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The Real Reason My Anxiety Kept Me From Dating

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Most people start dating in their teens. Those relationships are often short lived, but they are at least some kind of interpersonal experience. As we get older, our capacity for maturity deepens, and so our relationships take on new levels of intimacy, awareness and commitment.

When most people hit their mid-20s, it’s likely they have years of experience under their belt. Maybe they only dated one person for a while or bounced around between several partners. Regardless, they dated. They grew in that arena of themselves. They learned about who they are compatible with and what they require of their partners.

I didn’t.

My reasons for relational abstinence (if I can call it that) were completely valid then and are completely valid now. To an extent.

I am a generally logical thinker who prefers absorbing evidence over time and making a decision based on what I gather rather than learning through experience. This may simply be a preferred way to function or how my brain operates on default. It might also be that I am terrified of emotional pain, and I struggle with both generalized and social anxiety as a chronic problem.

Even as a child, there was something in me that was profoundly lonely. I was different then and I am different now. I make choices that are unconventional. I choose what works, not what is expected. I started reading books on healthy marriages and relational compatibility at 13.

You know the guy that created eHarmony? Yeah, I read all his books too. My friends dated individuals based solely on the emotional experience and their immediate attraction. This was staggering to me. I just didn’t think that way. My attraction was rooted in something else. I was just different. So I told myself.

My approach to romance was pragmatic. I wanted a partner who made sense. So, I spent most of my teen years and my early 20s coming to understand what kind of person I was a) attracted to and b) operated in tandem with my strengths, weaknesses, personality and needs.

Seems like a good system, right? It was for the most part. However, what it didn’t account for was how intensely lonely, discouraging and isolating that kind of processing can be. What I also didn’t account for was the deep, core reason of why I didn’t date, which I will elaborate on shortly.

I don’t believe in love at first sight. I believe love grows over time, intimate connection, vulnerability and sacrifice. Yet, I do believe in the arresting power of potential. When that person came into my life, it was almost unbearable how intensely I felt. All the sudden, I wasn’t lonely any more. I had met someone who thought the way I did, processed the way I did and functioned the way I did.

He understood me. No one had ever understood me like that. That in itself was intoxicating and terrifying. I had a lot of panic attacks. A lot.

There are some things you can’t “out think.” You can’t analyze. You can’t rationalize away. You step into it and whatever armor you have built for yourself is immediately stripped off. Attraction, chemistry, passion, jealousy, insecurity and infatuation. These things happen to you. You have no control over how deeply they affect you, which is awesome for some and royally sucked for me.

Falling in love is a beautiful and horrifying experience. It reminds you of why you are alive, and it reminds you of how much you can lose. Hence, the panic attacks. Every possible bad thing, bad ending, bad outcome would play out in my mind, regardless of reality.

As I said before, I was officially diagnosed after a long deliberation with doctors, therapists, psychiatrists (and even pastors) with a jointed diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety and clinical depression. This is not a surprise to me, as it shaped my entire method of processing.

Do you want to know why I read 13,385 books on capability, refused every guy who stepped into my life and prayed for God to only bring me the right guy at the right time? Because I was terrified of making a mistake and choosing the “wrong” one. I had been in pain for years for no reason. At the time, I did not feel strong enough to add an actual reason. I wanted to fall in love once so I never had to face the pain of falling out of love.

Plus, love means vulnerability, mistakes, messiness, a lack of control and a thousand other things that terrified someone like me. I say “terrified” in the past tense because I am a little stronger and a little braver now. I am proud of that. That is what people don’t get about GAD, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or even social anxiety.

It leaks into how you perceive life, affection, friendships, hardships, victories and failures. It permeates everything. Even a kiss. I almost fainted the first time, and not because his skills were that good (I mean, honestly they were), but because my heart was freaking out from the prospect of someone kissing me. Someone being that close to my body, my heart and my emotions.

So, to those of you who are like me, don’t be me. Don’t run away. Don’t shut the door on experiences because they scare you. Let a kiss knock you flat because you feel alive, not because you’re afraid. Fall in love. Fall out of love. Bleed. Lick your wounds. Be proud of your scars and move on.

The greatest decision I ever made was allowing myself to jump off that proverbial cliff. It brought me new friends, a new reality, a new understanding of what I can accomplish, all the things that fear robbed me of for most of my life.

Don’t be scared. Be brave. Because you are stronger than you realize, and there are so many beautiful things out there, just for you.

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Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: January 3, 2017
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