In the past week or so, you may have noticed me hyperstressing on twitter about some issues I was having with my Reno based sweetie. I want to write a little bit about dating after trauma, and dating as an anxious person with clinical OCD.
Here's What Happened
He didn't respond for a day, because he was busy with his own life, and I panicked. My panic response to get increasingly frantic hit right up against some of his own stuff including a general need for space, and he got overwhelmed, which tends to cause him to hide in his shell like a turtle. It was the first time we've hit this particular issue digitally, so we kind of ended up in this emotional stalemate where I needed a conversation and he needed breathing room, and the more time went on, the more frantic I got and the more stressed he got. It happened three times in a row over the course of a week and a half, until finally we video chatted it out and made some agreements.
What does "relationships are hard" mean anyways?
My instinct, post all the trauma, is to run as soon as something stressful happens. But that's not exactly fair: While the core of a relationship, caring about somebody, shouldn't take work, the issues surrounding it, like communication and boundaries, those take work. 2-3 months is a pretty natural time to hit some communication problems, as the initial "ooh new!" feelings have subsided a little bit and you're trying to figure out how to lead a reasonably paced life with one another.
To me, you don't really start seeing the truth of the person you're infatuated with until then (unless they make some ugly parts visible sooner), and at that point is when you enter a new phase of the relationship: Having discovered you mutually like each other, can you now build something healthy and sustainable? I contest the idea that relationships are hard.. I think they may take hard work sometimes, but if the core of it, liking for one another, is hard, then there's an issue.
I boiled it down to three questions: "Do you still like me?" (yes) "Do you like our in person dynamic?" (yes) and "Are you open to us building a healthier distance pattern?" (yes).
WTF is going on in my brain
Prying apart what of my reaction to silence is trauma, what is self doubt, what is anxiety, and what is an actual relationship need is REALLY FUCKING COMPLICATED. He's worried about not being what I'm looking for, because he has a lot of space needs, but what I am looking for has historically ended up with me entering codependent, fucked up dynamics that ruin my sense of self and are really bad for me. I'm questioning whether what I want (communication throughout the day) is actually what I need. Which comes down to the core question of: what is driving my wants?
Because this blog is also kind of my journal, I am going to expound on that here, and the myths each issue seems to feed me:
- Trauma: If my partner is silent, they must be angry and something bad will happen when we next talk. In my most recent traumatic relationship with Trevor, silence meant something BAD was coming, and that he was pissed. He'd stonewall me when we had arguments, sometimes for days, and when he came back from it (usually after blocking me on facebook and his phone), he'd have some ultimatum or announcement about our relationship that really fucking hurt. Sometimes it would be telling me to move out, sometimes it would be announcing he was going to get more serious with a new partner, whatever.
- Self Doubt: I am not actually worthy of my partner's affections, and they've realized that and are just figuring out how to tell me they're over it. I mentioned recently for those of you keeping track, that maybe a year ago I had roughly the self worth of a potato with self esteem issues. Feeling good about myself has been WORK and a process, and it's incredibly easy for me to start feeling like a waste of time/space/etc again.
- Anxiety: If my partner isn't talking to me, it's because something awful is happening. What exactly that awful thing varies based on circumstance. Maybe it's a car accident, or a heart attack, or whatever. Honestly I think the only solution to this one is my continued usage of anti-anxiety meds, because my OCD sucks.
So I've been taking this self-assessment, and using it to more closely look at why I want to connect, when I feel the urge. This is actually how I was guiding my sexual decision making when we first became intimate: I checked in with myself that I was initiating sex because I felt lusty, not because I needed to affirm my self worth. I think it's okay to ask for reassurance in a relationship, but also like to a certain extent we need to take responsibility for our own trauma, ESPECIALLY when two people with deep struggles are dating each other, and also as a perpetually codependent-leaning person I want to learn how to manage these things myself.
What we came up with
So, the reality is I don't talk to most of my Sweetie Squad daily. We talk maybe a few times a week. I'm not sure why I put so much pressure on a new relationship, but I think in some ways my anxiety about getting to know a new person, and constantly being afraid they'll lose interest in me (because I'm so boring right lol) drives me to over-communicate.
I proposed we just, slow it down. I may send him gifs or emoji's every few days, but I won't expect that we talk often, maybe just once or twice a week. I'll visit every other week, as we've done, since that part is good and easy, and we'll just back off digital communications for a while. He's worried that I'm self-sacrificing, to which I replied lets try it for a month and see how it feels.
The reality is that I think like, 90% of my intense communication needs are satisfying some fear, anxiety, or insecurity I have. Honestly, if I don't find a way to manage those internally myself, no amount of reassurance is going to help them.
My next growth steps
Thanks to a very generous gift from one of my fans, I am starting therapy through Talkspace, a web-based daily therapy service, which is perfect for my on-the-go life. If you want to help out too, they do have gift cards, just use my email email@example.com
I'm also working through the Codependents Anonymous book, and trying to do daily affirmations and meditations. I really hope things go well in the long run with my Reno sweetie (I really need a better nickname for him at some point), but regardless, my lack of stability in my core when it comes to dating is a strong reminder that I have some serious work to do myself if I'm going to be able to be in a healthy love relationship in general.