Crush Paralysis
April 17, 2019 12:08 AM   Subscribe

I can't believe I'm asking this question at my age, but it's something I have had a really hard time with. How can I get over the paralysis that comes over me when I really like someone? It's interfering with my life, and I would like to overcome this.

Although I've made some headway with this issue, I'm still not living my life the way I would like to. I am finally over my last relationship and ready to date. I recently fell HARD for a friend of was like I knew there was an attraction there then suddenly overnight it was like a thunderclap and I was a lost cause.

The problem is, when I am actually genuinely into someone I freeze. And I'm not sure what is causing this. I even become nervous to even tell my friends about the crush...and this is how I've been since I was little. It's like the crush has to be secret, for fear of embarassment. For example, when I was in 10th grade I had a crazy celebrity crush on a MLB baseball player. It was kind of a limerence from afar. However, I was TERRIFIED of anyone finding out. I would only post anonymously to internet baseball forums where there were a few other adoring female fans. But god forbid my parents or friends found out. I cannot explain that at all...what was I afraid of?

You may peek into my question history and note that I am gay, however when I was little I had some crushes on the opposite sex that still gave me this fear (like the baseball player). So I don't think it's quite about my sexuality as it is about LIKING someone that is....shameful? Embarassing? Scary? I can't quite put my finger on it.

It's not like this all the time, mind you. I have lesser crushes and I feel much more at ease mentioning these to friends, although I still have a tough time acting on them.

I'm trying to pinpoint the fear - whether it is fear of embarassment, fear of rejection, fear of the bubble bursting. Fear that the other person or someone I know finds out I like this person so's nerve wracking to me. And it shouldn't be.

The thing is, the more "suitable" the crush the worse I feel. This latest crush is a perfect match it seems. And I feel utterly powerless to do anything about it. I am longing to text her just to say hi, to try to set up plans to hang out, but I can't do it. The thought of it makes me almost nauseous. But what, exactly, am I afraid of? Of her not responding? Of her responding in a weird way? I think part of it is that I'm afraid she will KNOW. From some innocent text she will KNOW THAT I LIKE HER and will be...repulsed? Offended? Annoyed? Maybe that is the heart of it. And this is someone who could very well be interested in's way too soon to tell either way how she might feel.

As an aside, I CAN text my crush and invite her to do things with me, but only if I deem that it appears friendly and won't come across as me hitting on her. Aka, business only.

I'm baffled as I watch my friends start texting away with people they find themselves interested in. How do they start those conversations? How are they so brave?

I've worked on this here and there with my therapist. She would tell me to pick up my phone and just text my latest crush just to say hi. "Just text her to see what she's up to," my therapist would say. And I would stare back at her in shock. What? Are you kidding? No way. That is tooooo scary. She'll think it's weird. She'll be turned off.

Logically I know if I got a text from someone like that I'd find it curious but pleasant, and I might wonder if they had a thing for me. But I cannot seem to put this logic into place when I'm the one doing the texting.

I just...can't get to the bottom of this. Maybe my therapist wasn't going about this in the right way. This fear seems so deeply rooted into the wiring of my brain that even no amount of alcohol can touch it. It's also strange because I've done a lot of work attempting to break through this phobia/fear/paralysis and I feel like I just can't put a dent in it.

It's almost like I'm dealing with a weird kind of rejection sensitivity, although I have never been diagnosed with ADHD. I do however deal with my fair share of generalized anxiety disorder.

The reason I'm asking this question is because I feel this is seriously interfering with my life. I don't necessarily need the crush to reciprocate....I just need to feel like I gave myself a chance. I end up hiding my emotions away from these people and waiting around for someone to come to me. Which has clearly not been working too well. I end up feeling like a complete failure, my self esteem goes down the toilet, I feel like I'm missing out on things, and I end up sobbing in the shower at the end of the night when I have acted like a purely-platonic-only-friend-no-romance-to-see-here! around someone I really like. Avoiding showing people I'm interested in that I'm interested in them is just not working at all, and I'm convinced this has been a huge reason why I'm literally always the friend, never the girlfriend.

And it doesn't necessarily have to be a crush....this happens with most people I am interested in dating. I've tried to get around this by asking people out early on...before I've let emotions cloud my mind, but sometimes circumstances prevent me from doing that. Also, despite the fact that I have trained myself to ask people out as much as possible, I've been rejected a lot and I don't have enough successes to where rejection has gotten any easier. It's almost gotten harder because I feel defeated before I even start.

