Is this a relationship red flag/incompatibility?
February 28, 2019 9:48 AM   Subscribe

The person I'm dating has anxiety and it's affecting my feelings for him. Should I treat this a a red flag?

So, I've been dating this guy for a little over 2 months. Until about three weeks ago, it was great. I felt safe and comfortable, I enjoyed the time we spent together, and we're in similar places in life and were able to share our feelings openly. All this remains true! He's shared some things about being a "worrier" and being anxious.

However... I had a plan to go away for about a week the second week of February, and that's when things started to get a bit wonky. I ended up coming home early for reasons entirely unrelated to him, and I was happy to see him early, because he was going away the following weekend. However, I noticed that while we on our respective trips he was texting me a lot more than I was texting him, and it was stuff that was sort of free-floating context-free "I'm thinking of you" "I miss you" type stuff, which is fine to a point, but felt a little... elevated for how long we had known each other. Also, when I thought we were at the natural end of a texting exchange, he would text me 30min-1 hour later "Are you okay?" He's done this several times.

So, okay. I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed and like perhaps we went too quickly into deeper feelings, that I'm not feeling. I talked to him about it, and it went okay. We went too fast, I feel like I'm neglecting some things in my own life, and let's course correct a bit. We also talked about the texting, and I told him that for the past few months I've been trying to be more intentional about my use of my phone, and I don't have it next to me at all times, so I wasn't going to want to aimlessly text all evening. So, cool!

However: not cool. We talked on Saturday, and we spent time together on Sunday, which was great! But he's still texting me too much, and now he's started asking "are we okay?" every. single. day. Last night I texted back "You have to stop asking me that!" and he said he was trying to be intentional about "checking in", which... I get, but that's not the kind of checking in I need.

I really like spending time with him in person and it's been a warm and safe relationship so far. But his anxiety/neediness is turning me off and we might just not be compatible romantically, because he might need a LOT more validation/checking in than I do, which would even be fine, except it's actively making me disengage.

I'm seeing him tonight and plan on bringing this up, in a "hey, you keep asking me this, why is that?" sort of way. But I'm trying to be emotionally smarter in relationships as well, and I can't help but think this might be a warning sign and it's better to break things off now than in 6 months or a year.

Red flag? Yellow flag?
posted by Automocar to Human Relations (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
it's ok to not be attracted to someone's behavior and not want to date them anymore.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:52 AM on February 28, 2019 [27 favorites]

Red flag. This isn’t simple anxiety, it’s a need for control. And it won’t resolve without professional help. Best case scenario, you are going to get annoyed and break up with him. Worst case scenario, he’s going to feel a constant need to have you under some kind of control and it will become scary. I don’t think he intends it that way or has any malice, but he probably shouldn’t be in a relationship right now.
posted by Knowyournuts at 9:56 AM on February 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

It may not be a red flag "run don't walk" issue, but if you give some thought over whether you want to be around this behavior for another two, five, ten, or more years, then now's the time to break it off and then find someone who doesn't make you uncomfortable on a regular basis.

If you're just a little annoyed but really, really (really) like the person, then have a straightforward talk with them about the behavior and see if they can control it; if not, then reevaluate my first paragraph.

But it sounds like this isn't a "give it another six months" thing, they had the courtesy to show you the kind of person they are early in the relationship, you should make use of the information now.

Also, just being only a two month relationship makes a "it's just not working out" is a bit easier than letting this go on. It may be better to do a clean breakup, no discussion, than to try and negotiate a behavior thing that they may not be able to control, and the negotiation makes it seem like the relationship is going to be fine otherwise.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:59 AM on February 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

Data point: I would break it off.

It would be one thing if he were just being chatty, but constantly asking if you're OK is weird. Not to mention annoying as all get out. You don't need to spend your life soothing someone else's baseless anxiety. This is supposed to be fun.

