You're just ok. Don't like me anymore? NOW I love you
April 9, 2016 2:23 PM   Subscribe

I've got a bad romantic ailment. I have a hard time bridging the gap between reality and fantasy, and I have a big romantic ego. I have a tendency to build infatuation mansions, when reality perhaps only calls for a modest log cabin. Excuse the length of the navel gazing essay below.

A pattern that has happened a few times: date with a dude, am somewhat intrigued but perhaps not bowled over right away (pretty normal, pretty healthy) Man is more enthusiastic for next date and following dates than I, am often intensely attracted (sexually/physically), but mentally think - we have a *nice* time, great quality person on paper, but in reality, I don't feel a comfortable kin connection/harmony and this person doesn't have some of the characteristics I crave in a partner that I promised myself I'd seek (the last one was missing a certain reckless courage, lacked a pursuit of projects outside of himself, was a bit of a sad lost soul, and most importantly - lacked a creative mind) During the dates, I have a great time (although I often have a great time, that's just who I am), but perhaps not a soul-touchingly spectacular time and I recognize this. But in their absence, between dates, that's when I get to the building of the infatuation-mansions. I can't quite verbalize what it is that I start ascribing to this person (an ethereally romantic aura ) but the result is that I am inappropriately infatuated, imagine a lot of hope for a romantic future with them and can't wait to see them again. Upon seeing them in the flesh again, my head is out of the clouds, I land softly but firmly upon the ground, look at the person in front of me and think "oh, they are just a person. A person who's nice to be around but is not this otherworldly fantasy I had in mind " I then start wondering - this is pretty nice so far, but am I settling ? AND THEN - as soon as they show signs of drawing away, that's when the real Sacrada Familia-fantasy-infatuation construction site moves in. I recognize that this is so unhealthy, this desperation for affection specifically when it is dangled away from you, yet I can't help it. What happened to my earlier realistic view of the person, why can't I grasp unto it/access it now ? Why is it that I feel so powerful and so secure when the ball is in my court, but so powerless when it's not, even though the facts and compatibility of this potential relationship are constant in both scenarios? I can be feeling so down wondering if they still like me and they might throw me a little SMS-crumb and the clouds are instantly parted and sun is out. I even confidently start having healthy stable thoughts like "eh you know, if this develops - awesome, if not - that's fine too, especially as they are missing such and such quality ", but as soon as they are distant again, I again am down in the dumps.

The last one parted because he had unresolved emotional issues towards a past love, and in the subsequent weeks, I've been imagining him as this magical snowflake with a special blend of unique qualities that will be hard to find again (this might actually be objectively true about him - re:possessing some good and unusual qualities, but I did not 100% feel this way about him in the flesh, only after or during periods of being apart) When I was with the one before that, a more serious boyfriend, I started feeling somewhat disillusioned when we'd have a kind of a gray boring quotidian time with thoughts like "oh, so this is who I might spend the rest of my life with ? Oh, ok, I am not super excited but I guess I could make it work" - for some reason the idea of having to initiate a breakup was scarier than a meh eternity. In the end, when we did part, my heartbreak was disproportionate - in hind sight, probably owing a large portion of that to my fantasy infatuation-palace construction tendency (e.g. I missed him and loved him more after the relationship than during) I am experiencing the same exact sequence of events with the most recent guy, although to a much milder degree, as it was a short relationship. I wish I had that built-in feature that some people seem to possess - where someone not liking you back as much as you'd like them to is as unattractive deal breaker as any, and causes you to lose interest completely. Unlike those people, I find them not liking me enough to be my problem.

Why does this happen ? I had a healthy childhood, had a lot of attention and love from my mom (dad was not neglectful either), I am not sure where this love-craving comes from. I have plenty of friends. For a long time I thought of myself as an awkward, socially inept person, but that's an old story I've been telling myself that I mostly recognize is not true any longer and perhaps was never fully true (my acquaintances would probably laugh with disbelief if they heard me say that) My longest closest relationship did end in a very out-of-left field traumatic way - I am so over it but wonder how much of that I've internalized and carry it with me? I am an attractive woman both physically and internally, however always had this feeling that I've carried with me that either men don't like me that much or not enough men like me.

