I’ve been dating someone for a little while now, and things are going well. Which is weird. I’m constantly suspicious of his niceness and simple “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” personality. Despite everything going pretty dang great, there’s still a paranoid part of me waiting for the other shoe to drop or the mask to fall, revealing him for who he really is or us for what we really are. I’m having a hard time shaking the feeling, so I handled it like I handle everything. I wrote to work through what I feel and why I feel the way I do. And it helped! Sort of. In this post, I write about my history with relationships, my relationship patterns, why I do what I do, and feel what I feel.
The process illuminated some things for me. I pride myself on knowing myself pretty well, but after actually taking the time to write out everything I’ve ever known with relationships (or at least everything I could think of at the time) for as long as I can remember?
It’s a lot. Which is why this is only part one of a multi-part series about relationship patterns.
What are Relationship Patterns and Why am I Writing about them?
Before we dive into my discoveries and the relationship patterns I unearthed for myself, let’s talk about what relationship patterns are.
According to the Science of People, relationship patterns are repeating the same behaviors over and over again with new people in our life. They can be good relationship patterns or bad patterns, and occur in romantic relationships, friendships and working relationships. These patterns dictate certain things, like:
- Who we pick-the kind of person we get into relationships with.
- How we interact with them-the behaviors we use with them during the relationship.
- How we let them treat us-what we allow them to say and do with us while in the relationship.
Recognizing and defining our relationship patterns are helpful to solving questions like, “Why do I always date d-bags?” or “Why can’t I like a goddamn nice guy for once?!” or “WHY DO I KEEP ENDING UP IN RELATIONSHIPS LIKE THIS?!”
If you don’t know your patterns, how can you begin to change them? I, personally, am sick and tired of ending up in the same situation with the people I choose to date, which is why I set out to define my patterns. On paper. In type. And post it online.
The dubious task of putting this together took forever. At times I felt like saying fuck-it to this series of posts. But I’m glad I didn’t because I found some stuff while peeling back many layers of the personal growth onion.
Like where my dating anxiety comes from. How fear of abandonment shows up for me. Why paranoia still sometimes rears its ugly head. Why I started dating d-bags and why being in a decent relationship makes me uncomfortable.
But in order to get to how I ended up like this, we have to talk about how I got here.
My First Relationship Pattern: Growing Up Anti-Commitment
Growing up, I never encountered a relationship I wanted to emulate. At home, my parents were like roommates with children and most of the adults I knew were in varying degrees of the same situation.
For my parents, there was no romance, no date nights, no keeping the flicker alive, but how could they? They were busy raising five children they gave birth to over the course of seven years. With virtually no support other than the little island family they created for themselves, they raised us all on their own while working two jobs the entire time. Who could possibly blame them for not also trying to fit in date nights to continue to know and even get to know each other?
If I married at 20 to my high school sweetheart and then had five kids in seven years I think I’d probably lose my shit, become an alcoholic or die. So some serious kudos to my parents. Not only for surviving but also doing pretty damn well as they hit upper-middle age.
I can’t pretend to understand or relate to their lives and what led them down the road that got them here. They’ve been together longer than they’ve ever been apart, and they’re coming up on doubling that number. While completely fucking unfathomable to me, it’s admirable as hell.
But I didn’t feel that way as a kid.
Black and White Thinking + Judgmental Child (Me)
As a kid, I judged my parents hard. I wanted the kind of love that makes you want to eat each other’s faces and live in each other’s skin. (Just me?) You know- the passion, the fire, the romance. It’s the “OH MY GOD I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT YOU I NEED YOU NEAR ME IN ME ON ME WITH ME ALL THE GODDAMN TIME I WANT TO BREATHE THE BREATH YOU EXHALE AND TURN YOUR HAIR INTO A BLANKET” kind of love.
The obsessive kind. The unhealthy, lose-yourself-in-it kind.
My parents? They tolerated each other on the average day. Liked each other on good days. And couldn’t stand each other on bad days. As I got older, I questioned why my parents didn’t divorce or why they even married in the first place. My mom would tell me I should wait as long as possible to get married, and 20 was too young. She’d do it all over again because of her kids, but learn from her mistakes and wait as long as possible.
Me, a very black and white thinking nine year old, interpreted this to mean relationships were bad and I vowed to never marry. If waiting as long as possible was the solution to a happier life, then why not wait for forever, right? I was sure I could avoid ending up like my parents simply by avoiding all of it, all together.