I mean, dating someone with anxiety is no joke and this compulsive need to check in on you makes me think that, at best, his is really not under control.

Also the relationship might feel warm and safe right now, but if he's a mess, even a kind and sweet mess, it's ultimately not going to have a good influence on your mental health (or happiness), either.
posted by rue72 at 10:08 AM on February 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

It seems like you already gave him the "come to Jesus" talk about interaction styles and it seems like he's just not willing or able to pick up what you're laying down.

It can be hard to adjust to different people's expectations especially around texting (I try to level-set very, very early), but if you've been clear and you two are not able to reach accommodation about a foundational aspect of communications, I don't have a lot of hope that anything more complicated or layered on top will go well either.

If you feel you've given him enough chances, cut him loose now before his anxiety starts bleeding any more into your life.

And even outside of communication style, his early demands for excessive emotional labour (which this is!) are not a positive sign.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:10 AM on February 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

I don't know if I'd call the anxiety a red flag, but the fact that you've asked him several times to not do specific things and that he's not really listening/complying is at least a yellow flag.

If you like him a lot, I'd say have one more serious talk about his behavior, try and give concrete things not to do/give him timeframes of 'reasonable expectations' (if you don't hear from me in xyz timeframe, it's okay to do xyz) and ensure that both of you have an understanding. This is to avoid ambiguity where someone can weasel out of it later by saying 'well, i interpreted your wishes differently.'

If the check-in timing isn't a problem but the 'are we okay?' phrasing IS a problem (it would be for me- so vague and frankly annoying IMO) then you can ask him to not say that and instead be more clear about HIS needs. Make him explore why he's asking that. 'Hey, haven't heard from you in a while- are we still on for dinner later?' Can he resort to a quick 'Hey, missing ya' and you text back at your convenience with a short message or emoji? Stuff like that.

If the behavior stays the same after that, call it off.
posted by rachaelfaith at 10:11 AM on February 28, 2019 [13 favorites]

Just to clarify what I mean by level-setting: very early in a "dating" relationship I'll specifically say something like "I don't like using the telephone for voice communications. I avoid using text for anything except time-sensitive information (ETAs/delays, etc) OR very casual/phatic shouts-out; I almost never read or respond to texts in real-time. I use email for most of my non in-person communications because it gives me time to think, be careful and considerate, and respond in full sentences. If this isn't okay with you, then we probably shouldn't go further with this."
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:18 AM on February 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

It seems like you have communicated really well about specific things that you have a problem with, but you might want to have a discussion with him about it on more of a big picture level. Starting out with something like "we might be having some incompatibilities in the way we seek and give validation to each other" and see if he can come around to the idea that he might need to adjust not only concrete things like how soon he can expect a response to a text, but his entire approach to your relationship. It might be that it is something he knows is a problem and is willing and able to work on and fix.

That said, I think it's certainly a valid situation where you are justified in just cutting things off, but if he is responsive to a bigger change in your dynamic, you might be able to make it work.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:19 AM on February 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm seeing him tonight and plan on bringing this up, in a "hey, you keep asking me this, why is that?" sort of way.

I would bring it up in a "hey, this needs to stop" kind of way. It's a two month relationship. Don't provide an invitation for his need to ask "are we okay" every day to become a shared problem. This seems like a fix-it-or-we're-done moment given this isn't the first time you've had to talk about it.

And I mean, if you asked me to guess whether this was a red flag that spells the eventual doom of the relationship, I would say yes, almost certainly. But given that the in-person stuff seems to be going okay, it might be worth giving him one last chance to correct his terrible texting approach, if you think it's worth it.
posted by prize bull octorok at 10:24 AM on February 28, 2019 [7 favorites]

The "Are you OK?" phrasing reads to me much worse than the "are we ok" and implies to me that he's going to (rightfully) in his mind go into panic mode calling the police and any form of aid he can get if you don't reply right away. And it probably gets a response from you if you assume a similar reading from it. It's like Machael Scott putting "911" in all his subject lines because that's the only way he gets a response. However even if it's usually "we" instead of "you" - while not implying emergency, it's implying that if you're not constantly asking "Where's Poochie" that Poochie really is an unloved character. In-person face to face might currently be great, but realistically you're not going to be tied to the hip even if you end up married.

