How do you know if you're making the right decision or self-sabotaging?
January 12, 2015 8:54 PM   Subscribe

Anxious people: how do you decipher when anxiety is getting the best of you, or if something just isn't right? In your experience, can guilt/anxiety prevent you from feeling full love? If I let him go, it's permanent, and I'm 100% terrified to make a mistake that hurts us both forever.

I’m contemplating breaking up with a wonderful man, who I’m sure loves & accepts me more than anyone ever will. I’ve struggled with my feelings for him for so long; it's better than past relationships for countless reasons, and yet, I never felt that giddy “in love” feeling; I don’t miss him the way he misses me. On the one hand, I know I love him, and on the other, I’ve never felt total bliss the way I have before. It makes no sense.

I’ve tried to figure out what this could mean; why it felt like something was missing. After infatuation faded, anxiety set in and never left. He’s 4 years older (29) / he must want to get married / he’s too into me and too quickly / I feel overwhelmed and more guilty by how often he says he misses me or can't wait to see me. (As a note, the frequency of that is not something I’ve ever experienced with other boyfriends; he's extremely affectionate, and i am not.)

So, I analyzed my feelings non-stop every day for a year, trying to figure out what was wrong with me or with us. I even tried therapy as a last resort, and to address anxiety, and admitted that while he was wonderful for me in every way, he didn’t make me laugh. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been able to pinpoint as missing. I don’t know if that’s why the strong feelings never came. Now that we’re almost at 2 years, I care more deeply for him of course, but I still miss the goofiness and laughter that is present in every single relationship I have in my life from friends to family to coworkers. I really wish we either laughed more together or that I could just let go of this desire. This confusion and pain and guilt is present every single day.

I feel so silly for wanting that when he’s literally the most incredible man I know. I feel silly when I get irritated that he didn’t get a joke or react the way I thought he would or make any jokes. Especially because he is always willing to try/improve. But because I have cycled in my doubt for so long, I figure now that the bottomline is: if I can’t give him the love he gives me, I have to let him go, regardless of how much being without him pains me. He truly deserves more. And yet, I’m having so much trouble with this decision—what’s wrong with me that my brain is rationalizing that the one missing thing outweighs every good thing about him?
posted by sandj2014 to Human Relations (30 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I even tried therapy as a last resort

You do know anxiety is a medical condition, right? It needs professional help, possibly medication, and self care like exercise, meditation and healthy living. What it DOESN'T need is constant self-reflection. That type of neurotic self-absorption actually makes anxiety worse. I think you should priortise your health and accept you are not in any condition to make major decisions until you have many months of concrete actions with professionals focusing on your health. Your life *will* get better and you will be happier with your decision if you feel it was made from a healthy place.
posted by saucysault at 9:11 PM on January 12, 2015 [15 favorites]

Let him go. It could be a giant mistake you'll regret forever, but the way you're approaching this right now, you simply can't be with him without torturing yourself with doubts. I think this may represent lack of experience on your part, and thus the self-confidence to discern whether this is right or wrong for you. The laughter thing is a side issue, not the crux of the problem. The problem is you haven't yet learned to trust yourself. Yes, anxiety may be a serious issue. But whatever the cause, if you can't step both feet in with this person, please, for his sake, let him move on. He's at an age where he needs to settle down with someone who doesn't constantly torture themselves with doubts about him, so he can have a family and be happy.

Let him go and learn from it.
posted by Miko at 9:12 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Nothing's wrong with you, as far as I'm concerned. I think sharing a sense of humour, which is really sharing a perspective on the world, being attuned to it in the same way, is critical in a relationship. Feeling that your partner gets you, that you're on the same wavelength, being able to let your respective guards down and refresh yourselves with some laughs, all that is uber, uber important, imo, second only to kindness.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:22 PM on January 12, 2015 [16 favorites]

who I’m sure loves & accepts me more than anyone ever will.

Though, I do take issue with the amount of confidence you've put behind this statement.

Ok also

what’s wrong with me that my brain is rationalizing that the one missing thing outweighs every good thing about him?

