How do I control my high anxiety and sensitivity when dating?
June 13, 2014 1:35 PM   Subscribe

How I can I better handle these intense feelings and hold them in while maintaining the confidence and calmness that made the woman like me in the first place?

When I find a potential mate my body almost immediately starts screaming at me to do whatever it takes to make it permanent, as loneliness is a primary cause of my anxiety, and it also screams at me that the woman in question is a place I can safely dump all my baggage. I am aware these are not healthy tendencies, I am now aware that these tendencies are pretty apparent, and I keep running into situations where I lose the prize by showing my cards too soon.

I am 32 and male. Because I've been so wrapped up lately in the struggle to overcome my anxiety it's at the forefront of my mind and I unthinkingly take any opportunity to explain myself, in terms of darker parts of my past, to a potential partner and I have recently learned that this is unattractive, that it contradicts my confidence and the other attractive parts of me.

I've gotten quite good in recent years at acting as if I don't have these problems, and I have truly worked through a lot of them by walking toward what scares me instead of running away. The building of a new, strong, confident person is well underway.

But I'm torn between and confused about a few things:

1. How can I understand the difference between improving and strengthening myself vs. trying to become something I'm not?

2. In the most recent case, I met a woman with whom I shared a great connection and a strong attraction. I was thrilled about it, and she seemed to be really happy too. But I got in my own head too much and spent too much time talking about my unhappy past and turned her off, when my only intention was to explain my personality. Is building a new relationship really about holding back the truth of my emotions for as long as possible? If so, how do I do this, because my emotions run so off the charts high that to keep them all in when it seems like I've finally found someone to talk to about them feels absolutely excruciating.

The confident person I knew I was a week or so ago is nowhere to be found now. He'll be back, but the right now is really difficult.

I have the confidence and the fortune to attract women that I am extremely attracted to, but my lifelong history of insecurity and inadequacy keeps rearing its head and putting distance between us.

Are you a highly emotional person who too easily cleaves to a partner, maybe too soon? How have you fixed this problem?

I need to do something different, because right now I feel like I had something great and then extinguished it because I allowed myself to depend emotionally too heavily on it.

I am in therapy, on long term meds, have had short term (xanax) meds prescribed to me for this difficult period.

At times like this I feel like I'm pretty backwards as far as dating experience goes, so any answers that are along the lines of chastisement (such as "Dude, you broke the first rule of dating, keep that shit to yourself!") I would prefer be kept to yourself, they would just be painful and not useful to me.

But I'd love to hear from anyone who has overcome these issues or who has a partner who has. Thanks for your time and thought.
posted by My Famous Mistake to Human Relations (26 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
One very simple thing (not easy, just simple) you could do is to focus more on getting to know the woman and less on making sure she understands you.

Also try to stop thinking about these women as "potential mates" and more as just, you know, interesting people.
posted by mskyle at 1:52 PM on June 13, 2014 [9 favorites]

But I got in my own head too much and spent too much time talking about my unhappy past and turned her off, when my only intention was to explain my personality. Is building a new relationship really about holding back the truth of my emotions for as long as possible?

This struck out to me. No, that's not what building a new relationship is about (holding back the truth as long as possible) but it's possible that you are framing the whole thing in a way that isn't helping you.

Understand that the dark secrets of your past don't define you unless you define yourself by them. Your past is what it is, and you live with the echoes of it as we all do, but you don't have to make your past into Who You Really Are Underneath if you don't want to.

Do your best to live into your emotions at each moment. Accept your feelings as they come, and understand that they are just feelings. You don't need to suppress them or resist them, you can just have them. You can know that you feel sad and dark when sadness and darkness come, and that they are feelings too that will pass. And when they pass, you will still remain.

The point is that you don't have to act like you are being insincere or dishonest by hiding your darkness, because you don't have to act like it's something to hide. You don't have to act like it's anything at all except a feeling that you have sometimes. In doing this, you will empower yourself to be the person you want to be -- in an integrated way, as a whole person who accepts the dark sadness of his past without being captured or defined by it.

So, I don't want to tell you to keep that shit to yourself, because that seems like a way to empower that shit against you. I want to encourage you to understand that shit for what it is, which is an echo that you sometimes hear and can share, or not share, with a partner or a friend as you see fit.
posted by gauche at 1:52 PM on June 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

loneliness is a primary cause of my anxiety

Try not to think this way. It would be more accurate to say that agonizing over your loneliness is the primary way that your anxiety manifests itself, but getting into a relationship will not cure you.

