There was a popular song by Billy Joel when I was growing up that had a line in it that went like this … “when you love someone, you’re always insecure”, and that's as true now as it was then.
Who isn’t insecure when everything seems like it’s going so well and yet you don’t really know someone well enough to know for sure?
When all you've known are relationships that gave you every reason to feel anxious, you don’t have anything like it to compare to. When you’ve given away so much of your heart, your body, and what often feels like your soul, regardless of how much we know we’re not supposed to go further than our overactive imaginations can handle, you’ve got a recipe for all kinds of anxiety to rear its head.
So how do you know how much to blame on your own anxiety and how much is being with the wrong person with real warning signs and red flags that you’re going to look back on and wonder why you didn’t see them at the time?
Well, this question came up this week in my “Engage” group coaching community, and it was such a great question, I wanted to include my answer here for you. After all, who hasn’t encountered that subtle shift where something seems to change that you can’t quite put your finger on?
How do you know if it’s something to add to your bucket of things to worry about, or nothing more than him getting more comfortable with you and actually a good sign instead? And when we talk about how you always know, how your gut instincts are never wrong- what about that? Well, here’s what I said to the woman in our community, and it’s what I’m saying now to you, too.
Let’s start by imagining you're him for a moment.
And let's imagine he's one of the good guys. Genuine. Responsible. Simple. Easy. Not complicated.
So what happens when you're looking at everything he says and does for clues to confirm your own mind's worst case scenarios that something's happened, something's changed, and it's all about to come crashing down around you?
He has no idea what's going on. He's going about his days, living his own life, enjoying your company, enjoying getting to know you, not worrying about a thing. He's not keeping track of how often he says or does the things you've come to keep track of to reassure you that everything's still okay.
He's simpler than that.
He assumes everything's okay because he knows he enjoys spending time with you, enjoying talking to you, enjoys your company and everything else the two of you do.
But when he's put on the spot, as much as he tries to reassure you, he feels pressure, he feels like he has to remember everything he's supposed to do and keep on doing because that's what you need him to do to be okay yourself.
This starts feeling heavy to him, not because he doesn't still enjoy spending so much time with you and talking to you on the phone and getting to know you better, but because he's starting to feel like you might be keeping track.
And he doesn't know how to deal with that, except to reassure you everything is still fine and nothing has changed, but he's genuinely confused as to why you're still asking him.
Can you see his perspective here?
This feeling you have, it's so understandable. When we've had our hearts broken before, when we've been so disappointed before, when all we want is one of the good guys to love us unconditionally and be everything we've always wanted to experience for ourselves and always felt we were outside of, that feeling is never far away.
Whether we're waiting for the other shoe to drop or always looking at every word, gesture or response to try to get ahead of any bad news that might be coming our way confirming our worst fears, that feeling is fueled by our own insecurities.
How do we know if we can trust those feelings?
How do we reconcile "trust yourself, you always know the truth", or "if you have to ask, you already have your answer" with "but he seems different, he seems like one of the good guys" or " he hasn't given me any reason to question him but I feel like I have to"?
By recognizing that getting to know someone is an investment in time and energy and your heart and there are no absolute guarantees. By figuring out where your boundaries are in terms of how much heart and soul and body you give someone before enough time has passed to have more of the answers revealed to you.
If he can't give you what you need, if he can't be so sensitive to your needs that he's actively alleviating your concerns and going out of his way to reassure you and nothing less than that is what you need from someone you're going to date and be in a relationship with, then it's important to be open to the realization that he may not be the one for you.
This isn't about what someone should be or do, or what's normal and what isn't; it comes down to what's negotiated between the two of you in whatever the relationship is you're in together.
Some people communicate those things directly in very clear terms and it works because they’re both on that same page and prefer that level of communication. For others, those kind of negotiations occur naturally, without any specific discussion, but are simply a part of getting to know each other.
The rest fall somewhere in between.
What matters isn’t how you negotiate your preferences and expectations within the relationship; it’s that each other’s preferences and expectations work for both of you!
So how do you know what’s normal or not? You remember who you are – with or without this new guy you’re really just getting to know. You go back to what I’m always talking about here – that you keep living your own life and remembering you have one at all no matter how amazing this new guy seems to you!
And if talking to him about it and giving it some more time before you make any kind of judgement doesn’t help assuage your concerns, you recognize that he may not be the right guy for you. And that’s ok! Not every guy will be, just like you won’t be the right woman for everyone, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with either one of you.
You can’t make someone be who you want them to be. And you can’t make someone right for you if they’re not.
As much as we may want to jump ahead to the easy, comfortable secure next phase of our relationships, if we miss the getting to know each other stage where we’re finding out if this person we’re spending our time and energy on is actually worth it – and worth it enough to spend a whole lot more time and energy on in the future, we’re only going to set ourselves up for a much worse heartbreak down the road.
And nothing is worth that!
So take a deep breath, give him a little space, cut him some slack and remember that all of this is information for the rest of the “getting to know him before making any kind of real decision on him” phase.
This time right now is for information gathering; watch, listen and observe. Who IS this guy that’s passed your test for now? Is he worth going forward with? Is he STIll worth going forward with?
Don’t be afraid to back up and slow down if you need to. This is all about not setting yourself up for heartbreak or investing more of yourself than you’re comfortable with.
Remember the old saying “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it?” Yes, that. Don’t ask what’s wrong if nothing’s wrong.
Watch, listen, observe – take a step back to get your objectivity back if you need to. If something’s wrong, you will absolutely know soon enough. That feeling will linger and won’t go away. His not treating you the way he used to will become consistent and you’ll see new patterns of questionable behavior emerge.
Remember, you won’t be able to deny the signs if something is truly wrong and his feelings have actually changed! You don’t need to go looking for that, you’ll see it.
Trust yourself. And for now, go back to seeing him the way he’s showing himself to be.
He’s not your ex. He’s not all the ones who let you down before. He’s his own person, he’s his own guy and last we heard, everything was fine. Remember that. This isn’t the movies, this isn’t TV. This is real life and real life authentic is the only way you ever want someone. For now, give him a little space to be just that.
Does this help? I know how close to home this topic is for so many of you that I’ve talked to about exactly this. I hope it does, and if you need more, leave a comment/question so we can talk about it some more.