Dater X: I’m In A Great Relationship, So Can I Stop Freaking Out Now?
Last Thursday, I prepared myself for what I thought would be a big milestone in my relationship with The Young One. His older sister—who serves double duty as his best friend—was visiting and I was going to meet her for the first time over dinner. That morning, I rummaged through my closet, trying to find the perfect ensemble to project a cool-yet-wholesome image. Over lunch, I brainstormed restaurants with my co-workers, hoping to find a place that felt special and laid-back at the same time—a true reflection of me. All afternoon I felt on a high that I was about to meet my first member of The Young One’s family—the one he was closest to, no less. Visions of his sister and I becoming besties danced in my head.
But as late afternoon rolled around, I hadn’t heard from The Young One. He remembers dinner tonight, right? I thought before spiraling into another thought. What if he’s changed his mind about introducing me to his sister?
I sent him a text message asking him what time he wanted to meet. For a half hour, it was easy to justify the fact that The Young One hadn’t responded to my text. Maybe they’re on the subway? I thought. Or at a museum where they have to turn off their cell phones?
But soon, time began to warp. Every minute I didn’t hear from The Young One seemed to stretch on far too long. A strange sensation took hold of my stomach and tingled more and more as each moment passed. Here it comes. He’s blowing me off, I thought. I can’t believe he doesn’t want me to meet his sister! Why did he even suggest it if he wasn’t ready?
I watched my co-workers shut down their computers and leave. It was 7 p.m. and I still hadn’t heard from The Young One. I was in full-scale panic mode. Luckily, my friend logged on to IM and I pinged her. “You had dinner plans and you still haven’t heard from him?” she said as I explained the situation. “Oh man, that isn’t a good sign.”
Just then, my phone buzzed with a text. It was The Young One. “So sorry,” it read. “Dinner isn’t going to work out tonight.”
It was as if he’d just confirmed my worst fears—he wasn’t ready to introduce me to a member of his family. I related the text to my friend on IM. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “But he didn’t give any kind of explanation? That’s not good.”
I knew his sister was only in town for another day and a half. “If he lets her leave without meeting me—that’s it. We’re done!” I said to my friend. “I don’t want to be with anyone who has any kind of reservations about me.”
I went home, ordered Thai food, and cried.
Later that night, I got an important lesson: it’s not always about you.
At 11 p.m., The Young One called. He explained this his sister’s boyfriend of three years had broken up with her over the phone that morning and said he was moving out of the apartment they shared. The Young One apologized profusely about not communicating with me about what was going on earlier in the day. He said he’d been so focused on his sister that he wasn’t paying attention to his phone. It had slipped his mind that we had made plans. It wasn’t at all that he was having doubts about introducing me to his big sister—it was that she was having flash crying attacks and didn’t feel up to meeting me.
I felt relieved. And also totally ridiculous. Sadly, this isn’t the first freak out of this magnitude that I’ve had during my six-month relationship with The Young One. There was the time, maybe a month and half in, when I didn’t hear from him for 36 hours. “I’m obviously never going to hear from him again,” I panicked to my friend. Yeah, I did. Then there was the time maybe two months later when again, he went AWOL for a day and a half after we’d had a fight. “It’s over,” I braced myself. Yeah, it wasn’t. Not even slightly.
Somehow, when I was single, I imagined that being in a relationship was going to be all daffodils and teacup piglets. I forgot how difficult it can be to get on—and stay on—the same page with another person, who has different ideas on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich let alone how communication in a relationship should work, through the twists and turns of everyday life. Being in a new relationship, I’ve been shocked to learn something about myself: I’m not so great at trusting that I’m loved. When I’m with The Young One, I’m fine. But when we’re apart, minor things can send me spiraling. Sometimes I feel like one of those people on an airplane who ducks and covers, preparing for a crash landing when there’s only a slight touch of turbulence.
I’m finding it strange that so much of the drama in my relationship happens solely in my head. Now, I know I wasn’t always like this. My last relationship was with someone who didn’t show me half the affection or intensity of feelings that The Young One does and I didn’t constantly worry that we were hitting the skids. Something about being single for so long changed my ability to relax in a relationship. When I was single, I established this pattern with men: Go out with guy. We like each other. We begin intense fling with grand declarations of feelings. Then one day, seemingly out of the blue, he disappears. Having several guys over time pull fade outs—well, to use psychospeak, I think it’s given me some abandonment issues.
