How do I stop worrying in the beginning of a relationship?
August 1, 2007 4:40 PM   Subscribe

How do I stop worrying in the beginning of a relationship? (example provided)

First thing is that I have A LOT of anxiety about relationships!! I take things too seriously, and it is very hard for me to "wait and see" or to just let things happen. I guess this becomes a neurotic pattern where my fear of the relationship failing sometimes causes things to go south. I think this has to do with the fact that I never had a father. Without any positive male role models on my life, I get very nervous in relationships with men.

Here's a typical example. I have been seeing this guy for several weeks. In the beginning he came on really strong--saying that he had no question about wanting to be with me and seeing me 3 days in a row during the first week! We were basically inseparable from day one. Because things were moving so fast (i.e. going so well) I got really nervous and was afraid to disappoint him or to have it crash and burn. So I told him that I liked him a lot but that I wanted to get to know him more slowly--to see each other a couple times a week and slow it down a bit.......Since then I'm feeling mixed signals and wonder if he's less interested in me. He's been a lot less consistent--a couple of times he canceled plans with me at the last minute but we are still seeing each other maybe once every week or two although he doesn't really call me.

Long story short, I ALWAYS feel that people are rejecting me. So this may just be a pattern for how I interpret things. At the same time, I feel like this guy has pulled back so much that I'm not getting as much attention as I would like to get,

How do I figure this out? I don't want to be unreasonable or demanding, and realistically I know I'm a very anxious person, yet it drives me crazy when someone cancels on me for flaky reasons more than once because it’s disappointing and makes me feel like my time isn’t valued. I am blaming myself because I feel like my worries early on steered the relationship off course--I was just too scared that things would crash and burn if they moved too quickly...but now I'm wondering if I made a mistake by putting the brakes on. How do I know if I'm seeing the situation accurately (or feeling "rejected" when it's not really happening?). What do you think about this guy's behavior toward me? How can I chill out and not scare people away with my relationship anxiety?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
If I were in the fella's situation here, I would be the one feeling insecure and slightly rejected. You kind of let the air out, and now he has to feel self-conscious about being too eager. What I would really want to hear from you is a version of what you've said here -- that you said what you did out of nerves and fear, and that you are, in fact, really interested.

That's me, though. Who knows?

I know your question is more general, but all I can speak to is the particular story at hand. Best of luck.
posted by TonyRobots at 4:54 PM on August 1, 2007

I agree. You told the guy you wanted to go slowly after a strong start. That's effectively a rejection. Guys are much more likely to start playing games after you've hurt them.

Why worry if it's going to crash and burn if it moves too quickly? There's no reason why a good start should lead to an early end.

Try going with the flow more. We all have far less control over our relationships than we think. And the control we do have, is only over ourselves, not our partners.
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:14 PM on August 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

At the beginning of relationships i always try to remind myself that you never get this time back. This is the magical and crazy discovery period where you both act stupid and googly. Embrace it! Run with it! Because pretty soon you'll both be drooling on the couch together watching bad tv and not talking because you've both asked all your questions and gotten all your answers. Stop worrying about getting'll both be wearing hideous sweatpants and eating soup from a can anyway.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:20 PM on August 1, 2007 [13 favorites]

First of all I think your feelings are completely normal. A bit of trepidation in the beginning of a relationship is normal exactly because you're still trying to figure out the arc of the relationship.

Generally my experience has been that those relationships which start out hot and heavy tend to burn out pretty quickly. Lasting relationships seem to grow gradually. Obviously there are exceptions and ymmv.

As for this guy you're currently with? Well, you expressed some normal nervousness regarding the relationship and I don't think its anything he should have reacted badly too. If anything it shows that you are actually serious and want to be cautious. The fact that he is now seeming to avoid you, or to cancel plans for "flaky" reasons means that perhaps he isn't feeling the passion anymore.

Its important to realize that his actions possibly have nothing to do with anything you've said or done. I doubt you've "scared him away", more than likely, he's (cue cliche) just not that into you.