I still struggle to think in shades of gray.
So, as early as nine years old, I connected marriage with chains. Relationships and therefore commitment meant loss of autonomy, adventure and excitement.
A Budding Need for Control
Around the same time I committed myself to the idea of never committing myself to someone, I also started struggling with some lifelong friends: anxiety, perfectionism, depression, and a slew of eating disorders. I am not insinuating that decision to stave off commitment or my parents’ relationship caused these bonus features- they didn’t. Instead I’m providing context to what happened in my life at this time all around the time I started puberty.
You know what all those things have in common? A need to control. I was anxious because I wanted to control my future. I leaned into perfection because I wanted to control my performance and value. Depression because of the huge overwhelming feeling of not actually having control. Eating disorders because if I couldn’t control anything, I’d at LEAST control what I put in my mouth.
By the time I hit sixth grade, the need to control every aspect of my life possessed me.
Whether going to seven basketball camps in one summer to try to become a basketball rockstar (didn’t happen), or living off of 700 calories a day to lose weight, spending 16 hours on a small math project until it was perfect or swearing off all love for ever and ever- they all relate to a struggle with control. I wanted to control my life and my life’s outcomes to ensure I’d never end up turning into my parents or the people I saw in my small town.
A fear of commitment plus an unending need to control created a perfect environment for my dating anxiety to begin and then thrive.
Relationship Patterns: Dating Anxiety and Fear of Commitment
My long journey with dating anxiety started with my very first boyfriend in the fourth grade. Let’s call him Andy.
Our love lasted a whopping week. We never spoke to each other before we became bf/gf, and rarely spoke after becoming an item. Our brief romance started when Dirk, Andy’s best friend, decided he was tired of being the only 4th grader with a girlfriend. So, his solution was for Andy and I to date.
And so it was. My first and only arranged relationship.
After the excitement faded, ie. twelve minutes into the relationship, I went home and started thinking about the grave mistake I made.
What had I done? How could I just ruin my life by getting into this relationship? Who did I think I was? Now I was clearly going to have to marry the mother fucker just so I’d never have to hurt his feelings. We didn’t even know each other. We couldn’t even talk to each other. How would I ever know what his favorite color is?
The 4th Grade Anxiety, Self-Doubt, Fear of Settling
Over the next four days I debated on whether or not I could spend the rest of my life with Andy or if I should just end it already. I thought about it constantly- worried I’d crush him or traumatize him so deeply he’d never be able to be in another relationship. And then thinking that it’d be easier to stay the course until we died rather than hurt him.
There were benefits to dating him, after all. He was fringe popular and taller than most kids. That was a plus, but he wasn’t very smart and he didn’t say much. I could probably live with that but being around him felt suffocating all the same.
I tossed and turned the idea in my little eight year old brain for days, and by Friday, I mustered up the balls to end things with a note passed to him.
You know. Because we still never spoke.
I felt terrible, but I also felt a massive relief that I wouldn’t have to marry Andy.
So began the never ending cycle of me entering into relationships, only to develop a constant anxiety surrounding the potential repercussions of ending up together, forever, followed by extreme relief once the relationship ended.
Lessons Not So Learned
Now you would’ve thought I learned my lesson after Andy, but by fifth grade, I was “dating” again. Only this time I actually talked to him. Brian and I talked on AIM every night, for hours.
We’d talk about important things like how hot we thought the other one was. He bought me things too, like a teddy bear on Valentine’s day and chocolates on Christmas. Very serious for a fifth grade romance.
But our love was a tumultuous affair. We were on and off again, and spent several months (read: three) between being together and being on a “break” anytime I felt anxious about our impending and unavoidable marriage.
I wonder where fifth graders learn how to be on a break or what that even means.
But I knew. And I ended it every time I felt like I had no choice but to stay with him until death do us part because I couldn’t be mean and break up with him.
Eventually he caught on. And I realized it was nicer to end things permanently. So we did, and I spent 6th grade single.
Persisting Relationship Anxiety
Even though I was single, I still got this strange anxiety anytime someone “liked” me. For some reason every person who came to like me or show some type of affection meant that I would have to marry them forever and ever and that was it. I was so afraid at the idea of hurting anyone, that it felt like my only option was to give in to what someone else wanted.
