Although the tongue weighs very little, very few people are able to hold it. -Anonymous
Question #93019 posted on 05/15/2020 9:36 p.m.
Q:

Dear 100 Hour Board,

I know you get a lot of questions about relationships, but as I’ve read through past answers, I have some questions that are slightly different from what I was able to find in the archives. If there was a past answer that I missed that would address my questions, feel free to send it my way!

Without further ado, here is some background.

Last summer I was in a serious relationship with a guy for over a year and we were engaged to get married last September. This was our first serious relationship for both of us and he fell hard for me while I was a lot slower (hence the year-long relationship). He's a really great guy with a lot qualities I found attractive and we seemed to fit each other well. It was also a long-distance relationship for the entirety of our courtship, and he would come to me (or I would go to him) and we would have a nice, fun date on Saturday. Every week I would go through an emotional cycle of having a good time with him, then my anxious thoughts would kick in. These anxieties would be centered around worrying/knowing that he loved me more than I loved him, that I wasn’t always attracted to him (physically), my family’s relationship with him, and if I would be happy with him. These thoughts made it very hard for me to trust my own feelings and influenced how I interacted with him (I wouldn’t be responsive to his expressions of love if I was feeling anxious or stressed). One of our strengths was being able to communicate, so we would try to work through it. I would tell him about my anxieties, but because my anxious thoughts and feelings kept coming back and intensifying, he was having a hard time trusting what I would say or willing to commit to versus what I actually was doing. As we got closer to the wedding, the cycle of emotions was getting more extreme for me. For example, when he asked me to marry him, I was feeling all the right things, love, excitement, and joy. But then a few weeks later all of the negative feelings would return with increased intensity, leading to a huge reluctance to do wedding planning and everything would be thrown off. I eventually ended things about a month before the wedding because I couldn’t handle the intense feelings of anxiety, sadness, and stress I was putting myself under, even though he was willing to still marry me if I was willing. When I would pray about it, the answer was that it was my choice and if I wanted to, we could be happy together, which was causing more stress because it just didn’t make sense to me. Ultimately, the stress was too much and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was how our courtship was, then what would marriage be like? Since everyone says the problems you have before marriage increase tenfold after marriage, that was really stressing me out. After the break-up, I felt a lot of relief, but it wasn’t a cure-all for my personal problems, obviously, and I still have a lot to work through.

So, what’s done is done and I can’t provide all of the details and nuances in this whole thing, but hopefully the context helps prompt some answers.

Now I am wondering about the future and how common my experience was. Through this whole process I had a lot of questions and I would like to get some perspective. How many of you, or people you know, have felt this way or had a similar experience of going through a cycle of anxiety and love towards someone? If so, what happened and how did it end or how were you able to adjust? Should I expect to feel this way with future guys I might want to marry? If so, how can I better handle my anxiety in future relationships so that I don’t sabotage myself?

Bonus question: Did you ever feel like you loved your SO more or less than they loved you? If so, how did you handle that?

Feel free to answer whatever question you want or feel comfortable with!

-anxiously wondering

A:

Dear Aziraphale,

I relate to your question so much. I've been in exactly one relationship ever, and it has a lot of parallels to what you described. It honestly made me super anxious because I wasn't physically attracted to my boyfriend and I knew I wasn't nearly as invested as he was. To be fair, he was pushing for things to get pretty dang serious pretty dang fast. Less than a month after we officially started dating, he wanted me to come up to his parent's house in Idaho for a weekend to meet his family and accompany him to his high school reunion. Meanwhile I stayed solidly at the other extreme of the relationship spectrum and never even allowed him to kiss me.

While we were dating, the mere thought of marriage filled me with horror. And I'm not even talking about thinking about getting married myself. I've always loved a good romance in stories, but I completely lost interest in any and all hints of romance in any of the media I consumed. I hated talking about my relationship, and generally would get pretty upset when people tried to broach the subject with me.

Now, with all of this, you're probably wondering why the heck I was in this relationship at all. And my answer to that is... well, it's complicated.

My personality is very reserved, and I take a long time to open up to other people. As the only situations where I ever saw my boyfriend were on our dates, I figured that I should give it time to see if I started developing deeper feelings for him. After all, a couple hours here and there isn't exactly conducive to getting to know someone super well in a short period of time. And the thing is, there wasn't really a reason to say no to more dates (it was the fact that we were continuing to go on dates and I wasn't going on dates with anyone else that eventually made me think it was kind of ridiculous for me to say we couldn't be "officially dating" when we weren't planning on stopping going on dates for the time being--so that's how this became a relationship in the first place).

