Ask Dr. Nerdlove

How Do I Quit Being Insecure?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have been dating my good friend for six months now, things with him are going really well. Not only do we have many similar interests but we are also similar in personalities and wave length. And because we were friends first, he knows the real me.

My issue is that after being in so many failed relationships (where I felt like I’ve put in more effort than the guy), I have became rather insecure. Knowing this issue, he still wants to be with me and we are really happy together. We talk about the future often and I don’t feel insecure around him…. but only when I’m with him. The problem is that both our careers require traveling. He also travels for pleasure often (generally without me because scheduling doesn’t work). So for literally half of our relationship, we have been apart.

My insecurities only get to me when we are apart for too long (more than a week) because he is not good with online communication. Sometimes he forgets to respond. Sometimes he would message me but not in regards to what I just said. Sometimes I would mention a couple of things and he would only comment on one. This is actually not much of an issue when we are both in the same city or if it’s a short trip because we see each other often. I’ll just bring up unaddressed comments the next time I see him and he’s fine in person. But it is a problem when we are apart for too long because I feel like we aren’t having actual conversations… and when we are not in the same city, it’s really one of the few connections we have.

Currently I am out of the country for work and the plan is to be gone for half a year to a year. It’s been a month now and it’s been really hard on me. When he is busy with activities (which is often), he is not responsive at all, especially if he’s on a trip. It makes sense that he wants to be present. I understand that yet I still get insecure. I feel like I am secondary to what he’s currently doing and not important enough to even say hi. He said that statement is unfair and that I am important. We would also Skype when we can but with the time difference (15 hours), plus sleep and work, we have very little over lap time.

I’ve addressed it to him before and he admits that he’s no good at long distance/online dating. I can tell that after our talks though, he’s been trying to be more responsive to me… but since it continues to get brought up even though he tries, he feels that it isn’t something he can change much in the long run.

We have already fought twice within the month in regards to this (this is a lot for us). I can tell that if we continue to constantly fight like this, especially with the distance, it will break us.

Logically, I know he cares for me. Aside from everything else, he’s been making plans to move across the world to be with me even though he doesn’t want to move. But emotionally and irrationally, I still get insecure when he isn’t really responsive. I’m starting to feel like I could be over reacting and it really is a “it’s not you, it’s me” kind of thing.

What do you suggest I do to let go of my insecurities so that it won’t ruin our relationship?

Thank you for your time,

Insecurity Guard

DEAR INSECURITY GUARD: Forgive me for half a moment Insecurity Guard, because you’ve accidentally tripped up on one of my pet-peeves that I see all the time in people. You aren’t doing this, IG, but your situation is close enough that it’s worth mentioning.

I talk a lot about the importance of self-awareness when it comes to dating. Self-awareness is a vital skill; it’s part of what helps us recognize unhelpful patterns in our lives. It’s what makes us conscious about possible issues we may have that might be off-putting to others. It also makes us aware of our good qualities – something that a lot of people1 are very bad at.

But one of the key components of being self-aware of one’s flaws is the willingness to address them. Something I’ve run into frequently – and believe me, this is something that spans all genders and orientations -is the idea that being aware of an issue somehow excuses you from having it. I have heard people say verbatim “Yes, I’m a jerk, but I know I am, so it’s OK.”

Um… no. No it freaking isn’t. “Take me as I am” isn’t a license to be a complete jackass to others. You (generic you) don’t get a pass on awful behavior because you acknowledge that it’s awful. At best, you’re providing a warning to others before they get involved with you. At worst… well, you’re expecting people to forgive you and allow you your awfulness. That’s not how this works. If you’re going to own your behavior, then you have to do something with it… even if that’s dealing with the consequences.

(ahem)

OK, that rant aside, let’s turn back to you, IG. You’re different in this case: you’re saying “hey, I’m kind of an insecure bag of slop and I’d really like to stop being an insecure bag of slop.” And hey: all of us are insecure bags of slop. Everyone’s got their issues and insecurities. Right now, you’re staring yours in the face and looking for a way to make it quit being quite so bad.

The thing is, you don’t have an insecurity problem (well, you do, but that’s not the major component) so much as a long-distance problem. Long distance relationships are hard under the best of circumstances – it’s difficult enough to keep a relationship going when you’re living a couple hours’ drive away. When you’re trying to maintain a relationship with half the goddamn planet between you… well, you’ve chosen to play on Expert Mode without the benefit of a New Game + save.

So before we get started with any of this, the first thing you need to do is change your vocabulary. Words have power, and how we describe things affects how we think of them. So when you’re talking about this, change the verb. You aren’t insecure (active form of “to be”), you’re feeling insecure (active form of “to feel”). When you say “I’m insecure”, you’re saying that insecurity about relationships defines who you are. When you say “I’m feeling insecure”, you’re saying that this is an emotion you’re experiencing, not your permanent state of being.

A little woo-woo, new-agey? Yeah, a little. But trust me on this: it works.

Now to handle this properly, it requires a two-pronged approach. The first is dealing with your feelings of insecurity. The second is working on how to make your new LDR work between you and your sometimes incommunicative boyfriend.

