“When love is not madness, it is not love,” – Pedro Calderon de la Barca.
“Sod that,” – Kate Taylor.
Do you ever feel that dating brings out the worst side of you? The mixed-up, nervy side, that seems to fall apart under the slightest knock? You’re usually pretty kickass in your everyday life, and can cope with most things that life hurls your way. But then, you meet someone. Someone sexy, funny, appealing, who adds something to your life. Almost overnight, you go from Boss to Basic. Suddenly you find yourself second-guessing everything, worrying non-stop, and generally going mantal.
It even feels like you’d rather break up, than invest any more emotion into someone who could one day wreck you.
I know I’ve written a million dating and relationship books, but dating was not effortless enjoyment for me until I learned a few lessons the hard way. I was never running through cornfields without a care in the world, or having that much fun. I spent most of my twenties analysing conversations, overthinking throwaway remarks, and looking for any possible sign that the man I was dating was losing interest. I never entered a relationship wondering how much I liked the guy; I always, relentlessly, focussed like a laser on simply how much he liked me. And I’d plot his interest hourly, like the FTSE 500.
Because I was so neurotic, I always enjoyed myself most when I was with men I didn’t like. It was like stepping out of a cripplingly tight dress and sliding into a onesie. It was always a relief to be with someone I didn’t fancy. The joy of not caring how I looked. The fun of being able to make conversation without running every remark through my Inner Editor, to check for signs of too much interest, jealousy, or investment. I was always such a laugh with the men I didn’t like – until I started liking them, and then fell to pieces.
These days, I’m a lot better. I’m happily married now, and I can go whole weeks – OK, hours – without scrolling back through a week’s worth of texts to check the last time my husband said anything mushy, and then marking it on my spreadsheet. (I’m kidding! It’s just a scrappy list in my Notes app.)
How did I get better? These are the steps I took. I’m not saying they’re infallible, but they helped me. I don’t think you can cure this kind of neuroticism forever, by the way: I think some of us are just over-thinkers by nature. But you can calm it down. Here are my fixes:
Have a hobby
Something absorbing and complicated, in which you can lose yourself and stop thinking about Him. My hobby was painting. Every time a man dumped me, I’d paint a picture. My house looked like the Tate. Even better than a break-up hobby, though, is an ongoing hobby. Over-thinkers are often introverts, so we don’t throw ourselves into sociable hobbies, but we should: research has shown that people who meet once a week to pursue a shared interest are the happiest people around. Can you play poker? Sing karaoke? Learn a language?
Not with blustery positive statements and affirmations, though: with tangible achievements. If you’re anything like me (God forbid), you’re your own Simon Cowell. Your standards for yourself are sky-high – far higher than for any bloke – and much of your self-doubt comes from failing to meet your own grade. So, improve yourself. Lose weight, get qualifications, quit your crappy job, tidy your flat, get up earlier, drink less, save more… Whatever it is that your Inner Voice keeps berating you for not doing, just do it. Shut that bitch up with your positive steps. Doubts will creep in still, but nothing like as strongly as before. And you’ll be less likely to keep pursuing unworthy men.
Never act on your fears
Dating neuroticism is like pre-menstrual tension: you never realise when you’re in its grip, until it’s too late. You feel you’re being perfectly rational and sane, until you find yourself holding a blood-splattered knife, surrounded by screaming people. When you’re in the middle of a dating panic attack, you will think you are making sense. You’ll think he’s definitely lost interest, that you should just dump him, that you didn’t like him that much… You’ll think it’s strong to call him out on his bullshit, and that you’ll look impressive and brave if you throw your drink over him. You won’t. You really won’t. The best thing to do when you’re having a dating panic is NOTHING AT ALL. Put the phone down. Then pick it up and call your sanest, calmest friend. Get an early night. Have a bath. Read a magazine. Don’t stalk his social media, don’t ask him where things are headed, don’t call it all off. Do nothing. If you’re meant to break up, you can break up in three days’ time. Just sleep on it. No sudden movements.
Do you have any no-fail panic-busters that work for you? Please share them with me (quick! I’m a worrier!) in the comments.