Autophobia!
June 15, 2006 12:36 PM   Subscribe

How can I deal with irrational attention craving issues when I'm out at the bar with my girlfriend?

Not unlike this poster, http://ask.metafilter.com/mefi/18620, I am having a problem 'chilling out' when it comes to my girlfriend. Luckily, I only have the problem in specific situations.

Background: We've been together for a month and definitely have a high level of infatuation. We get a long great, and my closest friends think she's great for me. They don't see it as a one-sided relationship. 90% of the time, I am cool, and laid back. I don't worry about how to behave around her or anything, I don't worry (too much) about whether she likes me.

Yet when we go out to bars, more often than not I get bad anxiety that I'm not getting enough attention.

I have no suspicions that this girl is talking to other guys or even coming off as single to people. Rather, we go out and she doesn't give me the 100% attention level I seem to crave. She's not anti-PDA normally but often at bars she loves to be independant from everyone. She's a wanderer.

Now, I am well aware this is stupid of me. She pays me plenty of attention usually. She just wants to have fun at bars. She's not hitting on guys. Part of this is that I'm really head over heels infatuated, and she's pretty much amazing to me-- i dont want to do anything to screw it up.

I don't really drink all that much around her at bars, luckily (thank god) my irrationality hasn't been too affected by drinking thus far. I'm just as crazy sober. Actually the one time we had a
great evening together (where she was wandering), I was quite drunk and didn't even notice.

Part of my problem is I've only been in this town for 9 months. I don't have any go-to best friends who I have the for-life connection with here yet. I don't have a social network of people I'm excited to run into at a bar. Before the GF, my bar time was spent searching for babes.

This Sunday is her birthday. I freaked out last night at the pre-birthday celebration and gave myself my first ever panic attack because I got into a loop of being anxious and being anxious I was anxious. This cannot happen again. I have never been Geronimo Jealous like this before, and if thats the guy I become in this relationship, I need to end it for both our sakes. But she's amazing and I need to grow the hell up. (I wish I could just pop a xanax and relax but the non-prescription route is a lot smarter in this situation).

How do I calm myself down and relax enough to have fun and not being Professor Clingsalot at the bar?
posted by ZackTM to Human Relations (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Drink heavily? Can't you get a cab? It's her birthday I would turn to chemical means not to ruin it for her. I've been known to bring books and papers to the bars when I'm alone in a strange town. The idea is that when she leaves you're basically stuck with your dick in your hand (literally), you need a substitute. Would it be out of the question to order food and concentrate on that? Or just drink and watch the World Cup/NBA championship? To me it sounds like you have less of a possessive issue than a boredom one. Besides it is her birthday, get wasted (you said this works) and get a friend or cab to do the driving.
posted by geoff. at 12:45 PM on June 15, 2006


What exactly makes you anxious? Does she not talk to you enough? Look at you enough? Stay by your side enough?

Some people, as you say, are wanderers at parties. Other people plant and talk to a few people. It sounds like different styles of enjoying yourself going out.

My husband says he always respects the couples who can separate at a party more than the ones who are glued to each other.

Have you talked to her at all? Is she aware of your anxiety?

Researching some anti-panic attack type techniques might help for that. Deep breathing, etc?

I wish you luck. It does not sound like fun. Hopefully if you can deal with this/keep it under control, your confidence in the relationship will build enough in time so that this is no longer an issue.
posted by agregoli at 12:48 PM on June 15, 2006


Easier said than done, I know, but... Start by remembering that she's with you. And she's with you because of who you are when you don't act all jealous -- and probably doesn't like who you are when you freak out. When you start to feel your emotions rise, take a breath and remember that everyone around you at that moment is thinking "that's the birthday girl's boyfriend." The end.

"i dont want to do anything to screw it up." Pretty standard self-fulfilling prophecy territory here. I can tell you I've been there (in her shoes, and in yours too). As the freak out-er, it feels horrible and out of control, and as the one witnessing the freakout, it's annoying and quite repellant. If you don't get yourself in check, you will very likely screw it up.
posted by penchant at 12:52 PM on June 15, 2006


Before the GF, my bar time was spent searching for babes.

