes; please don't take it personally. It's just me."

Oddly, I find that telling yourself this, too, helps. It's not an irrational way to feel, is it? It's simple negative reinforcement, almost Pavlovian; you cringe when you feel intimacy, because you have learned to expect the worst of it. There's not many areas in life in which we are encouraged to forget past experiences and wholeheartedly expect that This Time It Will Be Different. But so it is with love; it's the only way to find any. Best of luck to you.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:44 AM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

The inner crazy may decrease with your growing knowledge about who you are and who they are/were.

No guarantee that this works, but if your new boyfriend is that boyfriend, and if you'd ask him, he would perhaps have the time, patience and wisdom to help you understand yourself and those dudes, and thus would help you to find out what was them and what is you. As a bonus, you would actually be talking with him about this very problem without focusing too much on him. (I mean, some dudes get shy when there's too much pressure like "why don't you call me", for example).
posted by Namlit at 9:45 AM on August 21, 2010

I don't think it's crazy. I think you are having a very human, normal reaction of "once burned, twice shy." And you have been burned more than once, so it would be hard for you, or anyone, not to be a bit paranoid.

Have you talked to your current boyfriend about your fears? Good communication is essential in a relationship. Do you feel comfortable opening up to the guys you date and vice versa, or are you so afraid of losing them that you pretty much let them run the show, and don't ask for your needs to be met for fear of seeming "clingy?" I've noticed that this seems to be a trend in dating relationships these days, and remember it well from before I got together with my guy. Maybe it's all the self-help books on "codependency" combined with the pressure in Western culture to be perfectly independent. Whatever it is, it serves to keep people apart and makes people (women in particular) doubt that their needs are valid.

Don't be afraid of seeming clingy just because you want a warm and loving relationship. It's okay to want that. It's okay to tell guys you want that. If they don't, then it helps to weed them out so you can find one who does.

So, my suggestion for fighting the phobia is to talk openly to your boyfriend about it, and don't preface it with a bunch of apologies for being overly paranoid or too needy. If you can't be openhearted and vulnerable in a relationship, what's the point of being in it?

He may not be able to reassure you completely. He may say something like, "I care for you now but I don't know what the future will bring." But even if he does say that, you will at least have opened up to him and you'll have paved the way for greater intimacy so the relationship has a chance of progressing.

Most important, take good care of yourself so that even if he cuts and runs (worst case scenario) you will be okay. It sounds like your previous partners were really flakey rather than that you did anything to turn them off. As you get more experienced in relationships, it will be easier to tell who the flakes are. If you find yourself getting attracted only to flakes, you could try to sort out why through journaling or in therapy. (I don't recommend self-help books; my experience with them is they usually blame the victim, reinforce gender stereotypes, or use quick-fix gimmicks).

Practice good self-talk by telling yourself that you will be okay even if the worst happens, and if it does, it's not your fault. Calm yourself with relaxing things like yoga, massage, warm baths, etc. If you find yourself beanplating, do something to distract your mind -- read a good book, watch a movie, play a game, etc.

And don't beat yourself up for any of your feelings. We're all irrational creatures.
posted by xenophile at 10:02 AM on August 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

The only pattern I can see among your three relationships is that you got broken up with by a guy who wanted to see other people or wasn't into you anymore.

Sadly, this pattern is probably going to continue until you get married. And even that might not completely stem the tide - you could eventually get a divorce.

I'm not really sure what pattern you want to break, or how you want to break it. You could never date again - that seems sort of rash, though. Or you could always make sure to break up with any guy while he was still infatuated. Then again, you might be ruining a perfectly good relationship that way.

The best course of action, in my opinion, is to realize that rejection happens and, while it really sucks, is not something you can avoid if you want to be romantically active at all.

(BTW, I also like what roomthreeseventeen said - assuming the guys you are dating are around your age, they are all likely immature jerks. Don't sweat 'em...)
posted by Sara C. at 10:18 AM on August 21, 2010

Also, and this is just my own experience which doesn't necessarily mean anything wrt you or the guys you go out with - you can't really be in love with someone after three months.

I would take any dude's confession of same with a gigantic mountain of salt. Not that he's a liar or a manipulator, but that he probably doesn't really know what love is yet. If these dudes are falling in and out of "love" between first getting involved with you and 3-6 months, they were never in love with you in the first place.
posted by Sara C. at 10:20 AM on August 21, 2010

I know this feeling all too well. And I'm 31 and have been burned by guys who are old enough to know better. Sometimes I wonder why I still date.

Well, here's why. The good days are good, even if later you wind up wanting to forget anything to do with the guy. All you can do is enjoy the good while it lasts, and try not to dwell on what could happen in the future. Because, as Dan Savage says, every relationship you have will end. Until one doesn't. You never know how and why one will end, and sometimes you'll get blindsided, but as long as you are realistic and know that it's the result of past experiences, you can self-talk your way through it and enjoy it while it lasts.

We all have our insecurities. Eventually there will be positive experiences to undo the effects of the bad. It's a sort of emotional conditioning we all go through and putting it in perspective helps combat the crazy.
posted by Fuego at 10:23 AM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Stopping the inner crazy is the hardest thing one can learn to do, and perhaps it is a lifelong journey. You are younger than I was when my mother was my age and I still have bouts of the inner crazy as you call it.

One trick (among the many good ones offered by Countess Elena and xenophile in particular) I am learning is to recognize the fallback "comfortable" negative scripts we run inside our heads about ourselves, even when we've outgrown the person we used to be when that script began.