Because he's treating you well, and you can't believe it, and you're afraid it won't happen again. You deserve to be treated well! This is a great experience, because you've learned what this is like. I'm pretty sure you'll find another kind person you can laugh with.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:25 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

I know it seems impossible, but people are resilient. People move on from married-with-children-deep-bonds cut short by accident or disease. You can move on from a boyfriend who's a bad fit.

The one thing it requires is distance. You can't see it yet, but you're trying to shove a square peg in a round hole, making a spark where there isn't one. No good relationship requires a year to figure out how to be happy - a year to figure out how to overcome distance or finances or a difficult family situation, yeah, but not just how to be good together when you're not. That's unfixable.

Given time and absence, you will gain perspective you don't have now. You will grow from the experience. You will be better for the next time.

more than anyone ever will

Yeah, you can't actually know that's true until your long life is over. You can make it true, if you refuse to let go, but it is very unlikely to turn out so.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:27 PM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

How do you know if you're making the right decision or self-sabotaging?

For this larger question, I think it's helpful to look at whether this is a pattern (in which case it's often self-sabotaging) or a one-off decision based on the particular circumstances (in which case it's often the right decision).

A therapist is a really great resource for helping differentiate between the two, because anxiety can often cause people to misidentify those things (e.g., making rational decisions about unique incompatibility gets twisted into "I always reject everyone!" or a repeated pattern of rejecting suitable partners gets twisted into "This particular person was obviously uniquely horrible!").
posted by jaguar at 9:34 PM on January 12, 2015 [8 favorites]

while he was wonderful for me in every way, he didn’t make me laugh. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been able to pinpoint as missing.

As I read your question I was right up there on the fence with you about the relationship, up until that statement at which point I went "oh, he's not for you."

That would be the biggest deal-breaker in the world for me. I understand it wouldn't be a deal-breaker for everyone, but it sounds like it is something that is hugely important to you as well.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:38 PM on January 12, 2015 [8 favorites]

I don't know how to improve your decision-making in the abstract. But I expect if you stay you will feel like this all the time, and why would you want that?
posted by Ashenmote at 9:40 PM on January 12, 2015

I'm not saying this is a great idea, but it may be something to try: How about watching a bunch of your favorite comedy movies together, and watching some of his? If you're laughing at the same things, maybe it will help your senses of humor sync up a little. At the very least, being able to quote favorite lines back and forth could be fun. You could also try going to comedy clubs. If you see him bust a gut laughing at something, that should show you he's not a humorless mandroid. Maybe you need to try and bring some humor into your relationship from the outside.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 9:51 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

A sense of humor is important. Laughing is important. Why do you think you're self sabotaging? Did you never ever laugh, or have you only recently decided you don't share a sense a humor? Do you have some sort of pattern of pushing people away or finding fault in partners?

Whatever the reason is, he isn't giving you everything you want. There are a lot of people who are great on paper -- smart, kind, selfless, ambitious, whatever -- but if you don't click, if you can't even make each other laugh, then they are just a great person, not your soulmate. I would let him go. If it's meant to be and you were wrong, maybe you'll find your way back together.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:08 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: It's true, I often feel like I'm forcing it because I have so much admiration for him, and because I've grown as a person while in this relationship, because of him. I feel a lot of guilt that I'm not 100% happy because of how good he is to me. And perhaps I'm just unwilling to accept how important laughter is to me. Other guys were missing other things that he has, and I was still happy. Straight up sucks that he is simultaneously one of the best people I know in my life and yet, not totally right for me.

As for self-sabotage, it's a bad habit I generally have, I think. If I think I'm going to fail at something, I put it off instead of trying to succeed, like the grad school app I should be doing but put off because I'm pretty sure I won't get in. I've done it with friends where insecurities become self-fulfilling prophecies, and same for relationships. All things that induce anxiety.

