Am I terrified of commitments? Or is this not a good fit? Or both?
October 17, 2013 2:18 PM   Subscribe

I am queer woman in my late 20s. I have never been in a functional relationship in my life (details in the extended version), and no long term relationships. I recently started seeing a woman, and I find her very attractive and things are going quite well and she digs me a lot and all that. Part of me wants to keep doing this and have a relationship with her. The other part of me, though, is freaking out and is focusing on the one or two little thing that she does that I am not particularly fond of. Part of me really badly wants to keep seeing this amazing woman; the other part of me just wants to run away and live my awesome single life. At this point, I've lost sight as to whether this is about me being scared, or about her being not a good fit. Any suggestions on what to do/ what to read/ who to talk to, would be great. I want to keep dating her, I just don't know how to stop the part of my head that's screaming "break up with her and run!"

I have had one two-year "situation" with a girl, where, in the end, she declares that she's not gay and we have to stop. It was heart breaking.

I have been on a lot of first dates and second dates, and some time third or fourth dates (where we have made out but no sex yet), with most women and a few men. Every time things go well, though, I get the strong urge that I am experiencing now, where I feel completely stifled and scared and I start dreading seeing them. Then I put an end of the incipient thing I started. I've only really had crushes on people who are straight or are in a committed relationship.

This current girl is the first where my adoration of her outweighs the urge to run away from this stifling feeling. But I am still getting that feeling! The girl also does this one thing that I don't really like, and it's not a dealbreaker yet, but I couldn't stop focusing on it, and I know if I keep obsessing over this one personality flaw it WILL become a deal breaker.

I don't want to pull my usual sabotaging move, but I don't know how to stop my brain from freaking out. Is this something I should see a therapist about? My friends don't know what to say either. Am I afraid of commitments? What is going on, why do I feel this way?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I mean, maybe this lady is a bad fit for you, but it doesn't really sound like it, and...

I've only really had crushes on people who are straight or are in a committed relationship.

Seems like a pretty good sign that you're afraid of something, maybe commitment, maybe intimacy? Much safer to invest all your emotions in something that is totally imaginary, because then you can control everything. And if it doesn't happen, you don't have to be crushed, because it was never going to happen, so there's no expectation or disappointment.

Therapy, yes. But also, while you're finding a therapist:

The way to not break up with someone is to not break up with them. Breaking up is a conscious choice! Even if it feels more like some kind of uncontrollable urge, it isn't. So far you have not broken up with this person, even though you are having uncomfortable feelings. This is great! You're realizing that the feelings are not facts and they are not the boss. Roll with it! Every day, DON'T break up with her. See how it goes.

Literally the worst thing that can happen is that someone, maybe you or maybe her, ends up a little sad or a little uncomfortable or maybe single. This has all happened to you before and you're here, alive, dating, thriving.

The best thing that can happen is you start working through your fears and enjoying the feeling of becoming close to someone, maybe put some puzzle pieces together that make your motivations a little clearer to you.
posted by like_a_friend at 2:33 PM on October 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

What is the thing she does that you don't like? I mean, if it's drinking milk out of the carton or not wiping toothpaste out of the sink, maybe it's you. But if it's, like, flirting with other women in front of you or being terribly irresponsible with money, maybe you have a legit claim of bad fit.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:46 PM on October 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Patterns tend to repeat until we decide to do the work to break them. It certainly sounds like you have patterns that are designed to keep you away from intimacy, given the history you've described. Now the patterns are firing but you want this one. You face a choice of giving into the pattern and breaking up, in which case it will probably keep repeating, or doing the work to face and defeat the patterns.

Speaking from experience, this is something you should definitely see a therapist about. In my own case my fears of attachment were really tightly linked to past experiences in childhood and adolescence and I don't think I ever would have unraveled them on my own. But in the mean time, it might be helpful to recognize that part of your brain is trying to get you away from this person, probably because you have been hurt before in intimate situations and it is trying to avoid that pain again -- therefore when you get those 'freak out' moments, try to stop and examine them in that context, without going into them or letting yourself feel them.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:46 PM on October 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

I think you should stick it out with this gal. You'll learn a ton about yourself, and you'll get better at tolerating the anxiety and indecision you describe. (I get that way too, so I totally get where you are coming from.)

The only question mark is the one bothersome thing you said she does -- is it just a personality flaw (annoying but not a dealbreaker) or a major character flaw? The latter would be worrisome, if it's something like being overly critical, or having a substance abuse issue, or being a mooch.
posted by nacho fries at 2:54 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

At this point, I've lost sight as to whether this is about me being scared, or about her being not a good fit.

You haven't told us anything about what might constitute a bad fit, but you've written about your tendency to freak out and run. This tells us something, and I hope tells you something, too. Therapy! Why do you keep running? What are you afraid of? It's fine to not want to be in a relationship, but it's a different thing to be afraid of being in one.
posted by rtha at 2:58 PM on October 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

You sound a lot like I used to be, not so much terrified of commitment as terrified of abandonment, among other things.

