Help me understand myself. Why do I get so anxious?
June 15, 2016 6:14 PM   Subscribe

I get a lot of anxiety from dating (and from my life circumstances), and I'm not sure why that is. I'm trying to narrow down the factors and pinpoint what the deal is and how to move forward. I could use some advice or life-experience stories from other folks.

1) I moved away from home (across the country) six years ago for a great job, but I'm quite homesick and have been ever since I got here. It's not an "incredibly fulfilling" job, but I like it generally. I make a pretty decent salary and work with good folks. I've made a lot of friends and have a community here, so I'm not just wallowing in loneliness or depression or anything.

2) I've dated a few gals, but nothing for more than three weeks. The longest relationship I've known was a three monther in college. I haven't been kissed (haven't had sex either). I'm 28. I know that's a little weird, but I promise I'm reasonably normal.

3) I'm currently dating a sweet, kind, and attractive woman. We've been going out for three or four weeks now.

As I've been dating this person, I've thought of various minutiae to sabotage the relationship. "She's a first born, and I'm a first born. This will be a relationship fraught with fighting." "She's not the type of girl I would have seen myself with." "She's thirty, and I don't want to waste her time." "How can I commit to a gal here if I'm so homesick and could pack up and leave within a few months?" "I'm not sure that I even want to continue in my career here, so how can I think about this?" Etc.

I'm kind of an anxious person who has trouble saying no, enjoys helping people, and is kind of a natural counselor. However, I have difficulty taking care of myself and doing what's right for me sometimes. I likely have commitment issues too...? Anyway, I'm just asking you all. Did you ever have a similar life experience or go through similar circumstances? Can you in any way relate to my circumstances? If so, what advice or comments do you have to help me figure out where I am and how to move forward?
posted by uncannyslacks to Human Relations (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
At least some of the advice you're going to receive here is to see a counsellor or therapist of some kind, and it's not bad advice, and I think you should consider it at some point, but if you have a trusted friend or family member with whom you feel you can have an honest, comprehensive talk about what you're experiencing, that might be a good place to start. Like, "I'm not happy with how things are going, and I'm not sure what's up—what do you think?" Then listen. Any kind of outside perspective from someone who knows you well (perspective which you should accept or reject or defer for consideration as feels appropriate) could provide some insight. You might have some generalized or specific anxiety (which might be rooted in experience or might be just how you're wired); you might find yourself somewhere on the autism spectrum, etc.—if you've coped with it your entire life, it might not be apparent to you at all. Who knows? You might just be doing things your own way, at your own pace. Nobody here is qualified to tell you one way or the other.

You don't mention your gender or sexuality, so I'm assuming you're a straight guy; you don't mention your cultural/religious/family background, so I couldn't guess how "normal" or not it is for you to be nearing thirty without having passed more of the "conventional" relationship milestones. The tone of your post doesn't register distress exactly, but you're obviously confused and not thrilled with the situation or you wouldn't have made it.

With regard to your current relationship, you do seem to be getting ahead of yourself—it sounds like you're "just" in the early stages of dating, in which case the basic premise is that the whole thing could go any which way, and you should give yourself permission to chill out a bit and play it by ear, if you can. The firstborn business you mention implies to me that you're thinking ahead to marriage or similar, which isn't appropriate at this juncture.

I would suggest talking to your girlfriend about your concerns—your fear of "wasting her time" (whatever that means), your uncertainty about where you might be be next week/month/year/whatever, etc.. I guarantee she'll have some very valid and relevant opinions regarding the viability of the relationship based on those. If I'm being frank (and speaking as a kind of crusty, language-policing queer feminist), this "gal" and "girl" talk doesn't give me much confidence that you consider her as an equal player in this thing so much as an achievement to unlock. That doesn't bode well for its long-term viability, irrespective of anything else that might or might not be going on with you. You may not be the type of person to make out, break up, date/sleep around, and go with the flow, and that's fine, but you need to figure that out if you haven't already and be up front about it.
posted by wreckingball at 7:24 PM on June 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think you need to feel comfortable with your life gameplan before you'd feel good about a serious relationship. What work would you really like to do? Where would you really like to live? Is it emotionally and financially comfortable to make these types of changes? Staying where you are is a fine choice. I made a major move to do what I wanted where I wanted. I really grew as a person because there was no where else to dream about being. Also many other life things. But having some basic comfort level with your life course, whatever you chose, may help on romantic relationships.

Therapy can help you figure out what you want to do!

I vote you give this woman a nice peck on the lips the next time you see her and cross this kiss thing off your list.
posted by Kalmya at 7:50 PM on June 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah I'm hearing the little mermaid's "kiss the girl" in my head right now too.

Just do it. It just might help you get out of your head a little.

You can only plan so many steps ahead.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:30 PM on June 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

I notice you thinking a lot of hypotheticals instead of looking at reality. "We're both firstborns are we going to fight a lot??" Could be much better replaced by "do we fight a lot?"

It took me a couple conversations with a counselor to start noticing these things myself, though (she also banned the word "should" from my vocabulary which is really frustrating but the feelings I can't express without it are mostly feelings better disregarded). You might do well to try that too.

Say out loud to yourself, or write down, what you are concerned about. Is there substance there, or just theoretical/aimless worry? And then chase down your questions until they have substance. "What if I pack up and leave?"--> "am I planning to move? Does she know that?" In general remember, unexpected things happen all the time and people have to deal with them. You can't plan all the unexpected things out of either of your lives.
posted by Lady Li at 10:49 PM on June 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Are you dating people who you aren't very comfortable around or don't know very well? Do you feel very different, in terms of comfort and anxiety, around girlfriends rather than platonic friends? If you do, try to figure out what it is that's different for you across these people. The people you date are just people the same as the people you're friends with, and it sounded like you didn't have trouble or anxiety with friendships.

