How much time do you spend thinking about your relationship? Your primary romantic and sexual one, I mean. A little? A lot? Having made some time over the winter to reflect on relationships, I realised something.
I have noticed in the last year or two that some people I met went straight from being interesting, engaging cool and sexy people to being people who only ever wanted to talk about our “relationship”. From fun dates and getting to know you time, we went into a tumbling vortex of anxiety: What are we? Where are we? What’s next? How did I feel? Did I like them? Why was I on my phone and not replying? Why wasn’t I available this week? And next?
And then I suddenly realised that I was doing the same thing. Exactly. The. Same. Thing.
It was horrifying but also a really powerful wake up call. When I had wondered where the sexy and fun people I had met had gone I also realised that the sexy fun person I can be also has a habit of going AWOL on an all to frequent basis as I fret and panic about how I feel, how they feel, about how I might feel, how they might feel… Argh! It makes my head spin just typing it! But it feels so good to be aware of this now. I am not liberated (as I nearly typed) because I certainly don’t think I’m free of that cycle of behaviour but I am AWARE of it and that noticing really is an important first step to making change. It also feels good to see and accept that the anxiety I thought I had a handle on is popping up in my main relationship in a way that feels unhelpful.
I am aware of how deeply engrained this way of thinking is. The phrases ambivalent, and anxious, attachment describe parenting styles that are both inconsistent as well as marked by a push-pull that is all too common in my own emotional experience as an adult. I want, I don’t want. I like you, I’m not sure. My childhood was marked by this type of emotional inconsistency, by parental alcohol dependency and by a clear message that only certain behaviours merited love.
I cannot have my childhood over again but I can be aware of the ways in which these early lessons in love and attachment influence my relationship now and I can make changes and be kind to myself when I see myself acting in ways that do not serve me or my emotional well-being.
This is a big lesson that I am taking into the new year. To feel and yet not fear my feelings. To focus on what I can control and to let go of the worry about the things I can’t.
We need to be able to value and treasure the pair bond as well as the magic that is new relationship energy and yet not get too caught up in thinking that relationship success is the key metric for a successful and happy life. Too many people go binary on this one: it is either all about the relationship(s) or not at all. It is possible to care about your relationships, and the people in your life, without being consumed with anxiety and fear.
I am going to spend a lot less time thinking about the things I can’t control (my feelings, the feelings of others, my needs and the needs of others) and much more time on the things I can such as my writing work, my studying, reading as well as spending time with people that engage with and support me with kindness, compassion and love. And that includes myself.