I'm not saying you should write him off all together, but perhaps you switch back into "I'm a single, independent woman mode" and put yourself back out there on the market. You're not boyfriend-girlfriend, so you have nothing to loose. Good luck.
posted by wfrgms at 5:23 PM on August 1, 2007

Lack of confidence, seeking approval.
Work on those, could help you a lot.
posted by PowerCat at 5:29 PM on August 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Are you being physical? Sorry, that is a bit forward I suppose, but in my experience, particularly at the beginning of a relationship, sitting around and talking can only do so much. Physicality will seal, so to speak, your relationship with each other. I am not a biologist, but maybe this will also create some kind of chemical bonding between you two as well?

Also, when you worry you assume that he has the power in the relationship. This automatically poisons the relationship and might even doom it to failure. It's much healthier if you approach it with the attitude that neither of you is in control of where the relationship is headed, and thus you can just take everything that comes along as it happens.

Also, next time (assuming this relationship goes belly up) don't tell him you want to take it slow. Just take it slow. Nonverbal indications are just as clear and powerful, and have the advantage of avoiding the generally damaging step of "talking about the relationship".

Wait for a few months before even trying to hammer anything down. By then, both of you will be so used to and comfortable with each other that it might not even be necessary to have a little talk.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:50 PM on August 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Stop beating yourself up about these anxieties & "taking things too seriously", and stop trying to understand these in terms of not having had a father figure.

Neurologically, the early, crushy craziness that comes about when you set out on a new relationship is not unlike a psychotic state, in terms of the chemicals & hormones & whatnot that start flooding your brain & body. These naturally lead to all kinds of anxieties & "seriousness" ("argh! he didn't phone once today! he doesn't like me at all! maybe he's found somebody else! etc").

From what you've described, I think there's every possibility that he's going through the exact same craziness, which means that you'll both be alternating between euphoria & anxiety. I guess the thing is simply not to let the anxiety overcome you & cause paralysis.

Go out & buy the cutesy "I was just thinking of you" gift; make the random phone call; feel awkward & goofy. If it doesn't work, then hell, it probably wasn't going to anyway, but remember that whichever side of the euphoria/anxiety complex takes precedence, it tends to gain momentum & snowball in wonderful or frightening ways...
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:53 PM on August 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Oh, honey. I feel you so bigtime, let me just say I KNOW OF WHAT YOU SPEAK.

My sister recommended a book called "The Four Agreements" to me. This has been incredibly helpful to me. The two ones that I have been repeating to myself as a mantra are:

You cannot know what is going on in his head. You will not ever know. This does not mean that you should not trust your instincts, so it is a very delicate balance. If you're going to have a relationship with this guy, you really do have to be able to trust him. And if you can't trust what he's saying, and your spidey senses are telling you that something's up, don't take the ball and run with it and decide that it was something you said or did or because you wore something he didn't like or any other of the million things your inner voice tells you is probably what happened. You can't know. So do not try. If you feel like something's up, tell him or ask him. If it doesn't get better, if you still feel like things are weird, and he's not communicating, maybe it's not working for you!

If this doesn't work out, remember, it's probably not something that you did. Someone mentioned the now-cliche "he's just not that into you". The big part of accepting that is that there isn't an additional qualifier. It is not "he's just not that into you because you suck," or "he's just not that into you because you scared him off," -- it's that -- for whatever reason, it wasn't right for him. And ultimately, it wouldn't be right for you either.

I have the same problem that you have. And I find myself over-analyzing to the point of near insanity, and find myself wanting to head for the hills in order to protect myself. Neither of those is particularly healthy.

Be patient, try to keep your mind off of it, be cool, and let him take the lead. You can't make him give you the attention that you want, he's either going to give it to you or he's not.

