Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

My Anxiety Ruined Our Relationship. How Do I Get My Girlfriend Back?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Long time reader and love your content.

Background of how I met a girl (J, 25) about 6 months ago in class. She is a 10/10. I looked her up on Instagram and saw she had 5,000 followers and posts very spicy pictures, I was a big fan. We started hanging out and getting drinks over the course of a few months and got a long really well. This last summer we were hanging out again and when I dropped her off at her car she kissed me out of nowhere. My dumb ass thought she was just being friendly and never asked about it. A month or so later and I start to wonder so I finally asked her why she did that. Her response was she’s obviously attracted to me and has been trying not to do it again since we are taking another class together. I was stoked. We tried to not hook up so we could focus on the class but that didn’t last.

We started dating these last 2 months and it’s been awesome. We’re both on the same page as far as what we want in dating, to have fun with no drama or questions about where things were at. We both understood that we’re graduating this year and going onto our respective masters programs that will likely be elsewhere in the country. So the relationship wasn’t serious as it had no real future.

We got back from the coast 2 weeks ago after spending a couple days there. She left to go see her family in another city and I was ready for some alone time just to enjoy being lazy for Christmas break. Well we ended up having our internet shut off cause our roommate randomly moved out and it was in his name. So no video games for me. All my friends were out of town, so I had no one to hang out with. I went on hikes by myself and worked out but you can only do that for so long. So I got really bored over those few days. During the course of this I started texting her more and sort of relying on her to entertain me. Mind you I wasn’t texting excessively, it was 1 to 2 texts a day, but I planned on not texting much during this time to let the anticipation of seeing each other build back up.

I noticed that she was taking longer (up to 24 hours) to respond than she normally did and this started to make me think things weren’t going well. That’s been my experience in the past and I became really anxious. I began to think this was a hallmark sign that things were going to end soon. I ruminated on it for a few days and eventually convinced myself that my negative thoughts were true and that I needed to act.

The day I knew she was coming back, I sent her a text that morning asking if she wanted to go on a date in a few days. I heard no response. I called her that night before she was going to work and had no answer. This confirmed it to me that she was ignoring me and I was clear to ask what was going on. However, instead of just sending a simple text saying, “Hey, you seem kinda distant lately. Is everything cool?” I sent this ungodly long text about how I noticed she was becoming distant and in my experience this meant things were going to end soon but since we had been friends I wanted to continue to be friends. I said I understood that things weren’t serious and we were moving away this summer and so on.

Her response completely killed me. Her text was long as well, but basically, J said this was the kind of talk she didn’t want to have and she had been creating a little distance but thought I was awesome and had no intention of not dating. She liked that we didn’t ask questions or need clarity on where we were at. She explained that it took her longer to get back into town than normal and had been busy with family. I felt extremely stupid and embarrassed for how anxious I felt in the days leading up to my text. I was totally wrong. I apologized and tried to explain why I did it, that it was born out of anxiety and bad previous experiences but has never resulted in me sending a text like I did. She wasn’t too receptive and was pretty focused on how I questioned what we had. We talked on the phone the next day and I explained everything again in much better detail and had her considering a second shot, saying she was 50/50. But J also said she gets weird after she’s had arguments with past boyfriends, but didn’t really elaborate on it. She thought about it and texted me later that day saying she didn’t think it was going to work. J told me that it wasn’t so much what I did, but more her, and we should just be friends. My only response was “ok.”

I feel like such an idiot for what I did. I’ve always had anxiety (it’s human nature), but it’s never gotten to the point where it ruined something that was really good. I totally let it consume me and dictate my behavior. With it being the holidays and no one in town, no internet, and nothing to do, I couldn’t use my normal distractions to help quell the anxiety. I understand that this is something I really need to work on otherwise it will ruin things for me in the future. But I also want to try and make things better with J and hopefully date her again. I’m not going to talk to her for awhile to give her time as well as myself so I can get a better handle on my anxiety. But I do intend to hit her up in the future and see if I can get things going. I do want to be her friend and I’m not going to launch into trying to win her over again, but I think it’s worth it to try. So this is where I need your sweet PhD level of love knowledge for guidance. What is the best way to approach this? And how do you deal with anxiety in a new dating relationship?

