Relationship anxiety is not a new concept; you’ve probably heard the phrase thrown around before. But you’ve probably only heard it when people talk about trust issues, fear of commitment or fear of letting someone get close to you.
My relationship anxiety is, well… a bit more complicated. The first time a guy put his arm around me while we were watching a movie, I had an anxiety attack that lasted roughly two days. I missed class, was so weak I could barely stand and couldn’t stomach food. The same thing happened after my first kiss. And yes, there was one time a guy kissed me and I had an anxiety attack so bad I ran out of the room and threw up in the bathroom.
If there’s a correct way to tell a guy you like who just kissed you for the first time that you throwing up and having an anxiety attack isn’t technically his fault and that you still like him, then I have no idea what it is. I never know how to tell someone that, yes, I would very much like to kiss them, but my brain just won’t let me.
It’s easy to make jokes about and I definitely have. Because inherently, throwing up after a guy kissed you is, well, kind of ridiculously hilarious. I’ve heard lines like, “Oh, was he that bad of a kisser?” a few dozen times. And while it’s funny, it’s also a nightmare.
I never know if I should tell a guy beforehand, or wait for the dreaded moment when he inevitably makes the first move and I start trembling from head to toe, my jaw locks and makes it so I can’t speak and I wind up having an anxiety attack in the arms of a guy who just wanted to cuddle. Which is only made worse because he obviously wants to help, but any attempts to rub my back or hold my hand to calm me down literally make it worse.
With each person, it usually takes time to adjust. I work through the initial anxiety, and then it takes time to work my way up to more intense levels of intimacy. Which isn’t fun for either of us, because finding a guy willing to take it slow and put up with my anxiety is, well… not simple. And it’s not rare for guys to think they can “fix” me by trying to force their way through the anxiety, citing exposure therapy and how that will help. And those were the times in my life where my consent was violated, which has only made my anxiety about intimacy worse, because now I get flashbacks added to the mix.
I’ve struggled with a lot of self-hatred through the years, trying to come to terms with my anxiety and what’s happened as a result of it. It’s too easy to feel broken, especially when my anxiety interferes with something so simple, something that is such a big part of everyone else’s lives. If everyone else can kiss people like it’s nothing, then why can’t I? And I won’t even get into the emotional turmoil. How do you explain to the guy you’re in love with, the one who is now terrified to touch you in fear of sending you into an anxiety attack, that he’s allowed to kiss you?
Which is one of the reasons I think sharing stories like this is important. As both someone with relationship anxiety and someone still recovering from abuse, learning to be okay with intimacy is hard, and I want everyone else going through similar things to know they aren’t alone. It might not be a narrative shared often, but it is one that exists.
I’ve largely been able to work through it, both through therapy and the help of some pretty patient people. But anxiety isn’t really something that can be cured, and it’s not rare for me to have to ask to stop in the middle of something because my anxiety is acting up. We live in a society that is incredibly sex-obsessed and it’s hard and incredibly mentally-taxing to be a part of the population that can’t quite participate in it.
If you’re dating someone with anxiety, or if you currently like someone with anxiety, take the time to talk to them about it. It can be hard to be open about, but it’s an important conversation to have. And please have patience with someone if they have any kind of relationship anxiety. I promise you, as disappointed or upset that you might be, they probably feel a million times worse about it.
If you’re someone with relationship anxiety, it will get better, I swear. You will find ways to work through it or it will get better with time. You’ll find the rare people who have unbelievable patience and will do everything in their power to make you comfortable around them. And if you’re alone this Valentine’s Day, then take the time to love yourself, anxiety and all. Anxiety sucks, but you’re stronger than it. You’re not broken and you’re not unlovable, I promise you.