Tips on allowing new relationships to unfold naturally?
July 31, 2014 5:25 PM   Subscribe

I need tips on ridding myself of new-relationship anxiety, releasing the need to control and the need to know where it's going, and allowing the relationship to unfold naturally.

I'm in my early 30's an currently in the fledgling stages of a new relationship. Every time I find myself dating someone new who I actually like and want to continue seeing, as I am now, I find myself experiencing the same emotions and behaving the same way. For those of you familiar with attachment theory, I'm anxious-preoccupied. I also have major abandonment fears.

So, how this manifests is that I become incredibly anxious. I feel the need to figure out where it's going, what his intentions are, what his feelings are for me... and I want the answers RIGHT NOW. I make contact more than is probably a good idea to prompt them to remember I exist, or to nudge them about tentative plans. (Pathetic.) I check my phone/FB/email constantly. I wonder/worry/obsess about whether I'll ever even hear from him again. I get all anxious about whether he's seeing other women or interested in other women, even when it's at a time when objectively everyone else would think he should still be keeping his options open (i.e., the very beginning), and give myself mental deadlines of when I should expect to hear from him next and what the consequences will be if I don't ("If I don't hear from him in X days after I last contacted him about our tentative plans for the weekend, that means he's absolutely no longer interested and I will nix him as an option, even if he reaches out at a later date"). It's as though I expect an insta-relationship, despite objectively knowing that it takes time for a relationship to develop, and when he doesn't behave as I want/expect him to, I'm hurt/disappointed. I keep this to myself, but on the inside, I'm torturing myself. It makes dating guys who I actually like a horrible experience, rather than a fun one.

This happens for me whether it's been one date, or three months - the anxiety remains constant. I don't know if the guy actually picks up on my behavior or my feelings, or if my energy travels through the universe and he picks up on it an intuitively knows that I'm obsessing, but I sense my "need to know now!" is the cause of many of my relationships not quite taking off.

Strangely enough, when it doesn't work out, I bounce right back. I'm not heartbroken or sitting around pining or anything.

I've had many people tell me that I live in a world of black and white, and I need to learn to embrace the grey, the "land of maybe," that I need to allow relationships to unfold naturally, to not mentally cut someone off when they fail to meet my expectations on a rigid timeline. I find this very difficult, if not impossible. This is what I need help with. I have no patience.

So, my request of all of you is: What can I tell myself, what mindset can I aspire to have, what changes to my thinking do you recommend?

Keep in mind that I have a very full, awesome life - I am very social, enjoy activities/hobbies. So the whole, "Keep yourself busy! Fill your life up!" type responses won't help. I've already got that down. :/
posted by SabrinaV to Human Relations (10 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
The way I have dealt with it is by continuing to date other people at the same time until it's really a steady solid thing. YMMV. Probably a workaround.
posted by amaire at 5:58 PM on July 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

For me, I have done a lot of work being super-kind to myself about all of it. I don't call myself or my actions pathetic. I don't tell myself what other people would do or what I should be doing.

Instead, I listen to my anxiety and I make friends with it a bit. I distract it with self care. I take a bath or call a friend or read or bake something yummy. I remind myself that there are good reasons for me to feel insecure - my past history with men sucks - and I tell myself that anxiety is a normal part of recovering and healing from that baggage from my past.

It doesn't stop it entirely, but it quells it significantly - and makes it much easier to cope with when it does happen.

Be kind. You are lovely and wonderful. It is ok that you have this anxiety at the beginning of a relationship. Allow yourself to feel this feeling. You don't have to act on it or do anything, just know it is there and forgive yourself for its presence.

Best of luck to you.
posted by sockermom at 6:29 PM on July 31, 2014 [33 favorites]

Well, one thing I have always told myself is "I will be the flame." That is, if a man is interested in me, he is really interested in me, and I don't have any doubt about that, and there is a connection where I am also interested in him.

My current husband, we knew each other in college, and later on, 25 years later on, we connected. And it was hot. 1,000 emails in a month hot. He would be lying bed and here the ding of my email and get up to answer it hot.

We've been married since 2006. He came home today, we sat in the chairs next to each other, talking about the day and dinner, and he started stroking my arm. Still hot.

Aside from all the other men I have dated or been with, he really does love me. We do argue and get frustrated with each other, but we have a mutual attraction and friendship. He ticks all the boxes: not mean, willing to learn and compromise, takes out the trash, good sense of humor, reads books, loves classical music (which I am sadly not educated about, but I did play classical years ago), friendly, will help out in any way, kind of a free spirit, does not give a SHIT about how I dress or am made up, and constantly says, "did I tell you how much I love you today, give me a kiss, you're so beautiful, you look like a painting."

