Dissecting anxiety in a relationship
May 18, 2016 8:43 PM   Subscribe

So I'm in a new relationship. Two months. He's great! Yay! But some subtle things have turned me into a neurotic mess, and now I'm having a hard time differentiating between irrational neurotic anxiety and actual concerns that I'm brushing off as a result of an anxiety disorder.

First of all: really, seriously, he's great. That's why this is SO HARD. I'm so deeply afraid of losing him, of screwing this up somehow. I've literally thought to myself about just HOW MUCH it would hurt if this somehow fell apart. Already. I fell for him hard and fast. He listens to me. He's very respectful. We have a kind of "bucket list" and we draw from it every week in order to decide what our next date will be. He bought a bike this week so we can go on bike rides together. We're going on a picnic together this Saturday, and in his words we'll hang out "all day". Etc etc. Reasons to feel secure. But to the point.

Saturday we got coffee and got into a sort of debate over social issues. We basically agreed on everything but ended up arguing semantics. We both said at the end that we felt like we pushed it too hard and felt bad, etc. and seemingly moved on.

He hasn't texted me first since then, though he's snapchatted me first. Normally we initiate texts pretty evenly. We forgot to draw from our list, so I said something about it, and we agreed to hang out Tuesday. Tuesday was great! We went for a walk, watched the sun set, and played games at a bar we both like. But then, at 11:30, he said he was tired and wanted to go home. I couldn't come over because his mom is staying with him. He NEVER says he's tired. He ALWAYS says he doesn't want the night to end. I tell him he needs more sleep and he says that no good story starts with "I went to bed on time". So this is out of character. I mean, OBVIOUSLY he needs sleep. But it's still unlike him. We also agreed to hang out Saturday.... with nothing in between. I thought five days felt like a lot. It's NOT, really, but I'm in lust and it feels long. It made me feel more insecure that he seemingly didn't feel the same way. I know, I know, minor detail! But this is how my thinking goes.

So I took the initiative instead of being passive and invited him to go for a walk tomorrow. He goes into work early tomorrow but gets out at three. He normally naps in the evening. Here's where I started to get annoyed. He said maybe and that that he'd let me know how tired he was. Again, being tired has NEVER been an excuse. Then I realized, hey, tomorrow's Thursday, and he goes out with his friends every Thursday. So he MAY be too tired to see me, even though we wouldn't go out until 7 or 7:30 because I work late, but he can go out with his friends? Admittedly he goes out with them much later, after he naps, but still? Can't he nap earlier? This is so unlike his usual self ("I'll sleep when I'm dead") that it makes me feel like something is off. He's not sick. He does have allergies. He also said he's trying to drink less caffeine.

So now I feel REALLY anxious. I know I'm going to spend all day tomorrow obsessively checking my phone to see if he texted me. It's going to interfere with my ability to focus at work. I KNOW this. I KNOW this is bad. This happens OVERANDOVER. I get worried, cannot tell if I'm being irrational, and often realize after the fact that, hey, that wasn't clinical anxiety, that was entirely legitimate. I need advice on how to navigate between trusting myself and recognizing irrationality. I have a therapist but I can't see her until the end of next week.

Alright, so, the two parts to my question: A) Am I being irrational here, or is this genuinely slightly concerning? B) How do I get better at telling the difference between being irrational and things that are genuinely concerning when I'm caught up in the moment like this?

Another note: We MAY be forced to go long-distance for a year starting in August. He's told me this scares him but he's not going anywhere and his feelings won't change. I do wonder if this affects his behavior. I also told him twice early on I want to take it slow. However, that was many weeks ago, and now I'm ready to pick up the pace.
posted by Amy93 to Human Relations (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The really intense part of a relationship doesn't last forever. The loss of it can be a little confusing, but in and of itself it's not the end of the world. One of you is going to be the first to not want to text as much, not want to stay out as late, not want to push as hard. It happens. It's fine.

When my wife and I were first dating, we agreed on a lot of things but had some severe disagreements on a few social issues. Disagreeing with her really made me feel like an asshole because she is kind and fair and good and if I disagreed with her it either meant that either I was wrong in my personal views, or wrong about her kindness. It turns out that life is complicated and neither was true. My point of view was too extreme, yes, and maybe hers was too. I felt very conflicted about it for a while. We got through it (and we've been married 13 years, and I love her very much)

(My wife and I were long distance for something like the first 9 months of our relationship. It sucks, but it can be done.)
posted by RustyBrooks at 8:56 PM on May 18, 2016 [4 favorites]

You do sound a bit insecure, and like you are looking for something to be wrong. Telling the difference between the two cones with self confidence and relationship experience.