Which reads to me that either his anxiety is so high that he's legitimately concerned something has happened to you, or he's controlling and feels that you should be available, and respond, when he wants to. The first is a yellow flag - but possibly something that can be worked around with therapy and/or drugs. The second is a red flag to me.

If you want to give full benefits of the doubt, find out why he's texting as he is (i.e. very high anxiety, controlling (he'll attempt to phrase otherway), or potentially other) and give a very blunt, can't be misinterpretted, not sparing his feelings talk about what needs to change. Be prepared for defensiveness, "it's not a big deal." "is it really that much to reply that you're safe to allay my fears?" "What are you doing that's so much more important than me?" "I'm just trying to connect." "I guess you don't feel for me as much as I do for you." "Are we breaking up?" "Fine, I'll *never* text you again." "I thought you women were supposed to want guys who can communicate." I kinda went a bit progressively from yellow to blinking read for how the defensiveness should be considered. If instead, he seems open to what you're saying, and changes then yay.
posted by nobeagle at 10:32 AM on February 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

I was in this relationship. I ended up cutting it off shortly after because it just kept getting worse. I had told him explicitly that I wasn't a big texter (was true!) and that I can't use my phone at work all the time, but he'd still send text after text after text. I then said please try to limit to X number of texts a day but he didn't do that either.

Finally he just kept texting and I could tell he was getting "serious" about the relationship (which was only 1 month old!) and I had to break it off at that point because it just wasn't working out and not getting any better.

When I did break it off (very nicely!) he went on a long texting rant rage about how awful a person I was. I may have ended up blocking the number. So there's that.....
posted by WinterSolstice at 10:39 AM on February 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

You told him that you need him to stop this behavior.

He is continuing to behave this way.

What else is he going to disregard your needs about?

Red flag.
posted by bile and syntax at 10:41 AM on February 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Saw an assumption, want to clarify: we're both men. Thanks, keep the answers coming!
posted by Automocar at 10:42 AM on February 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

"Are we ok," from "The person I'm dating... for a little over 2 months," when you've already initiated conversations about putting the breaks on, correcting the course, feeling overwhelmed, neglecting other things and rushing into it, doesn't sound like irrational worry and anxiety on their part, it sounds like a pretty normal response to, "perhaps we went too quickly into deeper feelings, that I'm not feeling."
Trying to pathologize and blame him into changing himself already at just 2 months in so you don't have to take personal agency for any of the above or your own wants and needs in a relationship could just as easily be considered red flag behavior and seems rather unkind.
I think that you're not listening to what you're saying about this: you're not compatible romantically. And that's perfectly ok. So is breaking it off because it isn't working for you.
posted by OnefortheLast at 10:44 AM on February 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

I would definitely bring it up in a “this makes me uncomfortable, please stop” way. It sounds like your past attempts to tell him to stop might not have been clear: your talk where you mentioned you weren’t always around your phone might not have clearly addressed the reassurance-seeking texts, and the “hey stop asking me” text may have come across as jokey depending on the context - text messages aren’t great at conveying tone. You need to be clear about what you want him to stop or change. Something like “I like spending time with you, but if we’re going to continue seeing each other I need you to stop seeking reassurance.” Phrasing it in terms of the good outcome can be more motivating than “I can’t keep dating you unless you stop X” and has a built-in bit of reassurance.