Have you thought that the reason you're so anxious only at bars is because you subconscioulsy think that every guy there has the same thing on his mind that you had on yours before you met your girlfriend? It might not be attention that you crave; just the reassurance that she isn't falling for anyone's line while she's away from you. If you trust her, and it seems that you do, relax, and assume that she's as into you as you are into her, and everything will be fine.

Next time you go to a bar with her, bring a friend, or make some, while she's mingling. If you keep occupied yourself rather than count the seconds till she comes back you're going to have a much better time.

I'm loving the names Geronimo Jealous and Professor Clingsalot, by the way.
posted by iconomy at 12:54 PM on June 15, 2006


Oh, and, if it helps, it's only been a month. In all likelihood (and hopefully for you), if the relationship lasts for some time, this gut reaction will subside. The panicked desperate feeling is pretty standard in the beginning of a serious relationship.
posted by penchant at 12:55 PM on June 15, 2006


A friend of my girlfriend has a clingy boyfriend. She hates it, and it really has driven a wedge between them.

I know the feeling. And used to feel that way around girls I dated. I got over it by telling myself that my GF loves me because I'm me, and not anyone else. These days I get bonus points for being "the cool guy."

If anything, being un-clingy will make her want you more. That's your reward, so remember it.
posted by kableh at 1:12 PM on June 15, 2006


Why not invite one of your friends along as well - and ask them to distract you if you start getting anxious. Make a pact with yourself that if you start feeling anxious, you find your mate, rather than go looking for her.

Alternatively, make it your mission for the night to get to know her friends better - essential if you're planning on sticking around for a while!

I suppose what I'm saying is have a plan for the night that doesn't involve her being by your side the whole time. If you spend the evening putting your plan into action, you're less likely to get anxious.

Remember, she's going home with YOU.

And talk to her beforehand, low key, tell her that sometimes you get a little anxious, tell her what makes you feel better when you get a little anxious, so that if it does happen, it's not a surprise and she knows how to react.
posted by bella.bellona at 1:19 PM on June 15, 2006


Years ago, I started dating a girl and the early period of that relationship sounds a lot like this.

I would get more worried about the behaviour of "other guys" than hers, even though I felt I trusted her. It became an issue, and she reassured me of her feelings and over time I felt better about things. As the months went on, she became the one more likely to get jealous about something. I had been learning to deal with my own jealousy while she had been realizing what a great guy I was and started noticing other girls being interested. The jealous / anxious feelings were totally new for her so it took her a bit to learn to deal.

One thing I realized is that all I could do was to trust her. If she ever violated that trust, I would probably learn of it eventually and then I'd know the truth. Until then, it was totally counterproductive and destructive to worry about it and get anxious. This being said, it probably wouldn't hurt to let her know how you feel. If she knew you were anxious being left alone while out, she might be inclined to check in more often while wandering. You can't force a change in her wandering behaviour, this will only make bad things happen. However, you can be honest with her and hope she takes your state of mind into consideration.
posted by utsutsu at 1:21 PM on June 15, 2006


Sounds like you might benefit from a pretty basic exercise from cognitive-behavioral therapy:

Take a piece of paper and write down what is making you anxious in a sentence or two, framing it in the worst possible way you can think of. Under that, write the question "OK, what would be so bad about that happening?"

Then answer that question, again being as pessimistic as possible. The ask yourself again, "OK, what's so bad about that?" Continue doing this until it degenerates into complete absurdity.

I'll bet you it won't take too long to reach that point, because that is the nature of irrational ideas. They only have a hold on you when they are not well examined. Looking at the problem this way can give you arguments you can use in your own head to help calm yourself when you become anxious.
posted by InfidelZombie at 1:23 PM on June 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


Boredom:
The boredom thing is sorta true. I am a wanderer myself, which makes it even more ridiculous. I usually am the life of the party. The problem comes from me acting completely out of character. Last night I tried to act cool, but the friends I had at the bar kept teasing me for sulking. I was sulking. I'm really starting to think that maybe getting silly-drunk enough to be off on my own adventures might be a good idea.