You've discussed what you both want, what expectations are. It seems like he is receptive on things. His mom visiting may tax him more than normal, and, I would see the nap/might be tired talk as a possible introvert thing, more than something up between the two of you.
posted by kellyblah at 9:01 PM on May 18, 2016 [1 favorite]

You're in a very exciting phase of the relationship when you're still getting to know each other, so yes, the little things can seem to count for a lot in the moment. Please try not to beat yourself up about the totally natural moments of anxiety that may pop up for you right now.

If you want this to last, though, you are going to do the hard thing of trusting him and continuing to communicate. He sounds great, and he may very well be tired this week because of his mom's visit. (I just hosted my in-laws for a few days and I'm on the couch sick.) Everyone has an off week sometimes. Obsess all you want, (you're entitled to!) but if I were you I'd pull back a bit and focus on doing something fun for yourself while you're waiting for Saturday. That way you'll have a great story to tell him Saturday, too. If it's going to work long-distance, there will be a lot of that.
posted by Pearl928 at 9:10 PM on May 18, 2016 [9 favorites]

I'd say that the "I'm tired" thing is the real person peeking through a little (especially if he has a parent staying at his home!!) Like, when you're first dating someone you act like the person you really want to be, and say badass, sexy things like "I'LL SLEEP WHEN I'M DEAD!" It takes about...2-3 months before you kinda run out of steam on the performative stuff, and your real sleepy, grumpy, whatever person-stuff starts to bleed through.

The only sorta weird part is the long amount of no-date time between now and Saturday, but I'm a "see them nearly every day, text alllll the time" type of person. If you are too, he just might not be the right dude for you, but even given that I'd give him a couple more weeks to see.
posted by zinful at 9:20 PM on May 18, 2016 [17 favorites]

I will just say that allergies have absolutely wiped me out this spring. I nap every day now and I am also the "sleep when I'm dead" type. Allergies are exhausting.
posted by tippy at 9:26 PM on May 18, 2016 [6 favorites]

I get worried, cannot tell if I'm being irrational, and often realize after the fact that, hey, that wasn't clinical anxiety, that was entirely legitimate. I need advice on how to navigate between trusting myself and recognizing irrationality.
If you worry about a lot of things, your worry is bound to be right some of the time. Even a stopped clock, which does not work at all, is right twice a day.

As for this specific scenario, based on my personal experience this sounds more like anxiety than anything else. But you mention that you talked about wanting to take it slow with him (good for you for having this talk, by the way; that can be really hard!). Have you considered having another chat with him, about how you are feeling now?

And here's another thing, also: sure, it would be a bummer if this did not work out. But you also sound very intelligent, like you have interesting ideas that you want to share with your partner. Do you really want to be with someone who acts off for days and days without saying anything whenever you have a difference in opinion? It is my guess that he is not "off," he is simply being more human. Humans get tired. Men trying to impress women say they will sleep when they are dead.

Finally, one thing that really tremendously helped me with my own anxiety, which often manifested as snakes in my brain trying to make me obsess about my boyfriend? Was getting a hobby. Really. A hobby is a wonderful thing, and it gives you something to do and think about that is yours and yours alone. And it also gives you a good conversation topic for dates. :)

Best of luck.
posted by sockermom at 10:43 PM on May 18, 2016 [11 favorites]

A) Even if your intuition is right, something is off — your choices are to wait passively and see, working yourself into a lather — or investigate boldly.
B) The best check is a reality check. Ask him.

> I'm so deeply afraid of losing him, of screwing this up somehow. I've literally thought to myself about just HOW MUCH it would hurt if this somehow fell apart... I fell for him hard and fast.

If you break up, you will survive the sting. Two months is a very short time no matter how intimate you've been. The worst case is hard, but doable.

By the tone of your post, you've elevated this man to a pedestal in your mind. You give him so much power, so much devotion. Your brainspace is being used up in a play-by-play analysis of his behavior, his intentions, his actions. Honor your own goals and desires! So he can't hang out this week — what are you doing with yourself? Are you waiting to hear back before you even make plans? No. Short-circuit that loopy mess by taking action. Plan your own afternoon, he can join you if he's free.

