Ask Dr. NerdLove: How Do I Keep My Anxiety Under Control?

Hey Doc,

I’ve been reading your blog for about half a year now, as well as your new book on surviving relationships, and I gotta thank you for your pearls of wisdom, you’ve led me from not knowing the first thing about flirting to being in my first real relationship. Which is where I’m at right now, and I’m writing in hope that you could shed some light on my situation.

So about two months ago, I met a wonderful lady on an organized trip for youngsters (ages 18-23 I think). We had an amazing time on the trip, we connected on the first day quite a bit, lots of flirting and good vibes coming from both of us, then on the second day we said we’ll give it a go. We had a good time that day, we kissed on the third day (as much as we could whenever we were away from the rest of the group), then we parted. That never happened to either of us before, but we really liked each other from the start, and I suppose the stars all aligned perfectly that we just went at it without much need for barrier breaking. The trip was almost over, and we both knew it would be a bit of a challenge from then on, since we live in opposite sides of our country, about 3 hours away from each other, but we said we’ll try it anyway.

Surprise surprise! We managed to make it work, we met almost every weekend from then until now, taking one weekend off so we wouldn’t burn out too hard. We had a bunch of sex, we met each other’s families, and we’ve connected deeper and deeper. I truly think we have something special, that there’s a reason we connected so fast. I believe it’s because we align exceptionally well on some sort of spiritual level, as in even though we didn’t know each other that well, we could feel something special that words can’t describe. It’s like we just get each other intuitively, like we already met before, like our spirits are fused and now it’s up to us to make this into something beautiful. Anyway, that’s our status right now, meeting up on weekends and trying to have a good time with each other. Also we text or call each other pretty much every day, this is important context.

Now, here’s why I’m writing you: I don’t have good experience with relationships prior to this one, only bad experience. I won’t go into detail, but lots of heart-break, confusion, depression at times, basically what I assume most people go through at one point or another. The catch with me specifically is that all of that negative experience has left me without any real faith in a relationship being something constant. What I mean is I often have the feeling that my significant other could leave at any point, without explanation, without closure, without any reason other than “I don’t love you anymore”. I try to remind myself that people don’t give up that quickly or easily on the ones they love, but it’s hard to fight these emotions. In my (unrealistic, primitive) mind I just assume that there’s nothing about me that people could love over a long period of time, which (I think) is ironic because that’s what I really want out of a relationship.

So that said, I’m having such thoughts and feelings on a weekly basis, if not daily. Every time her and I text each other and the conversation doesn’t flow, I feel it. Every time I tell a joke and she doesn’t laugh, I feel it. Every time she says something and I zone out, I feel it. Not so much that I’m anxious about it, but enough that it’s starting to fuck with my psyche. I mean I still function and everything, but then something random and seemingly unimportant happens between us, and suddenly nothing is stable anymore.

On top of that, I’m scared that talking to her about this could only make things worse, because I tried to do that a little bit, and she didn’t know what to say, which is understandable. Essentially I fear that if I try to solve this with her instead of with myself, then I’d be doing both of us a dis-service. On the other hand, I don’t know whether the problem truly stems from something messed-up inside of me, or from something either of us can do to make it better.

I love this woman Doc, the way I hope to be loved. I also know that love doesn’t last forever, and that one day it will be over, but I don’t want that day to come early because of my own stupidity or complacency. I’m frustrated that I don’t know what I’m doing right or wrong, and I’m scared that that will fuck up me or our relationship. Do you believe there’s something I can do to help myself get out of this state of mind? Or do I just have to stick to it and believe in what I’m doing? Any advice would be infinitely appreciated.

Lost Soul

So here’s something a lot of advice columnists won’t tell you, LS: sometimes dating is as much a matter of luck as it is anything else. There will always be things that are completely outside of your control. In a very real way, relationships are a lot like poker. There will be times when pure chance means that you just get a series of bad hands, one right after the other and the only thing you can do is grit your teeth and play through as best you can, as quickly as you can. But, just as in poker, you have to learn how to keep your wits about you. When you start taking bad luck personally, you start to make bad decisions. Sometimes it means that you start to take chances, going in on bad calls in an attempt to pull yourself out of the hole. Other times, you end up losing your nerve, giving up a good thing because you’re convinced that your luck is about to reach out and slap you down.

