How to deal with neediness in a relationship?
April 15, 2012 10:17 PM   Subscribe

How can I deal with neediness in the early stages of a relationship?

It's going to be 2 months that I've been seeing this girl, and so far things are going well, we like each other company and have a good time.

However... since almost day 1, I've been gradually overcome by a feeling of neediness, which I assume is fed by unresolved insecurity. We clicked, and I hadn't had such a good first date in months (or years) and I soon found myself wondering: "Will this pan out? I hope it does. What if it does not? Back to the dating pool misery?" and so on.

As we were seeing each other some more, getting to know each other better both mentally and physically, the neediness increased. Most of it is happening in my head, and by that I mean, I'm not text-bombing her, or smothering her with incessant requests. I know she's busy: finishing law school, finals in a few weeks, bar exam in a few months, big circle of friends, big family. We live about 30 miles apart. I have a few good friends, but my family and closest friends live in a different state, and my social life is not as busy as hers. On top of that, I recently moved to a different job, which has been a big source of stress. Truth is, I completely prioritized her above other things. I think I'm trying to fill in many gaps (former colleagues/friends that I see less frequently, family or other friends that I miss, etc.) with her sole presence. I know it is bad, a relationship killer. I acknowledged it and can control it, but that doesn't mean I feel inner peace or less anxious or just calm and happy with the way things unfold. It's quite the opposite.

And so I'm lost, even wondering how I was doing before I met her... I was doing OK, but in retrospect, my life seemed boring and lacking and at the same time more predictable and comfortable. The lack of visibility and control on this relationship, the fact that I like this girl a lot and feel vulnerable in return, all that sent my stress level to the roof, and that feeds neediness. The rational solution seems easy (expand your social circle, get busier than ever, don't over-think it, let her set the pace, etc.) but my brain just can't register that and I can't get her out of my head.

So my questions would be, how to better deal with these nasty, negative thoughts? I can't be the only one having these thoughts, and if so, how did people in similar situations manage to not blow things up? I truly want this relationship to work out, but I fear bottling up my feelings like I'm doing right now is a recipe for disaster. (Also, just for the sake of completion: I've been initiated to mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques a few weeks back, and though the results in the long, long run may be positive, I'm looking for simple feedback, or tips or else, to cope with that in a medium term situation.)
posted by peterf12 to Human Relations (16 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
See some other people.

I mean, seriously, you have the time to fill. You like the girl you're seeing, that's great, but she doesn't have the time to share with you that you need.

And maybe there is someone out there who, while not being your everything, will give you more than what you're getting now.

It's okay to need and want more. You, of course, can't demand it. But you can seek it.
posted by inturnaround at 10:25 PM on April 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, doll.

I think (from years of experience) that these thoughts and feelings are not "bad" or "wrong" - but they do signal a fundamental incompatibility. That's OK!

Even if you are both lovely, or you feel "hung up" on her... it doesn't matter.

Only YOU matter.

This relationship, for whatever reason, isn't doing it for you.

Let it go.

Better intimacy is around the corner or down the road. Promise.

The perfect for you romantic relationship will NOT make you feel this way.

IMHO, this is not fixable by your attempts to change what you require fundamentally to be HAPPY.

Seek what you truly desire and require. That is all.
posted by jbenben at 10:31 PM on April 15, 2012 [5 favorites]

I experienced this to some degree during the first couple of years of my marriage. I finally figured out that I was using him to fill needs that I really needed to deal with outside of the relationship. We weren't incompatible at all, in fact we've been married almost 30 years now. But I learned that I couldn't use him to make me feel secure. I had to bring my own self worth to the relationship.
Best of luck in this. (in your own growth I mean, and in the relationship,too.)
posted by SLC Mom at 11:01 PM on April 15, 2012 [9 favorites]

Well, you recognize the problem, and that's good. Personally, when I have the perspective to know I have a minor or temporary issue, I find that intentional compartmentalization kind of works. Like, literally visualize this aspect of yourself and your behavior as a small patch in the big field of who you are, and actively try to stay in the rest of who you are.

Another way to reconceptualize unavoidable feelings to help ride them out is to consider them just sort of a 'bad trip' arising in natural biochemistry, and then lay there and be anguished inside with the desire to text-bomb her but Don't. Do. Anything. Unless you can make yourself get up and go running or watch TV or read or something.