Can you relate ? How can I learn to firmly stay on my reality surfboard when they throw those ego-crushing waves at me? Have you figured out why this happens or used to happen to you ? A friend suggested journaling my dates so I could look back and see how I felt in the real moments, before I've had time to add all of my fantasy brushstrokes to the picture. I suppose in a way this is a good quality - to be able to fall in love (infatuation/limerence?) easily, but it oh hurts me so and leads me astray from seeking something ideal for me.

I have found this book incredibly helpful and enlightening in beginning to understand this (learned of it on here, thanks !), however it still hasn't helped me get a more secure grasp on reality regardless of the romantic circumstances. It has taught me to understand why I might feel somewhat desperate when someone I really like shows signs of losing interest (and why that is not necessarily an unhealthy thing), but it hasn't explained why I feel that way when someone I have mild feelings towards causes me to feel this way and why that ramps up the romance for me.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (7 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Skills found in DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) may assist, as feelings of desperation when someone is pulling away are really common with BPD.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:16 PM on April 9, 2016

I have had men do this to me, where they really aren't that into me until I dump them. I think one factor is that these are men who think they are a real catch and I think they assume that I am probably not good enough. Dumping them seems to signal to them that I see myself as worthwhile. That makes them reconsider their opinions.

I think this may be related to placing a high value on "social proof" as a means to guage both your worth and theirs. Perhaps the path forward involves finding other ways to gauge the value of people, both your own value and their value.
posted by Michele in California at 3:21 PM on April 9, 2016 [11 favorites]

Well - have you considered the patriarchy as a root cause? The patriarchy wants you to believe that not enough men like you, because that way you will feel compelled to give yourself up for a man. Whatever gender-based oppression you've had to deal with in your life would be congruent with such a message and these men might be acting as a focal point for all of that. In a way it sounds like they are wearing the 'ideal man' costume which is definitely an archetype that exists out there in society, whether they're consciously putting it on or whether you're projecting it onto them or perhaps a bit of both. I would ask, who is the ideal man that these people seem to be in your head, and where did the idea of this person come from?

To clarify -- the patriarchy says you are not good enough without a man, and it also says it's your fault for not being pretty enough (or whatever), and it also says that a good enough man will solve everything. So the rosy glow is the promised end to gender-based oppression - the feeling that you are finally worthy because you are at last doing what you are supposed to do in submitting to a high-status man. Just a theory.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:23 PM on April 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

Limerence is like a drug. It facilitates the release of lots of feel-good chemicals and it makes people feel alive in a very compelling way. Because it makes us feel good, people like to stay in that space and prolong it as much as possible. Some people even make the mistake of thinking it's love. But, it's not reality and it's not something that can be sustained. It's fantasy-driven and happens on someone else instead of with them because a disproportionate part of it is projected fantasy. FANTASY. Not real. Not based on reality. Not love. It's fine to enjoy it, but regularly reminding yourself that it's not reality and it's not love can be helpful. It's like great tasting emotional junk food. Fun and delicious in the moment, but not a reasonable approach to long-term eating. Don't endlessly feed it to yourself by embroidering romantic fantasies. It'll prevent you from making a genuine connection. It's easy enough to become a limerence junky, but it's a set of mental and emotional habits that can be broken with mindful redirection.
posted by quince at 4:06 PM on April 9, 2016 [15 favorites]

I think it doesnt necessarily follow that having a good childhood means that events didnt affect you and cause these patterns, we all interpret things differently and your psyche holds things you are now questioning that may only be felt experiences, not remembered ones, so unavailable for normal recall. Shame etc can happen in so many unintentioned ways for instance, parents doing great doesnt mean child is not affected. There are many theories and whatever resonates with you theory-wise may hold your answer. I suggest working on increasing awareness of body sensations, what is going on in your body during the day, when thinking of these situations, fantasizing, and especially in person. Often the body tells us a lot that we are out of touch with and it has helped me in exploring my behaviours that lead to patterned outcomes. Also, as Percussive Paul states so well, I think we are conditioned strongly away from self trust, for many reasons and that perhaps you hold a belief that the perfect man will allay all fears, or...that you are better off no one ever fits the bill. Knowing what you truly believe can take some digging, therapy perhaps, lots of info online about how to access core beliefs. Goodluck and best wishesin finding your answers
posted by RelaxingOne at 4:22 PM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am an attractive woman both physically and internally, however always had this feeling that I've carried with me that either men don't like me that much or not enough men like me.