To an extent, it doesn't matter, because so many of you are right. He deserves more, and I'm not happy. We just can't keep going this way. It will hurt to let go of him; he's supportive and sticks by me no matter what, a quality past relationships didn't possess.
posted by sandj2014 at 10:34 PM on January 12, 2015

Response by poster: I forgot to thank you all for your input and advice so far -- thank you!
posted by sandj2014 at 10:45 PM on January 12, 2015

I am kinda like you in that it takes me a lot of effort to trust my gut, my feelings etc about other people - especially romantically. But, maybe you should trust your gut on this. You are anxious and you don't inhabit the relationship comfortably as 'belonged' and rested. Good enough reasons to be alone for awhile and check out other possibilities in the future.

You know, in an ideal world, lovers might always treat their desired ones nicely, courteously, and be admirable and just with each other. And if love has to come to an end, it can actually end in mutual care of each other. You don't need a catastrophe, a big reason or a defensive list of disorders and bickering in the intimate space. Sometimes it just doesn't feel right.

I've often reflected on Macon's words in The Accidental Tourist: “I'm beginning to think that maybe it's not just how much you love someone. Maybe what matters is who you are when you're with them.”

I think it is really important to reflect on who we are in the intimate space with someone else. You can love someone, admire them even, feel that sex is ok/good etc but still feel like something important is missing. If you want to try anxiety medication and see if these twinges go away, maybe do that. But maybe who you are in this relationship is simply not who you want to be.

[I got a lot out of reading Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch about how relationships are formed and how to trust ourselves, especially in the very early stages of relating with a significant other. it's a good book to prompt your thinking about how to grow and be in love.]
posted by honey-barbara at 11:30 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

You know, you are so young, just 25. I am going to be 62 next month, 4.5 years out of a 12 year LTR that was supposed to last forever, and 1.5 years into a relationship with a good man my age who loves me but for whom I have never felt that incredible "I'm so in love!" tingle of past relationships (yes, plural).

And, I had to teach this man to laugh because ... life for him had just not been fun, uninhibited, or stress free. Now I'm anxious and neurotic but I do know how to laugh and bring laughter to others -- and what joy to hear this dear man let loose and roll with laughter. Not all the time, but more than in his previous relationships. And to then turn and attempt to make me laugh.

Relationships change and grow. Are both of you in such a rush to marry? Or could this just be a good, loving relationship that -- if you got your anxiety in hand -- could give you both pleasure until it either runs its course or the two of you decide to deliberately become more serious?

There is a wonderful book called Brief Encounters which encourages people to not make every relationship the most serious event in one's life, but rather to enjoy what we can bring to each other as individuals.

Is it possible for you to address what you perceive as self-sabotaging behavior and anxiety issues, while enjoying this man's company? If you've never talked about commitment or marriage ... what is the harm in working on your identified issues and not cutting loose someone you admire and care about?
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 11:49 PM on January 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

I wanted to say that I am so young, too! That was not in anyway meant as a jab.

Age is really meaningless when we are talking about life and relationships, don't you think? ;0)
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 12:00 AM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend a book I discovered on Metafilter: Too Good to Stay, Too Bad to Leave. Look past the silly title; it's an incredible tool. It sounds like you're constantly stuck in the "math" of tallying good and bad; you're trying to pinpoint exactly how much shared humor is worth, how much value it should or should not receive against traits like compassion and commitment. This book destroys that method of thinking - that each component of a relationship gets a designated value, and adding them up will give you a Stay or Go answer. The book asks, instead, a series of very plain, logical questions, that illuminate both the questions you should be asking instead, and the hard-knock answers. Best of all, the book is written supportively, and reading it becomes a safe space where you can let go of the exhausting "stay or go or stay or go" drama you've made. Instead, you just find a path to try out, where you can freely, safely think differently about your relationship.
posted by missmary6 at 12:20 AM on January 13, 2015 [10 favorites]

I had two previous relationships with great people who generally treated me well, but something just didn't feel right. It was really difficult to accept that even though things were really good they weren't right for me, because it's hard to let go of the "bird in the hand," so to speak.

But now I've been with a guy for a couple years, and I've yet to feel any hand-wringing is-this-right-for-me self doubt. I've yet to (even have the urge to) post a metafilter question about our relationship. Everything is so much less work.