I realize both these pieces of advice have about as much in common with good mental health, overall, as saying just push it down and lock it inside you. But I feel like some difficult impulses really are temporary, and you're already on a good long-term path with the mindfulness stuff.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:06 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Consider all the biophysical contributions to stress, and e.g., get loss of exercise, get enough sleep, drink tea and not coffee, etc. Then reduce other sources of stress. In my experience, it's cumulative. So, I dunno, pay down your credit cards, or get a home alarm system, or oh, on a re-read, figure out how to reduce stress at work. Perhaps try the method described in the book Focusing (by Eugene Gendlin), which is a sort of somatic approach to self-therapy, and for me, very helpful for getting to the root of anxieties. Then, find someone else to talk to about it, a friend, your brother, or a therapist if need be.
posted by salvia at 11:07 PM on April 15, 2012

Yeah, I empathize-- this is why I often tell myself I'm not ready for a relationship so it's good I don't have one. It sounds defeatist and bitter, but more importantly I think it's true (at least for me). I don't know if it's true for you. Hm, well, can you work on your life and find hobbies and throw yourself into X hobby (or work) right now? If not, you have a big problem. If so, maybe it's ok.

I say hobby because it has to matter to you, not just fill up your time. Think of it like being hungry-- like you know how you'd had a fever, and barely ate anything and didn't even feel you wanted to, and suddenly you're well (didn't even realize you were sick), but it's too much if you just gorge yourself, you'd throw up, yet you want to. That's the anxiety telling you you're oh-so-hungry, the anxiety that's telling you you'll go back to starving and fever-state if you don't grab all you can eat. The anxiety is only halfway happy when she's right there filling you up, but even then it's not really happy happiness, is it? Because the anxiety never goes away 100% if it's there, not really. It adds to the thrill, actually, it makes the 'happy' feel like you're swooning, a bit. But it always hurts a little to swoon alone. And no matter how she feels, she's not swooning like you if she's on top of her commitments, and eventually that'll eat at you if it hadn't started to yet. Eventually you'll find yourself resenting her a bit, against your better judgment. It's lonely to be in that place alone, but you can never be there together, and if you are it's just a different kind of bad.

Anyway, in a perfect world you could spend 2-3 weeks after the heady beginning of a relationship just sort of pigging out on that person 24/7. If you're both gorging, it's not so bad-- it's crazy but love is crazy and if you have time for it, it's ok. Why should life be sane all the time, anyway? But you're trying to be adults. That's not going to work. You can't be an adult and not an adult at the same time. That's crazy. You can take an adulthood vacation, but you can't be infatuated and silly with it on an adult's work schedule, forget the crazy rhythms of over-achieving adulthood. One must prioritize, and you've apparently gone in different directions on that. This is definitely something to fix now rather than later, though I disagree that the 'right' person won't make you feel this way. This is your feelings, not 'that person' doing it to you. That person barely did anything to cause this. Hell, her absence feeds it; her presence wouldn't allow the fantasies or desires to build like this. Infatuation really feeds crazily on the other person's absence (with a bit of presence to keep it spicy), it's amazing.

Anyway, all you can do is a) pull back; b) full-speed-ahead. You can't do b), so it has to be a). If you're not going to run away to have sex 24/7 in the Bahamas for 2 months before you 'settle', you make yourself a lot more unavailable. You go a lot slower. You try to have a more platonic relationship, and draw out the development so that by the time you're ready to really dive in, she's in that space with you (or you're not together anymore). Sloooooow down. For now, do a lot of something else. And find some new friends. Distraction is your friend. Allow the idea that you're distracting yourself from being your own worst enemy and precipitating the end of the relationship to motivate you to work harder at pulling back. Try to have an exciting life (what does that mean to you outside romance?) by any means possible or impossible without her. See what happens.
posted by reenka at 11:09 PM on April 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Exercise like hell, and see other people.
posted by ead at 11:23 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I couldn't possibly disagree more with jbenben and inturnaround in this case. If you change around a few details, I'm essentially the girl you're seeing: I'm living in a town where I have close family ties and regular events with friends, a job that gets awfully busy sometimes, some fulfilling personal projects that take up my time. Recently I met and started seeing this refreshingly dorky and attractive guy who made me laugh and made me think and made my heart go pitter-pat. But there wasn't much for him here: no strong family ties in the area, tough industry/geographic circumstances that hindered his career as a talented freelancer, and no real friends in the area due to his reserved personality.

Things progressed quickly between us, but he ended it pre-emptively, citing the same reasons you did. He had so few outlets that I'd started filling in the gaps, and like you he realized it wasn't healthy. The vulnerability of that situation made him hopelessly uncomfortable. To this day, I have no idea whether it would have worked for us in the long run. I really liked him but I just wanted him to have more of his own things going on.

