I have a history of the following: meet a man, enter into a relationship, feel bliss for a few months, and then start to feel uncomfortable around month three to eight.
This is when a few behaviors begin:
>> I become hyper-vigilant about communication, timelines, and what it all means: “It’s been two hours since he texted. Have his feelings changed?”
>> I try to play it cool and convince myself to lean back or stay busy or live my life, but internally I’m also wracked with a pit in my stomach from this very pretending.
>> I assess with friends and hyper-analyze individual words or texts or story lines.
>> I feel intense pain if he chooses another person or activity instead of focusing on me as a way to “prove” his interest, engagement, and enthusiasm.
Then I leave the relationship.
At the point when I dump this man, I’m quite sure I’ve sleuthed out red flags and deal breakers, and know every reason why I was justified. I often feel phenomenal relief at just being rid of the pit in my stomach feelings and the deep ambiguity of both wanting to be in the relationship and hating the experience of being in it. But I’m also incredibly sad, mourning the loss of my relationship and trying to figure out what went wrong.
We were so in love, and then it turned into misery.
When this happened three times in a row with men I truly adored (I still keep in touch with them all), I noticed that I could basically write a script for the beginning, middle, and end of my relationships.
Swap out the names, but same, same, same.
So, what was up with me?
Statistically, women are more commonly anxious and men are more commonly avoidant. It’s so common that it’s estimated that one in three daters is anxiously attached.
If you are not anxious in relationships, may this help generate some understanding of what the experience feels like.
If we are secure or avoidant in love and attachment, it’s honestly hard to understand what an anxious person might be thinking or feeling.
But consider a moment when you were stressed, felt threatened, or felt unsafe. That’s what anxious attachment feels like, only it lasts for days or weeks or months or years. Our bodies and minds are on high alert to the perceived dangers of pain associated with love and bonding.
As an anxious dater, it’s difficult to stop ruminating and/or having painful feelings about the situation or relationship, as this attachment style means that love and attachment itself feel fundamentally unsafe. The same way lacking food gives us hunger. It’s a full body experience of fear, loss, and craving.
It’s not rooted in rationality; it’s rooted in survival. Babies die without love and affection, so we are on the lookout for how to survive and get the love and affection we need.
We are therefore hyper-attuned to clues that we have encountered danger, even if these clues are false.
It’s often the ultimate paradox: the thing we most deeply crave might also be the very thing that causes us the most pain and discomfort.
But our bodies are often in physical pain if we sense withdrawal or removal of affection, which can be triggered by normal things, such as when our partners go to work or tend to other relationships or elements of life.
If you are not anxious, think of the sensation of being tired and not being able to figure out how to get to sleep, or being hungry and having no food available. That will give you some insight into how we might feel at times.
But being anxiously attached does not mean we aren’t living full, busy lives.
If you are anxious in relationships, I hope that some of my lived experiences may be helpful as a direction for your own work.
My own years of awareness and work have been difficult, but this is what I now know:
>> I have learned to tell my partner that I have an anxious attachment style. If that’s too difficult, the relationship won’t work.
>> I have learned to tell my partner, “I’m now making up stories” and check myself.
>> I have learned to check the facts. It’s easy to let my mind envision scenarios or create assumptions. I now simply ask, and it doesn’t matter if I’ve known the man for an hour or a day or a week or two years. This means asking questions and asking him instead of a friend.
>> I have learned that not ruminating is a skill. Yes, it’s necessary to feel my feelings, but endless contemplation won’t solve the problem.
>> I have therefore learned to be immaculately discerning about who I share with, as people can easily and unwittingly trigger my anxieties and fuel the rumination fire. I have started to notice when I’m triggered by that advice and I only talk about my relationship with friends who do not trigger my anxieties.
>> I have learned that communicating with my partner is the primary positive solution. If I’m asking a friend for advice, it’s a signal to me that I should engage in dialogue with my partner and be brave enough to say to him exactly what I would (or did) say to a friend.
>> I have learned to be present and not assume that my partner is leaving or that he doesn’t want to be with me. Assuming positive intent is critical, as it keeps me in the present.
>> I have learned to balance rational thought with emotion. Anxiety can mean I pull the cart before the horse when it comes to emotions. I’m a rational person, unless I’m triggered, and then my emotions threaten to lead my decisions. I have learned to notice when this is the case.
>> I have learned to stop trying to leave a relationship as a solution for reducing anxiety. Men will let me break up with them and I can be without anxiety as long as I’m without partnership, but it doesn’t help me grow into secure attachments. Only partnership does that.
>> I have learned to tolerate my own imperfections. That means I may not say everything in the right order or in the right way or at the right time. Things happens and that doesn’t mean my partner is dumping me. I have learned to let my imperfections go and am working on self-compassion.
>> I have learned that my partner can hold unchanging feelings even if mine can feel bandied about in moments of anxiety.
I am an imperfect work in progress, but I hope that by sharing my experience, these ideas may guide you in a direction you may not have thought of or may add some new awareness to your relationships.