In the first: well, I’m going to give you my standard disclaimer: Dr. NerdLove is not a doctor. And if these feelings of insecurity are really overpowering you and causing you serious distress, the best thing you can do is talk to a therapist. They’re going to be better positioned to help you deal with those issues over the long-term. Depending on where you are, there may be resources available to you (especially if you’re in a sane country that has national health-care… unlike the US) that you should see about taking advantage of. If there aren’t, there are still options you might be able to use. Over on my Tumblr, I’ve written up a list of affordable therapy alternatives, many of which are online or have heavy online components.

But one thing I will suggest is retraining your brain. Intellectually, you know you have nothing to worry about. Emotionally, however, your heart isn’t listening to your intellectual side and that’s leading you into these recurring thought-patterns that tell you something’s gone drastically wrong and everything’s about to go tits-up. So what you need to do is learn to break those patterns. When you get into one of those downward spirals of thought-maelstroms what you need to do is acknowledge that you’re feeling something (again, feeling, not are) and consciously reframe the situation. When you’re thinking “He’s not responding to me, he doesn’t think I’m important enough to respond to,” you consciously say “No, he’s busy and a little forgetful. I’m just feeling insecure. If he were in the same city, I’d just talk to him about it later.” Repeat this to yourself every time you start to spiral into feelings of insecurity; it’ll soon become automatic and help calm you down.

You may also want to look into mindfulness meditation; this can be a good way to be more aware of your thought-patterns and emotional triggers, which is the first step towards being able to break them.

Now for making the long-distance issue work, your boyfriend has to understand the facts of life here. When you’re doing an LDR, communication is more important than ever. When you don’t have things like body language and physical proximity to communicate feelings and emotions or reassurance, then you need to make what you say, when you say it and how you say it an even higher priority than it is when the two of you are in person.

First: learn to embrace asynchronous communication. Back in ye olden days before we had things like the Internet and cheap long-distance calling plans, most of us who did the LDR thing had to rely on writing letters. Like, physical, lick-the-envelope-stick-a-stamp-wait-by-the-mailbox letters. And in complete honesty… that could actually enhance things. Getting a letter from my LD girlfriend (who was in New Jersey, not Canada, thank you very much) would be the high point of my day; checking the mail was kind of exhilarating. But now that we can have nigh-instantaneous communication with anyone in the world at any time… we’ve got kind of spoiled.

So it’s time to use your words… and by that I mean write some emails. Letter writing is a fine-art and one that was celebrated between couples separated by distance and circumstance. It lets you have full conversations full of longing and emotion, even if you’re not having them in real-time. It also makes it easier to point out that hey, your honeybun didn’t respond to this particular part of your last missive, maybe he could get on that hmmm?

Texting is another way you can keep the lines of communication open, even when you’re literally on opposite sides of the world. If you have a smartphone, something like What’s App can save you the cost of sending texts internationally (which, incidentally, is a damn racket and I despise cellphone providers for milking us like this) and allow you to continue the conversation at your convenience. Plus: if he’s taking a bit to get back to you – longer, that is, than the 15 hour time difference might account for – then you can give him a gentle poke to respond to when he gets up.

Also: schedule Skype sessions to make sure there’s overlap. These are too important to just let them happen. Yeah, you’re on a 15-hour time difference and you have different responsibilities that can make this hard. This is why you want to schedule these dates and stick to ’em like glue. I’d recommend picking a time when you’re both going to be able to stay up late (or get up stupid early) – a weekend is ideal for this – and then alternate who gets up when. On even sessions, he stays up while you call him up at a reasonable hour in your locale. On odd sessions, you get the late night/early morning while he calls from a normal time. This helps keep the burden from being completely on one of you and leaving you feeling drained and cranky and more likely to resent his “can’t-be-bothered-to-skype-you-at-O-Christ-Hundred” ass.

And one more thing about your boyfriend: I want you to send him the link to this article and make him read it because it’s goddamn important to note that a relationship isn’t about one person doing the work. Remember what I said earlier about how self-awareness isn’t an excuse? That applies to him. Just because he “knows he’s not good at the LD thing” doesn’t mean he’s suddenly forgiven from having to put some goddamn effort in. He sounds like he doesn’t want to make any changes because he doesn’t want to be inconvenienced. To which I reply: “Cowboy the hell up already!”

Because let’s face it: you know you feel insecure about relationships, especially while you’re forcibly separated. You’ve let him know that this is an issue for you and you’re making a point of trying to handle your crap. If he cares about you and about making this relationship work, then he has to be willing to handle HIS crap too. Working on being more supportive, more communicative and more responsive is not that high of a bar to clear, especially when it’s for somebody he purports to care about and wants to have a future with. If he’s just not willing to put in the work – if his only response is to throw his hands up and say “Hey, I told you I’m not good at this LDR stuff, so you can’t expect more from me – then he’s telling you that he’s prioritizing his convenience over your relationship.

And if that’s the case… well, I hate to say it, but you’re better off without him.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, doc@doctornerdlove.com)

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