A few months back, Beth described this phenomenon as Post-Traumatic Dating Disorder. I think she is onto something and could make a million if she wrote a self-help book on how to conquer it. Several of my friends who are also in new relationships are experiencing the exact same thing.
Now, the dating adage goes: you have to love yourself before anyone else can love you. So some of you who have not experienced this might be reading and thinking, “Wow, she has low self-esteem.” But I don’t think that is what this is about. I love myself and truth be told, think I’m pretty awesome and know that I am a 10 on all levels. But here’s the problem—I’ve had a pattern of experiences where another person didn’t see that. I’ve seen in action that just because you are amazing doesn’t necessarily mean that another person will be able to recognize that. Or that you are the specific brand of amazing that they are looking for.
When you are dating, you generally don’t know exactly how someone feels about you. And so you begin to take the minutiae of their behavior as signals. He texted twice today? Ding, ding, ding! He likes you. He called to make plans for the weekend? Woo hoo hoo! You are in.` You haven’t heard from him in a few days? Uh-oh. He made a date for Monday instead of Saturday? Sorry, he’s just not that into you. Wait, you had to call him? You’re barking up the wrong tree.
The difference here is that I know that The Young One loves me—he says it all the time and shows me it in so many way. But somehow, I’m still using checklists to assure me that it’s true. I’m looking for the things I’ve been told are “signs” that he is serious about me—introductions to friends, being taken to a work event, being called his “girlfriend,” meeting the family—rather than listening and hearing him say that, yes, he is. All it comes down to is that everyone has different ideas about how/when to incorporate a new significant other into their life.
Naturally, I told my therapist about my big sister-dinner-meltdown of last week. She said something really interesting: “This is not about whether the relationship works out or not—you can’t know that yet. This is about you learning how to be in a healthy relationship.” Truly, this is something I need some practice in. So I’ve brainstormed some ways that I can ease myself through freak outs, if I ever have one again. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
- Focus on what was said rather than on how long ago it was said and who started the conversation. I need to stop counting hours between communication and taking the time elapsed as something meaningful. Instead, I’m going to remember the content. Did he remember something that was going on in my life? Tell me something that was going on in his? Did he say he loved me? Yeah, trust that. Also, I realize that while dating, I stopped feeling comfortable initiating communication with guys. Instead, I waited to see how long it would take them to contact me—again, to judge how they were feeling. And that is ridiculous. If I want to talk to The Young One, I can place the call, write the text, or send the email myself.
- Keep a relationship diary. I have never been one to keep a journal, but a friend suggested to me that every night, in a notebook, I write down a highlight of the day involving The Young One—just a sentence or two about a fun thing we did together, a nice email he sent, or a sweet thing he said/did. And she’s right. Having that on paper has been so helpful anytime I’m feeling insecure because I can look back and see that, duh, I am loved here.
- Watch the spiraling. If there is a dip in communication, it may well be a sign that something is up. But I need to stop jumping from “problem” to “it’s over.” As my therapist noted, part of a new relationship is building a track record as a couple of being able to work through issues. Problems do not mean the end of the world—they’re a chance to test how good we are at communicating and how well we’ll work long term because, let’s face it, life can be full of road bumps.
- Just enjoy it. Enough said, right?
The biggest thing for me to remember is that you can’t really brace for a crash landing. Is there a chance that me and The Young One won’t work out? Of course there is. If that happens, it’s going to hurt no matter what. I won’t necessarily be able to see it coming. I can’t insulate myself from it. I can’t pre-empt it by deciding “we’re done” without talking to him when I’m upset about something. The bottom line is that love is a risk and with relationships, there are no guarantees. But being able to look that fear in the face and still leap—well, that’s what makes love so sublime.
So, talk to me. Have you ever experienced anything like this? If so, what gets you through it?
Sorry I’ve been so MIA lately. Have you guys missed me? If you ever want to email me, hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org. And I promise to check in once a month or so from here on out. Really.