But the fact that you’ve had a bad string of luck doesn’t automatically mean that the problem is with you. Relationships fall apart for a multitude of reasons, ones that often have more to do with your partner than they do with you. Dating someone who’s in the wrong stage of life, for example, can make it feel as though you’re the problem, even when you aren’t. It can leave thinking bullshit thoughts like “Well, if I were better, they wouldn’t have left,” or “If I hadn’t been so X, Y or Z, they wouldn’t have fallen out of love with me.” But in reality: the reason why things fell apart is because they were the wrong person.

That’s where you are right now, LS; you’ve got a good thing going, but you’re letting a run of bad luck screw with your head. And in fairness, when it comes to love, it can be hard not to take bad luck personally; after all, you’re the common denominator in all of your relationships. When you get hurt enough times, it’s very easy to start to feel as though you’re helpless. You become so scared of being hurt again that you end up paralyzed, anticipating the pain before it even happens. And, the cruel irony is that this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy; believing that you aren’t deserving of love tends to make people sabotage their own relationships. They react to the potential of being rejected instead of what is actually happening. They push their partners away because they refuse to believe that he or she is being real with them when they say that they care.

And when things do fall apart because of all of this… well, that just reinforces the meme that you’re unworthy or undeserving of love and happiness.

Now while my standard advice is to unpack some of these issues with an actual therapist instead of a loudmouth with a blog, I do have a suggestion that can help you to unlearn this sense of helplessness: take every little positive interaction with your girlfriend as a victory. Each little moment you have – the comfort of how she fits in your arm, the way she sighs when you kiss her – are all microrevolutions; they’re tiny wins against the forces of self-doubt and self-loathing. The way she breathes in the scent of you when she moves in close is a reminder of how far you’ve come and how much she desires you. And when you have those moments of panic – the dread of “oh god she didn’t text back immediately, she must hate me,” – you remind yourself of those little microrevolutions. They’re the signs that all is right in the world and these moments are just that: moments. They’re little glitches that you’re blowing up into major malfunctions instead of just the randomness of every relationship. These microrevolutions are the balm against the anxiety; they talk you down enough that your logical brain can override the panic and remind you that she didn’t text back because she’s busy. She didn’t laugh because the joke didn’t land right, not because she’s getting ready to dump you.

The other thing you need to do though? Trust her enough to talk to her. Let her know that sometimes you get little twinges of insecurity. You know that it’s irrational, but sometimes these little irrational moments flare up out of nowhere. And while you don’t need it every time – it’s not her responsibility to manage your emotional state – there’re times when it flares up enough that you’d appreciate a little extra sweetness and reassurance.

And you know what? She’s going to let you know that she gets just as anxious at times. She’s going to have the same random insecure moments. And at those times, she could use your comfort too.

You’ve got a good thing going here, LS. You just need to learn to trust your girlfriend enough to let go of those past hurts and embrace what you have.

You’re going to be ok. I promise.


Hi Doc, 

I have been following your posts for a while now and has helped me in many situations, but I need your help with something incredibly hard.

I have been in a relationship for almost a year now. During this time my girlfriend has done things that have made me lose trust in her. I gave her couple of chances, and she really tried her best to make our relationship work. She stopped talking to her guy friends and was really open to me. But my incapability to trust her again slowly changed my feelings towards her. I felt I don’t love her anymore. It doesn’t help that my family is against me dating her. So, I decided to end things with her.

She doesn’t want to break up and is begging me to give her another chance and work this out. She says she really needs me and has never felt like this about another man before. She thinks I am her soul mate. I feel really guilty that I hurt her and makes me very sad. She says she will wait for me however long that takes and keeps loving me.

What do I do?

Pulling The Trigger

Look, PTT, I’m going to level with you: you can’t really break up with someone and not hurt them. Break ups, even the most amicable ones, hurt. It’s the end of a relationship and that’s always going to sting, even just a little. The only thing you can do is cause as little unnecessary hurt as you can on the way out. And what you’re doing now? That’s causing pain that you don’t need to cause.

It can be hard to break up, even when you know it’s what needs to be done. But drawing it out makes it so much worse for everyone. If you’re going to end things, then you need to do it as quickly and cleanly as possible. The sharp pain fades the quickest and the clean break heals fastest. If you feel bad about hurting your soon-to-be ex, then you need to do the kind thing and make it fast. Don’t talk it out, don’t stick around to argue about the whys and wherefores. Just tell her it’s over, that you’re sorry, you wish the best for her and go. If you truly don’t want to hurt her, then you need to be firm. More than that just prolongs the pain.

Good luck.

 

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