Talk about it:
Actually, we talked about it a lot today and it was productive. I told her I might need more reassurance that she's 'with' me than she normally gives. She said she understands that. Problem is, her last disastrous 2.5 year relationship ENDED because the dude couldn't relax his jealous nature. So she subconsciously rebels against having to be extremely affectionate just to prove she's worth trusting.

Freaking out:
Yeah, she doesn't like Professor Clingsalot, and I personally think he's kind of a pathetic loser. So we've got that in common.

Other guys:
... so she's super hot. And most guys in the bar know it, she's a magnet for them. To me, she's the full package not just looks. I don't want to lose her, I don't think they made another like her. Like iconomy says, I actually really trust her. In my head, I think if someones gonna cheat on me, then I'm better off without them. So I don't worry about her and other guys. For the record, my last relationship ended completely out of no where. Instead of me worrying about other guys, I worry about myself. I worry that she doesn't like me. Then I worry because i'm worrying too much. Vicious cycle. By the end of it, I'm not even paying attention to her, I'm trying to calm myself down before I look like an idiot.

Time:
I do think this is just a stage I'm going to go through in the relationship. I think it'll wear off once we've been together long enough for my subconscious to actually trust the relationship itself. But the problem is making it all the way to that point.
posted by ZackTM at 2:04 PM on June 15, 2006


Talking is good. Have you told her about Geronimo Jealous and Professor Clingsalot? I ask because turning it into an in-joke that only the two of you get enables her to tell you when you're doing it, but in a way that reinforces the intimacy that you guys have...

And yeah, if getting drunk turns you into a likeminded wanderer rather than the Professor, then do it!
posted by bella.bellona at 2:27 PM on June 15, 2006


Just watch her being gorgeous from the other side of the bar, and remember that she goes home with you. And think to yourself, "ha ha!" to the guys checking her out.

You're pretty much answered your own question. Just try to keep in mind that you don't want to be the jealous clingy anxious person. Tie a string around your finger or the equivalent. And don't be afraid to step outside for a minute to get yourself together if you feel the anxiety coming on -- it's REALLY hard to focus on that in a noisy bar.
posted by desuetude at 2:33 PM on June 15, 2006


Here's another thing to consider. I know she's super-great and all, but if she'd up and dump you because some guy chatted her up at a bar? Dude, you don't want to be with that girl.

Also, assuming you are not together 24-7, realize that she is probably MORE likely to get hit on when you are not even in the room, so no matter how much attention she pays to you when you are together, you ultimately have to just trust her, so why not start now?

I realize these aren't exactly positive things to think about at the start of a relationship, but like the poster above said, some "what's the worst that could happen" thinking might loosen up the anxiety.
posted by Rock Steady at 2:57 PM on June 15, 2006


I have some experience with this, I think.

Consider this story:

I went on a date with a girl who I considered way out of my league. We had dinner, talked each other's ears off. To this point, we seem like good friends. Afterwards, we go to a bar. By pure coincidence it's "salsa night", and she's really into salsa dancing (which I've never done.) We get drinks and sit down. She says, "do you mind if I go dancing?" I say no, she goes.

So here I am, on a first date, and she's gonna go dance with other guys. Bad news, right? Well, I play it cool while she does her thing, comes back and sits down. We pick right up where we left off.

Later on, after we've been together for 6 months or so, she confesses to me that it was this above all that got her past the "just friends" point and into infatuation, that it was me being cool and confident even when she wasn't paying attention to me.

This is notable because OF COURSE it was anxious and a little strange, but I found that pretending you're cool works wonders.

So ---> I suspect she's paying more attention to you than you think. Some girls seem to like doing that, going away and coming back. You'll see a pattern to her behavior.

