help me breathe in public
November 16, 2010 6:18 PM   Subscribe

i have social anxiety with my sweetie when we're out in public at crowded events because of past baggage. looking for some tips (more inside).

i am over a year into a wonderful relationship with good communication, lots of love and physical and non-physical intimacy.

it did not start that way, though. our first few months were:

1. we hook up after a long build up of emotions and communication (talking to each other every day for hours).
2. my sweetie disappears a week later and starts dating someone for a few months.
3. my sweetie realizes that i'm the person they're in love with and that they were scared to be happy (lots of challenging,painful previous relationships).
4. i also later learn that the week before hooking up with me, my sweetie hooked up with someone else.
5. a year and a half later, we're here.

all this, after really good conversations, was related to my sweetie being scared and confused about me, and some other factors.

we have worked really really hard to build a solid relationship filled with trust. i have much much more trust of my sweetie, each and every day. when i have raised some fears, she always responds exactly how i wish she would without my asking. we're really compatible that way and care about each other (and ourselves).

here is the challenge:

before dating her, i was coupled with someone for 3 years who flirted with everyone in sight, kissed other people (while wasted), really hurt me in public. same with someone before that who cheated on me.

now, when i go out in public, i get nervous when my sweetie people watches. she's not looking for anyone else. she's just interested in the world. other people's interactions. funky fashion. etc. as someone who isn't a really big people watcher, it's a little difficult for me to understand but i'm working on it. i don't want her to change.

that said, i still get really anxious, that she'll see someone cute and run off. i know this makes no logical sense, but it's my true feeling. i am in therapy and i am working on this, but what i'm really looking for are some tricks/tips you may have used/may use to help me snap out of my anxiety when i'm in public and this happens (decreasingly so). not only do i personally hate it, but it makes my sweetie feel my distance and worry that she has done something wrong. i have a fear of being controlling or of making my sweetheart's world smaller. and i really think that this is something that requires my growth because i do trust her. when i get anxious, as is common with anxiety, my fear takes over and my ability to stay grounded disappears.

what i have tried doing is say to myself, "funny self, you're feeling distrustful now, or worried, that's ok, i honor that feeling, and now i can move on." often that works, but sometimes i can't move on until my sweetie checks in on me or gives me a moment of attention, and then i snap out of it.

thank you for reading all of this. i appreciate hearing your tips.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps you could exchange some kind of trinkets of your mutual commitment and affection? You could use it to remind yourself how you got to where you are with her and help snap yourself out of it without her actually coming back to you physically. Yes, this is one of the many purposes of wedding rings, but it doesn't need to be that. Something personal, maybe on a necklace you can wear discreetly all the time, or a watch with an engraving, or even a special pebble in your pocket?

People watching makes perfect sense to me, but then again I've always done it. Do you have any particular interests or hobbies? Say you're really into, I don't know, trains. Okay, so, when you see a bunch of trains they're interesting and you want to look at the differences between them and spend time investigating their histories and see how the routes interact and so-on. Well, perhaps you can start to think of your S.O.'s people watching as similar to that? That's really what it is. She wants to get to know their details and see as much variety in people as she can, because that's her hobby, and it's an admittedly ever-changing, infinitely scaling one. But just because you have a thing for trains doesn't mean you're going to disappear and leave her for a trans-continental train journey, right? You'd most likely invite her along!
posted by Mizu at 6:35 PM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

My first response is that your anxiety seems like a fairly reasonable reaction to being hurt badly by your sweetheart abandoning you several times in the first months of your relationship (compounding the hurt from previous relationship betrayals). It makes me wonder if your feelings about her actions from a year ago are as resolved as you're saying they are. To me, it seems more than fair for you to need a moment of her attention to feel anchored after all that you've been through.

Have you talked it all over with your sweetie? Could you explain to her that you trust her and don't want to control her or constrict her world, but you're feeling a lot of anxiety because of how she treated you early on? And you want to let it go, have every intention of letting it go, but it's not something you can force, so in the meantime, you'd appreciate it if she would help you out by checking in on you, or whatever it is that you need. It's okay for you to need support.

On preview, I like the idea of having something tangible to affirm your connection and commitment.
posted by zahava at 6:38 PM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Enlist her help. Explain all this to her and let yourself be vulnerable and open (also an important step). Say you don't want her to change, you need her help to change yourself.
Like this: whenever you're feeling nervous about her attention wandering, tell her. "I'm feeling forlorn again!" (it helps me to use a humorously pathetic word, but pick your own.) Express the feeling, or you can squeeze her hand or some other code between you two. When you say this, have her turn and give you a hug and say "I love you" - and go back to people watching. Or even better, gossip with you about what she's seeing. Perhaps you'll start enjoying it eventually as a shared hobby.

That's just one suggestion. Enlist her help in reminding you that your fears are unfounded in whatever way both of you can agree on.
posted by Omnomnom at 11:09 PM on November 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
Thank you for all of the suggestions so far - they make me feel as though I can do something about this. I look forward to any other suggestions that people may have.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:03 AM on November 17, 2010

I had at least three long term relationships end after one of us got back from a vacation alone. When I had the chance to go to Europe for the first time, I was more scared for my newly started relationship than I was excited for the trip. I had visions of something happening while I was gone that would make the BF leave me. I broke down and told him all this, while sobbing like an idiot in the international terminal at O'Hare. He dealt with it vary graciously, as he has most of my baggage-laden insecurities. We're still together nearly six years and several solo trips later.

So I say tell her how you feel about it. If she respects and cares about the relationship like you do, she should want to help quell any insecurities and build on the relationship.

While she's people watching, I'd also try and engage her about what she's seeing. That way when you think she's looking at an attractive person because she wants to be with them, she can tell you that she's pondering their choice of book to read or footwear.
posted by youngergirl44 at 9:32 AM on November 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

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