What do I do with these very, very strong feelings?
April 30, 2013 10:21 PM   Subscribe

I just had a weekend (non-adulterous) affair with someone who lives halfway across the country. It went well, incredibly well, so well, and now she has gone back home and I am experiencing a massive onslaught of feelings and I am not sure how to proceed and maintain my sanity. Details inside.

This is someone I knew a long time ago and last week reconnected with through facebook. She happened to be visiting my town over the weekend and we agreed to meet. We are both in the 30 years old area.

After the break up of a 7 year relationship three years ago I got put on a hard, depressed road. I have always had very strong anxiety and I repressed a lot of fear (not abuse-related) as a child, and being without a partner left me exposed to those elements in an occasionally terrifying way. Since then I have turned up my collar and slogged for the last three years, and read about my anxiety, and worked on myself, with lots of meds and therapy and self-reflection and I am finally starting to see how I might make a life for myself. I still have a long way to go but I am starting to learn how to get what I want and how to have a real social group.

And that progress is what allowed me to be as open and free and sincere with this woman, R., these last few days. We found a common space almost instanty, after being at a bar for 6 hours we were shocked to find out it was closing time and we had been there that long. And it just blossomed from there, in the little time we had.

This was a huge deal for me for many reasons. One big one is that my sexual confidence had all fallen away, and this woman made me feel sexy and like I belonged there and like I was wanted. I had also just generally forgotten that I deserve love. But her openness and kindness destroyed those bitter lies that I had been telling myself.

I have no idea what to think about the possibility of a long distance relationship, and I certainly don't know what she thinks about that. But I DO feel quite sure that what we felt was stronger than just sex, and that if we did live in the same place we would without question continue to see each other.

So, my problem now is that being exposed to such an incredible feeling has left me frightfully aware of how lonely I've been for so long. She opened some doors in me and some of my old grief, from all the fear I've repressed all my life, is coming out and I feel really intensely that I don't want to go back to being alone.

The feeling is very strong, and it is a little scary, but I think I'm handling it. So my question: Where do I put these feelings? I want to try and maintain a connection with her, whatever it may be, but I don't want to dump my baggage on her, and I don't want to frighten her with the intensity of my feelings. They feel very heavy and potent in my chest and I feel really extra scared to be alone right now.

How do I deal with this painful sadness of being suddenly alone again in a safe and healthy way? Is there some way I can refocus on all the incredible positive feelings I just experienced? Have you been in a situation like this?

In therapy, on meds, called my therapist to try and schedule and early appointment, called my mom instead of panicking---I'm trying really hard to do this stuff right but man this is intense.
posted by My Famous Mistake to Human Relations (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you're doing a really good job being aware of your emotions and you have really good instincts for how to proceed. Three things that sometimes help me get through intense emotional periods:

1. Talk to a very close friend or family member.
2. Write it all out in emails to nobody (don't send them)
3. Tell it to a stuffed animal.

Somehow the act of externalizing it gets you out of the loops.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:07 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Keep in mind, that she might have only been into having a fling because you live halfway across the country and she won't have to see you again. I wouldn't lay all this stuff on her at all. Keep in contact, but let her take the lead. If she felt what you're feeling, then she'll almost certainly let you know.

You don't need to be alone, even if she doesn't want to continue things, though.. You can go out to a bar and meet other people, you know. Or go on okcupid. You just realized that you can hook up with somebody. Now do it again with someone that's actually available.
posted by empath at 11:34 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

First, let it be scary. You sound like you're totally handling it, so let it scare you a little. Once you're scared and learn that you'll live through it, you'll be stronger afterwards.

And yes. Write really long, tortured, confessional emails to specific people and never send them. I did this often. You can. Not. Send. Them. So say everything you wanted to say, save it, and move on. Or, better, delete it. I lost all mine in a hard drive crash and I'm kind of happy, though I think it would be sort of cringe-inducing fun to re-read.

One thing. Well, two things.

You wrote that you did a lot of hard work to get where you are, and it sounds right. It sounds like you're right where you want to be. That "turned up my collar and slogged" thing is perfect. That's exactly what it is sometimes.

But, I've seen two things happen to people in your exact situation:
1-they go off the rails over this, because they're lonely and it was fun
2-they keep in mind the down times and keep perspective.

Make sure you do #2. Because from what I've seen I guess #1 is easy and tempting because of what made your old, past situation possible in your head. You are pre-disposed to #1. You are re-disposed to #2. All that slogging is hopefully what gave you the tools for #2.

So. You have worked hard and put tools in your toolbox. You know what's right. Take it slow. When you reconnect with someone you used to know, you are mostly enacting either of a few scenarios: righting old wrongs/reliving the dream, or discovering a connection in someone you have old familiarity with based on your new, older self, and being blown away.

Use what you've worked so hard to learn to keep a right head about you. You will maybe think "what would my therapist say about me almost saying that?" To that, listen.

I know it can be intense, but with what you've been learning you know that fire is nice and warm, but there is a time to get closer and a time to back up a bit. Happily, you now know how to do both, it sounds like.
posted by nevercalm at 11:47 PM on April 30, 2013 [9 favorites]

You are in a vulnerable, transitional state, and there is a real risk of making too much of a little fling. But, if you can bear that in mind, I think it wouldn't be a bad idea to talk to her and tell her you felt something special between you. Maybe she feels the same way. The only way you'll know is if you talk about it.

Remember, it's not all or nothing. She may have thought you were very interesting and/or cute, without wanting a more serious relationship. Whatever she thought, it's not the ultimate judgement on how interesting and/or cute you are.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:19 AM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry you've had such a hard road the last few years.