Play it cool when they wander and they will come back more interested. That's my $.02.
posted by milinar at 3:05 PM on June 15, 2006


Dude, even growing up may not fix this. I'm 40, regretfully winding down a year-long relationship with a wonderful woman, and I've had exactly this problem - no matter how much of her time and attention she sent my way, sometimes I resented the fun she has with other people.

You need to accept that a woman's social power - especially in bars! - is partly based on her ability to flirt and to appear available. Doesn't make them evil or untrustworthy, it's just the way it is, and it's so much a part of their lives that they don't think about it - they just know that sometimes they have more fun without their boyfriend hanging on them. This can be true even of the nicest, sweetest, most loyal woman.

And it's murder on us! Because a large part of our monkey brains is devoted to the desire to scream "THAT'S MINE MOTHERFUCKER" at every man who eyes our date. But if you let the monkey scream, you will lose the girl. Even if you grit your teeth and tell her later like a civilized sensitive guy, you will start the process of losing the girl.

All you can do is accept it. Don't be jealous. It's as hard as anything, but breathe deep, and DON'T PANIC. Tell yourself: until something bad happens, nothing bad is happening.
posted by nicwolff at 3:08 PM on June 15, 2006 [1 favorite]


old-school and silly: have you tried the rubber band trick? stick a rubber band on your wrist and snap it everytime you realise you're being clingy. added to the 'write down cascadingly absurd reasons' list that InfidelZombie mentioned above (if you're the analytical / introspective sort who likes these sorts of exercises, which sounds as tho you are) and it might just do the trick.

sounds like she's a great person and I sympathise with the early-season jitters, this happens in all relationships where you genuinely care for your partner.

+1 that you should also confide in her your pet-names for your demons; I find them simultaneously endearing and vulnerable-yet-not-emo (women are dead suckers for this combo!). absolutely agree it's a good way to both communicate intimately and kind of derail it from being an O GOD THIS IS A SERIOUS PROBLEM kinda thing.

my .02 as a (now obsolete) Hot Bar Chica.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:24 PM on June 15, 2006


If you cut down on alcohol and went places other than bars, you might feel more confident about your relationship with her. The way you two are socializing sounds like it guarantees paranoia for you.
posted by Carol Anne at 3:51 PM on June 15, 2006


Wow, whatever you do I would NOT recommend heavy drinking, that's just more likely to see you acting out your anxieties even further.
posted by tomble at 5:13 PM on June 15, 2006


I agree with milinar about this. You need to play it cool like you don't care. I suggest you do not have a conversation about it with her.

I am a social butterfly, and if I am not sitting with you, it's because I am looking for something better or different. Harsh, but true.

But you can counteract act that by not caring. You need to be above it. Act like you don't care about when she does this, and she'll be all over you. Act like you don't need her, but obviously staying friendly the whole time. Sort of like a dandy who is never ruffled by anything.

I am not saying that this is how you get all women. It just seems that this is how you get the out-of-your-league, drop-dead-gorgeous ones that really aren't that into you.
posted by milarepa at 7:14 PM on June 15, 2006


I've been in a situation much like yours. The difference is that I was able to keep my anxiousness and axiety under what I thought was control for almost 3 years.

Here's the thing: you can take the above posters' advice to calm yourself, reason with yourself, half-convince yourself that you're being irrational. If you're strong-willed, this might even be enough to calm your nerves for a while. Maybe even three years. But the thing is, you don't change. You're still jealous with this girl, and you can deal with it however you like, but it's never going to change... at least with this girl.

It took me two more years after the end of our relationship for me to figure this out. It's very, very difficult--if not impossible--to change the people that we are. I don't even know if it's necessarily a good thing that some people can change themselves over, because that would assume there was something wrong with them in the first place. And it's not wrong that you feel the way you do. It's just that with this girl in particular, her being the way she is (a social butterfly), and you being the way you are (feeling like Odysseus--attacked on all sides by "potential suitors") you're probably not going to be able to escape it.