Is building a new relationship really about holding back the truth of my emotions for as long as possible?

I wouldn't say "holding back the truth" so much as "selectively sharing."

You understand, I assume, that appropriate dinner party conversation with someone you just met is different from appropriate best friend conversation. That doesn't mean you're lying about your true self to the person you meet at a dinner party, it just means you have followed the socially acceptable practice of gradually revealing things about your personality, rather than dumping it all out there at once.

For example, I LOVE hearing about my friends' weird childhood experiences, fringe political beliefs, and outre sexual practices, but if a person I didn't know at all came up to me and started telling me that stuff, I'd look for an exit, because that's just... not how you do things in our culture. You reveal basic, non-controversial info, see if you like each other, reveal a little more, see if you still like each other, have sex, see if you still like each other, etc etc.

There is no need to rush this stuff, in fact it's kind of delightful to slowly learn about a person, with the knowledge that you will eventually develop a deeper relationship and learn more about each other. It can't be forced to happen all at once.

You're behaving in new relationships like a person who buys a quart of ice cream, eats the whole thing in one go, and makes themselves sick.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:53 PM on June 13, 2014 [15 favorites]

Is building a new relationship really about holding back the truth of my emotions for as long as possible?

Sort of, but that's not the issue here. If you just met someone and are already head-over-heels, scream-it-from-the-rooftops emotionally enthused about her, the emotions you're having do not reflect the reality of the situation. It's not that the feelings you're having aren't real -- and, jesus christ, believe me, I know just how real they get -- but that they're not about a real person, they're about that person being the solution to your problems. Which, as you understand, is a hell of a burden to place on someone you don't actually know.

You describe your failure to make a relationship work as "losing the prize" which speaks to a certain mindset: you're looking to be in a relationship. Which is nice, but you're putting the cart before the horse. There's a whole other person there to get to know, and that living, breathing person needs to be in the forefront of time spent with that person. Otherwise you constantly run the risk of either turning someone off because you're too intensely focused on the potential to be in a relationship, or you end up in a relationship where one (or both) people are there not because they want one another, but because they don't want to be alone. Which is really sub-optimal as far as a fulfilling relationship is concerned.

Also, yeah, you are totally right about how you should leave the darker parts of your past out of the initial stages of dating.
posted by griphus at 1:55 PM on June 13, 2014 [13 favorites]

Also, there is a big, wide gap between meeting a person for a little bit and thinking "goddamn" because they're attractive and fun to talk to and personable, and being able to firmly grasp the fact that this person is someone with whom to build a genuine relationship. If the former was all it took to determine if you've met someone you want to build a life (or whatever) with, dating wouldn't be a tenth of a pain in the ass as it is.
posted by griphus at 1:59 PM on June 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

Are you a highly emotional person who too easily cleaves to a partner, maybe too soon? How have you fixed this problem?

Yes, I am. Well, I was. Welcome to the club.

When I start dating someone new I like to pick up a brand new hobby or volunteer gig at the same exact time. It keeps me busy enough that I'm not just hanging around obsessing about the new person in my life who is just so awesome and great. Instead, I'm focused on myself and my life: new hobby that is totally awesome! I've learned to knit, took up the piano again, got really into makeup and nailpolish, volunteered at a women's shelter, volunteered at a food bank, started sewing again, I've read half of Shakespeare's plays... etc. Just pick something up that you're jazzed about that builds you as an individual person at the same time that you start dating and you won't be so focused on the other person.

I also journal a lot: writing down a lot of those feelings can be very helpful for processing them rather than dwelling on them. It also keeps me grounded in the reality of the relationship rather than letting me fly around in fantasy land. It's not just crummy to lose someone who seems really cool because you're too eager: you can actually get yourself into a really dangerous, no-good, very bad situation for a very long time if you emotionally cleave too soon. Ask me how I know (spoiler: this is how I became involved with a highly abusive man, changing my entire approach to romantic relationships forevermore). If I had been paying attention to my feelings and journaling and thinking about things with a rational mind I don't think I would have ended up so deep in an uncontrollable situation that essentially ruined me and my life for the foreseeable future.