Here's the thing: No woman is going to be able to comfortably fill in all the missing pieces in your life and be able to sustain that indefinitely. You have to have your own thing going on for your own piece of mind and for you to be a good partner. I've been in your shoes as well in a previous relationship and the best thing I ever did was dive into one of my hobbies and find more meaning in it, and it gave me strength and perspective. It helped me stand on even ground, and that's so important.

So... talk to her. There might not be a need to break up, just a need to balance her position in your life. Good luck.
posted by mochapickle at 11:24 PM on April 15, 2012 [9 favorites]

Piece of mind? Peace of mind. Argh, that whole situation wrecked my verbal.
posted by mochapickle at 11:28 PM on April 15, 2012

There are a few possible causes for this upsurge in anxiety:
- the chemicals related to new love or withdrawal therefrom when you're not around her for awhile. These include some real doozies, many that turn up interesting stuff if you google "___ and anxiety," including adrenalin, more info here
- a heightened stress level from stressors elsewhere in your life that make even minor worries push you into the red zone,
- other biophysical causes, e.g., lack of sleep, or
- something about her or the relationship that legitimately is making you anxious.

You mention being in love, and work stress, but don't describe anything she's doing that might cause someone stress. So is it mostly a combo of the first two or three?

Thinking about all these possibilities might suggest some solutions. E.g., exercise is a way to burn off adrenaline. E.g., you could keep a journal and discover that withdrawal from the Love Cocktail turns into anxiety on day 8 and therefore try to visit once a week. Or, if you do bring it up, you could explain it as quite possibly your own biochemistry or spillover from your work, to make it more likely that she hears you as explaining your own feelings instead of blaming her. But yeah, focus on your overall well-being, especially re the work stress, and see where that gets you.
posted by salvia at 11:46 PM on April 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

This was a major contributing factor to my last (and only) relationship... I tried my very best not to let on to the fact that I felt needy, but I was; what happened was the little (to me) time that we did spend together, I would want it to be extra fun or extra special or extra fulfilling, because I felt I had such a short window of time to feel those things.

I probably put way too much pressure on him during those times than I needed to, but he wasn't doing it for me. What ended up happening was I felt like shit when he didn't call me, and when he did call me to hang out, I still felt like shit because it wasn't as great as I'd built it up in my head to be. And why was I building it all up in my head? Because I wasn't doing anything else with myself, socially.

Make friends. Go feed ducks at the park. Join meetup. Do something, ANYTHING during those times you are apart so you are not obsessing and thinking of smothering her with texts or feeding those needy feelings.

You say you're having a good time, but be mindful of whether she really does "do it for you." I wasn't actually having a great time with my ex; I was just having a time, which was better than sitting around at home alone. So have options on your social calendar. It will give you a realistic view of how much the time spent with her really means to you and if this relationship is worth pursuing (and if these uncomfortable feelings are even worth putting up with... in my case, they were indicative of the much larger, underlying problem of plain and simple incompatibility).
posted by shipsthatburn at 1:17 AM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think you should go out and participate in activities and meet other people and that you shouldn't worry for now about whether or not you believe that will actually help your situation or not. The way you're going to convince yourself that it's worth it to go out and meet new people and start new hobbies is to actually start doing those things, not by sitting at home trying to talk yourself into it.

Also, in the meanwhile, can you reach out to your old friends and your family? Even if they're really far away, it can be a great comfort to talk to people about your problems and it can take the edge of the needy, desparate feeling.
posted by colfax at 5:37 AM on April 16, 2012

I really and truly don't believe that anyone is capable of having a healthy relationship until a) they are okay with spending time apart from their partner and b) they are okay with spending that time alone with themselves. For some people, these traits are inborn. For others, like you and I, they're like a skill that you need to practice. Your friends or your hobby may not give you the exact same feeling that spending time with your girlfriend does, but they will make your time with her that much better.

Make new friends. Find new activities. Volunteer. When you find something that makes you feel alive and worthwhile, do it more. Go to a coffee shop by yourself with a book. Go on long walks. You will find something that not only bides your time until you can see your girlfriend, but calms your anxiety and may even be enjoyable.

And to acknowledge what jbenben said - I think there may be a kernel of truth there. I struggled a lot with relationship anxiety, especially early on in relationships. In my current relationship, I've had none of that. I feel secure. I do know that I was incompatible with the men in my past relationships, so I can only guess that that incompatibility had something to do with my anxiety.
posted by anotheraccount at 7:25 AM on April 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Neediness has a very bad rap. It is treated like a relationship slur that describes only the creepiest of people who will drain your soul and stalk you. I think that in many cases, people are so desperately afraid of appearing or feeling needy that they try to crush those feeling or erase them from existence, instead of recognizing it for what it is.

