This too shall pass. This is what I told myself as I packed half a suitcase and yanked on whatever clothes were on my floor. This is what I told myself as I drove to the airport and demanded a ticket for the next plane to Florida. And this is what I told myself as I swallowed hot tears for the next two hours on a crowded flight. As I ran home, back to the familiar.
I had heard about the post-graduation slump leading up to my last semester in college and, in my wise opinion, had promptly ignored it. I had a job, I had a career, I was moving to an exciting new city and who was I to worry about growing up? About two weeks ago I felt slammed by a sudden depression, a sudden realization of how lonely I was in this exciting new city with this exciting new career. And then last week I found out I was no longer a candidate for a job I had worked three years for. While I had support from afar and from someone very special to me in Virginia, my confidence in myself…my ability to succeed against all odds…ruptured. This past weekend, my heart also seemed to shatter when I came across something on social media that hinted at infidelity.
I’ve written about my past relationships, how badly I had been hurt by an individual I was willing to move mountains for at the close of last year. One bitten, twice shy. I got on the plane like I did back in December, riddled with the same insecurities and filled with a something I can only describe as being similar to a shaken Coke can. I felt ready to explode. From tears, from anger, I’m not entirely certain.
While a part of me recognized that my thoughts and curiosities were irrational, I was stuck in a flashback, and I bolted.
Since the age of sixteen I have worked tirelessly to escape failure. In my adolescent mind, I thought if I stayed six steps ahead of everyone else, in the career world, in the relationship world, if I didn’t let anyone in, that I would never again sink and sulk into a sense of unworthiness. Six years later, here it all came hurdling back.
Several days, a haircut, a kitten, and lots of hours of sleep later I am thinking more clearly: insecurity is destructive and will ruin relationships. It will drive people into actions normally ruled as entirely irrational. Problems creep up where none exist. Exhaustion magnifies fears. While feeling unsure of oneself, of a relationship and how it will blossom in the beginning, is natural, I thought long and hard about how to go about tackling these issues. And the sense of unworthiness is something you can control.
1. Stop confusing imagination with reality
Like I said before, problems will creep up where none exist. Perhaps your partner isn’t as affectionate tonight. You scare yourself into imagining that this lack of affection equals a lack of interest. There are normal mechanisms to a relationship. There are ebbs and flows, mood changes, moments of intimacy when two people grow closer, and moments of comfortable separateness. I had to remind myself that these are entirely normal. Wanting to be close and intimate constantly is the equivalent of wanting your vacuum to be silent when in use. People are fluid. Thus, relationships are also fluid.
My advice (and this should be taken with a grain of salt) is to write down what you are feeling next time you’re feeling insecure. Ask yourself, am I imagining this in the grand scheme of things? It’s easier said than done of course, but it’s a sure step toward self-assurance and a leap away from becoming a helicopter partner.
2. Releasing control
This is something I battle with in almost all aspects of my life: I like control. I feel secure with control in my life. But overcoming relationship insecurity additionally involves overcoming control issues. With control comes needing certainty in a relationship. There’s nothing wrong is asking where you and your partner stand with one another (and I’m talking about when it is actually is a relationship, not post-date #2) but having to know whether your partner really loves you, having to know this or that, inevitably puts a strain and pressure and tension on the connection.
Unfortunately we all have to live with uncertainty in our lives. The last two weeks have reeked of uncertainty for me, which is probably why I had a meltdown at around 6 am on Saturday. Recently through therapy and through other measures (e.g. getting myself excited for a new job and for a new adventure somewhere if I end up leaving Virginia), I’ve practiced simply refusing to look for certainty where it does not exist. Self assurance comes from starting to relax with uncertainty, embrace it. Wanting to know where I stood with someone prevented me from enjoying the present. And looking back on it, I recognize that when plans went awry, when people left my life for one reason or another, something else worked out. I put faith in the present and that things will unfold the way they are meant to. As Robin Williams once said, “you’ll have bad times, but it will always wake you up to the good stuff you weren’t paying attention to.” Part of the reason why we hold on to something so tight is because we fear something so great could not possibly happen twice.
3. Give the relationship room to breathe
I felt like I was losing my best friend yesterday, the one who I ran to when I didn’t get the job, the one who I cried to at 11:00 pm on a Thursday. And then I shook my head. In any relationship, you need to give it space to develop and I realized that I needed to give my relationship, my best friend, my someone, room to breathe. And taking some time part, allowing things to grow, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re both heading for the end. Conversely, it may mean that the blossom of your relationship has more space to flower, to return stronger than before.
4. Don’t “mind read”
In a weird way, the career I’ve chosen trains you to detect what someone is thinking, why or how they are behaving, to mind read. It is a paranoia that is almost encouraged and I’m still learning to turn it off in my personal life. Constantly wondering what your partner is thinking about is a fast road to anxiety. And wondering and asking what someone is thinking is a dead end because even if your partner does tell you, will you even believe them?
When you stop trying to read someone’s mind, you really begin to respect someone’s privacy. Unlike law enforcement, I can’t come storming in to someone’s mind with a warrant in hand to search all crevices and creases of information. Today I had to remind myself that while I am more open about my thoughts with my partner, he is a more private person. And I have to respect that because he is his own person. Consistent badgering would only make him withdraw further.
5. Stop comparing current relationships to past ones
No two people are alike, and that same principle applies to the people you date. Sure, some individuals may repeat similar patterns (and that may be the time to ask yourself if you’re only attracted to a certain type of person). And it is understandable that when you have been in a relationship with someone who was very critical, abusive or dishonest, those scars may continue to appear rightfully so in your mind.
This is what I did. My last partner was abusive, dishonest, and highly critical and this sloppy comparison of my old and new partner was incredibly destructive. To make generalizations of both of them encouraged my sense of mistrust in a way and was unfair. A while ago I had written a letter/card to the man I am dating thanking him for being patient with me, for being my friend, for being silly with me, and for putting a smile on my face every day. By reminding myself of all of those wonderful qualities and what I loved about the person, I was able to calm my sense of alarm and I recognized that these two people were in fact very different. I had broken the cycle so to speak of dating someone who did not appreciate me in ways that I needed.
6. Practice self-assurance
Rather than seeking your partner out to make you feel secure in your relationship, practice reassuring yourself. Challenge your own fears and imaginings rather than accepting them. Get out of your head. Most recently I’ve turned to the gym for a place to escape my thoughts when they become overwhelming. Try it. Put your phone on airplane mode (or don’t bring it at all) and give yourself an hour of you time. Put the negative thoughts out of your head and concentrate on all the wonderful things you have accomplished or what you are thankful for in your life.
At the same time, you can focus on the good in the relationship. It is so easy to get wrapped up in what is going wrong that what is working becomes lost. No meaningful relationship will always work all the time and there will be difficulties, but keep focusing on what is good. For whatever reason (and I love it), my man and I really enjoy acting like cats sometimes (and this is usually after a glass of wine) and we like to tackle each other. He is my best friend and this is what I remind myself of when I’m feeling a little lost.
A good relationship is there for you to enjoy together, to share and grow together. If someone really does treat you badly, lies or cheats, then feeling insecure is a natural and justified response. However, if you’re in what you deem to be a healthy and good relationship, then maybe follow some of these tips. What you have with your partner is precious. It’s okay to relax, to lose a little control and to work on yourself. Whatever you’re feeling, it will pass. Just as it did for me.