I have also learned a lot about the "time and a place for everything" rule. There's a time and a place for everything. Did I need to tell my current boyfriend that my last boyfriend was abusive? Yes, probably. Did I need to do it on the first date? Well, I thought so, but in retrospect, no, I did not. First dates are for seeing if there's a mutual attraction and interest. They're not for revealing secrets.

It's not about hiding my true self, really, at all. It's about protecting myself. It's about not exposing myself by going too fast too soon. When I go too fast too soon I get into trouble. If I'm careful and I don't just reveal all the things right away it is much, much easier for me to actually evaluate the other person and to see whether or not I can trust them with some of the more grody stuff under the surface.

Not everyone needs to know everything about you to like you. There are plenty of people in my life now who have no idea that I have a chronic illness, for example, or who don't know that I dated someone who used to control every aspect of my life. They don't know I used to be anorexic. And there's no need for them to know this stuff. It's not really relevant to building a new relationship with another human being. It may become relevant if we get closer, but it's not relevant at the beginning.

Good luck. It's hard; I know.
posted by sockermom at 2:00 PM on June 13, 2014 [20 favorites]

The term you are looking for is differentiation, meaning holding onto your 'self' while in the midst of a relationship.

David Schnarch developed that concept in his books. Most of the chapters won't pertain while dating but read up on differentiation. Bonus: the more 'sturdy' you are about yourself, all by yourself, the less lonely you will feel. This is attractive to women.

Most women don't want to be thought of as life rafts to save men from drowning in loneliness.

When on a first/early date women are looking for reasons to say no. Don't give her any, if you can help it -- although you never know what will trigger that on any given date. It isn't lying, or game playing other than what dating is by definition. The farther along you are in a relationship the more you will be able to reveal without changing the woman's mind about you. Timing matters.

++ asking questions, and not triva questions. Find out what makes her tick and why.
posted by trinity8-director at 2:01 PM on June 13, 2014 [7 favorites]

I can see where you'd be coming from. I'm imagining a slightly stressful situation that you had an anxious response to, (e.g. getting unnecessarily upset when a friend texts and cancels plans) and your careful "I'm learning my own emotions" brain analyses the situation and draws a connection (eg "my mother always yelled at us for changing our minds, I feel like a bad person when I change my mind, but that doesn't mean my friend is a bad person, maybe I shouldn't call him that when I get upset") That's good - you're learning about yourself and the special cause and effect that is your own emotional self. However, nobody else is likely to be as interested in that as you are - until you've gotten super-super-close to someone, just relay to them the result of all your thought process, not the guided tour of all the paths you've just been walking down. "Hey, sorry I freaked out about Sam, that can't have been nice to be around. Now that I've thought about it, I'm not actually upset with him, and trying to be more aware of stuff like that in the moment, so that I don't freak out, is one of the things I'm working on." You've told her the important thing: you realize your behavior was non-optimal, and you're trying to do better. If she wants to know more, she'll ask.
Speaking as someone who's dated "you", a long explanation of everything that's going on can feel like you're trying to involve me in the fixing process, trying to make me jointly responsible for your behavior, and making me dance around a list of all your trigger situations; in a true long-term relationship, I don't mind helping my partner out, but if I'm just getting into dating someone and it's already looking like a complicated minefield, I'll probably just back away. If there's some specific action/change that you need from your partner, tell her; but if the thing that you're working on changing is how you respond to a situation, dragging her through why you responded the way you did isn't helpful, just tell her the end result.
posted by aimedwander at 2:13 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Understand that the dark secrets of your past don't define you unless you define yourself by them. Your past is what it is, and you live with the echoes of it as we all do, but you don't have to make your past into Who You Really Are Underneath if you don't want to.

You should read, and re-read this bit of advice from gauche. Take it to heart.
posted by General Tonic at 2:21 PM on June 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yes, I am a highly emotional person. Yes, because my preference is committed monogamy, if I really like someone, I tend to fob onto them and start fantasizing our life long love and blah blah blah.

First, I suggest you find other emotional outlets and not put so much onto one relationship. No one person should be Your Everything. There are other kinds of emotional outlets available. Creative expression (writing, drawing, journaling, etc) or consumption of art/literature (music, emotional movies, good books, etc) or volunteer work or just participating in high emotion topics online can address some of that so you don't show up as a huge ball of unmet need from the get go.