You may find that by taking a step back, you go even a little crazier and it's painful. That's okay. Just try and sit with it and own it and know that it will be over soon -- either because it wasn't right, or because he comes to his senses, realizes how awesome you are, and everything is right as rain again.
posted by pazazygeek at 6:02 PM on August 1, 2007 [9 favorites]

I'm a guy, and I have the exact same problem, for the most part. Just got broken up with, after 2 years, and I met a girl the other night who took my mind off it all. Now, all I can do is wonder when, or if she'll call me back. I got a good text from her, but since then nothing. I go insane thinking everything through and being edgy about what's next. In any case, I sympathize, and believe this is normal for many people. I like the idea that what happens will happen, and eventually, with someone, things will work out just right.
posted by rbf1138 at 6:18 PM on August 1, 2007

I relate to this as well. I'm quite anxious about the future anyway, and relationships always feel quite risky to me, so I think it's just a specific part of that. For those who are suggesting it's normal, yes, a bit of it is, but I think the OP is talking about an irrational and miserable degree of focus on the potential partner to the exclusion of her own comfort in the present moment. A bit of obsession, even.

PowerCat has something important to say here, and so does pazazygeek, and so does Deathalicious when (s)he says that you are giving your partner all the power by basing your feelings on how he feels about you. This power is a dangerous thing to give away, because it's the power you have in order to decide how you feel about yourself. By giving it away, you stop thinking about whether this relationship would be good for you, whether you like his character, whether you want to know more about him, whether he'll fit well within your life, all the evaluative questions you need to ask if you want to get serious about someone. In focusing your attention on his thumbs-up or thumbs-down about you, you lose your opportunity to do critical thinking about him.

I hate to sound like a grandma, but there really are a lot of fish in the sea. This relationship, any relationship, might or might not be the last one. A past therapist used to say "All relationships, except maybe the last one, are practice." Do your best to stay in the moment and focus on yourself. Distract yourself if you start to obsess over how he might feel, whether he's calling or not, etc. Do something else, something you like that takes your full attention.

And, for what it's worth, I think your instincts to ask this guy to turn the heat down a bit were absolutely spot-on. You have good instincts. Listen to them. Everyone's avid at the start of a relationship, but someone jumping right in and beginning to smother you with intensity is, indeed, a red flag. So I don't think you're at all irrational there - trust yourself more, listen to yourself more, and worry about him less.
posted by Miko at 8:16 PM on August 1, 2007 [5 favorites]

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." -- FDR.

This applies to nearly all aspects of life, I've found. I've been where you've been, letting my anxieties paralyze me in relationships that were otherwise going very well. I second and third a lot of the advice up there to "go with the flow", to be open to the possibilities of your relationship with this guy.

It's an unfortunate fact of life, but guys don't always get it right in relationships simply because they're the ones usually doing all the work with very little or no help/clues from the women they're pursuing. A little like wandering around in a dark room, hoping to find a light switch. From the sounds of it, however, it looks like you're going to need to explain to the guy how you're feeling in no uncertain terms so this relationship doesn't take the fast track to being over.

I'm thinking to salvage this situation you're going to have to spell out all this to the guy:

1. That you let your anxieties about relationships get the best of you even though you were really enjoying how well things were going at the beginning.

2. Yes, you recognize he tried to accomodate you by backing off - and really, it sounds like that's what the sudden change in behavior was all about. So, while you appreciate the gesture, you are now finding you probably don't need so much space anymore (if I'm reading you right).

3. You really do like him and like to deepen the relationship (again, if I'm reading you right)

But in general, the best and most effective way to deal with your anxiety is to confront it. Be honest when you ask and answer the question: why are you afraid? Low self esteem, past experiences that still bother you, etc.? Then tackle these things individually.

With low self esteem, for example, you're going to have to teach yourself to see all the wonderful qualities you have. In the morning and at night, practice smiling at yourself (bear with me here, it works) and saying aloud 3 times something you like about yourself. Every day find something new to say that you like about yourself. People respond to people who are confident in themselves and you're not going to find a bigger cheerleader than yourself.