I don't know how to explain it. He has no agenda. He just really loves me and appreciates me, and yes, he can be a pill or a slob or drive horribly, but he's always calm and laughable and there for me. You just have to keep trying until you find a fit for you.

One thing that my two main ex's had in common was that they didn't read books, and my current husband does. Maybe that was a telling sign.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:35 PM on July 31, 2014 [25 favorites]

Best answer: Strangely enough, when it doesn't work out, I bounce right back. I'm not heartbroken or sitting around pining or anything.

Oh, that is so great that you have that resiliency. And it sounds like a possible key to "talking back" to your anxiety in the early stages of a new relationship. If you can remind yourself that every time things have gone pear-shaped in the past, you've come out of it just fine, maybe you can take a more kicked-back, lean-back-and-see approach in the early days/weeks/months. After all, what's the worst that can happen? It doesn't work out, are right back on your feet, living your excellent life, just as you have done plenty of times in the past.

You were just fine before the guy; you are just fine with the guy (anxiety notwithstanding -- your essential self is just fine, I mean); and you will be just fine after the guy, if he opts out. Right?

"What's the worst that can happen?" is a question I personally find calming in many anxiety-provoking situations involving other people, including dating.
posted by nacho fries at 6:41 PM on July 31, 2014 [7 favorites]

I would not try to rid myself of any emotion. That's how emotions end up chasing you around. Make friends with the anxiety. Instead of avoiding them and the negative thoughts that come along with them, allow yourself to actually experience the fear. Literally let them wash over you as soon as you do feel them. There is no need to engage in counter talk at the time of the emotion (you can do it at specific times with cognitive-behavioral therapy or other exercises). But those emotions you are feeling are real and there is no use fighting them. As you accept them, you'll find that they dissipate rather quickly. Its when you stop them that the problems begin.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:35 PM on July 31, 2014 [11 favorites]

Sounds crazy, but when my husband and I first met, and I felt the new-relationship-anxiety coming on, I'd ask myself - seriously - if it was terror/anxiety or excitement. There's a fine line between terror and excitement. My answer to the question was always excitement, because the unknown was so full of possibility. At the very least, asking the question momentarily confused me and the anxiety went away.

I agree with Ironmouth's response - don't run from the emotion. The only way out is through, as they say. I sometimes re-read "The Power of Now;" the chapter on the pain-body really helps with anxiety. YMMV, not everyone is into the self-help genre. I also suggest meditations by Les Fehmi, author of "The Open-Focus Brain." I've used his recorded meditations and in my experience they are extraordinarily effective at dissipating or transforming negative emotion.
posted by onecircleaday at 9:21 PM on July 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

You might find my last post useful as it kind of overlaps. The responses are interesting.. there is some less obvious stuff that really made me think 'I just could not have picked that up' about (my) situation, its also fairly easy to hazard a guess from the replies at who is securely attached (60-70% are) and say "why get so het up about this?" Ofcourse this makes logical sense.. but for me, emotion and logic don't always tally.

Anxious attachment is a shit and powerful set of cards. It is you learning young that the world and people are not safe and reliable, the imprint is deep and any consequent bad relationships amplify this early trauma.

I feel like a bit of a 'fraud' 'advising' as I struggle so much with this.. and more so after so much time avoiding relationships maybe.. but the theory about strong emotions generally is that they do crest and then taper off. Hold tight. Try to remember that all these feelings are less about that actual person and more about your past. This is not easy or all that soothing, but can help with perspective at times.

You might find it interesting to read up about inner child work (you can dialogue/write from adult you to little kid you) - this is where you commit to standing by yourself.

Try looking up the ABCD of CBT/REBT - too much to explain but may help.

Spend a bit of time around people who are constants in your life with whom you do feel secure.

Journal, tip it out. Know just because you want to do something doesn't mean you have to.

I tend to delete texts from people I feel shaky about - this doesn't feel great but it removes a trigger.

A great post on here once suggested taking up something new when you meet someone. I know you have a busy life (me too) but new can give a buzz can't it?

If you're anxious you are likely a chemistry junkie - but note that this can be our kryptonite. Try and stay conscious of your patterns (it seems you are) and breathe. Sockermom has some great tips. It sucks so much. I know. Its not your fault and doesn't mean you are not lovable. It's a process to heal and learn to trust incrementally.

Anxious types struggle with good self talk/self care you may have to artificially do this and just keep trying to do it.
posted by tanktop at 11:20 PM on July 31, 2014 [6 favorites]

At the start of my last relationship my potential man said to me:

We have to accept that not all relationships will last forever, though we, for the moment- can't tell why not :-) So lets just enjoy each other while we can, and hopefully for many years.

He was 20 years older than me and it lasted 6 weeks.