For whatever reason, you need something that you aren't getting, and your instincts are letting you know this.

The negative connotations surrounding neediness suggest that if you feel needy, it is entirely your fault and is indicative of a pile of issues that are entirely your responsibility. Sometimes, that is 100% true, however, before you take this as being completely due to your own failings, I encourage you to consider another perspective.

I dated an Amazing Guy a while back. He was truly the most intelligent, interesting, and sexy man I have ever met, ever. After a few months of dating, I began to feel needy. I read blogs and books and took all the specified advice, much of which has been echoed up thread.

I was lead to believe that cure for the horribly unspeakable issue that is neediness, was to fill up my life. Date more men! Get more hobbies! Go out more! Get more friends! If you feel needy, your issue is that you just haven't filled up your life with enough fun!

So I did just that. I dated more men, took up great new hobbies, went out a ton, made lots of new friends, and had an amazing time. I would actually say that was one of the most enjoyable periods of my life so far. It changed me in ways that helped make me the happy person that I am today.

Yet, I still felt needy in regard to this guy. No amount of juicy single goodness was making my issues any less valid. Granted, I thought about them less, but it still hurt the same. Since my new life was chock full of amazing, I started to examine at him and our relationship instead.

We had started having one date a week, because you know, take it slooowww! Slow boil is the way to go! As everyone kept telling me. Once a week was a good pace. This was great for a while, until he started canceling and rescheduling dates or showing up hours late. You would be surprised how many times the advice "do more stuff so that his busyness isn't as big of a deal to you" is given instead of DTMFA. I calculated it out and realized that I was seeing this guy about twice a month over the last three months that we dated. My last straw was when he canceled a date last minute for a reason that wasn't an emergency (He was so tired! It felt like he had been hit by a boulder! Oh noes!).

So OP, I suggest that you do fill up your life with fun. No matter how your relationship with this woman turns out, you will be the better for it. However, don't disregard the possibility that your neediness is a legitimate reaction to being denied the basic level of affection and attention that is socially expected given the amount of time that you two have been dating.

The cure for an unfulfilled life is to make it more fulfilling. The cure for an unfulfilled date is to DTMFA.
posted by Shouraku at 10:42 AM on April 16, 2012 [13 favorites]

whoa. hang on. the end of law school was one of the busiest times in my entire life. it would have been crazy for my boyfriend to have sized up our relationship based on those few months.

does she have a job already lined up? then she's slacked off on her classes, which means she has to study more than usual for finals. and, we are no longer in the economy / legal market where you can comfortably fail the bar once and be pretty sure you'll keep your job. no job? then she's going to murder herself making sure her GPA stays OK and making sure she doesn't fail her bar exam. and, this is the last time she's going to see many of her friends, and this is the last time she's going to be a relatively stress-free student before adulthood ruins everything. also have i mentioned that taking the bar is really stressful? i had my one and only panic attack studying for the bar exam, and i've never worried about grades or school or any of that in my entire life.

if you really have feelings for this girl, relax until after the bar. for real.
posted by anthropomorphic at 12:07 PM on April 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thanks so much, all of you for your insightful comments.

To provide a bit more context and answer some of your points: yes I have insecurities of my own, no doubt linked to these feelings of neediness. I'm working on it. I ran into a similar pattern during my last long-term relationship, except I was a bit smothering then. From an outsider's perspective, there's progress. Hah.

I have no intention to break up, I like this girl and am willing to give a good shot at what we have. Otherwise I wouldn't be here bugging you all with these concerns. Some of the earlier commenters would call that a waste of time, or denying the truth or not listening to my instincts, but heck, I think I'd be even more disappointed to kill this relation in-utero.

To answer Salvia's question: I'm not in love with her yet, but I'm clearly headed in this direction, and that scares me because I see myself moving much faster than she does. Maybe that gap feeds neediness too: I see myself moving way too fast, and I'd like to drag her along with me.
About a month ago, we talked about about she's handling school and the exams to come; she said that up until July (bar exam), she'd have only a small amount of time to dedicate to us. (She's sticking to her word: we see each other once or twice a week, and we're in touch almost everyday, even if it's only to check in.) I told her I'd manage. The issue is on my side, clearly: she hasn't cancelled plans or anything like that. Lots of Anthropomorphic's words resonnate exactly with what she said: the pressure of the exam, the study groups, the friends going away, the will to make the most out these months and I understand that. She's doing clinic case work on the side, not a full time job.

Thanks again all.
posted by peterf12 at 5:15 PM on April 16, 2012

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