I want to want you, not need you
February 28, 2012 5:22 AM   Subscribe

After a one and a half year period of celibacy and a general holiday from romance I am starting to see someone I really like. Can you help me deal with a whole lot of anxiety and needyness surrounding this?

I'm very sorry for the bullet points but here goes. Relevant bits:

*I have a very long history of anxiety related issues, which have sometimes led to depression. Much of the last year and a half, mentioned above, was spent dealing with this - through therapy (mostly through CBT I think, but I don't know all the terms), self reflection, talking with others, etc. I'm more aware of my anxiety now than I ever have been and generally I feel it is well controlled and that I am healthy and fairly well balanced.

*Previous to the aforementioned romance holiday I was in a 12 year relationship (married for four-ish) that was co-dependent and very unhealthy towards the end. Leaving that was probably the hardest thing I've ever done, but I'm certain it was absolutely necessary.

*I really, really, would like a functional, secure relationship that values the independence of both of us as well as nurtures each other. I have a number of such relationships with other close friends, but they're not romantic.

*I am getting quite anxious when texts aren't returned quickly, when we don't have a future activity arranged, when I don't know what she is thinking and so on. Some of this is probably just the usual start of relationship nervousness, I feel many elements of it are unhealthy though. I really object to my needyness and insecurity. (And really, why am I so insecure? I'm good at being happily single for god's sake.)

*My usually effective coping strategies (self talk, reflection, talking with others and so on) are not working as well as they normally do.

*My new relationship is with a person I find I have an enormous amount in common with, talk well with, find very attractive and is just as into me. We've talked a lot, made out and know there is something in the future for us but we are not yet really established or even formally together. Unfortunately, the sense that there is a great deal of potential is not helping, I've slightly less recently been out on a couple of other, less promising, dates without any anxiety beyond nerves. As an identity she's kind of irrelevant to this though, it's more about me and my actions/reactions. She seems to be secure and un-anxious.

*Seeing my psychologist would be good but due to her bookings, my currently insane worklife, a growing relationship (ha!) and just the general insanity of life, it's not very easy to do at the moment.

*Me: mid 30's, male, in Australia.

Advice? I'm all ears.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Don't be so hard on yourself. It's not outrageous to be anxious the way you describe at the beginning of a relationship. Part of it clearly comes from lack of information, likely causing you to draw your own conclusions, most of them negative. As with other areas of life, better to start by acknowledging you don't actually know what's going on with that. Unfortunately, you won't get all the benefits that usually come with this. If I'm making assumptions about my boss's actions, and am able to stop myself and go to my boss to get accurate information, my anxiety is likely to be assuaged. You can't ask her why she didn't write you back, why she hasn't made future plans, etc., all the time, or you'll seem as needy as you feel right now. But if you just keep reminding yourself how bad we humans are at figuring out others' actions, you should be at least a little better off.
posted by troywestfield at 5:56 AM on February 28, 2012

My advice when faced with things like this is: focus on the concrete. You can't help how you feel (much less how your partner or would-be partner feels), but you can control how you act and respond to how the other person acts. It's probably a little early for a "I get nervous when I don't get a quick response to texts," but you could say something like "my schedule is really crazy right now (true), and I would like to spend time with you (true), so could we block out, say, Tuesday evening to do something even though we don't have a clear plan what just now?" That might take some of the pressure off, ease your anxiety, and not have you feel like you are making a bad impression. I had a year in grad school where my partner and I had a standing Saturday night date because 3pm Saturday -- 11am on Sunday was the only time slot we both knew we would be free. We did a lot of different stuff during that time slot each week (movies, dinners, shopping, laundry, running errands, removing animal carcasses brought in by the cat, just hanging out), but we kept that time slot open for each other and figured out the details as the night got closer.

Additionally, remember: anxiety is normal, and even excessive anxiety doesn't make you a bad or undesirable person -- you need to find ways to manage those feelings, and a little honesty and communication helps. You don't have to go to Full Disclosure to express what you want, after all.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:03 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Also, I think communication is important.