It’s possible to be sympathetic and supportive to someone with anxiety without condoning everything the anxiety makes them do. And neediness can be unlearned. It’s on him to change his behavior, but there’s a chance he doesn’t yet realize that he needs to change it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:03 AM on February 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

As someone who has anxiety (and who has sometimes texted too much due to my anxiety!), I actually don't think anxiety is necessarily a problem here. This sounds like it's just a classic affection/excitement level mismatch. He is really into you. You are less into him. Unless you think this is going to change, I'd just cut him loose now.
posted by the milkman, the paper boy at 11:18 AM on February 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

His anxiety is irrelevant. He’s being pushy and controlling. Asking “Are you okay?” is so whack as a thing to ask another grown adult in this situation that I honestly don’t think you should pursue this further. It’s guilt-trippy, it’s not in touch with reality, it’s not self-aware.

Had he done this once and then later said “oh no that was so weird, I’m sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking” and then NEVER DID IT AGAIN I’d say fine.

As-is, though, this guy has demonstrated that he’s incapable or unwilling to live in reality—a place where people quit texting without being maimed, dead, or catastrophically upset. It doesn’t really matter why that is, because you want to have a reality-based relationship, and this isn’t it.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 11:32 AM on February 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

I am an anxious person with a tendency to assume that I have always done something wrong and hurt someone's feelings. Even though I myself don't always respond to texts in real-time, I still get anxious and a little sad sometimes when my partner doesn't respond for several hours (even though I know partner also rarely has the chance to respond in real time).

The major difference is that I know this is my problem, not anyone else's, and don't send the "are we okay?" message. This is something that has come with time and with lots and lots of mistakes in relationships where I was a messy weirdo.

You might be able to work past this together, or you might be one in a series of people he dates who will break things off, eventually leading to him learning the necessary lesson. If it's only been 2 months, and his behavior is this irritating to you, I'd lean toward moving on and letting him work through it with the next person.
posted by assenav at 12:36 PM on February 28, 2019 [2 favorites]

So, of course, there's so much context that we Internet strangers don't know, but just to add another perspective that could be helpful... are you familiar with attachment theory? Sounds like this could be a dynamic of avoidant/preoccupied attachment styles, which can easily react to each other and cause an escalation. I.e., the avoidant person feels smothered or overwhelmed and pulls away, causing the preoccupied person to feel abandoned and worried so they try to grab on even tighter, causing the avoidant person to feel even more smothered and... on and on.

Often, the solution is for both people to learn more about their own tendencies to react in this way, to find ways to calm and center themselves, and also to meet somewhere in the middle. So, if you do want to keep going with this guy, and you're both capable of this, that could be a path forward.

From your account, sounds like things feel much different/better in person and that your sense is that you're responding within reasonable parameters and feel generally flexible--like it's fine for him to text every day, you just don't want him to text you "Are we okay?" or send multiple, increasingly anxious texts if you don't respond. That makes sense. So the situation could be less of a shared dance of escalation and more coming from his end and his stuff.

If that's true, it could still help for you to have this framework, because it could help you understand his reactions and what's going on for him. Depending on how much you like him, you could say something like, hey, this really isn't working for me, this texting dynamic. And request for him to get therapy. (I am a therapist and I'm not your therapist and it's pretty common for people to start therapy because of a significant other's request.)
posted by overglow at 12:58 PM on February 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Anecdata point: I broke up with someone with anxiety because trying to manage their anxiety was stressing me out too much. There wasn't a texting issue, but I got the same sense of panic about the status of our relationship at any minor bump in the road (eg, after a miscommunication about meeting left one waiting on the other for 15 minutes). I felt it put too much pressure on me to be constantly soothing, and that's not sustainable for me in a relationship.
posted by TwoStride at 1:15 PM on February 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

For some reason I'm in the minority with "yellow flag" here. I mean if you're going to break it off but there's stuff you like there, you could make it clear that this is turning into a deal breaker for you. That conversation might turn into an immediate break-off but I feel like there's a small chance it could also be an effective come-to-Jesus. Like, it doesn't sound like a good sign that he's had a hard time taking it in, but lots of relationships don't start out perfectly. If there's stuff about him you enjoy, why not proceed with caution but give him a chance to say "oh, I get it. This is really not part of how you operate and is my thing to deal with."?