That said, I stayed in my first relationship waaaay too long. It took me forever to work up the gumption to leave and I should note that I'm a really ballsy person. But when I look back, so what if it took me too long to leave? So what if I spent more time idling with someone who treated me well? Enjoy being in a relationship where you are treated the way all people in relationships are supposed to be treated. Soak it up. Don't worry about him, he'll be fine just like you will be. Then when and if you feel up for leaving, make a move.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 12:44 AM on January 13, 2015 [6 favorites]

He doesn't make you laugh? Friend, that is not a trivial issue. Not at all. Laughter is crucial for so very many things: For bonding; for coping with frustration; for surviving loss; for diffusing tension; for understanding yourself and the world: for identifying kindred spirits; for creating and sharing joy. I'm 42 years old, I've been married for about 15 years, and I can tell you, without hesitation, that I wouldn't last two weeks with a person who didn't make me laugh, no matter how wonderful they were.

Trust yourself to know what you need.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 3:41 AM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

I don't know if your relationship is the right one, but I do know that unchecked anxiety can indeed damage relationships. And relationships of any sort are always potential anxiety triggers, since they are built on trust, and anxiety is a state of mistrust - of yourself, of others, of the world around you.

I'm prone to anxiety, and here's how I can tell whether it's getting the better of me: if I can work through my anxious thoughts and hammer out a conclusion or a plan, I'm okay. If I can't get those thoughts to resolve into something I'm comfortable working with, if they keep swirling around and refuse to settle, then the anxiety's getting out of hand.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:14 AM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Relationships don't have to be bad for them to end. I struggled with breaking up with my first boyfriend because of that - he was a great guy, we had a lot of fun together, but I just wasn't feeling "it" any more. But nothing was bad enough to need to break up. A lot of relationships acquire a certain inertia because of that.

I was still heartbroken after breaking up with him. It was still painful and hurt, etc., but it was the right thing to do. We both went on to find partners better suited for us. You WILL find love again.

If you're looking for unconditional love, it doesn't get much better than a dog. As a fellow anxious person, I have found a lot of solace in my dog and her boundless enthusiasm for all of life and her deep and abiding love of friends (especially me).

I think about that when she wakes me up in the middle of the night for potty-outside logistics support.
posted by bookdragoness at 5:41 AM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

a wonderful man, who I’m sure loves & accepts me more than anyone ever will.

You don't know that is true.

while he was wonderful for me in every way, he didn’t make me laugh.

Everything else aside, that is a perfectly good reason to break up. You are not alone in not being able to date someone who doesn't make you laugh. Humor is really important to me and the fact that my partner and I laugh together every single day and share our own brand of humor is one of the absolute best things about our relationship.

Listen: Having doubts in a relationship at certain times is normal. But being constantly plagued by anxiety and uncertainty while not deriving on-going pleasure (and laughter!) from a relationship is a pretty strong indication that you should move on. You will be okay. It is very likely that you will meet someone else who shares your sense of humor and is also "incredible". Don't idealize your boyfriend so highly that you forget there are other awesome people out there. Like you said, he deserves someone who connects with him better than seems possible with you. Let him go and take care of yourself.
posted by Gray Skies at 5:55 AM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think that a lot of anxiety around whether to break up with someone centers around the belief in The One, that there is only one The One for each person, and that if you let go of the person who could be The One, you will be alone and sad for the rest of your days. I like Dan Savage and one thing that he says is that there is no The One.

I think the idea of The One is related to the idea that our partners complete us so without our partners, we are incomplete people. You *have to* be a complete person on your own because things happen in life. My parents were together for 35 years when my mom died suddenly. Now my dad is seeing someone else and I'm happy for him because I want him to be happy. Believing that you are an incomplete person without The One and your life is doomed to sadness in absence of The One is a recipe for sadness and anxiety because odds are that one of you will outlast the other and as women, the odds are higher for us that we will be the last ones standing.