So, you have to choices. You can take the good--and the bad; one: find ways to deal with your envy and lack of self-esteem, or two: realize that this is just the way it's going to be between you two people, and accept the possibility that there might be someone else out there that you can feel just as equally in love with yet where you don't feel the need to know what she's doing every hour on the hour.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:17 PM on June 15, 2006


Make that two choices.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:22 PM on June 15, 2006


Working a party full of friends who know you AND your relationship with a girl is different than her being a social butterfly and working a bar full of single guys who are looking to get laid. I say it's bizarre and to quit going to bars on a date unless it's with a large group of friends/couples who both of you can stick with instead of her wandering off to talk to DRUNK SINGLE GUYS IN A BAR WHO WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH HER. I'll reiterate, that's really weird behavior on her part.

She's either playing mind games with you -- possibly because of her experience with her last boyfriend -- or perhaps this is her normal behavior and her last boyfriend was also correct in feeling jealous.

Either way, I'd insist on changes.
posted by empyrean at 8:14 PM on June 15, 2006


People have already given good advice (though I don't know if I would "insist on changes" -- you can't change people), but I just wanted to add that the clinging thing is not likely to affect the status of your relationship. It seems like it's going to be temporary for two reasons: 1) it's tied to a specific place, and likely is because you're used to different behavior in that place, so you need to adjust, and 2) you're already trying to address it and talking with her about it. The last is the most important. Now that you've opened the lines of communication, if she's bothered by it, she'll tell you.

In my experience, this isn't the sort of thing that will make or break a relationship on its own. You may think that she dumped her previous boyfriend for being clingy, but it's much more likely that he had many more personality problems that persisted over an excessive time period (2.5 years!), and that it was his overall loserhood that caused the breakup. That dude got a million second chances and screwed them all up.

I once had a girlfriend with whom I was very clingy, and when she broke up with me, I thought that was the reason (I was really being crass and obvious, and all my friends told me so). But actually I learned later that it was because I didn't put out enough (i.e. not at all), and didn't like death metal enough (i.e. not at all). So, you know, it's not you, it's her. Once you accept this, it will be much easier to be cool.
posted by breath at 10:33 PM on June 15, 2006


If she wants to socialize and wander without you attached, the best thing for you to do is the same thing. Focus on improving your relationship with people you already know, and getting to know people you don't.

Just because you have an amazing girlfriend doesn't mean you don't need some of those go-to best friends you were talking about. It could be the next person you meet. You may even find more than one. Generally if you focus on having a good time, and having conversations about things you're interested in, you won't even notice whether your girlfriend is socializing or not.
posted by ElfWord at 12:31 AM on June 16, 2006


This thread definitely has some good advice, and I'm glad I posted it. Just in case it hasn't run it's course, I'll fill in even more background info.

Trolling for guys:
She grew up in this city, she's spent 21.99 years here. She's got a social network that is about 100x bigger than my current one. The cool thing is, she wanders off to go talk to girls she knows. She's got a few guy friends I may see her talking to, but she's not off talking to random dudes. No mind games at all. If random dudes come up to her, she's likely to inform them immediately she's there with her boyfriend or to go so far as call me over. So I really don't worry about that. If she was gonna hook up with her old guy friends, she woulda done it by now. I stress that her behavior is both ethical, and normal. She's just a wanderer. I am too, once I'm confident in the relationship.

Playing it Cool:
Well the key is that I've already got her. I played it cool when I first got her, and my personality made her fall for me very quickly. (I met her on a night i didn't plan to go out, wearing a baseball cap, ratty T-shirt, shorts, and unshowered). I do need to play it cool, but not because it'll make her want me more. Instead, it's because if I don't play it cool, I turn into the loser Professor. She wants me plenty on a daily basis. It's actually a really great relationship. Just isolated jealousy.