(Grain of salt: I feel like every dating question here brings immediate, emphatic GTFO responses so possibly I'm a little reactive. But I also feel like dating is hard and it's worth seeing if something that isn't working is fixable. If you've got some other guy lined up you're dying to go on a first date with, maybe not, but...what do you stand to lose here by laying it on the line?)
posted by Smearcase at 3:35 PM on February 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

Anxiety isn’t necessarily a problem; off-loading the regulation of that anxiety on you is. Yellow flag. (Or even deeply orange.)

You’ve asked him to stop and he hasn’t. You set a boundary; he’s not capable of respecting it. Yellow flag. (Um...honestly more of a red flag.)

Both together? Red flag.

It’s only been two months. You’re getting to know each other. This is a part of him that’s not compatible with you, and could indicate much bigger problems.

I’d move on.
posted by schadenfrau at 3:45 PM on February 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'd like to point out this out,

Four of the most destructive and biggest predictors of divorce and separation... are Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling.
Dr. John Gottman

At only 2 months in, you're already demonstrating all 4 towards the man you're dating; really heavy on the contempt.

As much as it would be nice if he respected your boundary on communication and didn't text you as often or check in with you as you've requested, the big picture here is that these 4 things are the red flags you need to be paying attention for, whether it be on their end or your own.
posted by OnefortheLast at 4:05 PM on February 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I want to echo that it sounds like this guy might have a more anxious style of attachment. It's not surprising it would manifest while you were out of town. Folks with anxious attachment often have an uncanny ability to detect slight changes in their partner's attitudes towards them, so it might be that he feels you pulling back a bit, and is then reacting to that with "protest behavior," which is to say, extra texting and attempts to connect and make contact.

This would be exacerbated if you are at all avoidant in your attachment style.

It sounds like you have been expressing what you don't want. Have you tried asking, "What are your needs, and how can I meet them?" You might not want to do that at this point, but it might be worth the conversation since it does sound like some things have been going well.

As an example: last year I was in a long distance relationship. I would get frustrated at initiating contact, so I asked my partner (who was a few time zones ahead) to send me a good morning text each day. It was so easy for him, and so reassuring for me. It also meant I never had to initiate contact, ever, because he had always texted me when I woke up, except for maybe one or two days where he forgot. That relationship had many problems, but we both agreed that this simple articulation of my needs, which was easy for him to do, was a marked success.

I do wonder if he is self-reflective enough to be able to know his needs and express them to you. It sounds like you want him to change certain behaviors. It may be that there are some things you could do that would reassure him so his behaviors would change. For example, what if, each day, you sent him a text that say, "Hey, just thinking about you and wanting to let you know we're okay." Then he wouldn't have to ask.

This is if you still want to try. It sounds like you enjoy his company a lot, so it might be worth it.

There's a great book called Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment. You might find it quite insightful.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:58 PM on February 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

Wanting to text a lot with the person you are in a relationship with is normal, though. It's not weird at all for him to expect this-- MOST people would expect this. I sure would. You're allowed to want what you want, I guess, but be aware that it will be offputting to most potential partners.
posted by Violet Hour at 5:08 PM on February 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Texting a lot is normal. Asking someone if they’re okay because they aren’t texting as much as you’d like them to is really not normal.

Frankly, I think people are downplaying the boundary-crossing and red-flag-ish nature of this because you are a guy. But it’s really not normal or appropriate behavior.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 7:00 AM on March 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ugh, no, this is not normal, healthy behavior. It is definitely a Red Flag. Also, his unwillingness to listen to you is unattractive and unappealing, which will in short order, erase any initial spark you had for the guy.
posted by fourpotatoes at 8:16 AM on March 1, 2019

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