Imagine if you read a lonely hearts ad that looked like this:
Single anxious 30-something, nail biter, fidgeter, lip chewer, seeks partner for constant reassurance. Can sometimes be an annoyance. Paranoid about a lot of things. Big fan of alone time. Will question everything. Apply within.
Would you apply? Do you think they sound like someone you could grow to love ? Or would you move on to someone else and quickly?
Thing is, if I had to write an honest lonely hearts ad, based entirely on my emotions, that ad above would be me. Sound like quite the catch, don’t I? In day-to-day situations, I come across as a bubbly, outgoing person. High-functioning anxiety means I sometimes talk too much, I overcompensate for silences and at least one part of my anatomy is always moving — drumming fingers, flicking hair, constantly in motion. Dating is a whole different game, and it’s hard to even roll the first die.
Four years ago, I’d just come out of a relationship which had sent my anxiety levels through the roof. In the beginning it was a fairytale, by the end a living nightmare. Constantly being lied to and cheated on meant a once manageable anxiety rose to levels I couldn’t even comprehend anymore. For the last few months of the relationship, I felt like I was going mad. A simple question would be met with a lie, an accusation would be bounced back and flipped around, and, of course, it was “all my fault.” I was made to feel like I was abnormal for worrying about someone when they went out, or when they didn’t answer their phone for a few days. Obviously I was “interfering” when he went out with another couple and a single female friend and I wasn’t invited. I wasn’t allowed to go out with my own friends unless he was there, and each night then would end in a blazing argument — he would drink too much and verbally abuse me, usually accuse me of sleeping with someone else, and I would cry myself to sleep. I spent nights lying in bed convincing myself I was such a terrible partner, that I was overbearing to the point where I wondered why he could even be with me because I was that awful. The relationship ended when I realized, for my own sanity, the only fault that lay with me was not ending it sooner.
And so I reveled in freedom. I didn’t need to settle back down, and I didn’t want to settle down. I had wings again and I could fly as far or as near as I wanted to. I was happy with that. A few dates here and there, nothing serious, it worked for me. I didn’t get involved, I didn’t have anyone to answer to… It wasn’t difficult and it wasn’t scary. I had learned, or had implanted in my head, that I’d never allow anyone to get that close to me again because I couldn’t handle feeling like that again.
And then my best friend invited me to a wedding as his plus one. I’d known him for 13 years, so I felt like it was more of a night out rather than a date, and we had a great time. The next day we both went to work and all day long I thought about him. It was like a lightbulb had switched on in my head. Did I contact him? Out of fear, I didn’t. I didn’t, couldn’t, dare think that I could put myself back into a relationship with someone, so I shut myself away and got on with my life. Then he messaged me and asked me out again… just us two this time and, although I said yes, I panicked so much by the time I met him for a lunch date I was a bag of nerves. It was ridiculous. One of my oldest, bestest friends, and I was a bumbling mess!
Luckily he managed to see past all that and, nearly six months down the line, we are officially in a relationship. But it’s hard. Although I have one foot firmly in the future, one foot seems determined to stick in the past. I worry constantly about getting on his nerves, about being overbearing, putting a foot wrong. I talk too much, I fear that I will be too much for him and that he’ll dump my sorry ass for being… me.
It is the most amazing feeling to be with someone who seems to accept all that. Trust is the major factor — he goes out and I don’t sit at home paranoid that he’s with someone else. We go out on weekends and I can talk to another man at the bar without feeling eyes burning with jealousy on my skin. It’s waking up in the middle of the night in the midst of an anxiety attack and knowing he’s there to hold me until I calm down.
Dating with anxiety is hard. Loving with anxiety is harder. The only advice I can give is don’t settle. Don’t settle for the person who thrives and revels in raising your stress levels. If they make your heart beat faster when you see them, make sure it’s for the right reasons. Because, when you find the right person, it shouldn’t feel like you’ve been running a marathon, it should feel like you’re coming home. And I’m home.
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If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
Thinkstock photo via KristinaJovanovic