But DAMN that wisdom has stuck with me and changed how I feel about things at the start. It might well end between you and the new man, but at the start you can almost never tell why. So enjoy it. Don't look for more than what it is in the present and go forward in confidence.

Dating other people is great advice. It keeps you grounded. But I always feel guilty if I think I may be leading someone on, so I do things a little differently than other people.

I have had periods of time where I had lovers.

I don't mean FWB here. I am talking about having LOVERS. Men who pay attention to you, and you to them... no booty calls. (I don't do booty calls)... and there is some emotion involved, but in a more abstract sense.

I'm not sure everyone can do this. But I generally really like men and do find the others attractive in their own way and I can have part-time paramours... and in my part time lovers I tend to look for men who are busy with their own lives, or in the middle of some heavy stuff or where there are logistical factors preventing us getting too serious... (like a recent divorce or they live far away)

In fact, for me, they must live far away.

To those men I give my time and attention and encouragement- we add to each other's lives while we are able to and in the way we can, but both know the relationship won't be going anywhere. That allows me to keep myself open to the one who makes me want to stop seeing all the others.

I've enjoyed a connection with each one of them... like a small piece of quiet and calm we share apart from the chaos of daily life. Taking part in a relationship that is very light, and you know will end, frees you of that anxiety... and you learn about men, and sex, and what different people feel like, mentally, emotionally, as friends.

And then when you meet the right guy and he is into you, he will make it so clear and it will be natural for you to sever your other attachments.

It's only in the last couple of years I have managed to work that out. A few years ago I would have wanted to marry each one.
posted by misspony at 11:37 PM on July 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Nthing dating other people. Whether this is super-ethical (even though, OF COURSE, disclose to every party that you're seeing other people) I can't say, because it is a somewhat stressful juggling act. But it is also a fun and distracting juggling act! And, not to rely on old gender tropes, but I think women have quite a bit of leeway before we've even approached what many men consider normal. E.g. keeping our options open, maintaining "buffer" relationships (where you keep someone on the side/in rotation so that you don't go too crazy-bananas about the one you really care for), that kind of thing.

That said, I'm impressed with your self-awareness and I think that'll serve you well. Do be kind to yourself, and to the person/people you're seeing. It's no good to throw up a protective barrier. And it could be worthwhile to check out some writing on mindfulness. I'm a big fan of Thich Nat Han and Pema Chodron. Embracing uncertainty is a lifelong process, and dating/romance is a huge opportunity for practicing mindful patience (...or so I tell myself).
posted by magdalemon at 7:45 AM on August 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer:
I feel the need to figure out where it's going, what his intentions are, what his feelings are for me... and I want the answers RIGHT NOW.

It's completely okay to feel this way. The important thing is to not allow your behavior to be driven by these anxieties.

I make contact more than is probably a good idea to prompt them to remember I exist, or to nudge them about tentative plans. (Pathetic.)

Watch your self-talk. Contacting him too much is not pathetic. It's hard to tell if your anxieties are simply coming from your attachment orientation, a result of your dates' behaviors, or a mix of both.

Just about everyone gets pretty anxious in the dating process. I know for me, I've had a hell of a time learning how to embrace those anxieties - even with the feelings and associated behaviors are embarrassing. It's especially important in those moments of shame ("Gosh, I wish I didn't feel this way! What's wrong with me???") that we need to accept our humanity, our ordinariness, and wrap ourselves up in self-love.

My general advice would be to work on two fronts: 1) Continue to develop the capacity to accept and feel your feelings, rather than trying to suppress or change them. This may sound counter-intuitive, but the way to calm down anxiety is not to resist it. The best thing is to simply accept it and feel it in all of its icky, uncomfortable splendor. Get quiet and learn how to breathe through these tough feelings. 2) Pay attention to how people treat you and discern whether their behavior is, in itself, anxiety producing. You may want to mentally tell yourself that it takes at least 3 months - and sometimes longer - to observe behavioral patterns. It's really important to remind yourself of this fact even in the midst of the honeymoon period, because the reality is that you still have a long way to go in learning about each other.

Like everyone else said, I think it definitely helps to date other people early on -- or at least to try and keep your romantic options open until you both agree to be exclusive. It also helps to tell yourself: "Look, I like this person - I'm really excited. But I don't really know them yet." Say this over and over again. This will help reign your excitement in and see it clearly for what it is-- your projections, you hopes and dreams, your romantic fantasies, your eagerness.. which is all completely okay, but still needs to be verified by the reality of how things play out over time.
posted by Gray Skies at 12:06 PM on August 1, 2014 [6 favorites]

« Older Slow cooker recommendations   |   How can I get a job as a grant writer for a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.