Getting comfortable with dating uncertainty
December 1, 2017 12:48 AM   Subscribe

I met a great person only a month after my recent breakup. We’ve been out five times in the last three weeks. He seems keen on me and I am very keen on him. But I’m struggling with the anxiety and uncertainty that comes with just beginning to date someone. My brain is living in fantasy future land and I need to rein it in.

Just as I was starting to come out of the breakup grief chrysalis, I met a great guy through friends. We’d chatted at a few social events and I found him engaging, funny and so attractive. One night three weeks ago, we were out late with a group of friends and ended up kissing on the dancefloor (the birthplace of true romance) and going home together.

He looked me up and contacted me the next day, and since then we’ve chatted a little bit most days. We’ve met up at gigs where mutual friends were playing, have been out for a drink together, and he came to my birthday party. He’s told his friends about me.

All this sounds pretty promising right? My rational mind thinks so. But my anxiety has other things to say about it. Like once this week he went two days without contacting me and, even though I know it’s ridiculous, I felt panicked about him losing interest.

I’ve thought a lot about whether I’m just trying to paper over hard breakup stuff with someone shiny and new. And I’m pretty satisfied that I’m not, and that it’s this particular person I’m keen on (not just the idea of a boyfriend). But the recent breakup is probably adding to the sense of urgency to get the relationship area of my life sorted out.

I’m trying to just relax and let this unfold however it’s going to. To enjoy it for what it is and not try to force anything. To stop squashing the good stuff and excitement with worries. I just really like this guy and I already feel so invested in the outcome. I’m checking my phone every 45 seconds and it’s driving me insane.

Did you experience this kind of discomfort with someone who’s now your partner? How did you navigate this time without ruining a good thing? And how do you distinguish general dating uncertainty from real red flags?
posted by wreckofthehesperus to Human Relations (5 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I had a difficult breakup, spent some years alone, then FWB'ing, and then met someone great. I ran through the same feelings you're running through, along with added layers of worry that perhaps all my anxiety about it meant I hadn't done adequate work on the breakup stuff.

Remember to do all the stuff you'd normally be doing as your awesome self-outside-of-a-relationship. That's a big part of what the prospective partner is attracted to and likes about you, so keep it up. Plus, it's good conversation juice and builds confidence--in yourself, and in him of you, and in your choices if you end up choosing each other. Make plans of your own, read that book you've wanted to curl up with, go for the hike. Talk about what you've done and seen and learned when you next catch up with him. Learning about each other slowly, dancing toward each other slowly, is so good.

Red flags will be different for everyone, but when I noticed that I was taking my anxiety out on others (by being curt, irritable, lackluster) and I knew I needed to shape up. Remembering the difficult relationship I'd already gone through and emerged from healthily was helpful. Also, not resisting the root cause of my irritability: when I could articulate to myself, "Ohhhh, duh! I'm really uncomfortable not knowing where this is going!" it got easier.

And remember that this phase of the process--rampant anxiety, lurking fear, concocted investment--is normal for everyone. It's not like something's broken about you, and he's Mr. Cool. I mean, how can he be? He has no idea where this is headed or what you're up for! So if you can turn your singular anxiety into a mutual dance-of-what-if, it may lighten the anxiety and turn it into an adventure.
posted by cocoagirl at 5:18 AM on December 1, 2017 [11 favorites]

After a very intense 3+ year relationship ended, I made a promise to myself that I would stay single for at least 6 months. I wanted to allow for some self-focus and to let the emotional wounds scar over. Not a month after the breakup, a wonderful person approached me and we started hitting it off. I was *really* reluctant.

I took it a little slower than I might have otherwise. I tried to keep it fun, realizing if it ended, well I wasn't planning on getting into anything serious anyways. Stayed no contact with the ex so those wounds weren't getting reopened. I tried not overanalyze, too, mostly by not comparing the blooming relationship to the one that just ended, which I think is generally good advice. We've been happily together for 7 years and married for almost 3. Sometimes you just don't get to choose the timing.

I made a point of not dumping the baggage of the just-ended relationship onto the new person; it's not their fault the timing of your meeting. But moving out of one and into another eats a lot of mental and emotional space, so taking things slowly with the new person helps make room for that. Be open and tell them why—again, without burdening them with all the details. If he's an understanding person and really likes you, pacing things shouldn't be an issue. And besides, if you really do like each other a lot, it'll feel like it's going fast anyway.