The Anxious Dunce

DEAR THE ANXIOUS DUNCE: There’re a couple things to work through here, TAD. The first is dealing with your anxiety.

Your anxiety is an ongoing issue in your life — you say you’ve always had it — which means that you need to learn better ways of managing it. Don’t get me wrong: distractions are great; I’m a big believer in giving my brain things to focus on when I’m having a minor freak-out.  But there will always be points where you aren’t going to be able to rely on distractions or busywork. Such as, say, when your roommate ditches you and takes the wifi with him. Relying on other people to be your distraction or your sole source of entertainment is a bad idea. People have their own lives and can’t always be on your beck and call. Learning how to manage your anxiety, especially at times when you aren’t going to be able to trick yourself into looking the other way, is going to be crucial for your life in general, especially in your relationships.

Part of this is going simply engaging the logical side of your brain. Anxiety is pure ID; it’s all animalistic fear for no good reason. While you can’t necessarily rationalize yourself out of an anxiety attack, you can logic yourself into taking more sensible actions. Case in point: you didn’t get a text back immediately and proceeded to go on the emotional equivalent of the Xcelerator.

There’re any number of reasons why someone might not text you back that aren’t “they hate you and are going to dump you so hard your grandparents divorce retroactively.” You and your girlfriend were on Christmas break. It’s understandable that she’s not necessarily going to be able to be Janie-on-the-spot whenever you text. She’s going to be spending time with her family, doing holiday-related activities and likely not being anywhere near her phone or unable to respond right away. Telling yourself that can help give you enough breathing room to, y’know, not send that insanely long text that basically told her that you knew she was about to leave you and please please please don’t do that. Then you can focus on getting your brain under control and breathing through the fear until everything quiets down and your more rational side can grab the reins back.

And look: you know this is something you wrestle with. You know you’re prone to freaking out and making really dumb decisions. That’s a good indicator that you should be talking to a counselor about how you can get things under control. This might entail cognitive behavioral exercises. It might mean medication, or talk therapy or all of the above. Regardless of how you go about doing it, working on your anxiety issues is going to make your life better overall.

Now let’s talk about J for a second. What you describe doesn’t really sound like a great relationship or that J wasn’t the right relationship for you. It’s one thing to want a casual relationship; it’s another to think that “casual” means “good vibes only” or that sticking the “casual” label on things means that you never have to talk about issues or that the key to avoiding drama is to just never say anything. “I’m 50/50 on the idea of getting back together” isn’t exactly the kindest thing to say to someone, nor is it a great attitude to have going into a relationship. “I get weird after fights” isn’t an explanation for her behavior either. While your anxiety lead to your making some poor decisions, she wasn’t exactly covering herself in glory either.

You say that you were both on the same page about things, but I kind of question that. Did you ever actually have the Defining The Relationship talk, where you actually laid out what you expected and needed from the relationship? Did the two of you ever actually agree on what “not questioning things” meant or did you both just assume that you knew what the other meant? Yeah, it can feel a little weird or awkward to try to define the terms, but a little weirdness at the beginning is a great way to avoid a lot of discomfort later down the line. Like, say, when one of you sends a long-ass rambling “please don’t leave me” tweet out of the clear blue sky.

What do you do from here? Well, honestly, I think you need to let this one go. All you’re doing right now is prolonging your pain and ensuring that you’re going to have more in the future. The fact that you want to try to stay friends with an eye towards getting back together means that the odds that this is going to end in tears — yours — is pretty goddamn high. Instead of trying to salvage this — and honestly it doesn’t seem like it’s all that salvageable — you should be investing that time and energy in yourself and getting your anxiety under control. This way when you find someone new and awesome, you won’t make the same mistakes this time around.

I get it: J is stupid hot, you really like her and you’re feeling like you want a redo on the way you screwed this up. But that really isn’t an option; the only option you have is to live with it and learn from it. Is it possible that you and J could get back together? Sure; the odds are low, but they’re not zero. However, you’re not in any place to make it work right now. All you’ll be doing is setting yourself up for a rerun of your last break-up. It’ll be second verse, same as the first, just a little bit louder and a whole lot worse.

So let this go, TAD. Take this, learn from it and let it be the crucible that makes you a stronger, better person who has a firmer hold on his anxieties.

Good luck.

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