Kid down the street liked me? Another marriage to avoid.
A guy said I was cute? More nuptials to dodge.
Boy asks me to dance? Another one to let down.
My brain freaked out every time I felt some odd sort of obligation to a boy that liked me. My parents met when they were sixteen after-all- I couldn’t fall into that trap, no matter how lovely it felt to liked!
Irrational? Obviously. Self-absorbed? I was 12 so DUH. But this irrational, self-absorbed, obsession and anxiety followed with me and part of it is still there today.
I was a neurotic, black and white thinking perfectionist, control-freak, oddball who believed every “yes” was another shovel of dirt digging my marriage grave.
Even so, the 28-year old version of this little girl finds it interesting that even from the time I was a pre-teen, I felt this odd obligation towards the opposite sex. As if I had no choice, unless I protected my choice with a fierce determination. How did I learn that? How did that become part of me? These are two questions I’m still working through, but I have a feeling it has something to do with the patriarchy.
An Avoidant Solution
The older I became, the more I started to tighten the reins on my idea that commitment would be the death of Chloé. I’d start researching ways to live abroad and stay abroad, thinking the Peace Corps or some other non-relational commitment would ensure I’d live an interesting life free from obligations and commitments.
In school, I told my friends I wished my parents would move away so we could live abroad. I’d make it known that I didn’t need anyone or anything, and like a little asshole, I’d tell my best friends I wouldn’t care if i had to move. It was as if I’d ensure non-attachment like a rebel without a cause, avoiding deep meaningful relationships that’d hold me back.
Instead, I started thinking of how to design a future that would ensure I’d never end up like the people I knew. I wanted to end up different from the billions of people who ended up in unhappy marriages and pre-mature commitments.
But despite wanting this life of adventure and excitement and just difference- I also had a deep, aching need to be loved and appreciated and needed and wanted. But finding someone who gave me those things? That equalled eventual unhappiness, hurt and complacency.
So I tried to shove that need to be loved down deep so I could focus on getting out and away as soon as possible.
Spoiler Alert: It didn’t work.
My need for love was stronger than my need for adventure, and so began several years of not knowing what I wanted, and diving into relationships with all types of wrong men while pushing away the ones who might’ve been good for me.
But we’ll leave that post for next time.
What I Learned from My Genesis Story of Dating Anxiety
I’d never thought of my genesis story for my relationship anxiety. If you’ve been reading Clo Bare for a minute, you’ll know I have a post on dating anxiety and bring it up a lot in my writing. I still deal with heavy doses of dating anxiety, but recognizing the origin of what contributed to creating it helps me talk myself down in a more effective way when I feel my relationship/commitment anxiety taking control. It also helped me realize that my dating anxiety is two fold, and a little more complex than I originally thought.
I have a fear of making the wrong commitment anxiety and fear of abandonment anxiety. They’re almost opposite anxieties, which creates for a very complex onion of understanding the layers of my brain.
Knowing which is which when I’m feeling anxious is helpful because the self-talk I use is different depending on which it is. If I’m feeling the commitment type of relationship anxiety, I’ll remind myself that I don’t know what is going to happen in my relationship. I’ll remind myself I trust myself and know I’ll make the right decisions for myself, no matter what.
If it’s fear of abandonment anxiety, then I’ll remind myself I am lovable as I am. I don’t need a relationship to be valuable. I’ll search for security within myself and avoid the temptation to ask my partner to make me feel more secure.
I’m learning security is no one else’s responsibility but my own. My default has been to blame my partner for not making me feel secure, but I am the one who has to do that for me by recognizing the red flags, walking away when that’s required, and continuing to make the right decisions for myself based on the evidence I’ve been provided.
While this post focuses on the genesis of my relationship anxiety, dating anxiety and fear of making the wrong commitment, there are other micro-patterns hiding in between the lines of my words. You’ll discover them more as we keep on in this series, but even in writing this I noticed:
- Fear of confrontation
- Getting into relationships simply because someone likes me and I think I should like them too
- Pattern of avoiding of disappointing someone else at the cost of my own well being
- General avoidant behavior as a means to protect myself
- Feeling as if I owe someone something simply because they like me
It’s interesting to see these things pop up in my early years. They’re things I know I deal with know, but I suppose I never realized how long ago they started for me.
Originally published at https://clobare.com on October 22, 2019.