I so relate to this, and I know so many other women who would as well! I think it is actually really common. Here is my Dating as a Lady in the Modern World Survival Kit, in case it is helpful to you:

- Ask Polly. This one or this one or this one any one really. She says: be demanding in relationships. Ask for what you want and believe that you can be messy and imperfect and also loveable. Best case scenario, pretending to be something you're not in order to keep someone just earns you a lifetime of pretending to be something you're not.

- This book, which is another resource that I found via MeFi; I found it a super helpful companion to the kind of attachment theory research you mentioned, despite the New Age-y language. It's about cultivating feelings of security in yourself so that you are less dependent on other people affirming your beauty, desirability, worthiness. Also: it's not abstract qualities or personality traits (height, wealth, the fact that they like the same books and music you do) that make people desirable partners, but how they make you feel.

- A friend suggested journaling my dates so I could look back and see how I felt in the real moments, before I've had time to add all of my fantasy brushstrokes to the picture.
Yes, yes, absolutely do this! Journal the whole arc of your emotions around dating, not just the dates themselves. I did that (and still journal about relationship stuff now that I am in a relationship) and have found it a really helpful way to just observe my feelings about a given situation, and record them honestly. It allows you to insert a step early in the "fantasy infatuation-palace construction" (as you put it) process where you can say: "Well this is an interesting building. What are the plans for this? Are we sure that we aren't going to regret blocking the view of the river if we build this here? How is this one different from the one we built last week whose third floor collapsed?" etc.

- Don't be too hard on yourself! Dating puts you through the wringer, emotionally, and I think it presents a lot of opportunities for self-knowledge and growth that can be really valuable, but also don't feel bad if it seems like you're just mucking around in the emotional muck a lot of the time. And don't buy into the idea that you won't find love until you're some perfectly self-actualized independent warrior maiden or something. It sounds to me like you are a sensitive and thoughtful person who is a good citizen of the dating world, so try to be generous to yourself about your unruly thoughts and feelings since you're in a situation that is guaranteed to stir them up.

Best of luck!
posted by Owl of Athena at 8:54 PM on April 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

I will add that it sounds like you spend an awful LOT of time thinking about the men you date. I do the same thing, so I don't think it is inherently bad. But I recognize that I do that and, to some extent, I kind of dismiss it as a dumb hobby. Other people knit or watch their favorite TV show. I beanplate the hell out of potential romantic interests. Some guy caught my eye at the grocery store? Well, I wonder if I will see him again and blah blah blah.

So, two things: it is okay to overanalyze that stuff when I am bored, but if I am running a fever or something, man, that plate of beans gets thrown out when my fever breaks. It doesn't mean a damn thing about THEM. It just means that I was running a fever and that is where my mind tends to go. That's it. Any "conclusions" I drew that day do not really count.

Second, I don't draw firm conclusions. I leave room for people to surprise me. I may be aware that x behavior implies y about the guy, but I don't jump the gun. I wait to see what he will actually do.

I am worse about this when my life is in the toilet. Dreaming up Byzantine romantic scenarios is good distraction from dealing with things that scare the hell out of me. I do my best to problem solve, but during the times when there is nothing more to do about it, yup, I overthink this stuff.

Of course, I don't think a man is more attractive after he dumps me. I don't have that problem. But I have noted that "unrequited love" is often headier stuff than the real thing because you can imagine them to be anything. Perhaps this is a factor here. Once they dump you, you can pretend they are wonderful. Or anything you want to imagine.

Maybe you should take up writing fiction.
posted by Michele in California at 12:42 PM on April 10, 2016

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