Second, you might consider trying an approach other than dating. I am not a fan of dating. One of the reasons I am not is that I prefer to get to know someone socially without all that pressure. I have a number of big issues in my life that weird people out and it just does not work well to try to figure out how to bring up that mountain of crap in a situation where, from the get go, we are trying to impress each other and work out if this can be a serious romantic relationship. It works better for me to just let people get to know who I am as a person under circumstances where discussing those things has a lot less heavy connotations and, if they already know about those big issues and then romance develops, it takes a great deal of the pressure off.

If I barely know someone and they want to date, then I am hyperventilating about when/if/how to bring up a long-ish list of stuff that is likely to be deal-breaking under those circumstances. But talking with people socially, things gradually come up in an organic fashion and's just different. I can talk about "yeah, I had blah negative experience a long time ago..." without wondering so much if I am being judged and that type thing. Aldous Huxley said "Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you." And if I am just talking with folks, it is much easier to say "I had this experience and this is what I learned from it (etc)" instead of wondering where that experience falls in the spectrum of "can this person love me????!!!! (insert freak-out)"

Third, I suggest you figure out what you want out of life other than a lover and try to make that happen. Extreme neediness is not attractive in anyone. Having well developed personal interests makes a person a lot more interesting. You know the saying: Life is what happens while you are making other plans. Love can also happen that way. Go around trying to treat other people with real respect while pursuing your own goals and at some point you may bump into someone who digs you and already knows you socially and then the question of whether or not to pursue it romantically can be a whole lot easier.
posted by Michele in California at 2:32 PM on June 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

dump all my baggage ... showing my cards too early

I wonder if the message you're sending when you show these cards early is that you're planning to use the relationship as a place to dump all your baggage eventually, after you and she get settled into a relationship. Maybe relationships like that work for some people, but for me, I really prefer the paradigm of the self-responsible spouse. If the ladies you've met lately feel like I do, then just waiting to show these cards until later is probably not the answer; you're probably not a good match for them, and would have found that out sooner or later, unfortunately.

I would suggest either keep doing what you're doing and just persist in meeting new people until you find someone who is OK with a strongly interdependent relationship in which they'll be a big support to you; or, alternatively, make peace with not ever dumping the worst of your baggage on a future partner ever, keeping the very darkest stuff between you and your journal and the mental health professionals.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 2:33 PM on June 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I wonder if the message you're sending when you show these cards early is that you're planning to use the relationship as a place to dump all your baggage eventually, after you and she get settled into a relationship.

The result is the same, but I think the impetus for me is more along the lines of "Oh shit these women are going to find this out eventually, I better explain now to ease the blow." Which obviously doesn't work.

The last decade was kind of a bust for me personally and romantically because I didn't understand myself very well. Now I've figured it out and I'm making a mad dash to catch up with the rest of humanity who, in my hyperbolic mind, already has this stuff figured out and is basking in the glow of their achievements while I, solitary, am desperately lagging behind. And that every woman is as confident as I wish I could be and they can see right through to my weaknesses.

I probably shouldn't be trying to seriously date right now is, I'm pretty sure, the answer. That makes me sad because I am lonely, but it will pass. I am just currently steeping in pain and thrashing about for any outlet to ease it.

Including AskMetafilter, and your answers, as always, do a great service to my perspective.
posted by My Famous Mistake at 2:50 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Start treating your dates as people and not answers to your problems. Women aren't "the prize". You're looking for other people to fix you and that just doesn't work.

You should be picky about who you're dating - know what you're looking for and stick to your guns. Relationships are a TON of effort and pouring years of your life into a bad match isn't exactly going to improve how you feel about yourself. You're just going to find yourself back in the same spot a few years down the road.
posted by zug at 3:10 PM on June 13, 2014

When I find a potential mate my body almost immediately starts screaming at me to do whatever it takes to make it permanent, as loneliness is a primary cause of my anxiety, and it also screams at me that the woman in question is a place I can safely dump all my baggage.

One answer, or one part of the answer, is to have more friends. Abandon the notion of a spouse or romantic partner as the ONE be-all, end-all relationship in your life. No one should have to bear that level of emotional responsibility for you - it should be diffused over a community.