One of the things I learned from my mom's death is that I *have to* be okay on my own because no one lives forever. If my husband dies before I do, I will be devastated, especially in the immediate, but I have to be okay. Not being okay is not an option. So I don't think that believing in The One is helpful. There's The 0.7 and The 0.51 and eventually maybe you find someone you like enough to round up to The One but there are plenty of people you could round up to The One.

Plus, he doesn't make you laugh?! I think that's more important than sex appeal. I mean, there are drugs you can take to improve libido. He can't take Cialis to become hilarious.
posted by kat518 at 6:49 AM on January 13, 2015 [8 favorites]

I think that the laughter thing is definitely a huge deal, but not the only problem in this relationship.

I’ve struggled with my feelings for him for so long. (Love shouldn't feel like a struggle)
I never felt that giddy “in love” feeling. (There you go)
I feel overwhelmed and more guilty. (Also, terrible things to feel in a healthy relationship)
he's extremely affectionate, and i am not. (Again, not compatible in basic stuff)
This confusion and pain and guilt is present every single day (Not healthy or normal or desirable)

he’s literally the most incredible man I know.
Well, maybe he is, but he's just not the right guy for you.

if I can’t give him the love he gives me, I have to let him go, regardless of how much being without him pains me. He truly deserves more.
This is 100% true. And also, you deserve more!

what’s wrong with me that my brain is rationalizing that the one missing thing outweighs every good thing about him?
I think you are failing to see that there is not just "the one missing thing", there are many other shitty things going on. You are probably just scared to hurt him or being "ungrateful" for not reciprocating. Forget about that. You are not doing him (or yourself, for that matter) any favors by feeling the way you feel.

Listen, I broke up with my first boyfriend because we had two major problems, one of them being the "sense of humor" thing. He was and still is an AMAZING guy and I care about him a lot, but I learned that you can't change people, so you are either a good match or you're not. When you try to change them (or yourself) things get ugly and painful.

Have you ever talked to him about how you feel? Maybe he feels something's off too and you will agree to break up, who knows.

Good luck.
posted by divina_y_humilde at 7:13 AM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

(Also - just wanted to quickly note that being with someone you can laugh with isn't the same as being with a "funny guy". Dating a guy who sees himself as a comedian can come with its own problems (not always, sometimes). I just mean someone you can really relax with.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:36 AM on January 13, 2015

Best answer: I am an anxious person. I struggled with similar feelings when I was with someone who was really great and who totally loved me but I just didn't love them back. I stayed in that relationship way longer than I should have because it felt so nice, and I thought there was supposed to be a reason, a big scarlet letter or burning bush that says this is why you are not meant to be, and I couldn't see it. The reason was there, and big and important, but it was not the sort of thing I was used to looking for, and thus I couldn't see it.

The reason is, you should be with someone who makes you sing, and come alive, and who you implicitly trust to show your deepest most vulnerable self. With my ex the truth is we were too different and I held back on opening up to her because I sensed the deep connection wouldn't be there. And you know, I am pretty sure I was right, even though I never fully gave her a chance. As wonderful as she was, we clashed over some pretty fundamental stuff and experienced the world very differently. With my fiancee now, I do have these things, I have my closest ally and she knows everything about me and she gets me, and I get her, and while I still have things to get anxious about, whether or not we should be together is not one of them. I just know. We work.

It can be hard to accept that we deserve more than just to be loved by someone great, because even that is wonderful, especially if you have been treated badly in your past; warm love is like cool water in a desert. You start to think you should stay because there might not be any more if you go further out there. But this is your life; you are the one living it, not him. It is difficult and painful to be in an intimate partnership in which you can't feel love because it's not just not there. At the least you deserve to be free of this burden. Choosing to open up your life and your heart to someone is a big thing to do, it is risky and intense and takes a lot of your energy and focus, and if you choose to do this, you should be rewarded with the growing intimacy that comes from an ever-deepening connection; that's the bargain all of us make when we do this.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:44 AM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks again for all these helpful and insightful responses. It reinforces that ending things is the right decision. He and I have tried so hard over the past year to remedy what was missing, to be more open and try a bunch of different things. I agree humor isn't just about jokes, and we tried things that ended up just being temporary fixes. I hoped he could open up to me a bit more, share more light tidbits about his good days or bad days, he never seemed to have any. Perhaps underneath this humor is that I never felt truly connected in certain ways, like so many of you mention.

