"Breakup" anxiety
February 13, 2011 11:47 PM   Subscribe

Help me alleviate post-"breakup" anxiety. Not as complicated as some situations of this sort, but I'm still confused.

I recently had a "breakup" with a friend of the opposite gender. While we weren't in a relationship, it still feels like a breakup.

Background, because I'm not sure what's relevant and what's not: We're both second-year students at the same university. Mostly due to both of us having busy schedules, we didn't hang out too often, but we did some events together - most recently, we started collaborating (with a few other people) on preparing to host a university-wide event, which is the center of this confusion. As of roughly two weeks ago, she stopped returning phone calls, but I attributed this primarily to her busy schedule.

Recently I got an e-mail in which she complained that she felt as though she were being harassed - that I called her multiple times daily, interrupted her meals with others, and wandered the halls of her dormitory. The first of these was true - I called her, but it was primarily because she wasn't returning calls, and, since I wasn't getting a response, I was assuming that she was just busy at the time. (Looking back, it was effectively partial reinforcement with a variable schedule - I couldn't predict when she was busy and wasn't, so I called relatively frequently with the aims of maximizing my chances of reaching her.) The second is a little ambiguous - I occasionally did join her for meals in the cafeteria when she was eating with others, but I didn't feel that I was intruding on anything and there were times when she did ask that I not join her, because she was having a private conversation with another person - so I assumed the other times were welcoming. The third claim here is patently untrue - This semester, I've only ever gone into the dorm that she's in with a specific location in mind, such as the fitness center or a different friend's rooms. I'm concerned about that allegation because it means that some level of misinformation has reached her, and I'm just not sure how to interpret an accusation like that.

While I am concerned about the resolution of this situation, and could definitely use advice there, what concerns me more is the physical anxiety I feel as a result of this. As much as I know that this situation will eventually resolve one way or another, I can't shake the physical effects of the anxiety present in the ambiguity. Breathing exercises and so forth aren't being particularly helpful, and I'm having trouble sleeping.
posted by LSK to Human Relations (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It's a little hard to chime in on this type of question without having a firm grasp on your disposition and the exact nature of your relationship with this other person. Perhaps this is a total misunderstanding, or perhaps it isn't. It is also possible that your friend is not being entirely forthcoming as to why her relationship with you has changed. And it's possible that there are forces beyond your control that have made things so.

Either way, the safest thing to do is dedicate yourself to giving this person a lot of space. The claim that you are loitering in her dormitory is at the very least an indication of a total breakdown in communication. Perhaps you could issue a short written apology for making her feel harassed, and if there are any specific clarifications you'd like to make about things you've done in the past, you can do that too, but in a polite way. This is an adult thing to do.

Misunderstandings happen and circumstances change. Try to let go of your expectations of what this relationship is supposed to look like a little bit and carry yourself with some grace through this difficult time. For now, if you see her, maybe don't talk to her. Whatever the case may be, ask yourself how you would like to be treated in this situation if the roles were reversed, and take those actions. Figuring out the best thing to do and doing it is a good way to relieve anxiety.

In the meantime, don't obsess too much. I say this from experience, lying in bed gripped by idle thinking is a bad habit. Knock it out. You need to eat, sleep and hang out with your other friends. People love you and nothing you're feeling hasn't been felt by somebody else before. After you've squared this away with your friend as best you can, meet some new people. Do something fun. That's a life skill and this is a good time to exercise it.
posted by phaedon at 12:33 AM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

For right now, I recommend a super hot shower, then some light stretching exercises, and some mindless TV until you're relaxed enough to sleep. Repeat as necessary in the nights to come, until you forget about this.

To resolve the other situation, I think an emailed reply saying, "Oh, my apologies--apparently I am just clueless. It frankly didn't occur to me that voicemail or your missed calls list would be sufficient for reaching you when I kept calling. And it didn't occur to me that I was intruding at lunch. The dorm thing is just a misunderstanding--I have another friend there and walk that way to the gym. I'm sorry you had to bring this to my attention."
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:40 AM on February 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like she was sending signals that she didn't want you around her and you didn't pick up on that, which made her feel like you were harassing her. Maybe telling you multiple times that she's having a private conversation was meant as a hint to leave her alone in general, not just that one time. Another variation of ask vs. guess culture? It sounds like a misunderstanding.