When I first got together with my long term partner, he didn't return texts promptly. It drove me nuts. I was absolutely convinced that he wasn't very interested in me.

Instead, he worked in a very different environment than I did, where it was not appropriate to access your cellphone at work-you had a work phone if anyone important needed to call you, and if not, you'd better be working. He also doesn't believe in visibly texting when out with other people. I, on the other hand, work in an environment where I need to constantly access my phone, and it carries over to personal time.

Communication helped solve this. GenjiandProust may be right that it's a little soon to say "I get nervous when I don't get a quick response to texts", but one thing you could do is also observe. When out with her, does she check her phone a lot, or does she leave it in her bag? It may be that she just isn't an obsessive texter. Many are not.
posted by corb at 7:06 AM on February 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

You sounds completely normal to me, in love and excited, it's totally fine to be anxious. She's important to you, you don't want to blow this, she could be your life partner if your gut is right.

Others have given you good advice on how to deal, but just know there's nothing pathological going on from what you're saying.

It's a lovely anticipation, revel in it.
posted by Dragonness at 8:02 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

A really good book that got me through this kind of early-stage relationship flailing was If The Buddha Dated. It's not "all Buddhism all the time," despite the title; there is some discussion of Buddhsim in there, but it's a more practical approach and not "here is the mantra you will need" or whatever. It got me to focus more on examining my wacked-out feelings rather than letting them carry me away, which was a tremendous help; rather than being all "omigod he didn't return my text right away what does that mean is he losing interest in me aaaaack", I was thinking, "okay, his not returning my text has me really nervous. That's interesting, that this would be the kind of thing to make me nervous. I wonder what is behind that nervousness? Or IS this nervousness, or really fear? If it's fear, what's behind it? Or maybe....is it just excitement?..Hmm."

That actually helped a lot -- it both distracted me from the gut-level flailing long enough for me to wait until he DID return my texts five minutes later (instead of three), and it also helped me discover a couple of bad habits I'd had ("oh, huh, I'm freaking out because Evil Ex From College used to pull this shit, and I'm forgetting that Evil Ex From College was doing it for different rasons. But THAT'S why I'm so freaked out.") and I could work on that in myself (and also communicate with my current SO better).

I also found it a refreshing change from the whole "men are like THIS and women are like THAT, amirite" tone a lot of other books take. The author even comes out and says that those kinds of books are bullshit.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:11 AM on February 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Being anxious is fine. Acting on this and expecting other people and the world to accommodate is not.

Aren't there times in your day when you wouldn't necessarily respond instantly to a text from her?

It might help if you worked out a schedule so you could tell yourself that you can expect her to respond in X amount of time and them you have a time period where there's no reason to be convinced that she's found someone new or been kidnapped by human trafficers or whatever you might fear. And then after that time has passed, you know you can chill so you can keep cool until she does respond.

Your own feelings are fine, but you need to respect her and let her be. What if you text her while she's out with catty work girlfriends and she doesn't want to respond because she thinks you are special and doesn't want to share the special with catty work friends?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:14 AM on February 28, 2012

As you've said, you really like her so you feel there's a lot at stake, hence your anxiety.

She seems to be secure and un-anxious.

This is also probably contributing to your anxiety - she seems so secure and unanxious and you feel so needy and full of anxiety - but maybe she's feeling the same way you are. Anxiety operates on fuel - comparing how you feel to how she appears is fuel for that fire.

I have an enormous amount in common with, talk well with, find very attractive and is just as into me

Thinking about this constantly instead of worrying about how long she's taking to respond to texts or wondering what she's thinking will alleviate a lot of that anxiety. The negatives here are inconsequential when you compare them to the positives.

We've talked a lot, made out and know there is something in the future for us but we are not yet really established or even formally together.

Uncertainty makes us anxious - but very few things in life are ever fully certain. Put your emphasis on enjoying the talking and the making out and just see where it goes.
posted by mleigh at 2:10 PM on February 28, 2012

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