It happens to all of us at some point or another… You are dating someone and things are going well. Facebook relationship statuses have not been updated and you do not refer to each other as boyfriend and girlfriend yet, but you are sexually exclusive and the exchange of “I love yous” is imminent. You’re filled with excitement but also with fear because admitting love is accepting that you are no longer an autonomous individual, but rather, are a part of a whole and that this other half consists of someone you have no control over. Your mind races with a flurry of thoughts and you begin to overanalyze all the times you’ve spent together and every conversation you have ever had. Before you know it, the fear takes on a life of its own and you are filled with self-doubt, upset, anger, and confusion. You convince yourself that this isn’t going to work out and that he/she doesn’t care about you and is going to end things, even though there really has been no indication of such intent or you’ve taken an ambiguous set of circumstances and filled in the blanks. So, in the battle of rationality vs. fear, mental trepidation often prevails. Anxiety and dread overwhelm you, you panic, and subsequently you decide to end the relationship before you get in too deep.
Before you freak out and proceed to block his calls, blow him off, unfriend him, and/or call or text him to say “it isn’t going to work out,” take a day or two to thoroughly deliberate the rationale behind your decision. A tenant of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT, which is one of the most widely utilized and effective counseling and behavioral modification techniques of modern psychology) is the belief that external stimuli such as people, places, and everyday occurrences do not lead to our behaviors and moods, but rather, our thoughts about such events and individuals do. The benefit of this logic is that we can change the way we think to act or feel better even if the situation that initially upset us does not change. If we apply this logic to our dating distress, it can be reasoned that our negative thoughts and inner fears lead to our anxiety and depression. Thus, if we evaluate our thoughts and change our rationale, we can improve our mood. This seems simple, but it is actually a rather arduous task. How often do our friends tell us to stop worrying or that we are overreacting, but we remain just as stressed because our emotional response has resulted in physical discomfort?
The trick to effectively analyzing our thoughts and separating the accurate assessments from the irrational assumptions is to validate or disprove the notions that are upsetting us. Essentially, this means if you take your thought that “X doesn’t love me, is sleeping with someone else, is going to end things with me, and/or is a jerk thus I should end things with X” and compile all the evidence to substantiate and refute the belief, does it still hold merit? I don’t mean to discount gut feeling or intuition because they have their place, but more often than not, it is our own fear that leads to our strain. It is the creation of a perceived reality, not any actual occurrence, that results in our mental anguish. This ultimately effects our disposition, actions, and reactions which either leads us to end the relationship or gives the other person involved no other option then to end things with us. The latter appears to affirm our belief or fear but it is likely that things ended not because we were right and they were going to anyway, but rather, that our actions and behaviors as a result of our thoughts about his feelings led him to react in the way we expected—also known as self-fulfilling prophecy.
Since I’m not a psychology expert and merely majored in it during my undergrad, I will end my psych 101 lesson there. The point of the brief educational session on psychology is merely to repudiate your notion that you are crazy. I would safely estimate that 9 out of 10 people will experience a version of the aforementioned scenario at some point in their lives and will feel like they are going insane as a result, but the reality is that this is just part of the complexity of being human. So, next time you find yourself in this predicament and decide to end a relationship or convince yourself he will end things with you, take a day or two to cool off. Thoroughly assess the situation because you may be letting your thoughts and emotions take on a life of their own and thus be allowing for the creation of a reality that does not exist anywhere but in your mind. Take every experience and conversation for exactly what they are and leave suspicion, anxiety, and stress aside. All you will ever know for certain are those conversations and experiences at face value; everything else is unnecessary speculation and supposition causing you undue strain and anguish.
Entering a relationship and realizing that we are in love with someone is as frightening as it is thrilling because everyone is afraid of being hurt, whether they will admit it or not. We live in an age of divorce and a time where someone being on their third marriage doesn’t raise an eyebrow. Television shows and tabloid magazines are filled with stories of break ups and heartache. Even the most respected novels and timeless plays are filled with the eternal struggles of love, adultery, and betrayal. Taking all of this into account, it is no wonder so many of us are afraid to be happy though it is the sentiment we covet most or that so many of us expect the worst and question the world when thing are going well because that is just too good to be true. We become afraid to have feelings for someone or truly care for another person as deeply as we care for ourselves because we are terrified of getting hurt. We convince ourselves that what we feel is not real in order to avoid upset only to still end up feeling tremendous angst because our conscious and subconscious minds experience cognitive dissonance—we are so close to getting what we want the most which just so happens to simultaneously be our greatest fear. Concerned that they will hurt us, we instinctively persuade ourselves into believing that the relationship is not going to work out for a myriad of reasons, that we will inevitably be dumped, or that we hate them as opposed to love them. This allows us to retain the power over our hearts and feelings and so we end things in order to make it our decision not theirs and thus making the power ours as well. Being in love means admitting that we are powerless to this other individual which takes a lot of pride swallowing.
In assessing your decision to end a relationship, or your choice to stay in one for that matter, you must determine that your decision is rooted in sound judgment and facts of reality and not based on unfounded thoughts and emotions. We really have no control over anything but ourselves and so the best thing we can do is focus on the constants in our lives such as work, school, and close friends and we just must accept that the rest will fall into place one way or the other in due time. Ultimately, refrain from overthinking or personifying your emotions and just stay true to yourself in your most comfortable, confident, and productive state. If you can avoid allowing your thoughts to dictate your actions then the consequences of your behaviors will be the best outcomes not only for what you want in life, but for you truly need.