I announced I was dating again a couple of months after I had actually dipped my toe in the water. But by mid-July I pulled my toe out of the water and was backing away from the pond. Nothing was working except for a crashing feeling of failure as I moved from my comfort zone to seek out dates rather than they seek me out. One of my first moves in that dating pond was messaging—via Facebook—a real life acquaintance who I thought might just be a little attracted to me. He didn’t even bother to tell me to go to Hell and leave him alone! That silence was worse than a real rejection.And how pathetic was I? I managed to misread polite interest for intrigue and attraction. If my instincts were that bad , it might be best if I developed my inner spinster. Maybe every so often one of my previous playmates would throw a mercy f*** my way so I would keep walking my sex positive walk.
Months after my unanswered message I peevishly complained about it to my married girlfriend. I must have been uber pathetic because that day she text messaged my silent rejector about the sad state of my social life. The rest of the story everyone knows in TMI detail.
This is the easiest relationship I’ve had in decades and it’s probably because we are both far to old to do a bunch of drama or senseless fitting square pegs into round holes. It’s been easy but not perfect. I’m the one that almost effed it up. Despite therapy and a lot of positive self-talk, every year or so my social anxiety disorder comes out to play. My rare episodes manage to transform me into either a raving asshole or I’m hiding and shaking in the corner. What amplifies the situation is an inability to admit it’s happening. Admitting I’m anxious makes me too vulnerable and a failure, right? (Wrong…yes…so wrong) We were at a party and my old nemesis anxiety came with us. My New Boyfriend was confused and confounded when his gracious and fun girlfriend was replaced with a peevish asshole.
A week later we talked about it and it was excruciating to lay out my vulnerabilities and why I behaved poorly. As I explained the anxiety, my inner critic bathed me in the trifecta of dysfunction–shame, self-hatred, and guilt—while he listened quietly and accepted my apology with a sincere desire to know if I start to feel anxious again.
After I owned the root of my poor behavior I realized I should probably confess the rest of the story and peel back all my vulnerabilities. I had nothing left to lose, why not toss around my secret scheme to run away? If I could ever trust myself in a romantic relationship full disclosure was necessary. This second bit was harder than owning I suffer from anxiety from time to time.
He was quiet as I explained my love for him wasn’t filling me with joy 24/7 but a haunting dread and the need to run. He knew from the beginning I was concocting a plan to quit my job, take a trip to New Zealand for a few weeks before looking for a different job and going to school. But as we became closer, avoiding possible rejection sounded plausible and comfy like my favorite old black cardigan. I would just stay overseas and avoid all those messy feelings. My kids would be fine and not surprised I forfeited holidays with them to continue moving around the world. I could couch surf, scrap together cash, and avoid intimacy with oceans and continents between us.
The night after my anxiety attack I realized no matter what country I was wandering my fear of intimacy and fear of happiness would be a part of me. I would never know what would happen next. Joy? Sorrow? I would trade the greater chance of joy for a guaranteed loss. I was afraid to be happy.
When I shared this episode with my oldest friend, I referred to it as “Self Sabotage Tour 2015” Yes she wanted to shake me but laughed at my witty email title: “Like those big stadium concerts in the 70’s.” Exactly, and those concerts always left me feeling extremely hung over and vaguely dissatisfied when they were over. Much life a trip would when I returned to shards instead of a life. What a grand way to sabotage, not only a fledging relationship, but my finances, and my career.
That night in my kitchen when I had to explain my anxiety and fear, I will never forget the look on his face as he looked at my hand in his. His first very sober remark: “I thought you knew what the Hell you were doing with all this relationship stuff.” Hilarious assumption.
A few weeks later he checked in with me. I assured him he was stuck with me and the fear and anxiety was gone. What I didn’t tell him is how one of his favorite songs extinguished the final embers of that fear. It’s the refrain of an Adele song, “One and Only”. The first time I really listened to it I wept because it’s true: “Nobody’s perfect. . .I know it ain’t easy giving up your heart. . .”
This ridiculous fear of happiness does nothing but thwart the heart and stomp all over the soul’s desire. Healthy people aren’t afraid of their hearts’ desires. Healthy people are afraid of things like snakes and the dark.
So what’s going to happen with this relationship? Heck, I don’t know. It’s too soon to tell. Sure I’m in love with him. I own that freely and without any reservation. I’m content moving along this path with him just to see what happens next. It’s enough I’ve found someone who can put up with my mild social anxiety, the circus in my brain, and need to be TMI on the internet. I really don’t need anything else except this feeling of equal measure:
“How rare it was for any of us–to be found, without warning, free from the rigors of disapproving of someone, of wanting to, and for your desire to please to be met in equal measure, with the same readiness. I didn’t know how long it would last, but while it did, it was like what I imagined singing well with someone was like or walking with someone, with the same the length of step and rhythm of stride.”—Amy Grace Lloyd