I think that was the major realization that made dating go better for me - no partner is ever going to be everything to you, you need a more diverse social life than that. It really helps with the loneliness to be open to more different types of experiences to fill that hole. And it helps with dating even during periods where you don't feel particularly well-supported in the friend department - because you can realize that those are multiple different fronts where your life can improve, independent of one another, and there is far less pressure for the romantic partnership to fill all your needs.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 3:13 PM on June 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

Hey there! Sounds like maybe you have an anxious attachment style. Not a bad thing, in fact it has its upsides. But you might find the following books insightful and helpful:

Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find--and Keep--Love, by Levine and Heller

Wired for Love, by Stan Tatkin

Good luck.
posted by magnislibris at 3:19 PM on June 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm a woman and I have a lot of anxiety in general. It definitely hampers my dating. I really struggle with how to get to know men in a healthy way. Once I get excited about someone it's so hard to keep boundaries that are appropriate for someone I've known for a few weeks when I'm feeling OMG You are So! Awesome! It's hard to even know what those boundaries are.

But I can tell you this. I have some weird stuff in my past. At this point it doesn't seem all that sad or dark, it's just stuff that happened. But when it was happening it was scary and all-consuming. I used to feel it was very important to make sure that people knew my dark sad stuff right away. Now it just doesn't seem so important. So you may find, as you keep moving forward and working on yourself and having new experiences, that at some point the sad and dark chapter is one you can close without feeling you are betraying yourself. It will stay on your bookshelf, but you won't feel it's the first or even the third book you need to show someone who is checking out your library.

I've also had the experience of having people unload on me enough that I realize how difficult that can be for the hearer, no matter how loving and patient they are. So I've worked on talking about things that I've been doing that make me happy or that feel productive, and I've found those conversations can be more fun and even intimate, and sometimes they lead to both of us feeling cheerful instead of in the dumps about That Thing My Mom said when I was 17.

There's a great quote from the main character in The Color Purple. Her heart is broken when her lover Shug leaves, but she has a moment of clarity when she realizes that she will be okay whether Shug returns or not.

Also what Joey B. says about seeking other forms of support - a romantic partner should not be the only person who can understand and care for you, and if you have more good relationships with friends and family and community, you will likely feel less need to pile it all onto one person at once.

I know it's rough. Take a deep breath and know you are absolutely not the only person who didn't figure it all out at 30. I'm nearly 40 and still working on it. Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 3:20 PM on June 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

Could relate a lot to what you wrote as someone who doesn't shy away from big subjects, is interested in what makes others (and me) tick and someone who rebelled from a background where a lot of real emotional stuff wasn't spoken about.. I really used to tell anyone anything. To some extent this can still be very true.. it's almost like a compulsion isn't it? Like a cough that can't be repressed. If you strike gold by meeting someone similar you're going to have some interesting chats! But ofcourse it's not as simple as that.. what if this is a predator that wants to use your fragilities against you? They sadly do exist. And I guess... though it can feel very 'real' where is the fun in it? The building up? The mutual earning of trust? The measured risk? No one's special if everyone is special.

Try not to think of her as the prize.. could you value her? great :) but you also deserve to be valued. Reciprocity has to be the prize. I am yet to achieve this. I have been with men who've put me on a pedestal and politely asked them not to.. is it flattering? Hell yes.. is it personal? Probably not that much it's about what they are projecting onto me. A pedestal is a tall place to fall from.

It's so hard to face this shit and you're brave to do that and try and meet the opposite sex at the same time. You might find 'The road less travelled' an interesting book about healthy love.
posted by tanktop at 3:59 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dating isn't charity work. Healthy, attractive people want happy, motivated, well-liked and capable partners. Be the most attractive you that you can be.
posted by MattD at 4:17 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I understand you completely and before meeting my husband I went through much the same thing. I dated throughout my twenties with disastrous results then I stopped dating for a few years. When I was 34 I met my husband who I really liked and I didn't want to ruin it, so I made these few rules and I followed them and it worked. The rules are pretty simple:

1. You may not do this but I did -- Stop trying to find the perfect mate. We often have a dream person we're searching for that can be described in one word (sexy, wealthy, cowboy, etc.). These are phantoms that don't exist. If you do happen to find one, and you don't connect, give it up. The person for you you'll know instantly. You're comfortable with them, and more often than not, they will not meet your made-up requirements. But you're comfortable and enjoy being with them. That's key.

2. When you're with her on a date for the first month or so, the past and future don't exist. (I let this stretch out for the first three months), but then again I wanted to go slow. Focus on the now. You're at a restaurant, talk about your day at work, the food, what movies you'd like to see, politics or whatever but don't talk about your past or future goals, and don't ask about hers. THE NOW. The goal is to have fun.

