When I get really desperate for answers, I do the thing that everyone tells you not to do- I search the internet. I scan the top results on Google. I try to find the answer I know someone must have. At the very least, I seek to know that someone somewhere has felt the way that I’m feeling and has gotten out alive.
That’s what happened several years ago when I was in the midst of an all out existential panic. I, a clinically trained psychologist, wanted to know if my relationship was the “right” one and so I searched. I scoured the internet because I wanted to understand- if I so loved, respected, and felt so secure with someone, why did I still have so much anxiety about being with them? It took me forever to find anything on the topic. Every thread had the same general theme- when you know, you just know. If you question it, it must not be right. If you don’t feel elated about the possibility of being with this person for forever, then you are certainly in the wrong relationship.
Last week, I published an article about my own struggles with relationship anxiety. How I struggled with society’s unmet expectations and assumed it meant that I was broken or wrong. I had to dig, late into the night, before I found something that resonated with my soul- and what I found was something unexpected yet ultimately far more real than an easy answer.
Anxiety sends us on a desperate search for a cure- it points us in all different directions then hyper-focuses on something as a fix. It says: “Yes! this is it! Once you do this, it will all go away!” So the first time I came across the above messages, my anxiety subsided for a moment. I came to the conclusion that there was a “right” relationship and any amount of doubt indicated I hadn’t found it yet.
But then something awful happened; despite assuring me I had found the answer, my anxiety popped back up and sent me into another search for a solution. When this happens, when the thing you do to soothe your anxiety only works temporarily and then it comes back with full force, it can be an indication that you just found a bandaid, not the root of the issue. I have dug deep into myself enough to know when this is happening for me. And so I read, I talked to friends and my therapist, I did more internet searches and yet, nothing seemed to quite fit.
Then, through countless nights with sleep lost, conversations, and self-reflection, I landed on something that suggested perhaps my search for a ‘right’ answer, for the need to know, for the future to be figured out, was larger than just what relationship I was in; perhaps my anxiety had far more to do with the way I didn’t trust life or myself.
Popular culture would have you believe that any “ah-ha” moment is immediately transformative. That it wakes you up and then suddenly everything is different. But that’s not how it works. When you hit the root of something, it’s often buried deep. It often takes a lot of time and effort to pull to the surface and refill with something healthier. This realization wasn’t instantly soothing, but it did hit something inside of me and a tiny little voice emerged that sounded different than all the rest- it said “This is it, there is something here. This is where your focus needs to be.”
I wanted easy fixes; I wanted the answer to be black-and-white, all-or-nothing. That’s where anxiety lives, it pulls us into the edges, into needing it to be this or that. But life is full of grey area, nuances, and soft, subtle emotions and beliefs that have taken years to develop beyond our conscious knowing. Life exists in the middle of the chaos and there often isn’t one good answer to most things. So while I wanted something to give me a definitive answer- yes or no- it didn’t happen that way.
This is something I have been wanting to write about for a while; in fact I originally wrote my last article almost five years ago. But it felt like too fresh a topic, too personal, and not backed by what I observed in others, to write extensively on, so I waited. And now, years later, I still notice that nothing out there has changed- there still aren’t a lot of articles written for women who experience doubt in and about relationships. I still hear this anxiety pop up in my female clients (and friends!) all the time. There still aren’t a lot of positive messages about how to deal with this- it’s either get out or stick with it for _____ (your partner, kids, family, societal expectations). But what you’re feeling is an indicator that something bigger wants attention. The anxiety that has decided to hyper-focus on your relationship (or lack thereof) is probably not about your relationship (though it may be and I’ll write more on that in later posts).
So I’ve decided to write a series of articles on this topic- including how to understand if your anxiety is misplaced and how to handle it when it happens; on what to do with the societal pressure to be in a relationship when maybe you don’t want to be; and on how to focus on yourself and what’s happening within you so that you truly know what it is that you want. The process I went through didn’t end in a Hollywood movie ending, but what it did do was give me the confidence to trust my instincts and learn not to listen to all the messages – internal and external- that didn’t honor my true experience.
If there is a particular area of this you’d like me to focus on, leave a comment/question and let me know!