Distinguishing red flags is almost always difficult in the limerence of new attraction, recently singled or not, so just keep your eyes and ears open like you would anyway. (This person sounds promising.)
posted by cyclopticgaze at 5:39 AM on December 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

I am in a similar place as you, albeit not quite as recent a breakup. It’s hard not to give in to the anxiety but here is what my thinking has been:

With my ex husband, up until the end, we were in pretty constant text communication throughout the day so my unconscious mind is connecting romantic partner=talk allllll day. But my logical mind reminds me that if this was a new friend without romantic possibilities I wouldn’t expect to talk to them every single day.

I also have reflected on the fact that my unconscious mind has for a long time connected romantic/sexual partner with (what is supposed to be) forever. I remind myself that I can date for dating’s sake and try not to start planning beyond the next couple of weeks. Think of it as being mindful — you can’t truly observe the moment you are in if you’re also planning 60 years from now.

Finally I have decided to lean into the anxiety and rebrand it as anticipation. Who knows what will happen next? It’s like a different, longer form of that moment before a first kiss.

I also endorse what cocoagirl says, including the fact that the person you are seeing probably has some of these kinds of feelings too.
posted by We'll all float on okay at 5:47 AM on December 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

I went through a breakup recently and I found this article helpful: The Best Way To Recover From A Break-Up — According To Science

Apparently, having a rebound relationship is not necessarily a bad thing-- but it might not be the best time to get into something serious.

But the recent breakup is probably adding to the sense of urgency to get the relationship area of my life sorted out.

I've experience this exact thing and used it as a reason to get involved in a new relationship, and believe me it's not the best reason. I found after a few months, after getting used to being on my own again and enjoying my own hobbies and interests and independent sense of self, this sense of urgency disappears completely. I think you're right that you're trying to avoid the feelings that came with your previous relationship's breakup by immediately stapling yourself to someone new who might or might not be that interested.

Honestly, hanging out a few times and even making out does not signal anything. Your brain is in withdrawal from losing the happy hormones that come from a relationship and is trying to get them back by attaching itself to someone new, and that is what is making you anxious--- somewhere deep down, you know you're not acting rationally. And do you really want to be in a relationship where you're at the mercy of some guy because you're a little bit fragile at the moment? So what if he doesn't end up committting to you? You'll be fine on your own and find someone else who does. I'd say, until you can be chill about dating again, don't get emotionally involved with anyone.
posted by winterportage at 7:34 AM on December 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

But the recent breakup is probably adding to the sense of urgency to get the relationship area of my life sorted out.

This is good insight by you. I've found that whenever I'm incredibly anxious about the beginning of a relationship, it's because I feel potential with that person and I want to resolve my as-yet-unmet desire to find a long term partner NOW NOW NOW. Understanding where it comes from doesn't help it to abate, but it does help you go a little easier on yourself. There's something deeper going on here than just desperately wanting him to text, so try not to beat yourself up for feeling anxious. In my experience, this acute stage is relatively fleeting - a few weeks to a month at most before you feel more secure about whether you'll see or hear from him again. He'll either have proven himself to be dependable and into you, or either you or he will know it's not headed anywhere. If that's not the case, and you still feel anxious at that point, it might be time to have a check-in with him about how he feels if he hasn't offered it up.

But! You still have to get there. In terms of what to do about it or how to stop it right now, I've never found a great deal of success in just distracting myself. I end up not paying attention to the TV show or barely registering the sights on the hiking trail or whatever still being like, "I WONDER IF I'LL HEAR THE PHONE BUZZ." So if this is you, too, don't feel bad. It ultimately just kind of ends up being a white-knuckle game until you reach a stage where you're not stressed about when you're going to hear or see from them next because there's resolution one way or another. You just sort of have to sit on your hands and play the part of a not-anxious person. It sucks! But it's temporary.

That being said, some of this has helped me in the past:
- Writing out your feelings and rationalizations by way of exploring the anxiety, sort of like you've done here.
- Reminding myself that single actions, within reason, are not going to turn him off. Don't get in touch with him 12 times in a row without a response, sure, but if you haven't heard from him in 2 days and you want to ask how his day was, that is not going to turn away a guy who's into you.
- If the dude is on social media, consider hiding or muting him just while you ride out the worst few weeks of anxiety; that way you won't read too deeply into activity you see.

In terms of your questions about how to tell more subtle red flags from your own particular brand of (and I say this lovingly as we all have them) brain worms, give it time. This initial anxiety will absolutely resolve itself and you'll be able to evaluate your partner more thoroughly as you become closer.
posted by superfluousm at 8:59 AM on December 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

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