His wonderfulness will see your wonderfulness and match it. But you must prioritize your agency and worth.
posted by fritillary at 11:01 PM on May 18, 2016 [20 favorites]

I think probably he hasn't been his "usual self" these last couple of months because he's been caught up in the excitement of the new relationship and trying to show off for you, as well as missing out on sleep and spending time with other people to be with you. Now he feels more secure in the relationship, he doesn't need to do that, and what you see as him "cooling off" is actually him going back to normal.

I sympathise completely as I have been having similar conversations with myself ("oh my god he hasn't replied to my text and it has been THREE HOURS he must hate me oh wait he has replied oh he was ASLEEP") and I think in my case it is down to experiences with someone I went out with a few years ago who was forever giving me the cold shoulder/silent treatment if I did the slightest thing "wrong". I think it might be worth exploring if your anxiety is anything to do with a previous relationship and explaining this to your partner so he knows to give you clear signals as to whether withdrawing means "I am annoyed with you" or "I am genuinely tired/whatever". If he is a decent bloke he will do his best to alleviate your anxiety even if it isn't entirely rational.
posted by intensitymultiply at 3:08 AM on May 19, 2016 [4 favorites]

Bad anxiety/relationship management: oh god he's tired he never tells me he's tired is he actually just dodging me is he mad because of our disagreement can't he nap earlier why won't he even nap earlier for me he must not like me enough to nap earlier these excuses don't sound like him they're probably something he's making up to avoid me

Good anxiety/relationship management: "Being 'too tired' is so unlike you! Everything okay?"
posted by babelfish at 6:50 AM on May 19, 2016 [5 favorites]

I’m a lot like you in some ways. If something is off in my relationship, I can’t concentrate. I feel anxious or sad until it’s resolved. I suggest you simply say to him: “We had a difficult conversation last weekend; do you feel ok about it? I feel like things have been a little different since then but I’m not sure if it’s just me.” This is completely honest and also low-key. It’s ok to trust your gut and communicate. But also respect him by taking his responses at face value.

However, the thing you’re starting to do about nitpicking his nap times and so on…please don’t do that. That will not end well. If he has standing plans with his friends every Thursday, he probably thinks of Thursdays as “his” and plans accordingly. You suggesting a walk today probably threw a wrench in that. Keep in mind that people like their routines. It’s not necessarily personal!
posted by yawper at 7:02 AM on May 19, 2016 [8 favorites]

Give him a week or two. If he's back to his usual self, then it was probably just a little anxiety on your part.

Any more than that, and consider that this is probably his true self. If you can live with that, and the qualities that attracted you in the first place are still there then whether you take it or leave it is up to you.

For the first couple of months of my own relationship, it was also intense and wonderful between my boyfriend and I. Soulmate material - wonderful! However after a year, my boyfriend did admit that he kept up an appearance because he really wanted to go out with me.
posted by ThatSox at 8:20 AM on May 19, 2016

Thanks for the wonderful replies.

I think my problem is this: I'm 23 and I've never had a relationship turn serious. I've been in one that I THOUGHT would, and I really liked him, and then he pulled back and I said something and he confessed that his ex had reappeared and he didn't think he was ready after all. Which fucking stung at the time, because that was similar to this. I REALLY liked him. I really saw potential. And then he was gone.

That happened around this point, really right around this exact time. So in my mind this is Time When Relationships Die. Obviously this is untrue, but as it is this is the reality I've constructed for myself. Also, something IS slightly different. It's probably just him getting comfortable. But I've never been through this process, so I'm kind of taken aback by the whole thing.

I like talking more often, or getting the cutesy snapchats. He has so many other good traits that are bigger than those small things, but I still like it. It gives me reassurance. I think I could tell him how they make me happy. I wouldn't make it into a Big Thing, but I think mentioning it may help. I also may feel more anxious because his mom is staying with him, and I don't have my own place yet, so all of our interactions have been pushed outside his place. We haven't had any time to just.... sit with each other. Kiss. Cuddle. And it's then that I feel like wow this guy really likes me.

As it is, this is NOT me. I'm not typically this insecure. I have free-floating anxiety that I manage with regular exercise and therapy, no longer meds. I am confident and self-assured. I do not fall into pits of negative self-talk and I don't feel like I have a lot of insecurities. Certain situations may make me feel insecure or unsure, but overall I'm just.. fine. Now I'm not doing negative self-talk here, or generally putting myself down at all. I'm just so completely paranoid and it's so completely far off from how I usually am that I don't know how to handle it.
posted by Amy93 at 6:10 PM on May 19, 2016

When an anxious person feels like they don't have any control, they look for and try to establish patterns of behavior. It helps you "know" what to expect. Actually all humans do it, not just anxious ones. We put people in boxes - this person is an X, that person is a Y.