I read the homesickness as a bit of isolation, despite you having friends and a community. If you're a natural counselor I wouldn't be surprised if you're the sort of person that people will go to with issues, open up to, share things with, want to be around and so on, but that it might not be a two-way street. That while people might think you understand them so well, they don't really get you and they aren't there for you in a counselling capacity in the same way. You might not even be able to open up to them that way. I might be totally wrong here but if you don't share with other people the way that they share with you then it can feel pretty isolating and could lead too to the sort of anxious thinking you have with dating. They seem like the kinds of worries that go away the more of an emotional connection you develop with your partner and you develop emotional connections by sharing yourself. Obviously this doesn't work with everyone but if you can find a way to have mutually emotionally intimate relationships with friends or girlfriends then I think that might help with the homesickness and dating anxiety.
posted by Polychrome at 1:50 AM on June 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

I am a moderately anxious person and the most helpful thing I've realised about it is that the anxiety is a thing in its own right that attaches itself to anything I might currently have on my mind. If I'm worried about something now, I try to think about whether there's a real problem and if so what can I do about it. Everything beyond that is mostly just my brain tying itself in knots about stuff that will probably never happen and I try not to let that affect my decision making.

It's hard, and I'd definitely recommend some counselling to help you distinguish between "real things to worry about" and brain noise, but (for me at least) anxiety can't be defeated by trying to bottom out all the possible avenues of worry - you have to just do the thing you're worried about and see how it turns out. Mostly things go well and that will help you do more things you worry about in the future.
posted by crocomancer at 2:08 AM on June 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

Something that feeds anxiety is forecasting. Imagining all the permutations of a step forward (eg dating outcomes) keeps you from being in the moment with what things feel like right now when you are with the person, or alone thinking about your feelings regarding this person, or people. Anxiety distracts you from assessing your other emotions accurately and authentically. Maybe when you start your forecasting about things, say to yourself that these feelings are distracting me from really knowing how I feel about this person, situation, event etc. Getting in touch as others have suggested with counseling or therapy is a good thing to do - it helps you parse the anxiety, increases your awareness of more precise emotions than blackout anxiety. I find that having a vocabulary for the shades of anxiety helps me know, forgive and learn to trust myself more.

Meditation classes can be a great approach to unseat these patterns - it helped me a lot.
posted by honey-barbara at 2:46 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hey, I hear you on the homesick. I moved to the city I'm in knowing that I'd only last a while before I felt the pull of home, I've stuck it out for several years, but when I met my partner I told him, maybe a month or two in, that if he was planning to stick around for a bit, he should know that I was planning to move back toward the motherland at some point. It didn't freak him out one bit, and he's still here! So don't feel weird about having goals like a move at some point, however vague and in the future they are. By your age everyone is starting to have these. Talk to her about yours and ask what hers are, when it feels comfortable.

But yes, do also look into therapy, especially if you feel like these anxious and irrational thoughts are spoiling your ability to enjoy this relationship or indeed any relationships you might have.
posted by greenish at 3:13 AM on June 16, 2016

I know this is a phrase that usually gets thrown out for career advice, but it seems relevant here also: don't leave before you leave.

If you really like this woman, and think that it's just your anxiety talking with all the self-sabotage, I would level with her: let her know that you have a tendency to anxiously over think and maybe talk about some of your worries with her and see what her perspective is and see if that helps put your mind at ease some.

On the other hand, you sound like in general you're not sure what you want out of your life, your career, or even your geographic location. That's not unusual for 28, but it seems like if these are the types of thoughts you're plagued with, it might be better to break it off with this woman and just not date for awhile.

Your mind is already racing with possibilities and questions and future forecasts--serially short-term dating is introducing a whole other avenue for potential stressors and what-ifs that don't necessarily have to be a part of your life right now, especially if you are seriously thinking about moving home.

Go to therapy, figure out what makes you tick, and then figure out some future goals, where you want to be, what you want to be doing and start working on doing those things.

When you're a little more secure that you're who you want to be and heading towards what and where you want to be, and when you are more able to recognize when you get locked into an anxious brain loop so you can break out of it, it will be easier to not let yourself be further overwhelmed by the uncertainties that a new relationship can throw into the mix.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:56 AM on June 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hey, apologies if I'm misreading, but it sounds like you have a lot of guilty feelings over asserting your romantic desires with women. Does this ring true to you at all? I know my fiance told me that before he'd ever had a relationship or had sex, he had a misconception of women as delicate flowers that needed protecting, who could never enjoy sex for its own sake. They only sought long-term relationships and anything else was totally undesirable for them, etc. Obviously, he knows now that is not true! But in our culture, it totally makes sense to me that a young man without much direct experience could easily get this idea from the media, from cultural tropes, etc.

If this is really what's hanging you up, I suggest a combination of therapy and increasing your romantic and sexual experience. Also, maybe hearing it from a real woman may help- women are not a class unto ourselves. I realize there is a heavy double standard that is still promoted in many circles today, but woman can enjoy sex, flings, short relationships, etc. Being honest is always the best policy, but asserting (joyfully and in a healthy way) your sexual desire is absolutely FINE and GOOD.
posted by quincunx at 8:19 AM on June 16, 2016

You seem out of touch with your feelings to me. Screw your thoughts for a minute. How do you feel about this person? Does being with her bring you joy? Or are you kind of having to talk yourself into it?

What your heart says is a million times more important than age, birth order, "type", etc. I'm a super anxious person too so I hope this helpful rather than mean, but all the anxieties you mentioned seem like real small-potatoes stuff - like either an excuse not to date her or a some weird overly rigid script you have for your life. If it's the former, stop dating her, if the latter, live a little (and maybe see a therapist)!
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 9:08 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

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