A well-balanced relationship is making me feel insecure
March 11, 2013 8:53 AM   Subscribe

I have a ten year history of extremely intense borderline co-dependent relationships that consume my life. Two years ago I finally ended the cycle and started working on myself, now I'm trying to have healthy relationships, but it's not working as well as I anticipated.

A typical relationship for me is very intense. We commit very quickly and start spending every moment together. When the relationship ends, I realize I have nothing outside of it. I also often would have moments of lucidity where I would realize that I was really lonely even though I was in a relationship. Even worse, my health deteriorates and this is a consistant pattern of an autoimmune disease that is in remission flaring up.

Two years ago I decided this was an unacceptable pattern and I spent some time being single. Now for the first time in my adult life I have an amazing group of friends and some awesome hobbies.

But late last year I met someone and quickly fell into the pattern again, quickly making it a committed girlfriend/boyfriend relationship, spending most of my nights at his place, starting getting sick, neglecting everything but him... possibly because he was the kind of person like me in the past- not many friends or hobbies. We actually tried to take it slow, but I had a breakdown over him sleeping with another woman before we had the sexually exclusive talk, and called him crying and said I needed him to commit to being my boyfriend. This was a mistake, it was way too soon and I didn't know him well enough then to see the incompatibilities.

Either way, the relationship ended partially because I started recognizing the pattern again, and when it did I was like "oh god, I can't do this anymore." Last month I met a guy I really like and we are taking it slow, but I hate to say it, but I feel insecure. I know it's healthy for me not to see him constantly, but I keep feeling like that because we don't spend time together, it must mean he really doesn't like me very much, even though I know for a fact that on the nights we aren't together we are engaging in our separate hobbies and having other friends. I'm having fun, but I feel tinges of this awful insecure feeling: that he doesn't care, he's just not into me, that he fell for someone else, etc. For example, didn't hear from him this weekend and I felt this way, even though I knew he was visiting some family he hadn't seen in a long time. I'm on the borderline of that crazy familiar feeling of getting obsessed. Since we haven't had the exclusive talk, I've been trying to see other people, but frankly I can't keep my mind off of him.

I read the book Attached which made me realize I am the anxious style of attachment. The book helped me realize that, but I don't want to be like that. Is it possible to stop being this way? To enjoy a relationship that is not full of consuming attention? Or is this just the way I am?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
For now, you have to feel this way, but you don't have to act this way.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:01 AM on March 11, 2013 [11 favorites]

I think that experience is going to be one of the key factors in changing your outlook. Stay casual with this guy, and stick to your guns about not getting too attached too quickly. When you find yourself filled with anxiety, go do something else.

The anxiety feeds on itself because you don't allow yourself to sit with it. Instead, you take action (staying with a partner all the time, neglecting other friends, etc.). Most anxiety can fade with time, so you have to give it that time to do so, even if doing so feels more uncomfortable than you're used to.
posted by xingcat at 9:02 AM on March 11, 2013 [4 favorites]

As well as reading the book have you thought about some therapy? Its one thing to recognise that you have an anxious attachment style, but another to work through why. If there are issues from your childhood that have led you to feel this way, then until you examine them it will be hard to feel differently, even though you may think differently. If taking it slow results in you thinking he doesn't want you enough, maybe you need to go back and look at where that feeling originated. Who didn't you feel wanted you enough when you were small, for example? If you get to the bottom of that then maybe you can get to a place where you're secure in yourself, and you don't need other people to validate you as much.
posted by billiebee at 9:19 AM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

You know, there is nothing objectively wrong with having an intense relationship where two people spend a lot of time together. That is a kind of relationship style that works for a lot of people and doesn't have to be labeled "unhealthy." Conversely, the kind of "casual", uncommitted relationship you have now is not per se healthy, even though it fits within a conventional narrative of how relationships are supposed to begin. Plenty of people would find it nerve wracking to have their love interest maybe possibly sleeping with other people at the same time. I think what you need to do is focus less on notions of healthy/unhealthy, and more on how you want to feel in a relationship.
posted by yarly at 10:31 AM on March 11, 2013 [14 favorites]