This is EXACTLY what therapy is for. And let me tell you, life is So Much Better when the freakouts and fears don't rule your every move and you know your own mind.
posted by ldthomps at 2:59 PM on October 17, 2013

Also, the urge to dump her first so she can't hurt you more/first is pretty classic. You're just dating, not getting married tomorrow. Continue to have fun together until it's not fun to be together. Don't let your anxiety-brain preemptively ruin it for you.
posted by ldthomps at 3:07 PM on October 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

'Getting that feeling" is about you - your girlfriend is not "causing" this.

I had this pattern, and for me therapy helped immensely. My "excuses" for dumping whoever came from my own fears, but boy did it feel like it was "because" of something my girlfriend "was" or "did".

For me, getting past this was really a case of just "staying in" and not allowing the flight response to rule. The anxiety subsided for me with time and, frankly, practice - also to echo ldthomps, it helps a lot to keep things light and fun - you're not getting married and settling down.

You can always dump her, but do you have a reason that a close friend won't call bullshit on?

If the relationship really isn't working, I don't think you'll be as indecisive.
posted by parki at 3:40 PM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Building on the advice above, I'm going to assume this is mostly about your own history and very little about any problem in the relationship. I could be wrong - I'm just a stranger on the Internet so take it with a grain of salt.

1. Recognize that freaking out is about your past history - not about the facts of the current relationship. Therefore, don't take the fact that you are freaking out as proof that you need to break up. When your anxiety starts going through the roof, it just tells you that you are being triggered - don't read more into it than that.

2. Figure out how to talk back to the anxiety. When you start worrying that you should break up, say something to yourself like "We are all human. I'm not perfect and she doesn't need to be perfect either. Right now, we are having fun. If gets bad, I can always break up later. For now, this is worth sticking it out a little longer." Repeat this to yourself as often as necessary. It's OK if you need to say it many, many times - it is hard to get anxiety to listen. Be gentle but firm.
posted by metahawk at 3:47 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

What was the two-year situation if not a relationship? It would be easier to understand if you could fill in some blanks and either use conventional language or explain why those conventions don't fit.

Also, you are 20. You can date her for a while and then, if there are reasons, break up.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:07 PM on October 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wish my recent ex, who I am pretty sure just got scared of committment and intimacy, had done two things:

1. Talked to me about his feelings.
2. Not strung me along by doing things like giving me a key to his house, going on vacation with me, and telling me he was happy with me and that he couldn't wait to see me before each date.

Man, I thought he was on the same page as me - and in some cases moving faster than I was - and I was wrong. He freaked and I got surprisingly dumped out of nowhere. We had never spoken about his concerns until it was too late.

Talk to her. Talk to a therapist. Talk to your lady friend again.
posted by sockermom at 4:21 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you have an avoidant attachment style. You're getting big idealistic crushes on people who aren't available to you (straight or committed) and you're about to cut and run on someone you really like. Probably because you're getting closer to her. The feeling stifled thing is all you.

You should probably talk to a therapist.
posted by mermily at 4:29 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

My last girlfriend had commitment issues. She hadn't been in one that lasted more than about 3 years tops, including marriages. I ignored the red flag and thought maybe it would be different with me. It wasn't. She recognises that she has commitment issues and continues to do nothing about it. She's just started dating someone else. I am vaguely considering starting a pool on how long it will last before she gets scared of the commitment and bails.

I, meanwhile, am in therapy. Make of that what you will.
posted by Athanassiel at 5:39 PM on October 17, 2013

MAN, ok. i'm a queer woman & have been here. and had so many people tell me that i'm scared, or that i'm avoidant, have commitment issues, or that there is something otherwise wrong with me, and suggest therapy. it was shitty.

but it took me years to realize -- i just don't want that kind of relationship. that maybe the usual configurations don't work for me. i love intimacy, affection and feelings -- but the feeling of usual relationship patterns is, to me, completely stifling and unbearable. it took me quite a while to figure out things that work. i had to develop a whole new vocab for what i was feeling.

now my life is rife with fulfilling affections and love and sexy times, without the angst. my ability to get here was seriously improved once i realized i was not of the same affectional orientation as most folks. and stopped listening to popular opinion that i had issues, or whatever pathologizing language we use to describe things outside of monogamy. i don't think my set up is better or worse. it's just better for me.

i wonder if that might be what's going on for you? feel free to msg me if you want. good luck. feelings are so rough sometimes. but worth it.
posted by crawfo at 6:11 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

because you said this:

I've only really had crushes on people who are straight or are in a committed relationship.

i'd say you have a definite fear of commitment. get thee to therapy for some help.
posted by wildflower at 8:31 PM on October 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

"I want to keep dating her, I just don't know how to stop the part of my head that's screaming 'break up with her and run!'"

Bravo for your bravery and insight into your inner workings. Your brain, if it is like my brain, is going to freak out every day of your life. This cannot really be stopped by more thinking or rational discussion. Here's what you can do: stop believing your thoughts. There is no such thing as a perfect fit. Love is in the giving.

Best wishes.
posted by macinchik at 10:28 PM on October 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

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