While I definitely think breaking up was the absolute best thing for me in this scenario, I'm still left with lingering doubts about whether I'll ever be able to accept a guy's feelings for me without anxiety (at least initially). While there have been guys I've liked in the past, none of them have ever had even a shred of the same kinds of feelings for me. Conversely, I've never really liked any of the guys who have shown interest in me. So maybe this is all just coincidence. Or maybe I have some deep-seated subconscious fears about being in an invested relationship which has created an automatic emotional buffer preventing me from liking guys who like me, and only allowing me to like guys with whom there's no realistic change of things working out given their lack of feelings for me.

At this point I kind of feel like I'm just spewing out mental vomit onto the page, but hopefully you can get some sense of solidarity from all of this.

~Anathema

A:

Dear Anxious, 

Oh my dear, soul sister. First of all, I'm sorry because that whole thing sounds like it was really hard and I feel bad for you. Anxiety is a pretty bad, unfair, and controlling thing. It can take the things you're most certain about and twist them into a nightmare. It makes you doubt even the most fundamental feelings you have about yourself and others. It SUCKS. 

I am also an incredibly anxious person, and I don't make big decisions without spending a LOT of time thinking about them first. Heck, I can't even make a purchase on Amazon without having it saved in my cart for 3 days and then deciding if it's worth it. My brain has a hard time differentiating between being excited anxious and being scared anxious.... so, as I have gotten more excited for my wedding, I have also felt a LOT more stressed out and scared. 

I cannot wait to get married, don't get me wrong. But when I'm not with Pebble, thoughts of doubt and fear creep in... But you know what I realized about all these thoughts? They're GARBAGE thoughts. They are created by generalized anxiety disorder in response to a big life change. They don't accurately represent how I feel about my marriage, about my relationship, about Pebble, or about myself. 

Eventually, I was able to realize what love meant to me and where my anxiety fit in. It's okay to have fears and doubts about the future. That's going to happen naturally. But I don't let my fears tell me what to do anymore in my relationship. I may not know a lot of things, but I do know 100% that I love Pebble and I'm committed to him and want to be his wife as best I can. And I know 100% that he loves me and is committed to being the best husband he can be. We forgive each other, we communicate, and we work through stuff together. 

And at this point, there is no doubt about who is more committed or who loves the other person more. It's me. (Just Kidding. It's equal, that's the point.)

Anxiety can stop you from making commitments and being willing to let yourself love and be loved. Anxiety makes relationships difficult because it undermines trust with doubt. It becomes a companion in your relationship too. What you have to be able to do (and it takes practice and time and experiences) is acknowledge the fears and anxieties you are having, but also reconcile them with reality. Try to outline what thoughts or feelings specifically are in your mind, and then have a serious conversation with yourself about how you really feel. 

You will have a lot of fears and doubts in any relationship. But in my opinion, if you are going to get married to someone, there should not be a question about whether or not you love each other and are committed to each other completely. Even in the midst of anxiety, there has to be a level of trust there that can't be broken. If you aren't there yet, you shouldn't feel guilty about taking more time to strengthen your relationship before you agree to something like a marriage. 

If your anxiety is truly stopping you from having meaningful connections with people and building lasting relationships, you should talk to a therapist who can give you professional advice about managing your fears. 

Beyond that, what you should know is that people saying crap like how your problems increase tenfold in a marriage are jerks, they don't always know what they're talking about, and they also don't have the same relationship as you. Don't let trite phrases or dusty pieces of advice stop you. People honestly can just keep that garbage to themselves. All it does is induce fears that weren't there and can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Also, know that if you weren't ready to commit to a marriage, then you made the right choice, even if it was painful. It doesn't mean your other relationships are doomed. It doesn't mean you failed. It doesn't mean you're broken.

Certainly, work on your anxiety and learning how to tell irrational fears from genuine feelings. At the end of the day, even if you're scared you should be sure that you love the person and deep down you do want to spend the rest of your life with them, whatever that may bring. 

You'll get there. And you deserve to be happy too. 

Cheers, 

Guesthouse