It’s interesting how so many dating advice sites and popular dating books ask women to stop being needy, or never act needy, or remain aloof. But what a lot of these self-help articles for dating and relationships miss, is how important it is to turn toward our partner, be honest about our feelings, and then regulate our own anxiety.
Pretend to be cool, or make him think it doesn’t bother you, and be distant, is turning away from your partner. Rather than, “pretend you are aloof and don’t care”, I would say, tell your guy what is going on for you and then make it clear that you don’t need him to change just because you are having some feelings that aren’t so pretty. Your guy might think you are a total geek, or he might find your openness and directness completely refreshing. Chances are good that he is not used to frankness because most dating and relationship self-help sites promote remaining aloof and distant to keep up his chase, or hunting instinct. Many dating sites promote that you “pretend like you don’t care”, and “never ever call, text, or show that you might be anxious because he never got back to you, or didn’t call”. The sites go on to say, “this is very needy behavior and will drive him away”. While you may actually win your guy for the short term with your aloofness, eventually after your guy has achieved his prize of, “din, din”, he will yawn and look for his next hunting adventure. This adventure must contain, open, honest, and direct communication, combined with the ability to regulate distressing emotions, rather than projecting them on to your partner for the relationship to sustain itself.
Now I’m not saying that every time you get anxious about the security of your relationship, you should be texting, calling, or freaking out at your guy. I am not saying that you should always turn to your partner whenever you are feeling anxious about the relationship. What I am saying is that when the timing is right that’s when you say “look, I’ve been feeling really anxious lately because I haven’t heard from you for a few days. I felt bad and it sucked”. Then, he might say, “Wow, that must have been awful for you – Can I help?” or he might completely ignore you and change the subject. He might give you a look like, “really?” or “wow, thanks for letting me know, I have been really distracted with work lately!”.
If he ignores you, then it’s probably time to ask yourself if you want to be involved with someone who ignores what you say and how you feel. If he says “how can I help?” then what’s really important is you acknowledge that he wants to help, and then do not expect him to take care of your feelings or change anything. After all, our feelings are not always true because feelings are not facts, and sometimes our thoughts which create our feelings, are not always based on facts. Ladies, his job is not to contain or regulate your anxiety. It’s your job. It’s also your job to communicate what exactly is going on for you so that he doesn’t have to guess. He can’t read your mind, and despite what the self-help date sites say, or self-help relationship sites say, he’s going to get tired of trying to figure you out, especially if he doesn’t feel connected to you on an emotional level. Why would a guy be emotionally connected to you if you are not telling him how you feel? You are so busy being aloof and then steaming inside from your resentments about his not calling or returning your texts that you are not connecting to him. What I am saying here is the exact opposite of what many dating or relationship self-help sites promote. Further to this really bad advice, is the attachment research that has confused the matter even more.
What about all this information that is coming out about attachment and your attachment style? Wow! there is a lot of confusing information out there like he should help you work through your attachment style, and you need to find a securely attached individual for the best success at a long-term loving relationship if you have an anxious attachment. Really? Since when is it considered healthy to be in a relationship where it is your partners’ responsibility to take care of your feelings?
Now, I’m not slamming attachment theory, there has been amazing research that has helped people understand their attachment anxiety, but what if when we negotiate our own anxiety ( attachment style or not), instead of expecting our partner to take care of our attachment anxiety for us, we find that out relationships improve? After all, as Bowen states, anxiety in a relationship is a normal phenomenon. The anxiety comes when we find ourselves negotiating the issue of “how separate or together are we going to be in our relationship?” If this is the case, then it doesn’t matter why you have anxiety, what matters is how you deal with it. In order to regulate it, you have to grow up and stop expecting your partner to grow you up, or worse, help you attach to him the way attachment theorists say you should have attached to your mother/ caregiver. As long as we look to our partner to fill us up, regulate are icky feelings, tell us how wonderful we are seven or eight times a day, I am here to tell you that you are in big trouble. How do I know this, because I’ve lived it.
In every relationship, there is the honeymoon, romantic stage and it really is wonderful to be told how amazing we are several times a day in that honeymoon phase, but then comes the first fight, and in that fight you might show your ugly side, the naked part of us that we all dread, the part that we try to suppress and hide, or as Jung called it, our shadow side. Then what?
As Dr. Snartch would say you, have no choice but to hold on to yourself. Your partner isn’t going to validate that ugliness. After exposing that ugly part of you, it’s just you and you alone with that shadow side. So what do you do? You love yourself enough to stand tall and say “hey, this is me, warts and all. I’m sorry if I hurt you” and “I’m going to try to change any behavior that may have been hurtful and chances are good I’m going to mess up again”. Now If you are lucky and you are dating a man and not a boy, that man is going to tell you how it made him feel and probably say things that are going to be hard to hear about your shadow self. It’s going to be hard and it’s not going to feel good BUT in that honesty, you now have true intimacy. He too will show his shadow self. It’s inevitable in any long-term relationship that moves past the honeymoon stage.
The next time you are feeling needy, don’t suppress it. Instead, find an appropriate time to talk to your partner about your feelings. Turn toward your partner and take that risk! Then regulate your own anxiety without making it your partner’s responsibility to do it for you by changing something you don’t like. There are plenty of sites on the net that teach people how to regulate distressing feelings. Not only will your partner thank you for it, but your relationship will strengthen and continue to grow.
Please don’t misunderstand me, you are not letting your partner off the hook for bad behavior (if that happens to be the case) and you are not turning away from your partner and pretending to be tough and ‘cool’. You are being honest and taking care of your feelings, and at the same time letting your partner know what’s going on for you in the relationship.
Sometimes in that experience, your partner actually pays attention and does change his behavior, but either way, change, or no change, it’s ultimately up to you to regulate your own anxiety. Ironically once you learn to regulate your anxiety and express your feelings in an open and direct way, you will show up strong and confident which is what the self-help relationship sites are trying to promote – just in a really weird way!