I’d like to paint you a picture:
You’re traveling. Maybe you’re on the bus, striking up a conversation with a friendly stranger; maybe you’re chilling with your landlady; maybe you’re having a chat at a supermarket queue about the weather. Suddenly the person you are talking with grabs you by the arm gives you a hard shake and then demands to know why candy isn’t flowing out of your ears.
Would you smile politely and explain that’s not how humans work? Or would you be sounding an alarm and running for the exit?
The former is what single women most often have to do when we are asked about our love lives. And, as someone with anxiety, such situations are as terrifying to me as the metaphorical scenario where a previously chill person suddenly starts manhandling you. It’s unexpected, it’s inappropriate, and it’s very, very upsetting.
Anxiety is a monster that hijacks my brain – it makes me angry, hostile, and very, very paranoid. On a good day, I can regulate my emotions and tell the difference between the scenario in my head, and what is actually going on. On a bad day, any bit of criticism, no matter how kindly meant, feels like an accusation, and any questioning about why you are doing something a certain way seems malicious.
Why am I not on a dating site? Why don’t I try speed-coffee? Why am I so picky? Why don’t I give someone a chance? Have I tried fooling around and seeing where it goes? Why don’t I go with the flow more?
Because that doesn’t work for me.
More to the point, that’s way too much uncertainty for my brain to take.
I’ve got anxiety. I like my days ordered, and I hate wasting time – mine, or anybody else’s. If I don’t like someone, I’ll tell them that. Or I would decline a date – there’s no point in dragging things out, and really, it’s stopping them from finding someone they truly love to be with.
I’ve got anxiety. I need to trust people before I open up to them, and that doesn’t happen overnight. It certainly can’t happen during a 1-minute sit-down.
I’ve got anxiety. I don’t take people’s feelings lightly. ‘Fooling around’ doesn’t exist in my dictionary.
I’ve got anxiety. I’ll be punctual and I’ll be thoughtful and I’ll pay attention to what people say and do (and don’t say and do), and I would do my damnedest not to hurt anybody. When I ask someone: “What do you want to do tonight?”, “Whatever” is not a suitable answer, and “going with the flow and chilling” is not good enough either.
I’ve got anxiety.
Dating is serious business, so forgive me if I’m taking a little while longer to get to it than it suits you.
The truth is, love comes in many forms and guises. I look for it in ways that I am comfortable with, and ways that suit me and my personality.
Ways that, hopefully, my anxiety can work with, rather than against.
It doesn’t mean that I’m not trying.
And it doesn’t mean that I’m not doing it right.
Now if I could only convince my brain of it, too…