DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I am a 25-year-old guy from Ireland of all places. Over the last year, I started putting myself on the dating scene and have enjoyed some wins as a result. I met someone while I was away that turned into a pretty intense situationship for about ten days. I am more confident in approaching women and being honest with people I am attracted to now thanks to that experience and also your advice.
There is, however, something that still bugs me.
I know you deal with people on a regular basis who are afraid of being rejected. I find I’m quite the opposite as I’m more afraid of someone saying yes than no. I worry about the immediate future if someone says yes; where will we go, what will I say etc. I also worry about committing to someone, opening up to them or hurting them just from being the way I am. Sometimes I will chicken out of potential relationships because I’m fearful of hurting the other person if they were interested in me. I am not perfect, I was diagnosed with ADHD as a kid and have struggled with my mental health most my life. I am seeing a therapist and would like to keep dating because it makes me feel good.
I am not sure if there is a question in this for you, but I would like to hear your thoughts about fear of acceptance and dating when you know your mental health isn’t perfect.
Stuck In My Own Head
DEAR STUCK IN MY OWN HEAD: The fear of success is a lot more common than folks realize, SIMOH, and in a lot of cases, it can be worse than a fear of rejection. Rejection, at least, is fairly cut and dry. Rejection, to a certain extent, is a return to the status quo; the rejection itself stings, but doesn’t materially change anything about your life.
Success, however, can be terrifying. Success means that you go from the fantasy – where you’re ultimately in control – to unpredictable reality. That can be pants-s--ttingly terrifying.
When you’re in that liminal quantum space where everything is possible, you’re in a place where you can decide what happens and how. You get to direct your vision of this potential relationship as your heart and soul see fit; every word spoken, every touch shared, every experienced felt… those are all your decision. You decide how the relationship will progress, when you hit particular milestones and what happens to the two of you.
Reality, however, is messy. Reality doesn’t follow nice, clearly defined storylines. It steadfastly refuses to be controlled; life rolls on as life will, and you are prey to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. People get hurt in reality. People break up in reality. Relationships aren’t neat and uncomplicated and unfold in dramatic but ultimately secure ways in reality. You can’t screw up a fantasy, but you can ruin a relationship in reality without even trying.
Throw in the issues that often come with ADHD, like rejection-sensitive dysphoria, and it’s not surprising that you fear what happens after someone says “yes, I would like to date you”. Your jerkbrain and the RSD combine like passive-aggressive Constructicons to form Devastator and stomp through your brain with all the ways you’ve f--ked this up somehow. Doesn’t matter that literally nothing has happened in the seconds between when she said “yes” and you start feeling those stomping footfalls; Devastator’s going to smash through your self-esteem and blow up whatever feeling of security you had.
But what do you do about it? Well, some of what you can do is to address the issues head on. Having some immediate plans locked, cocked and ready to rock is always helpful. This is part of why I’m a fan of having some default date ideas ready to go in your back pocket – you don’t need to think or plan, you’ve got plenty of options already.
Some of what you can do is make sure that you’ve got your meds dialed in. Having the right medication and the right dosage helps not just with the major symptoms of ADHD, but with the co-morbidities as well. Getting on Vyvanse turned the RSD dial down from 11 to a much more manageable 4. Still higher than I’d prefer, but far easier to handle whenever it crops up.
Some of what you can do is a sort of self-soothing. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – even self-directed CBT exercises from places like MoodGym – is incredibly helpful for dealing with those unwanted, intrusive thoughts and feelings. Understanding the triggers, how to redirect your thoughts and manage the times when those feelings crop up give you a sense of control and the feeling that you’ve got this covered. Just knowing that you can separate “how you feel” from “what you are” is incredibly helpful. So you feel nervous or apprehensive, not that you are nervous.
But the biggest thing you can do? You can stop trying to control everything and just let things flow. Sometimes the reason why we fear success is that we feel like we have to consciously direct and control things or else it will all go wrong. The idea that things are out of our control – such as our neurospicy brains – can make us feel like we need to have a hand on the tiller or else it will all go horribly, horribly wrong.
But sometimes all that fighting for control is the problem. You’re not actually in control, so much as trying to pull a thousand different levers while also standing on one foot and trying to recite I Am The Very Model of A Modern Major-General. And while that may – and I stress may – get you where you want to go, you’re often having to put a lot more work in to get there and deal with, y’know, the attendant difficulties of dividing your attention like that.
Whereas if you let go of the illusion of control and just relax into the flow of things, you often find that you didn’t need to be doing all of those things, managing all those possibilities and contingencies. You’re able to relax and, in relaxing, respond in the moment, rather than having to run the numbers.
Think of it like trying to swim in a river with a strong current. You can swim upstream, sure, and you may get where you’re trying to go… but you’re going to spend a lot more time and energy trying to get there, and it’s going to be a lot harder to make progress. But if you relax and let the current carry you, things become that much easier. Since you aren’t fighting against the current, you have more of an ability to steer around obstacles or change your path. You aren’t exhausting yourself by paddling as hard as you can to stay in one place. And, of course, you get where you’re going that much faster.
Right now, you’re struggling against the current, SIMOH. You’re trying to swim upstream and avoid the rocks and logs and… I dunno, snapping turtles, because this metaphor’s getting away from me. So maybe the key is to not try to control things as much.
Yeah, it’s reasonable to worry about hurting someone and to want to avoid doing it if you can. But here’s the thing: you can’t control that. You can control your actions, but you can’t control other people, especially their feelings. Someone getting hurt or not getting hurt isn’t entirely within your control. You can do your best to swim around those hazards or try to minimize the damage if you run into them, but you can’t eliminate them from the river entirely.
And there’s also the fact that you’re making these decisions for someone else, too. Yeah, there’s the risk of getting hurt… but everyone who gets into a relationship understands that, and they’ve decided the risk of getting hurt is worth the reward of being in a relationship with you. Pain and heartbreak is part of the waiver we all sign when we get into relationships. Some of it is avoidable, some isn’t, and some you can’t even know exists until you run smack into it.
You can’t control everything, SIMOH. You can control some things, prepare for some things, but ultimately, every relationship is a leap of faith, and the emphasis is on the word “leap”. Sometimes when you leap, you make it to the other side. Sometimes you fall.
But sometimes… you fly.
Time to stop being afraid and make that leap.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com