Okay, here goes. I’m a 24-year old girl with anxiety, and I’m dating a very nice man. We had three dates and tomorrow will be the fourth. I have never had a boyfriend before, never been kissed, etc… He is very nice and understanding of all that, but I am scared.
First of all, I love being single. Second, I always had/have celebrity crushes. I know it sounds immature. It’s so embarrassing. I have to grow up. But these crushes are perfect! They won’t hug me and kiss me. Never. But fantasizing about them is so safe and good. I really like fantasizing and daydreaming about them. It’s better than reality. And I am so scared that my expectations are so high that I won’t be able to love somebody who doesn’t look/sound like my celebrity crushes.
I know I have to live in reality, but giving up this dream world is scary. Maybe I have fantasized so much that I will be unable to live in reality? I feel like I now have to give up these crushes as my single life is changing, and it makes me anxious. I told this man about my anxiety since I know I should choose a real man and not an imaginary one, and he accepts it. When I am with this man, I feel good, but when I am alone with my thoughts, I am filled with doubts and anxiety. What do I do???
-Stuck in Fantasyland
Dear Stuck in Fantasyland,
I actually like this question! (And not just because it gave me an excuse to look at, like, a thousand Justin Bieber photos… [where’s a heart emoji when you need one]). Sure, on the surface it sounds a little cray cray – just keepin’ it real – but underneath, your “problem” is super common. So common, in fact, that it’s at the heart of every disappointment in every relationship, whether it be a romantic one, a family-related one, or a platonic one. You see, when people get hurt in a relationship it’s for one reason and one reason only: the other person didn’t live up to their fantasy, (which usually consists of something they would have liked their partner to have done). So as nuts as you may feel about the semi-extreme way your fear of getting hurt is playing out, trust me, you’re tackling a big and common issue, and I applaud you for doing it head on.
Before we get to the meat of it, let me just say that part of your anxiety stems from feeling like you have to give up more than you do. When it comes to how your celebrity crush looks and sounds, well, you can keep that. I not only know of cases where people found a mate who fit their celebrity crush’s physical description, but I, myself, have dated about eight replicas! However, once you have more experience with men I’m willing to bet you’ll start to value more important qualities. Tragic. I know.
Additionally, you should know that you don’t have to give up anything before you’re ready. Since you “love being single” and find comfort in these fantasies more than the idea of dating a real wolf (I mean “guy,” sorry, old habit), I recommend dreamin’ on for now. Relationships require too much work to enter before you’re “all in.” And since the ultimate goal of being in one is to feel good, and you already found a way to do that being single, why bother fixing what isn’t broken. Being single is only a problem if you don’t want to be single.
BUT, let’s say you do want a real, in-the-flesh relationship. You know, for sh*ts and giggles. The good news is that you also don’t have to give up how the fantasy guy makes you feel – (excited… frisky… and like you are very much a woman, he he) – just know that the real guy won’t make you feel that way all the time. Which brings me to the only thing you do have to give up: your unwillingness to cope with the fact that your real guy is going to do something that your fantasy guy will never do, and that’s disappoint you… A LOT.
Since you feel good when you’re with the guy you’re currently dating, but doubtful and anxious of the relationship when away, I’m going to guess that you’re ready for a “real” relationship but have experienced some trauma that has left you extra-sensitive to the disappointment that inevitably comes with intimate relationships. Consequently, the game plan that I’m going to recommend to you is two-fold.
First and foremost, pick a guy whose intentions you feel you can trust. This trust is built not just on a dialogue that affirms a shared vision for the relationship, but on consistently thoughtful behavior that supports said vision. Sure, he’ll have minor slip ups at times because he’s not a mind reader, (or he’s tired of your sh*t on a particular day), but once you express your grievance, (or he gets his energy back), he’ll be eager to make things right by you. This is the most important step, by the way – picking a guy you feel safe with – and by “minor slip ups” I mean anything that isn’t, say, physically, mentally, or emotionally abusive. Never allow anyone to demean you in any way.
Second, pre-determine your process for dealing with the inevitable disappointment and/or anger his slip ups will cause. If you find that your emotional reaction doesn’t fit the crime due to your extra-sensitivity, first clarify with yourself that his behavior is just reminding you of something hurtful someone else once did. He most likely (unintentionally) hit an emotional sore spot. Here, your ability to trust his intentions will allow you to calm down, breathe deeply through your emotions, and develop a new plan of action moving forward.
If, however, your hurt or rage is proportionate to the “crime,” then as your first step I recommend finding a place (away from the knives) where you can calm down and absorb what all just happened and how it made you feel. Sit with those thoughts and feelings, write them down and/or talk to someone with a track record of healthy relationships. Then accept what happened, and, when ready, return to him for his side of the story. Hear him out and what he was thinking, and share your side, taking breaks if/when things get heated. If you picked a guy with nothing but good intentions for you and your relationship, thoroughly discussing the issue will allow both of you to develop a deeper understanding of each other and strengthen your relationship.
If you picked the wrong guy, and he did something like, say, up-and-left you, well, I guess the good news is that you don’t have to do the last step? (Silver linings, people!) But you do have to join in on the final step which is to learn the lesson the incident taught you. What do you now know about yourself, him, and your relationship that will make you stronger and better moving forward.
Briefly, when it comes to losing someone to a difficult-to-manage illness and/or death, and “life” becomes the focus of your disappointment, I know it sounds cliché but all I recommend in that case is time. Time to grieve, heal, and feel the range of emotions, (or seemingly lack of emotions), that pass through your heart. The running thread I’ve noticed among survivors of deep losses such as those is that it taught them how to love deeper and differently. So there will be treasure waiting for you on the other side of your grief, but in the meantime all you can do is take things day by day.
So, as you can see, Stuck in Fantasyland, your fears and hesitancy to trade in your celebrity crushes for real life relationships are justifiable. Real relationships come with pain and disappointment; but know that with that pain and disappointment come tools that help us grow. We become better lovers who can then go on to experience love on deeper and deeper levels. But if you’re still not sure if all this is for you I have one last piece of good news: When you’re ready to make the switch the very idea of a real relationship will become your new fantasy, disappointing flaws and all. Best of luck!
Note: As this column is designed to be a judgement-free zone, only those who have been, (or know someone who has been), in a similar situation are invited to comment; especially if the question is unorthodox or hard for one to relate to. And for even more relevant insight, those seeking answers are always encouraged to go within.