You don't say how you replied to the email, but I think the best thing you can do is apologize, explain you were totally oblivious and promise never to contact her again, if that's feasible. I wouldn't ask her for anything - if she's a guesser, the moment that she feels forced to be explicit is the precise moment where you become a harasser to her rather than just an annoying guy. The more you ask for explicit instructions on what to do now, the more you harass her. Don't try to explain or fix it, don't talk to any of her friends unless you have to, stay out of her dorm for a few weeks if you can even if you have good reasons to go there. You don't want more misunderstandings. You might consider proactively contacting whichever department at the university deals with conduct issues in the dorms and let them know what's going on, and remember that you can use your university's counseling services if you need to.

For anxiety: in this lecture, Buddhist teacher Mingyur Rinpoche talks about his experiences with panic attacks and how he overcame them. I hope it's helpful for you.
posted by AlsoMike at 1:34 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I agree about giving her a lot of space.

As for the anxiety: it sometimes helps me in situations of misunderstandings to remind myself: "I am not that person." Sure, someone out there thinks that I am a stalker, stupid, racist, whatever the misunderstanding is about, but their bad feelings are about someone who I am not. I really worry about people disliking me, and that's where my anxiety comes from, so I just have to keep remembering that the person they dislike is NOT me: it's some sort of construct they invented in their head due to the misunderstanding that occurred.

And the best way to make them like me again is not to be that person even a little bit.

Good luck.
posted by lollusc at 4:18 AM on February 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

I would definitely avoid all interaction with her, at least till things settle down. Outside of university this wouldn't be as big a deal, but as AlsoMike has rightly advised, your school is a third party that has a say here and you sure don't want anything to escalate further.

I'm just not sure how to interpret an accusation like that.

Something to bear in mind is your age and hers. If you are second-year and living in the dorms, I'm going to guess you are both somewhere in the vicinity of 19-20.

Platonic relationships between opposite sexes can be complicated and confusing. It could very well be that your friend has somehow received a signal that you are now interested in her romantically, and are now pursuing her. If one doesn't have a lot of experience with that kind of relationship, it can be easy to mentally default to what one knows: "LSK is interacting with me in a way I don't like. It must mean he's in love with me."

And of course for many young people, if a friend of the same gender did the exact same actions, it would not get misinterpreted. That's not equitable at all, of course, but it's sort of one of those life experiences that just come with time.
posted by pineapple at 5:50 AM on February 14, 2011

Best answer: About the multiple phone call thing: Next time, when you call someone and miss them, DON'T call them repeatedly trying to catch them again. All cell phones have a missed-call notification that lets the person know who called; calling them repeatedly in order to catch them on anything that's not urgently important can get disproportionately irritating and annoying. I'm going through the same experience on the other end of having a friend/acquaintance who calls or texts me almost every day for non-crucial reasons, and it has gotten to the point where if I see his number come up on my cell phone, I'm conflicted as to whether I even want to pick up and answer. I'm fine with seeing this guy as a distant friend/acquaintance and occasionally talking to him, but calling multiple times just gets annoying, especially when I don't feel like talking at the moment or don't want to become a slave to my phone.

This situation may actually cause her to become annoyed and hypersensitive to any other situations in which you try to contact/approach her, which explains her disproportionate annoyance at you joining her for meals and simply passing through her hallway. Basically, she now has an impression of you as a clingy person (whether justified or not), and any contact you attempt will be put in context of that.

I'm saying all this from personal experience.
posted by qxrt at 6:03 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

what concerns me more is the physical anxiety I feel as a result of this

First, it's normal. Don't beat yourself up about it. Interpersonal stuff can punch you in the gut and be extremely visceral, emotionally unbearable, etc. Don't fight it. Stick with your body. Ride it out. On and off distract yourself for a while, but don't distract yourself too much. Anything that'll turn off your mind and get you in your body, as uncomfortable as your body is right now, will help.

You seem very conscientious, smart, and sensitive, and, even so, these things happen.

Everyone can be oblivious/tone-deaf/blind-spotted sometimes. BUT, this situation does not necessarily have anything to do with you. This could all be about your friend, something happening in her life, whatever.

