How do I learn to just chill out?
May 12, 2005 1:34 PM   Subscribe

Any time I'm not with or in contact with this person, I start to get antsy. I can't stop thinking about the person and find it hard to do anything but go into some kind of wait mode or worse yet, try to get in touch even if I know the person's busy. I already know that I need to learn to calm down and do other things. I just want to know how.

We're in a relationship and have been in one for some time. I'm sure that my behavior doesn't make things easy for this person and I would very much like to learn how to get my mind off obsessing about this person whenever I can't be in touch.

I suppose what I'm really asking for here is a set of tips or ideas for getting my mind off that person and on to other things so that I have a more healthily balanced life and don't look/act quite so much like a freak.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
We're in a relationship and have been in one for some time.

How long is that exactly?
posted by Witty at 1:36 PM on May 12, 2005

find additional interests that take your mind away from that person.

otherwise, your constant attention on that person - whether when you are with them or away from them - will drive them away. this is also known as 'giving space' to that person. no one is attracted to obsession. no one enjoys being smothered.

perhaps I am responding a little harshly - only because I've been smothered as a child, and I have been obsessed-over as an adult.

seriously - and urgently - find yourself a hobby, an interest, a course that will take your mind away from this person and allow you to have a balanced relationship with them.
posted by seawallrunner at 1:54 PM on May 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

Also, genders, please.
posted by redteam at 1:56 PM on May 12, 2005

Behavioral substitution, pure and simple. You MUST find another behavior to do when you get that feeling, and you must do it every time you get that feeling.

What should it be? Your choice - whatever you like - knitting, walking, stretching, learning to juggle, something that will consume your attention, distracting it from the other person.

If you can't figure this out or make it work on your own, you might consider seeing a therapist for help with your anxiety.
posted by jasper411 at 2:01 PM on May 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

What Witty said. If a some time is weeks, then don't worry this feeling will probably naturally subside along with the first flush of the relationship. If a some time is a year or more. . . .
posted by caddis at 2:04 PM on May 12, 2005

I agree with what everyone's basically said above -- if this is a new relationship (less than a couple of months), don't sweat it too much: it's probably just the endorphins of that "honeymoon period." If it's a longer, more substantial relationship, you've got to figure out how to back off -- smothering behavior is completely detrimental to a healthy, adult relationship. (I also agree with the suggestion that you may want to consider therapy for your anxiety.)

But I don't think it's as easy as simply telling you to get a hobby. If you don't know why you're feeling so antsy, knitting or jogging might distract you, but it won't address what's making you feel the need to compulsively contact your significant other. Essentially, you need to demystify the antsy feeling itself.

Part of the answer lies in figuring out what seems to be making you so nervous. Is it that you worry the other person is doing something threatening to your relationship -- not necessarily something as dramatic as cheating on you (or interacting with someone he/she could cheat on you with), but maybe just spending time on interactions and activities which you feel left out of? In other words, do you worry that he/she is enjoying his/her work/hobbies/friends/solitary time more than he/she enjoys your company? In that case, it seems to me that the compulsive contact-seeking is about wanting reassurance that you matter to him/her.

That seems to me to be a different kettle of fish, at least in some ways, than a scenario in which you're perfectly fine with his/her other pursuits, friends, etc. -- but in which you feel empty or scared or bored (or whatever) when you're not in contact with this person. In other words, contact with him/her helps you to feel grounded to some feeling about yourself that you like -- that you're attractive or smart or cool, etc. In that case, it seems that what the compulsive contact is about is getting some sort of validation/self-confidence boost.

So make a plan the next time you feel driven to call this person. Make a deal with yourself that you'll wait 5 minutes. Expect it to be uncomfortable in some way -- but tell yourself that it's okay to feel uncomfortable -- it's only 5 minutes. You can survive 5 minutes. You won't die. You won't fall apart. That antsy feeling will emerge and you'll want to make contact in order to get the antsy-ness to go away -- just like scratching an itch. But make a deal that you will endure it. Walk around the block, or make a cup of tea, or stare at the clock if you must, but get through the 5 minutes.

While you're doing that, try to listen to what the antsy feeling seems to "saying" to you -- that you're not loveable? That you're not good enough? That he/she wants to leave you? That you're only interesting when he/she's around? These are all actual verbal thoughts that you can actually confront. They may be totally irrational or scary, but then at least you can start getting to the heart of what is driving your behavior, instead of simply reacting to some amorphous discomfort.