It's taken me a long time to get here finally because I couldn't make sense of enjoying his company on the one hand and knowing I love him with that unending doubt that it still wasn't quite there for me. It is for him, but not for me, and I couldn't feel worse about it. But I can't let it cycle like this anymore; that's too hurtful for both sides.

It also doesn't seem like any of you who had similar experiences have any regrets, a fear of mine. We made each other better people, and I'm grateful for that. I'll ache for a long time over him, I'm sure, but this is better in the end for us both.
posted by sandj2014 at 8:25 AM on January 13, 2015

I just saw this video last week and it has changed my life. Basically, she says this:
- if you are struggling between two hard choices, it's because they are "on a par" with each other.
- Each choice has pros and cons but the list of those is different for each.
- You can't compare values

So what you should do is go with the one that will make you the person that you want to be. Do you want to be the kind of person who stays with someone you don't love just because you think you should? Or do you want to be the kind of person who does the hard thing of letting him to go so that you can both find happiness with other people?
posted by dawkins_7 at 8:28 AM on January 13, 2015 [5 favorites]

I just wanted to add, sometimes my partner misses me and I don't miss him, and sometimes I miss him like crazy and he's like "we just saw each other this morning." Sometimes he's a little hyper and I roll my eyes. Sometimes I'm feeling high strung and it's a little much for him to take. Don't feel bad for not having 100% positive feelings towards your partner all the time. Accept that your feelings about someone can move around day by day, but the underlying feeling must be love & respect in order for the whole thing to function.

The best advice I got was: stop micro-analyzing and just feel how I feel day to day. Am I happy and enjoying myself with this person? That's all. Without the thoughts and filters and what ifs, just how do I feel today when we spend time together?

I was ready to say: calm down, don't over think this, give it a chance, and then I read: he didn’t make me laugh

If it wasn't for that I'd say you're driving yourself into an anxiety spiral but if you're not laughing and enjoying yourself with your partner, what are you doing?

FWIW I left a safe-but-mismatched relationship and I was alone for a while. And when I ran into my ex and his (now) wife, they were like two f'ing peas in a f'ing pod, it was incredible. I couldn't even be jealous or insecure, it was just so obvious how they were suited for each other. (And yes I did find my own pea-pod partner eventually too.)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:37 PM on January 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

The best advice I got was: stop micro-analyzing and just feel how I feel day to day.

I echo that this is good advice for the perennially anxious: back up and observe the macro pattern of how you feel. Here, you are basically feeling disconnected and uninterested on the day-to-day. No amount of arguing with yourself about all the smaller factors will change that basic feeling. Do you feel like you have a lot of pretty good days in a row where you're pretty happy in a relationship? Absent serious dealbreakers like violence or addiction, that's all you really need to be able to continue. Do you feel like good days are rare and mostly you're thinking about how it would feel to not be in the relationship? That's a pretty good indication that it's over.

I have been in a relationship where I second-guessed myself about being in it nearly every day (well, several, but this one in particular). There were a lot of seeming reasons why I shouldn't be in this relationship and I rehearsed these reasons constantly. Yet at the end of the day, the guy made me happy. I felt calm and secure around him, I enjoyed his company, we shared lots of tastes and interests, we had great chemistry, and day after day went by in which I was happy and simply did not want to choose to act on my all-important "reasons." The happy feelings eventually surmounted the anxious deliberations and it went on to be a great relationship. So it's not the thoughts you should listen closest to. It's the feelings.
posted by Miko at 1:39 PM on January 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I do feel a comfortable happiness with him the majority of the time, and we're so well matched in every. single. way. except sense of humor, but it's so important for contributing to intimacy and excitement. It's hard to measure day to day because we only see each other on weekends, well, most weekends. All of your experiences have given me a lot to think about! I plan on having a very honest conversation about what's been missing between us.
posted by sandj2014 at 1:56 PM on January 13, 2015

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