Look into dialectical behavioral therapy, specifically the distress tolerance modules. You're right that being able to control your behavior in relationships is important, and you seem to be doing a great job working on it. At the same time, a little boost of help could really get you confident in your ability to handle the insecurity in a healthy, mindful way. Good luck!
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:41 AM on March 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Wait, you can be exclusive without being committed. If I were starting to date someone and they were out bonking other women that would be an immediate and complete turn-off for me. I mean even if they were just out there pursuing other women, I would be hugely turned off. I know a lot of people do it and even with online dating a lot of people think you are "supposed to." But at the same time there are still a lot of people who prefer to just see one person at a time and it sounds like you might be one of them. You can just be straightforward about it and tell people that you want to take it slow but you want to be exclusive while you are doing that. That is not rushing in too fast or being co-dependent.
posted by cairdeas at 11:04 AM on March 11, 2013 [11 favorites]

I definitely agree with a previous poster about therapy. In relationships, I have gone back and forth between anxious and avoidant attachments, but I realize now that therapy helps me deal with my issues a lot better than just stressing over them and ruining relationships. If this new guy is more secure, I would just be upfront and honest with him- that you have a tendency of attaching really quick and you really want to work on your clingy-ness. If he's a good guy, he will understand.
posted by Butterflye1010 at 11:56 AM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree also that you should try seeing a counselor, for one major reason: I think it would be really useful to have an educated third-party to give feedback when your own internal feedback is not being dependable.

Story: About four years ago I left an extremely intense, borderline abusive, highly obsessive and unhealthy relationship. In a reactionary way, and which I thought was healthy at the time, several months later I began dating someone who (A) was not remotely my "type" (I figured, hey, my "type" is clearly unhealthy, so let's give this a shot) and more importantly, (B) who was MUCH more - how can I put this in a neutral wording - withdrawn? Unavailable? Distant? Independent?

Armed with "knowledge" of my personal tendencies towards obsession and intensity, I consciously chose to attempt a relationship with a person who was very clearly not fulfilling my needs or desires for a relationship - I was assuming that my emotional "needs and desires" were warped and I therefore set them aside, on purpose. When the insecure clingy feelings arose, I stomped and squished them and carried on. He was superficially kind and respectful towards me always, which allowed me to think that the lack of deeper intimacy was a problem only in my own head, and that this, in fact, this coolness and distance and polite semi-apathy, was in fact "normal" and healthy.

I thought this over a year, until I had a newborn baby and discovered he had been cheating on me with an ex. Turns out my instincts, while perhaps indeed a bit out-of-tune, were not in fact completely delusional. The guy was emotionally unavailable at the time, and it wasn't in my head.

So the moral of this little history, that I offer to you, is: please don't ignore what you do need and want. As others have said, it's perfectly fine to want to be with someone who is exclusive early on, or someone who shows active interest in YOU. At the same time, however, you are wise to recognize your tendencies towards anxiety and emotional obsessiveness, since that will harm even a healthy relationship; the key is to balance your deeper needs against your momentary compulsions and anxieties, and be able to discern which is which, and that's something that is very good to have someone else to talk to about and help you dilineate for yourself.
posted by celtalitha at 12:51 PM on March 11, 2013 [6 favorites]

What yarly said. I am not an advocate of spending too much time together in the beginning stages of relationships, but I also think that casual relationships are absolute kryptonite for a lot of people, "anxiously attached" or not.

If I had to put up with my ostensible BF sleeping with other women I would be howling at the moon. I would never put myself through a situation where it was against the rules for me to object to that. If that's "normal" in the modern dating scene, that only means the modern dating scene is fucked up, not that you are.
posted by tel3path at 1:01 PM on March 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Lets face it, a lot of us have 'issues' that even with a lifetime of therapy aren't going anywhere. At some point you'll have to say, I understand my shortcomings but I am doing my personal best with what I have to work with.
Sometimes our insecurities aren't invalid, they are telling us that we in a situation that is not safe/solid/secure.
I think you have done yourself a disservice by going from one extreme in a relationship to the opposite extreme. Try to hit a happy medium. There's nothing wrong with say, wanting to spend the *majority* of your time interacting with your partner while making sure to schedule in a day or two a week for yourself, friends or hobbies for a healthy break. There are just as many people that want deep intimacy and connection as there are those who prefer more freedom in these areas.
posted by tenaciousmoon at 1:01 PM on March 11, 2013 [5 favorites]

I read Attached as well, and think I probably swing between anxious and avoidant depending on my partner. I'm dating someone at the moment who seems to be secure- and it's amazing how much this has stopped my own anxiousness or avoidance in its tracks. It's made me remember past relationships (long ago) with similarly secure people, and how I felt then. While it's good to be aware of how you react, it's possible that you might actually feel fine with someone who was a better match for your style of attachment.
posted by three_red_balloons at 6:44 PM on March 17, 2013

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