I hope everything works out for you, and feel free to drop me a line if you'd like to talk it out more. Good Luck!
posted by blueorchids at 8:52 PM on August 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

It's an unfortunate fact of life, but guys don't always get it right in relationships simply because they're the ones usually doing all the work with very little or no help/clues from the women they're pursuing. A little like wandering around in a dark room, hoping to find a light switch.

(heh - i'll heartily second that. on more than a few occasions i've backed off from pursuing or becoming too emotionally invested in various girls due to a perceived lack of real interest on their part, only to have them come back later all "oh, but i was so into you and wanting to have a relationship with you etc". similarly, i've heard of others (well after the fact) who had apparently been crushy for ages but never let on a thing & so nothing ever happened.

in all the cases i can think of, i would happily have dated the girls involved, but for this stunning lack of clear encouragement on their part. far too much expectation that the guy should do all the work, in the dark, imho, which simply ends up with me hooking up with the girl next door who's unambiguous, nonsense-free & reciprocal in her affections)

posted by UbuRoivas at 11:24 PM on August 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

You describe precisely the behaviour of my girlfriend for the first few weeks of our relationship. We hit it off right away, I became very seriously interested within a few days, then she became distant for no apparent reason. I felt exactly as TonyRobots describes..a little hurt and rejected, wondering why she was no longer displaying the intense interest she had at first.

Long story short, we are still together 8 months later, and now I understand why she acted the way she did -- the number one reason being a distant/absent/alcoholic father growing up, which lead to a fear of abandonment/relationships failing, exactly as you describe.

SO -- I would say that your anxiety is normal for a person of your background. You have already taken the first step in eliminating this anxiety, which is understanding the cause. As you analyze yourself and begin to understand the triggers of this anxiety, you will gain control over it, and eventually reduce or eliminate it. My girlfriend has made huge progress in this area, but is still overcome with anxiety about our relationship occasionally. Perhaps it is something that never truely goes away.

Make sure you clarify the the guy at some point that your behaviour isn't personal, and you have struggled with it before. It can be VERY confusing as a guy, to deal with a girl who goes back and forth between such extremes seemingly at random. He is probably wondering "Does this girl want to see me, or not?" You mention craving attention, make sure this does not translate into game-playing, this can also be very confusing to the guy. You will find that when he caves and gives you all the attention you desire, he may not seem so appealing (no more chase). I have had to deal with this.

Long post, sorry, this just really resonated with everything my girlfriend and I have been dealing with. Bottom line -- talk to him, explain some of your feelings and how you don't wish to scare him away. Powercat has wise words, and I agree with the poster who said not to verbalize "lets take it slowly" -- anyone hates to hear that, and it hurts. Just Do It.
posted by lohmannn at 7:36 AM on August 2, 2007 [3 favorites]

Your anxiety is caused by your need for an answer to your Eternal Question, which is "Am I really a worthwhile person?" No one, and I mean, NO ONE, can answer this for you. Your every romantic interaction is filtered through your belief about this question.

I had a guy break up with me once in favor of another girl. I pressed him for answers why (was she prettier than me? smarter? etc). He told me that nothing he said was going to dissuade me from what I already believed about myself.

That was the most important thing anyone's ever said to me.

Your (lack of a) father is ABSOLUTELY NOT A REFERENDUM on your worth as a person. You know this intellectually, of course, but once you know it in your heart, you will find a freedom.

Similarly, whether this or that guy is interested in you is not a referendum on your worth, anymore than cloud formations mean hippos don't like lollipops. (Yes it's supposed to be nonsensical.) The guy is all tangled up in his own stuff, and whether or not he likes you is an equation with a lot of variables you can't control. It's really not all about you.

What you can control is your own beliefs about yourself. This takes steady work, and might feel weird and uncomfortable at times (think ill-fitting pair of jeans), but it will give you freedom from anxiety.
posted by desjardins at 8:31 AM on August 2, 2007 [5 favorites]

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