I have turned up my collar and slogged for the last three years

I can picture you with your head down, trying to keep moving forward, and I really commend you for your strength and your efforts in getting yourself to a better place. But it feels like this woman has stopped you in your tracks like a traveller in the rain coming across an inn that is brightly lit and looks warm and cosy. And I think, while it's painful, that she has done a good thing for you in reconnecting you to good feelings, and the desire not to be alone, to be safe and comfortable again. I don't think you need to focus this energy somewhere, like random dating or denying those feelings - just accept them. You are in a different place today than you were before your weekend with her, and while it is a scary place, its about being able to see now where you want to be, and where you deserve to be.

Personally, I believe nothing ventured nothing gained. You say she is open and kind, and there was a connection there. Why not take a risk and let her know that you felt something really strong and special with her? I'm not saying you have to tell her every single thing you've felt (although if she can handle that, then it says only good things about her.) But certainly hearing that you've being in a dark place and she's brought brightness to it can't do any damage, can it? There are many ways it could play out - she only wanted a fling, well then you'll know. She is scared away, well she lives far away anyway, not like you have to see her again. She feels the same way but cant commit to an LDR, at least you'll know she felt it too. She felt the same and she'd like to connect with you again in some way that you both decide on, all to the good. I feel like you owe it to yourself at least to know where you stand with her, and not add to your self-torture. If nothing comes of it, at least you know that you are desirable, deserving of love, and someone has seen that in you and someone will again. Maybe she's not the destination, maybe she's just a stage on your journey, but you should be proud of how far you've come and of the fact that you're able to deal with the hard stuff and keep moving. Good luck.
posted by billiebee at 2:29 AM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Nthing accepting your feelings and letting yourself be scared. Take a deep breath, I am scared, it's only a feeling, it doesn't mean you need to take action.

But aren't you also feeling joy? Let yourself feel that too, it's great to be able to have your feelings again!

Also nthing letting her come to you. She may or may not. Keep moving forward like you have until now, it seems like you're doing great and it'll pay off sooner or later.

And if she does return, open up to her. But focus on the joy, and try to share it with her.

Good luck!! :)
posted by ipsative at 4:10 AM on May 1, 2013

This is also probably not mentally healthy but just think about how great the weekend was, over and over again! Part of being depressed and unhappy is the global thinking "it's always going to be like this", so now you got a glimpse of something better, more exciting and more fulfilling. It's out there and your self-improvements are putting you on the right road to get there. Just keep on keeping on, and wait and see how this unfolds.
posted by bquarters at 4:28 AM on May 1, 2013

Best answer: Strong feeling, even GOOD strong feelings, can be scary as hell. I was terrified and confused when I fell in love the first time, and that happened when I was in my late 20s. So accept that it is scary, because it is. Do a little thinking on what aspects of it make it scary for you. For me it was the vunerability and the fact that it was so emotional and physical because I rely on logic and reason so heavily to get through life. Those strong feelings are also kick-ass awesome too, so make sure you bask in that as well.

I would do two things:
1) Talk to her, feel her out, and have a discussion. You don't need to do it immediately. Do it when it feels natural and when you're comfortable. It doesn't need to be a huge huge thing. Just "You know, last weekend was really incredible for me, and it felt like maybe there is something special between us."

2) Use this as proof that there ARE people out there for you, you ARE sexy and desirable and attractive, and you CAN feel all the good things again with someone. Your breakup was hard and it is easy to have that make you forget all the good stuff that comes from a relationship and all the good stuff YOU offer to a mate. There is better out there than what you have been accepting as "good enough" in your life, that weekend showed you that.

I suffer from depression and I want to echo what bquarters said - when you're depressed it very much feels like "I'm going to feel like this forever" and "things are never going to get better". That is a big part of the disease (at least for me). It sounds to me like you've been in that state for a while, and this was your first proper reminder that, Oh, thing AREN"T going to feel like that forever and things ARE going to get better. You really should use this as a vaulting point to pull yourself out of your head-down-push-through thing you've been doing. Your return to good things may or may not include her, but you can use your experience with her as a catalyst.

Best wishes, my friend!
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:22 AM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Wow, this post sounds a lot like me.

My advice is to embrace the rollercoaster a bit. It's scary, but can fun too.

Do you exercise? If not, you should. That helps me a lot when I get anxious like you describe.

Good luck!
posted by PsuDab93 at 6:05 AM on May 1, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks all, it helps a lot to hear your encouraging words. I will be taking a lot of big deep breaths today.
posted by My Famous Mistake at 7:30 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yup, that intensity has fueled many, many writings and poems and whatnot. Go with it, however you express yourself, use that to channel the feelings.

Play music loud and dance. Write horrible fanfic. Write a poem. Compose an etude. Paint a picture.

Find an artistic mechanism and fuel your creativity with these exquisite feelings.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:36 AM on May 1, 2013

Your post was very focused on you and your feelings. How to maintain your sanity, how to get what you want, how this all indicated that you deserve love, etc.

What about this girl's feelings? You should take them into consideration however you proceed with her. Your question came across as very self focused, for whatever reason that might be.
posted by htid at 8:50 AM on May 1, 2013

Htid, I think one of the reasons he asked the question is because he's coming out of a long, depressed, lonely period. If you've ever spent time in a bad rut like that, feeling unattractive and weird, your reflexive negativity can make it hard to guess what other people really think of you. So, he had a strong indication that she enjoyed his company, but he had no idea what to do about it or how seriously to take it. Given all that, I think his question was no more self-focused than could be expected.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:48 PM on May 1, 2013

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