I guess the bottom line is, has anyone felt this way? Has anyone overcome it? I'm an otherwise well adjusted, very social individual with many friends, and this issue only seems to crop up when I'm into someone romantically. If they make a move on me it's MUCH easier, however as a lesbian I need to be making moves a lot of times to get anything going.

The funny thing is, I have no qualms about asking people on dates via online dating - I usually plan the entire first date if I'm online dating. But this is only because I have no clue if I actually LIKE the person yet. They don't mean much to me until I meet them...they're just pixels on a screen. But online dating is like an alternate reality to me and it doesn't translate to asking people out or flirting with people I meet in day to day circumstances.

Can any of you armchair psychologists make any sense of this? I am going to bring this up to my new therapist but she won't be able to see me for a week or two. And perhaps the hive mind can give me some food for thought in the meantime.
posted by christiehawk to Human Relations (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I can take a totally non-professional stab at it: it may be that your psychic self-defense system in these particular situations is overactive. It receives a VULNERABILITY WARNING AHOOGA AHOOGA, and reacts as though there is an actual physical threat ... similar to an overactive immune system which, while attempting to protect the body, actually creates harmful or counter-productive side effects. Sensing "danger," your instinct is screaming "NO NO STOP RUN AWAY RUN AWAY!" Now, if this is true, and if I could tell you the why that self-protective faculty has became overdeveloped, and how to tame it, my conjecture might actually be helpful. As it is, though, it's just perhaps a possibility to explore with your therapist.

If it helps at all, I have psychic terrors over a few much, much sillier things, and I think a lot of people do. From what I can tell, you seem to have a healthy attitude overall to stuff like dating and putting yourself out there, but only in cases where your emotional investment feels overwhelming does this protective impulse go into overdrive. It's not even all-wrong! It just needs to not grab the wheel and drive the whole organism over the cliff!
posted by taz at 2:02 AM on April 17, 2019 [7 favorites]

Has anyone experienced this: sure, me. In my teens and twenties, I pretty much sabotaged at least three possible relationships (with guys I was very attracted to who pursued me intensely). I froze, blushed, stopped talking, and in one case, lost twenty pounds in a semester because I couldn’t handle passing a guy’s room on the way to the dorm kitchen (so I lived off instant coffee and peanut butter sandwiches, which I could make in my room). I could date (and talk to) guys I was less attracted to.

Wish I could offer a sensitive explanation for it... I had a diagnosis of social phobia / generalized anxiety disorder. “Rejection sensitivity” makes sense. If it helps - I was bullied a fair bit at school in my early years, and grew up in a family culture for which teasing was an important source of humour... (Two of my worst bullies were boys I had crushes on.)

As far as managing it, I think medication probably helped, as did maturity and life experience. (I think it’s important to mention that some of that life experience involved enduring emotional abuse by a romantic partner [to whom I was very attracted and who was domineering]; the long process of getting over that helped with centering myself both around potential partners and generally - but obviously I don’t recommend it, I’m sharing that because it may be you could be vulnerable to that sort of dynamic, as a sort of warning. Very easy to give power to someone who has an upper hand in not being paralyzed by attraction, probably more so than for people who can look at partners without blindingly rose-coloured glasses. Because I don’t think I was able to see partners with the same discernment I could other people, once attraction came into the picture. I think I’m anxiously attached, as well, fwiw.) So for me anyway, I think having been bullied and teased, and being anxiously attached, played into it. If you also experienced those things, I would imagine therapy addressing them would help (I did therapy but didn’t get to those issues).

In any case, by my mid-thirties, I was better able to handle anxiety around romantic partners.

Really wish I could help more, but I can say you’re not alone.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:30 AM on April 17, 2019 [3 favorites]

Rejection Sensitive Dysphoriais very common in people with ADD. Even if you don't have ADD it might be worth it to look and see if any of the description rings true.

I have a similar type of paralysis but with a different trigger. It sucks. I also don't like anyone knowing I have a crush - I think because of some incidents when I was younger and trusted people thought my crushes were funny and told other people about them in ways that made me feel humiliated, betrayed and exposed. I haven't done it yet but I'm hoping that treating my anxiety will help.
posted by bunderful at 4:16 AM on April 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I guess the bottom line is, has anyone felt this way?

I feel exactly the same way! Straight woman with ADD (weird, but I have never made the connection to my ADD before). I’ve always thought it was connected to pride/saving face somehow. I wish I had a better solution for you!
posted by sallybrown at 8:14 AM on April 17, 2019

But what, exactly, am I afraid of? Of her not responding? Of her responding in a weird way? I think part of it is that I'm afraid she will KNOW. From some innocent text she will KNOW THAT I LIKE HER and will be...repulsed? Offended? Annoyed? Maybe that is the heart of it. And this is someone who could very well be interested in's way too soon to tell either way how she might feel.