I think the fastest way to get over the physical stuff is to have a brutally honest conversation with her, which will be awful for both of you, but you'll rapidly start to feel better minutes, hours or 24 hours after you guys talk. BUT, you should stay far, far away until/if/when she approaches you. If she doesn't, then there's something wacky going on with her, this isn't your fault, and you should let her go, don't beat yourself up, don't over think it, and live your life.
posted by zeek321 at 6:27 AM on February 14, 2011

And by brutally honest, I mean, in addition to anything else, tell her you want to sleep with her if you do. You might shit your pants, she might pretend to be incredibly offended, but you'll ultimately feel a lot better than if you never bring it up.
posted by zeek321 at 6:30 AM on February 14, 2011

tell her you want to sleep with her if you do.

That is horrible advice. This girl already told you to stop harassing her. Keep any sexual fantasies you may have to yourself.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:39 AM on February 14, 2011 [16 favorites]

That is horrible advice. This girl already told you to stop harassing her. Keep any sexual fantasies you may have to yourself.

This depends on whether or not they're really friends and whether or not girl is crazy enough to an RA or dean if he says this. Only OP can judge. Bowing out of thread now.
posted by zeek321 at 6:43 AM on February 14, 2011

*to go an RA or dean. Over and out.
posted by zeek321 at 6:44 AM on February 14, 2011

Yeah, if someone is telling you that your attention is unwelcome, DO NOT escalate things by saying you want to sleep with her. In fact I would just cease communications entirely for a while, even skip the apology. Anything you say is liable to be given the least charitable interpretation right now, because she's unhappy with you. Circle back around in a month with an apology.
posted by hermitosis at 7:10 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just jumping in to Nth the importance of not, for any reason and in any way, going sexual with this thing. This is an incredibly bad idea that is 100% guaranteed to make things worse. The less you say to this person and the less you see her in the future, the better. Having brutally honest conversations with people who have made it clear they don't want to deal with you is outright harassment.
posted by facetious at 8:34 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

First, I'm a girl, so I'm responding from that perspective.

Yeah, you were definitely sending her signals she wasn't receptive to. I don't know how long you were friends for before this 'break up', but I'm going to guess not long. If I were to guess I would say you felt you were closer friends than she felt you were for starters. Were you usually part of a larger group when you were together, or did your hangouts occur on a one-on-one basis? If it was the former then I'm betting you were more acquaintances or "group friends" as I call them than good one-on-one friends.

If that IS the case then your calling her likely made her wonder if you were expressing interest in her as 'more than a friend', especially if you hadn't been good one-on-one friends. Your calling repeatedly (multiple times a day? Dude... seriously...) took away any doubt from her end about your intentions AND pushed it over to the creepy end of things. The other things she accused you of were likely reactions to the creep factor created by the multiple phone calls. She wanted to send you a clear message that she was 100% not interested in you.

Opposite gender friendships are often a bit tricky for just such a reason; it is easy for things to be misunderstood (though I'm not convinced she entirely misunderstood the situation...). It is possible that she was overly sensitive to your actions. Maybe she has had difficult with men in the past pursuing her aggressively and therefore immediately jumped to that conclusion with you. Or maybe you weren't fully aware of how your actions were being received. The fact that you are feeling as though it is a 'break up' even though you say yourself you hadn't hung out very often makes me believe that you have a thing for her and you were kind of hoping that maybe you guys could be more than friends. She likely picked up on that vibe prior, and then the calls and everything else just made her all kinds of uncomfortable. If I were her I would have had a very similar reaction.

You need to give her loads of space. If she needs to be contacted in regards to the campus wide event it may be a good plan to delegate that task to a neutral party. And then you need to forgive yourself. I think we've all been an accidental creeper before. I know I have. We get enthusiastic about things or people or new friendships and somehow the enthusiasm gets turned up a little too high for the other person's comforter. It is embarrassing because no one wants to be perceived by anyone as a creeper, but it happens. It happens, but learn from it - don't make multiple calls a day to people unless it is an emergency (call once, leave a message, the end), and maybe wait to be invited to have lunch with people instead of just sitting down with them.

So shrug it off, my friend. Carry on with your life, and rest assured you'll find more friends that share your enthusiasm and girls that will welcome calls and lunch together. :)
posted by gwenlister at 8:36 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

difficulty not difficult, comfort not comforter.... should have proofed prior to posting.
posted by gwenlister at 8:39 AM on February 14, 2011

Best answer: Bottom line: You freaked her out. You called waaaay too much. You didn't need to call often to maximize your chances of reaching her, as you put it. You should have just left a message and maybe followed up with an e-mail. This probably elevated you to "creeper" status in her mind, which would have made joining her for lunch uninvited really inappropriate. And if somebody asked me not to join them because they were having a private conversation, I would take that as a sign I was not welcome and I would be very hesitant to try and join them again in the future. As for hanging around her dorm, you may very well have been there for other reasons, but it's easy to see how her take on this could have been elevated by the phone calls and the lunches.

