Where's The Emotional Baggage Check?
May 26, 2008 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Significant Other relations filter: I have a wonderful, devoted, attentive, ardent, insightful, supportive, affectionate, amazing boyfriend. But...I've only had the kind that got tired of me and left in a few months. How do I shake the occasional paranoia that he'll do the same?

I've been in therapy for my parents' affection feeling conditional at times, so this is a bit deeper-seated; but mostly I've just had bad luck with past boyfriends. But most of the time it is blatantly and mind-numbingly obvious that he's different. He is visibly crazy about me, and we've had many of those "I can't belive how happy you make me" mushy conversations -- throughout the whole eight months we've been a couple. We've even had a conversation once (he was in his cups, though) where we discussed big things like lifetime commitment and even kids.

But once or twice old fears have cropped back up, and I get afraid that the other shoe's going to drop, and that I'm not doing enough to keep him around. Which at the same time I know is utterly ridiculous. But the paranoia just preoccupies me for a while until I can mentally shout it down; usually I get over it in a couple days, but in the meantime I get weirdly self-conscious around him.

I've spoken to him about this once; he just said that he hadn't noticed I was acting strangely, and that he was glad I felt I could talk about it with him. Which is even more of a reassurance that I'm just paranoid. But I still need a couple days to snap out of it.

So how do you deal with the minor flareups of past baggage in such a way that it doesn't tie you up for days?
posted by EmpressCallipygos to Human Relations (7 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
So how do you deal with the minor flareups of past baggage in such a way that it doesn't tie you up for days?

You can't. At least not in the sense that you can concentrate real hard and make it magically go away. Don't think of an elephant, and all that. But what you can do is understand that worrying about it will not make it any better, and may actually make it worse. You and he are going to die one day; your time together will come to an end somehow: this much is certain. And since you have a limited time with him - or anyone - wouldn't it be much nicer to just act like it wasn't worrying you? One day you might wake up and find it just that way.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:06 AM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Trust, and ye shall be whole.
posted by netbros at 12:13 PM on May 26, 2008

What about envisioning worst-case scenarios? i.e. what will happen if your boyfriend did leave you? You'd be sad, but you would be OK and it wouldn't be the end of the world.

After two close brushes with death (myself in a car accident, my dad having quadruple bypass surgery) I have had increasing anxiety about loved ones dying. But it's like Optimus Chyme says above -- you will die anyways, we all will die. Worrying about it isn't doing me any good. The best I can do is be present in their life, let them know I love them, and enjoy the time I do have with them because, in the end, we all will die.

Anyways, I do find imagining worst case scenarios helpful, and planning for what would happen accordingly.

What if your boyfriend does leave you? What would you do? I would argue that you would be sad, but you would be just fine on your own.

If the thought of being single is too scary for you right now, then you might not be ready to date. Knowing that you can take care of yourself, that you are lovable, that YOU choose who to date and who will be in your life, is important.

I think having the self-confidence to know that you would be OK even if he DID leave you, will make this worrying go away.

We all have baggage. If we didn't, we'd be living too sheltered a life. You can decide not to keep schlepping it around though.
posted by Flying Squirrel at 12:28 PM on May 26, 2008

Best answer: I've only had the kind that got tired of me and left in a few months. How do I shake the occasional paranoia that he'll do the same?

Well, the thing is, he might.

You're going about this in the exact wrong way. Trying to shout down your fears and convince yourself that he'll never leave you isn't the solution, because you're lying to yourself and you know it. And this isn't the right place to look for reassurance anyway. Nobody here knows him, nobody here knows his heart, nobody here can predict the future.

What's causing you so much anxiety is not this possibility in itself. Whenever we enter into a relationship, we take a gamble that our partner will eventually hurt us. It happens all the time, no matter hard we try, no matter how much we love - sometimes it just doesn't work out. The chance is always there, and, given your history, you're keenly aware of this. Even if it were possible to remove all doubt, to really and truly convince yourself that this is the one, that he'll never leave you, that he'll stay with you forever and ever and never ever hurt you - would you really want to? Because what if he does? The great tragedy then would not be losing him, it would be losing your faith in yourself, feeling let yourself get duped.