You're afraid of rejection. And the more you crush on someone, the higher your hopes for love/reciprocation get, and the more afraid you become of being rejected and having those hopes dashed.

So you make sure you can't be rejected by snuffing out all hints of romance in your interactions yourself. You preemptively reject your crush and dismiss the possibility of romance before they can reject you and dismiss it. It's a way of curbing disappointment and feeling in control.

But honestly, I think this is normal! I've certainly been there. Rejection is awful, and when the stakes are high (like when you like someone), it hurts. And it's humiliating, and thoughts like "how could I even think they'd be interested in me?" go through your head, and you feel ashamed that you told anybody about your hopes in the first place, because now you have to own up to the humiliation and disappointment of being rejected to all those friends who you confided in.

The truth is, you might be rejected. But like with any fear, you've got to do the exposure therapy thing in order to get over it. Just take little risk after little risk. After every risk, you will hopefully know and trust the person more, and you'll feel more and more comfortable giving up some control over the situation and opening yourself up to them.

A friend of mine says, "don't wait for an invitation to your own life." That's been really helpful for me to think about when I'm afraid of putting myself out there.
posted by rue72 at 8:47 AM on April 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

Ok, I’ll take a stab at this. I can’t speak from an ADD/anxiety perspective though.

I took a peek at your post history and it seems like you really, really want to be in a relationship, because it’s a basic human need and something that you want to experience, plus all the rejection hurts a lot. So it’s great that you keep trying and that you’re not giving up. It seems like you also put a TON of pressure on yourself to get it right or something. I’d suggest just taking a step back and thinking about the kind of person that you want to be with – what do you want in a partner? Also, why do you want a partner? What type of relationship do you want? Monogamous LTR? Monogamish? Marriage eventually? With your crushes, what do you like about them?

I relate to being nervous in telling friends about a crush – for me when I was younger, it was a fear of being judged and/or dismissed for being silly. I also had a crush on an MLB player in my teens and I did tell some friends and it kind of became a defining characteristic of me? Like, foxjacket likes x player. That’s who she likes. Weird. With liking people IRL I didn’t feel confident enough to *own* it – to own my feelings, that I liked someone, that I had pantsfeels, that I was a sexual being, that I wanted to be in a relationship, etc. Also, I think that once you tell someone about it (e.g. a friend), the pressure’s on to *do* something. “Go talk to them! Have you asked them out yet?” etc. It also changes your relationship to them - once you tell them, you can't take it back. Cat's out of the bag, now what, etc.

Re: your latest crush, this is a wild guess, but maybe you’re afraid that she’ll actually respond positively? Again, then the pressure’s on to be awesome and charming and cute when you actually DO go out with her, and then to turn this into a Relationship.

I think part of it is that I'm afraid she will KNOW. From some innocent text she will KNOW THAT I LIKE HER and will be...repulsed? Offended? Annoyed? Maybe that is the heart of it.
It sounds like you’re afraid of emotional intimacy. Of being emotionally close to someone and having them see you for who you are. When I was in my 20s, the thought of that was terrifying and it was because I really didn’t like myself, thought I was worthless (and wasn’t really aware of that at the time) and thought that anyone who saw the REAL me would hate me. As you can see, I had a lot of shame about myself as person, including sexuality.

Similarly, if someone knew that I liked them, I felt that they would see my interest in them as burdensome and repulsive because that’s how I saw *myself*. I don’t know if this resonates with you? Generally, it’s nice when someone you like says, “I like you.” So with the current crush, you sense that she might be interested in you – she might actually like that you show interest in her. And generally, people don’t want to be mean when rejecting someone. Look at all the ask mefi questions who worry about hurting the other’s feelings for rejecting them (typically it’s women worried about rejecting men though). So even if she does reject you, maybe have confidence that she won’t be an asshole about it. And if she is, then that tells you a lot about her and you probably don’t want to be around her.

I'm baffled as I watch my friends start texting away with people they find themselves interested in. How do they start those conversations? How are they so brave?
I think it’s because they accept deep down that it’s ok to like someone, AND that they respect that person’s agency to say no. So they can say, hey, I’d like to meet up with you for a date, the other person could say, “No, sorry” and yeah that hurts, but they’re able to move on? I’m just guessing. Have you actually asked them this? Sat with them while they texted and have them walk you through what they doing, thinking and feeling?

With online dating, what happens when you meet them? Have you become interested in someone after meeting them IRL?
posted by foxjacket at 2:47 PM on April 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

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