Not going to bars:
Eh, sadly its not an option. All of my friends, all of her friends, and pretty much the entire population of my city goes to bars at least once or twice a week. I did it 3-4 times a week before I met her. She has fun there (seeing her friends, being in that environment) and if I demand we not go to bars then I'm behaving out of character and being jealous. It's not impossible for me to have an amazing night while drinking with a girlfriend and friends at a bar. I trust that as the relationship matures, the frequency of bar-hopping will drop dramatically. She goes to the bars to have wild adventures with her wild friends, and the wild friends are all moving away in the next few months anyways. And her wild friends adore me because I'm wild too. Just not when I'm Clingsalot. Then I'm just a wuss.

responses to users:
Civil_Disobedient - You scare me. Its reminiscent of Charlie from High Fidelity. A guy can convince himself a girl is so far out of his league that he'll ruin it for himself eventually. Yeah, if that jealousy thing doesn't disappear as I become more confident in the relationship, maybe I'm wasting my time. But I think it's too early to tell, and not worth worrying about the long term. Plus, i don't think she's gonna do better than me. I'm the shit.

Milinar: I think you're right, and I'm glad you pointed it out. She definitely does keep an eye on me, and I'm pretty positive that she is super attracted to me when I'm being 'the life of the party'. So I should definitely just focus on having fun and not plan on interacting much with her on my own terms.

Breath: I think that Breath is dead-on about everything.
posted by ZackTM at 7:26 AM on June 16, 2006


She's a social person and you're there with her. I've run into the same issue -- you're not just out with her, you're on her turf and she's in a social situation. You need to recognize that if you go to the same old hangouts you're going to run into her social network. That might mean that you need to find places just for you, or that you can compensate with more time alone, or just accept that she has a public persona.

I have a friend who has complained to me about his inability to date some girls because he's gone out to dinner or to an art show and has been approached by several friends and professional acquaintances. It's something that he's come to realize any potential partner for him will have to accept. The girl that immediately shot him a dirty look when he talked to a female friend from work was pretty much out of the running as soon as that happened. He has a career that requires a fair amount of social networking and interaction so he'd be hurting not just his social life but his career by shutting off contact.

It's her birthday party. No one sits and talks to one or two people at their party, they have to make the rounds and say hi to everyone and have at least a short conversation. You can follow her around a bit, especially if she's introducing you to friends you haven't yet met, but I would recommend having conversations of your own. It can't hurt to make some of her friends your friends as well.
posted by mikeh at 8:50 AM on June 16, 2006


Plus, i don't think she's gonna do better than me. I'm the shit.

:D (Big smile) I'm glad you say this, it's a hopeful sign. Just make sure you believe it and you'll be alright. Good luck to you.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:05 PM on June 16, 2006


"We've been together for a month"

Call us back after you've been together at least 6 months. I'd chalk this up to 'new girlfriend jitters.'
posted by drstein at 7:01 PM on June 16, 2006


I am a woman. I'll put in my 2 cents.

So here I am, on a first date, and she's gonna go dance with other guys. Bad news, right? Well, I play it cool while she does her thing, comes back and sits down. We pick right up where we left off.

Later on, after we've been together for 6 months or so, she confesses to me that it was this above all that got her past the "just friends" point and into infatuation, that it was me being cool and confident even when she wasn't paying attention to me.


Some women may be like this, but I'm certainly not one of them. When a guy plays cool I assume that he's that into me...and I don't want to waste my time with someone who's not really into me. No, of course I don't want a guy to order me around or forbid me from talking to other men. But personally, nothing turns me on more than a guy who clearly has eyes only for me and wouldn't want me to be dancing with other guys.

I think the "play it cool" thing can be really confusing in relationships. I had one relationship end because of it. I assumed he wasn't interested and just let it fizzle out. A few months later I bumped into him and he explained that he had really liked me, but was trying to play it cool to impress me. He thought the way to do that was to wait for me to call.

Nope.

What I suggest is that people be themselves. If your partner later says "I need more space to socialize" or "I don't want you to call all the time," then you can try to change your natural ways. But don't play games from the outset and try to conjecture what the other party wants you to do.
posted by mintchip at 6:50 AM on January 27, 2007


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