Sometimes we create patterns where they don't exist - that's easy to do in the beginning of a relationship when you're trying to get to know someone. But it's a false sort of control when you do that. And then when the pattern *you've* created doesn't pan out, it seems like the person has changed. When actually they were variable to begin with.

So in that light, a few things you said stood out to me:

We have a kind of "bucket list" and we draw from it every week in order to decide what our next date will be.

It's only been a few weeks altogether. You don't draw from it every week, you've drawn from it a few times.

Normally we initiate texts pretty evenly.

So far you've been even, but it's only been a few weeks. No patterns yet.

He NEVER says he's tired. He ALWAYS says he doesn't want the night to end.

Just eliminate "never" and "always" from your vocabulary. They have no business in descriptions of other people, no matter how long you've known them. And this guy you've dated for a few months.

So this is out of character....But it's still unlike him.

You don't yet know his character, and you don't know yet what's like him or unlike him.

He normally naps in the evening. ... Again, being tired has NEVER been an excuse. ... he goes out with his friends every Thursday. ... This is so unlike his usual self

Because you created a pattern for his behavior based on a few weeks of observation, you're now finding his natural variance to be a sign of something wrong.

...it makes me feel like something is off. He's not sick. He does have allergies. He also said he's trying to drink less caffeine.

Two things here: one, you're not his mother. Monitoring his sleep, his caffeine intake, his health. Just stop. And two, don't go down the road of trying to infer people's motives for things. Talk to people, ask them, or let it go. But don't try to mind-read or body-read.

It's going to interfere with my ability to focus at work. I KNOW this. I KNOW this is bad. This happens OVERANDOVER.

That one-two punch of limerence and anxiety is a tough one for sure. But you know what it is, you know it doesn't do you any good, and you know you're capable of riding it out because you've done it before. So when you do see your therapist, ask him/her for tools/strategies for dealing with that, specifically, on your own, when it's happening. Focus on you.

We MAY be forced to go long-distance for a year starting in August. ...I do wonder if this affects his behavior.

You should consider whether to do this based on how it will affect you, and your behavior. You're spending a lot of energy trying to figure him out, when an honest look at your thought patterns and behaviors will do you much more good, for this relationship and for others down the road. And be generous with yourself - what you want, what you expect in a relationship, those things are valid. If you know yourself well, and are honest, then you will make a healthy decision about whether to pursue a yearlong LTR with someone when so far your thoughts are driven by fear of losing him.
posted by headnsouth at 6:10 AM on May 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

I read your update and wanted to add some more. You and your BF sound a lot like me and my BF.

I’ve been with my partner for two years. He is wonderful (just like yours!). When we’re together, he’s extremely warm and affectionate; I have zero doubt that he’s crazy about me. However, he’s also very independent, and when we are apart, his time is filled up with other things. He lives a full, rich life and is never bored. [Note: by rich and full I don’t mean he’s always socializing or something. He’s an introvert. Reading a book or messing around on his guitar or going for a long solo bike ride are things that make him incredibly happy. So it’s all about knowing what works for you.]

I admire the life my BF has built for himself. He doesn’t NEED me in order to be happy. He is always happier when I’m around, but he’s perfectly fine if I can’t be*. I have two pieces of advice for you:

1. Try to be more like my boyfriend. It’s just a better way to live, in general! Find the things that make you happy and pursue them, with or without a partner. Build yourself a full, rich life so you can enjoy yourself. It also makes you 100x more interesting. I learn a ton from my boyfriend because he is so ALIVE! He’s always learning, experiencing…and he shares all those good things with me. He’s inspired me to try to live my life the same way.

2. Communicate. You sound like a really awesome person who likes open communication. Great! Just make sure you enter every conversation in good faith. Assume goodwill, and believe him when he tells you things (assuming of course, that he’s proven himself honest and trustworthy). Also...and this is important for people like you and me…know when to let things go. I’ve been guilty of beating a dead horse many times. It’s something I’m working on.

*99% of the time, I think this is awesome. 1% of the time, I wish he missed me a little more. So I get it. Sometimes you want more “pull” from your partner. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s always better to be fall on the side of independence vs. dependence.
posted by yawper at 6:56 AM on May 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

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