3. Find out what she likes to do and do that with her, and introduce her to things you enjoy doing -- again focus on the now and having fun.

4. Don't try to impress her with your generosity, romanticism or whatever. Just allow yourself to get comfortable with her doing things together.

5. For awhile, avoid getting together with her without plans. Sitting around with her in your or her home with nothing to do, other than watch a movie on Netflix, is bound to lead to over-divulging, anxiety and all the rest.

I wish you good luck and don't worry too much. You're not alone in this.
posted by SA456 at 5:37 PM on June 13, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: How can I understand the difference between improving and strengthening myself vs. trying to become something I'm not?
I wonder if it might help to think of your improving and strengthening as becoming more truly the person you already are. At the moment it might feel like you've had the anxiety for so long that IT is who you are, but I suspect the anxiety is a layer sitting over your true self, perhaps partially obscuring your true qualities. What are your principles, interests, opinions, passions? Although your horizons may widen as your anxiety lessens, these innate things about you won't change.

Is building a new relationship really about holding back the truth of my emotions for as long as possible?
No, not at all, but as sockermom says, not sharing every single flaw right from the start also protects you. Perhaps a better way of thinking about this is that your sharing should be proportional to the intimacy of your relationship? I suppose you're thinking that if you expose all the reasons someone might reject you right up front, they will "understand" you and not reject you (or perhaps, not risk you getting rejected further down the track when it will hurt more), but this reads as a violation of norms to most people. To most people, I suspect your failure to maintain proportion between the intimacy of the relationship and the intimacy of your disclosures reads as you misunderstanding the depth of the relationship, which makes them want to back off. In that situation I would also be wary that your lack of personal boundaries might lead you to misunderstand or ignore mine.

That said, I certainly acknowledge that getting to know a romantic prospect is a highly anxiety provoking process, and on a date for example you might end up in an anxiety spiral that looks like:
- Feeling anxious
- Anxiety manifests in a way that may be noticeable to your date, e.g. shaking hands, agitated speech
- Anxious thoughts: "Oh no, she will notice I am anxious and judge me! EVERYTHING IS RUINED!"
- Worsening anxious feelings
- Worsening physical manifestation of anxiety
- Worsening catastrophisation
- etc.

I'm picturing that acknowledging your anxiety might help break this cycle - perhaps, if you think she's noticed your (e.g. shaking hands), you could say "I've really been looking forward to this date, but I get a bit anxiou about first dates, as you can see!" I'm picturing this done with a slightly self-deprecating smile, followed by dropping the subject and returning to asking curious (but not intrusive!) questions about her. I don't know, I think this could be done well, and could help you feel more comfortable, but I wouldn't go much deeper into your issues until/unless things progress a fair bit further.
posted by Cheese Monster at 6:14 PM on June 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

We often have a dream person we're searching for that can be described in one word (sexy, wealthy, cowboy, etc.). These are phantoms that don't exist. If you do happen to find one, and you don't connect, give it up. The person for you you'll know instantly. You're comfortable with them, and more often than not, they will not meet your made-up requirements. But you're comfortable and enjoy being with them. That's key.

I just want to repeat this from the above commenter. And to link the article that is famous for us NYC ladies "of a certain age".

Basically, if you are doing all you can, being more or less healthy, in shape (ideally but not necessarily), interested in things, working towards goals, etc, then what else can you do? The anxiety is straight up not helping.

I am a TERRIBLE dater and I met someone, my friend, an even worse dater also met someone, it's timing, and just the pairing...if you find the right person for you, you won't be an anxious mess. You can just be yourself and vice versa. You don't need to be doing all these contortions. Just follow your interests and eventually you will meet someone...or at least the overall odds are in your favor in that respect.

(But I think you do have to be actively trying to be the best you that you can be and not be trying to look for a savior or life raft...spend your time trying to get your sh*t together and when you finally meet the person you "click" with, you will be much better off in all respects.)
posted by bquarters at 7:43 PM on June 13, 2014

Personally, I found 1mg/night of Klonopin to proactively prevent anxiety attacks from starting helped me a lot more than Xanax taken "as needed" because if you wait until you need it then that means you're still having anxiety attacks (albeit shorter ones).