Got through the 5 minutes? Good. Congratulate yourself, then do it for 10.
posted by scody at 2:21 PM on May 12, 2005 [8 favorites]

I'm not quite sure the problem is reliant on your behavior. Ask yourself if you have these obsessive tendencies with every person you've dated, or just with the current one --.and be prepared to examine if this unhealthy obsession resides entirely with you.

Here is my anecdote to explain: I experienced a twinge of what you described with only one person in my extensive dating timeline. The guy (lets call him "Machiavelli", ok?) was a pedantic, smarmy, pandering asshole (can you tell it ended badly?) who was smarter than me, boasted an ivy league education, extensive travel, and was handsomer than any guy I'd been with until that point. This is what made me somewhat dependant, as it nominally demoted me to the inferior party (just stick with me on this one). He was also a ‘scenester’, so he played it off like he was down with everything ‘sceney’, while I was into fairly nerdier concepts, so it made me seem lamer (in his glazed eyes).

In the beginning, Machiavelli always wanted to hang out, but rarely made it was I that always had to plan and then contact him. During these times of necessary contact (to let him know event details and reservations), I noticed that Machiavelli wouldn't make himself available, which made me clingy and I was always wondering his whereabouts, or if he would indeed meet me at the preordained times. He was also vague and nomadic regardless of the fact that we were in a verbally committed relationship. He was also taciturn, but enumerated that he wanted a relationship with me. So when I turned toward him for the benefits of a relationship, he was standoffish and curt. He *made* me clingy and obsessive because he wasn’t giving me anything close to what I needed out of a partner, but at the same time, he made it clear that he was my boyfriend. Which is completely unfair and totally shitty. He was extremely manipulative…and he gave me just enough to reassure me that we were together, but not enough to validate a real, healthy relationship. I realized this after a few weeks of distracted work, as I would sit at my desk and just stare at my inbox…waiting, waiting, waiting for a message from him. I've never been like this before in my life, and it left me with enough disgust to break it off with him abruptly. Since him, I've dated plenty, and have never reverted back to these maddening patterns.

So you may not have a proclivity to respond like this in healthy relationships, and it might just be the person who you are with that is making you act this way. I’m not going to suggest a hobby, because I have felt the depth of obsession and there is nothing that can distract you from it. I say get out of the relationship because it doesn’t appear healthy. Find someone who finds your clinginess adorable and lovely. Personally, I don’t think there is anything wrong with clinginess, but I’m a twin, so we’re used to that sort of intrinsic dependency…
posted by naxosaxur at 2:29 PM on May 12, 2005 [14 favorites]

naxosaxur makes an excellent point -- that there are some relationships in which one partner specifically engenders "obsessive" behavior in the other by their purposeful lack of availability. If your significant other seems ambivalent/unreliable about the relationship in general, has a tendency to disappear when you get close, then suddenly reappear (warmly and enthusiastically, of course) when you've started to pull back yourself, etc., then I agree that there may be a different dynamic entirely going on. If it seems like it's more a power struggle where the other person uses unavailability or lack of commitment to control you in some way, then it's not about knitting -- it's about ending the relationship. This is a somewhat cheesy but also somewhat helpful book which a coworker of mine swore by when she was getting out a relationship like that.
posted by scody at 2:46 PM on May 12, 2005 [2 favorites]

This is again one of those questions I myself really, really want an answer to.

The only thing I can say is, the more secure I am with the relationship, the less I need constant reassurance.

The advice I tell myself (which I'm never able to act on):
* Chill out. People think you're sexier if you're a little unavailable. Just stare at the phone and Don't.Call. People who call a lot are needy and therefore not hot.
* Find someone who needs attention and reassurance a lot too. (This was the only reason me and my ex stayed together as long as we did. No one else could put up with my intensity. No one else would give him as much attention -- negative or positive -- as I did.)
* Like yourself. I mean, really learn to like yourself. If you're comfortable with who you are, you don't need to turn to someone else for constant reassurance.