Learning to nurture and support my "self" will be a lifelong journey and a fruitful one, because it is the only one that I can ensure will be consistent and reliable in its messaging to my "self".

So yes, its the "once (or thrice) burnt, twice shy" syndrome or emotional conditioning, but find rituals and habits to self reinforce the positive for yourself, for through the journey and the course of your life, these habits will be useful as a inner directed compass of groundedness than outer mediated ones (i.e. the next boyfriend etc)

Easy to say and hard to practice but perhaps that's the only way.

And recognizing moments when you set yourself up for negative reinforcement also helps as you can then prevent it.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 10:38 AM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

It okay to not be in love. The important thing is to tell the person you are with and break it off so that the other person may find the one who does.

You are so young- you will change a lot over the coming years and sometimes you may not/may stop loving the person you are with. Your past is not a reflection on you! That's just how things work.

If you look at the upside of things, now and in the future, you will be just fine.
posted by xm at 10:53 AM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

The way to combat this sort of fear is not to try to convince yourself that what you're fearing won't happen, for three reasons. First, you won't be able to. Second, the reason you won't be able to is because it's not true. It could happen - he could hurt you, the same way as you've been hurt in the past, or in a different way. I am not saying he will, but he could. People can be assholes and relationships can end badly, sometimes four times in a row.

Third, it reinforces to you that your fear is legitimate. In other words, it takes as a given that the idea of the relationship ending is so horrible that you're right to be terrified - but don't worry, it won't happen anyway. But what if it does happen? Then you're like, "Well, fuck! Thanks, self, for lying to me and leaving me totally unprepared for this turn of events," which leads to "I'm so stupid, I can't believe I actually trusted him and thought it wouldn't happen again," and so on and so forth and you enter your next relationship even more awash in a sea of anxiety and self-doubt.

So, convincing yourself that it won't happen won't work. What you need to do is convince yourself that if it were to happen again - if we were to pull the same shit as those past losers - you would get through it. This, you actually stand a chance of believing, because it's the truth. It would suck and you would be very sad, but you would get through it, just the way you have in the past. You'd learn from it and be a stronger, wiser person coming out of it, just like you are now. If you can internalize this, the possibility of a bad breakup will induce much less anxiety (not none, because bad breakups suck and nobody likes to feel sad) because the stakes will be lower.

So please stop telling yourself that you're crazy and irrational for not being able to convince yourself of these untrue things - that he definitely won't hurt you, and that if he did, it would be unbearable. You're smarter and stronger than that. It's the truth, you just have to learn to believe it.
posted by granted at 10:56 AM on August 21, 2010 [9 favorites]

Don't fight the phobia. Accept it gracefully. Embrace the risk.
Love can't be promised, bought, earned, guaranteed, or "decided."
Men are just as powerless in the face of it as women.
Accept that every relationship becomes a third entity that is not completely within your control.
Learn to understand and forgive your ex boyfriends for not feeling that spark and wish them well in life.
Zen out and relax.

All easier said than done.
posted by Nixy at 10:59 AM on August 21, 2010

Every relationship ends. All of them. Even if you live happily ever after.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:37 AM on August 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

It's a reasonable phobia. Guys do this all the time. At a lot later ages than 21, too. Unfortunately, this is the risk you take when dating, period. Some guys just kind of "snap" and magically wake up over you.

There's really nothing you can do about it, though, except avoid dating. Some guys just do that, and some don't, and you only find out the hard way.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:07 PM on August 21, 2010

This is a hell of a thing to deal with in your head. I remember when I called off my wedding a week and a half before the date with my bf of nearly 7 years, I told my mom, "I didn't have a Plan B. I invested everything in this relationship." It sounds like something out of a cheesy Lifetime movie but she replied, "Nobody has a Plan B. You can't love someone like that."

Three months ago I ended my second longest relationship. I can completely sympathize with being all up in your own head. I'm starting to date and I have been fighting not to be the clingy, crazy new gf. If I don't get a text for a long stretch during the day, I am learning to tell myself, "Don't imagine the worst. She works nights and she has to sleep sometime." You have to be willing to have a dialog with yourself when you feel crazy and as mentioned before, tell your partner too. "Due to my past, this certain thing kinda makes me freak out." Unless he's an ass, he should understand.

You're not going to cure it. You can only learn to work with it I think.
posted by CwgrlUp at 1:33 PM on August 21, 2010

What's with all this "love" business? Are they professing it of their own accord, with no pressure and away from the bedroom?
posted by rhizome at 3:22 PM on August 21, 2010

You will get hurt again. I think that's another one of those things - along with accepting that every relationship we ever have will end - which it takes a while to really grasp.

Relationships aren't about never being hurt. You get to determine the level of risk you take when engaging other people, but relationships - whether with friends, family or lovers - are never risk-free. And more often than not it's our own expectations which set us up for hurt - looking at people for how we think they "should" be rather than accepting them for who they really are.

Take care that you're not falling for the "potential" you see in these guys and expecting that they'll change in directions which would make them perfect for you. It sounds like you may be falling hard and fast just as these guys are doing and doing so based on the "L" word being said rather than how the relationship is evolving.

One tip for the future. When the word "love" comes up, get clear on exactly what the person saying it means. It's a word onto which people project their own meanings - don't take for granted that it means the same thing for your partner as it does for you. And especially don't assume that a young guy saying it means he's planning a long-term future with you - he may very well mean something totally different.
posted by Lolie at 5:49 PM on August 25, 2010

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