I get it. You thought you were friends. She clearly had a different take on things. How were you supposed to know?

We had a buddy in grad school that did similar things because he was incapable of reading social cues that would make most people back off. If you were the least bit polite to him or made small talk in the grad office, he would assume you were buddies and add you to his contact list. He added me on MSN and I had to block him after a week or so because every single time I logged on, he immediately popped up with "Hi, what are you doing?" Then he got my home number through the department contact list and called me at home every day, even though we were just acquaintances. Luckily, it wasn't just me - he did this to lots of people. Finally, a couple of people chatted with him privately about this behavior and told him it was not okay and as we had suspected, he had no idea he was doing anything wrong. He was not trying to creep out the women in our department, he was just clueless and lonely.

Your only option here is to stop all contact with her. If you pass her in the hallway, say hi and move along. She has made it crystal clear that she wants nothing to do with you and you need to respect that. Any attempt at contact now, even in the form of an apology, will almost certainly be misconstrued.

Listen, we all have social interactions go awry on us (well, I know I have!) It's how we learn to interact with others. There are many variables here that we don't know about. Maybe she had a stalker in the past and is hyper-sensitive to this sort of thing, who knows? Do not beat yourself up over this. You are not a bad person. Learn from it and move on.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:07 AM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

To reiterate what futureisunwritten said : "Your only option here is to stop all contact with her."

Don't even think of initiating contact with her whatsoever. You may find yourself in deep and serious trouble if you do.

Having trouble sleeping, anxiety, and so on? Distract yourself. Get busy. Exercise.
posted by Xoebe at 10:18 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is absolutely nothing "crazy" about going to someone in authority when someone you feel is being overly attentive to you escalates the issue by doing the stuff zeek321 advises. Please, OP, do not follow that advice.

I have no idea why this person is misinterpreting what you understand as friendly actions. Perhaps she has previously experienced harassment or stalking, and as a result is overcorrecting by setting unusually rigid boundaries with friends. If that's the case, it sucks that you're paying someone else's check there.

But the thing is that that's her thing. You know you weren't harassing or stalking her. So keep not harassing or stalking her and the thing will blow over. Give her space. See the friends who live in her dorm elsewhere for a bit.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:58 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

For the rest of the year, outside of emergencies, try not to let your contact (phone,email,txt, IM) ratio with people go over 1:1. If it hits 2:1, that's ok but stop contacting people once you've contacted them twice. I suspect this advice will serve you very well and like most "rules", there are exceptions but far fewer of them than you probably think.
posted by screamingnotlaughing at 1:21 PM on February 15, 2011

"stop contacting people once you've contacted them twice." This should read "stop contacting people once you've contacted them twice without hearing back from them."
posted by screamingnotlaughing at 1:22 PM on February 15, 2011

I think the calling multiple times a day thing probably made her think you had a thing for her and she isn't interested. It wouldn't be as weird to try her several times in a day if you were calling landlines, but with cell phones, she sees every time you call her, whether you leave a message or not. In the future, you should call once, and maybe leave a voicemail. If you DON'T leave a voice message, you could wait a while and text her IF you were calling to invite her to a specific, time-sensitive thing, like "Hey Becky, just called to see if you wanted to join me and Bob for dinner tonight at 7" (but in textspeak or whatever).
Calling multiple times is really only acceptable if its urgent, like you needed to reach her about an important meeting for the event y'all were working on, or to ask about something important for the event, etc. NOT for personal contact.

I'm a girl, and I can remember guys in your situation in college, still learning the boundaries of "typical" social interactions and I definitely feel for you, since you sound well-intentioned. You might also be reading too much into friendships with girls (seems like for a lot of guys, college is the first time they have real female platonic friends that they hang out with a lot). You say you didn't hang out often because of your busy schedules. It sounds like you never hung out that much with her, and maybe that's because y'all weren't quite as good of friends as you thought.
I'm sure there are/will be other people in college who will want to talk on the phone or text multiple times a day, but that's something you generally build up to after getting close, not at the beginning stages of a friendship.
posted by elpea at 5:58 PM on February 16, 2011

« Older What I really need is a friendly robot who...   |   How to send multiple HTML files as one? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.