The source of your anxiety is not the possibility of him leaving you, but your fear of that possibility. Every time you try to ignore it, every time you shout it down, you give it more power, because you're reiterating to yourself that it's something too horrible to face. So, face it. Look it straight in the eye. What if he were to leave you? What would happen then? It would be painful, it would be horrible for awhile, but you would get through it. You really and truly would. You don't need him - you're good enough on your own.

Only when you truly become comfortable with this as a potential outcome will your anxiety vanish. For that, you need to become truly comfortable with and secure in yourself. You won't find that by looking to him or looking to us - therapy's a good tool - but for starters, I suggest you make yourself a promise that you will always be honest with yourself, and you will always take care of yourself, and you won't ever shout any of your thoughts or feelings down ever again, because when you're scared and vulnerable, you want to at least be able to count on yourself as a safe haven.
posted by granted at 12:32 PM on May 26, 2008 [46 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone -- I realized with some more thought that a large source of my anxiety was that I was generally feeling vulnerable about some other things, and my old habit of dealing with vulnerability is to hide it. And then when I saw him this week, I'd be wondering why it didn't seem like we were "clicking" as much -- and gee, maybe it's because of the fact that I was trying to pretend that I wasn't feeling vulnerable, maybe?

We'd actually had a talk about this very thing this morning, and cleared the air a bit, and then after a few hours he just called to invite me along to a barbecue. So, yeah, he's still a source of wonderful...

I think what you say, granted, about needing to not shout down the fear is the issue, and that is something I can only deal with myself. And one of those lessons I have had to keep needing to learn over and over and over...

But I'm slowly getting more reassurance that here's someone that it's safe to be vulnerable around, which helps.

So long story short, I think I'm okay now, and have some very good food for thought. Thanks, all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:26 PM on May 26, 2008

No way I could improve on granted's advice (bowing to her), but here is one thing that struck me:

and I get afraid that the other shoe's going to drop, and that I'm not doing enough to keep him around.

Keep *him* around? What about shifting your perspective and wondering what he's doing to keep *you* around? Isn't that worth a look? A guy worth his salt is going to be wondering the same thing. He should earn you. That's sort of how these things work. Sounds like he is trying to do so. Kudos to him. You need to enjoy being treated well! It's nice! Go with it!

You didn't say much about your parents, but I'm guessing you grew up in an abusive family, as did I, and are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, as you said, and so am I. But sometimes, shoes don't drop. I agree with netbros; trust! An element missing from your childhood but here and present in your adulthood. So what if you trust and it doesn't work out...there's no difference except that you've given it your all instead of holding back. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Love him; go for it.

I'll also advise, based on my experience, to assume he has your best interests at heart and don't be suspicious. Always give him the benefit of the doubt. It took me years to learn this, but it is truly the best way to approach relationships. Hang in there. Trust. Love. The outcome is the same whether or not you worry. So don't worry! He sounds great. Assume you are worth it.
posted by frumious bandersnatch at 5:44 PM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've been in therapy for my parents' affection feeling conditional at times, so this is a bit deeper-seated; but mostly I've just had bad luck with past boyfriends.

if you have that sort of emotional history with your parents, your choice of boyfriends isn't about "just having bad luck" so much as it is about the (unconscious) choices you make which replicate your relationship with your parents in your own romantic relationships. therapy is a very good start because it allows you to recognize what your issues are and how it affects the choices you make in life. it will also set you up to free yourself from making the same mistakes going forward. most importantly though, therapy should enable you to heal from those emotional wounds and become a stronger person on your own, without having to feel the need to prove yourself "worthy" of anyone or anyone else's affections. essentially, you have been in the relationships you've had in order to try to heal those wounds (caused by feling unworthy of your parents' affections) through those relationships. in many respects, your question here demonstrates that you are still trying to find approval, to be found worthy by by someone else rather than truly believing yourself that you are.

when you have finally come to feel that you are the only one responsible for your feelings will you get over your constant fear of "the other shoe dropping."
posted by violetk at 7:51 PM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

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