A lot of poker players take beta blockers to boost their confidence and reduce their anxious tells. Not sure how easy it is to get a prescription but there's certainly a lively trade for them in the gray market.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:08 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a cis-dude, and a couple years younger than you, but what you described in your question sounds a lot like my life between the ages of 14-24. I have a few thoughts, on top of all the other excellent answers here:

Is building a new relationship really about holding back the truth of my emotions for as long as possible?

What stuck out to me in this was the black-and-white thinking: you seem to feel as though you either have to tell her now-immediately, or never-forever. I can understand why that feels safer than the alternative others have brought up (i.e. revealing yourself more gradually): the anxiety makes it unbearable, waiting to find out how she'll respond to your issues, and fearing how she might read you this way or that because she doesn't know your background. So regardless of whether you tell them now, or never, you'll have at least come to a Conclusion if you go to one extreme or the other. As you've seen, this works a lot better for soothing yourself than building an actual relationship. For the record, I am also in the gradual-reveal camp.

So yeah, I'm afraid I have to confirm your worst fear: you really shouldn't be dating right now. Focus on overcoming the anxiety first. Because here's the (repeated) truth: getting into a relationship will not make your anxiety go away. What'll actually happen is that your anxiety will find new objects of worry (probably re: the relationship): - does she still like me? Is she getting bored of me? Is she cheating on me? Is she about to leave me for someone else? (Ask me how I know) Anxiety is a gas that expands to fill the volume of your mind, so it makes more sense to make the gas go away, rather than endlessly re-jiggering the shape of your mind.

One other concern I have is the objectifying view you appear to take on women/relationships. I am not saying this to imply you are a bad person because I don't think you are. Because for a person in great pain, as you seem to be, their own pain will nearly always take precedence over other people - no judgments here, that's just how it seems to be. So when I was going through that, I was simply not capable of treating women decently as people, because I invested so much importance in them as my only chance at salvation. This kind of objectification also has the effect of putting off the other person once they realize it, which once I realized they were put off made me more desperate, which freaked them out even more, and which made me - well, you get the idea. I'm just really trying to emphasize that even if you got into a committed relationship, it could end up making things worse, not better.

It sounds like you're doing some good things to deal with this, i.e. meds and therapy. I strongly encourage you to stick with therapy, as the length of time it takes to work varies wildly. It took me 6 years of therapy, combined with meds, to get out of it, while I know others who got better after just 6 months (lucky bastards). Keep up the meds too, if the side effects aren't too gnarly.

There's also other stuff you could consider that I didn't see you mention, the biggest of which is: how much do you exercise? AFAIK science has pretty thoroughly confirmed the anti-depressant effect of getting those endorphins flowing, so if you have the time/physical capacity, try to pick up a regular, physically strenuous activity. Ball-sports, lifting, gardening, biking, home construction - options abound. Beyond that, what's your support network like? Friends and mentor-types can be invaluable in providing you perspective of the kind that you've come to AskMe to find, except they'll actually know the details of your life, and could maybe provide more tailored feedback. Mindfulness meditation might be another tool that'd help you.

If you want to discuss in more detail, don't hesitate to PM me. Good luck; I know this isn't easy, but it is definitely not impossible!
posted by obliterati at 11:12 PM on June 13, 2014 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: 1. Shit.

2. Thank you, I needed to hear all that.
posted by My Famous Mistake at 3:01 PM on June 14, 2014

During a presentation today at work (on professionalism, of all things), the presenter made this comment:

You make more friends in two months of being interested in people than you do in two years of trying to get people interested in you.

This resonated with me, and in the context of your situation, reminds me (and hopefully you, as well) that the trick isn't to get someone to like us or understand us or prove our worth to someone, but to determine whether that person is right for us - do we like them, do we understand them, are they worthy?

When you flip the script, the anxiety tends to dissipate, as inevitably (I find, anyway) you'll find some flaws or come up with *something* that gives you pause and makes you uncertain.
posted by SabrinaV at 9:05 PM on June 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

When I find myself getting wound up about someone new, I imagine that when my date shows up they'll be ... someone interesting but not age-appropriate and not someone I would date. Like Willie Nelson or Rahm Emmanuel. This helps distract me from the destructive fantasy of the "handsome perfect man who might reject me" and focus on "what the hell will I talk to Rahm about? what if he tries to order for me?" and it gets me feeling a little more humorous about the whole thing.

And then when my date shows up and it's just a normal-looking guy with a 9-5 job I feel relieved.
posted by bunderful at 4:45 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

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