Of course, I fail miserably at all these and pester my boyfriend until he's ready to throw things at my head to just make me shut up, so I'm not saying it's easy.
posted by Gucky at 2:51 PM on May 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

anon: try getting seriously into exercising, it's great for diverting your mind from obsessing over these kind of things.
Naxosaxur, I think I am starting to obsess over you, time for a workout!
posted by aisforal at 2:56 PM on May 12, 2005

It's possible that you're acting so needy because you actually are needy; the way to get over that is to learn to like being with yourself, and you have to do it for yourself, and not for "that person".

There are no simple tips to get there, of yourse; you can't trick yourself into being distracted when you're obsessing about someone. But having said that, here are a few things you should do: Get (more) friends. Get hobbies. Join a club. Take a class. Learn to like hanging out by yourself. Grow old(er). Remember that all of the time you spend waiting for someone to give you attention could be spent engaging in interesting activities that will make you a more attractive person, and will make the time you spend with others that much better. Unfortunately for you, you'll find that it's much easier to learn to do this stuff when you're single and not worrying about whether "this person" is going to call you for a date on Friday.

In the end, I think maturity and experience (although I may be assuming that you're much younger than you actually are) will give you the skills you need to cope with this kind of thing. You're going to have to graduate from the School of Hard Knocks with a degree in Unhealthy Relationships, just like the rest of us.

And, yes, if you're dealing with a manipulative jerk then you need to get out of the relationship. You can love yourself and set boundaries, but people who are that self-obsessed make shitty partners.
posted by stefanie at 3:07 PM on May 12, 2005 [2 favorites]

scody and naxos make excellent points -- I'd especially think it's essential that you try as scody says to listen to yourself, to what you feel when you're getting antsy and antsier. try to avoid calling the person and listen to what the feeling of antsiness tells you. the answer to your problem -- well, a big chunk of it -- is there. but only you can figure that out.
posted by matteo at 3:11 PM on May 12, 2005

I had an SO like this and it made me completely miserable. Some things you might try:
-Set up certain times or methods of contact with your partner. If you can look forward to calling at 9, it gives you a concrete thing to anticipate instead of a general deferred desire. It also limits the smothering effect that many daily calls or emails will produce.

-If you have succeeded in suppressing your urges to contact your partner, ask about his/her day. Most people have a schedule. Then in the future you can be aware of what that person is doing at any given point and instead of contact them can simply remind yourself that he/she's at the gym, or at work, or watching TV. You don't need to call and see what's up if you already know exactly what's going on.

-Be aware that some people find this sort of constant contact to be a form of monitoring or control. Remind yourself that contacting your partner constantly may be a source of distress. Is it worth hearing his/her voice if that voice is sad or angry? If so, you're putting your need for gratification above your partner's feelings.

-If you are getting in touch with him/her because you care and not because you want to check up on them, is there something ou can do to show you're thinking of them that you can produce later? Instead of taking up knitting in general, knit him/her a scarf. Channel your obsessive energy productively if possible.

If this behavior is getting out of your control, consider seeing a therapist. If there's some reason in your past that makes you want to have this level of constant contact, talking it out and confronting it might help.
posted by amber_dale at 3:42 PM on May 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

well said, stefanie.

To build on what she said, I've noticed there's an inverse proportion between how much I like myself and how much time I spend thinking about my boyfriend. So the more I like myself, the less I fixate on him. I wonder if that's what's going on here.

Regardless, this definitely sounds like it needs addressing- and I'm glad you're trying to do something about it.
posted by elisabeth r at 4:59 PM on May 12, 2005

I've been on both sides of this, I think.

I like amber_dale's advice - sometimes just doing something that feels like caring for the other person makes it easier to not obsess. Like cooking them dinner, fixing a broken thing of theirs, making them a mix cd. While you are doing it say to yourself, "self, sometime soon my sweetie will experience my caring gesture. In the meantime, best to occupy the mind with something else."

I would also like to point out that needing a certain amount of attention is totally valid. Work out with your sweetie how much attention works for both of you (compromise may be necessary).

Then, spend more of your time focusing on developing your own self. If you are completely obsessed, you will get boring - cultivate other hobbies not just for distraction's sake but for the sake of being a more interesting partner.
posted by mai at 1:35 AM on May 13, 2005

Take your mind off it, read Dante's Inferno, Canto 5 (circle 2).
posted by stbalbach at 8:42 AM on May 13, 2005

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