I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life, but it really rears it’s ugly head around relationships. As a hyper-analytical person, love has always been difficult – after all, feelings can’t be analysed into facts, so when you spend your life fixated on reason it’s hard to just “feel”, you know? And long term relationships? The most confusing, hellish experience of all.
These days we basically live within our social media feeds, don’t you think? I spend a lot of my time scrolling Instagram and Facebook, seeing engagement notices, happy couple snaps and odes to partners on their birthday. It’s a LOT if you struggle with the normalcy of real-life romance, like I do. As much as I’m aware that relationships take work, it’s not always roses and life isn’t like the movies – sometimes it feels like other people’s lives are exactly like the movies, just long end-scenes of eternal love and adoration.
I grew up on a steady diet of rom-coms, so I spent my first long-term relationship (pre social media) thinking everything was wrong because even our honeymoon period was fraught with anxiety and confusion on my part. Wasn’t I meant to be obsessed with this person to the point where I can’t focus on my daily life? Excited to see them every second of every day? Blissful in their presence?
Sure, I felt smitten and besotted at times, we had romantic moments and things were really fucking cute a lot of the time. But whenever things were normal – we had a boring weekend, we did mediocre shit like go to the shops or go do life admin together – I’d panic. This wasn’t right. It wasn’t exciting enough. It wasn’t The Notebook.
Over the years I became more realistic – yes, love was thrilling, but it wasn’t permanently so. It was okay to feel normal, too. And long term relationships aren’t a permanent state of bliss. But social media had become a huge part of our daily lives by then, and I had a new fear – was my relationship shaping up compared to everyone else’s? Were we as happy as all these smiling, blissed-out couples on my feed? How happy and content was “healthy”? How all-consuming was love meant to feel?
It’s a fear that’s plagued me through three more relationships and, I’ll be honest, is still a factor in my anxiety around my current one. But something that’s greatly helped my fears are couples I know who don’t bullshit everyone around them.
I adore friends who will tell me upfront that they just cruised into their ten year relationship without really feeling any rush of overwhelming emotion, that while their partner makes them incredibly happy, their relationships is not all high-points like the movies – and some people on Instagram – suggest. That their partner is their favourite person in the world but also pisses them off on a weekly basis. They’re not fucking 24/7, sometimes they’ll go weeks without sex just because they aren’t feeling it. That they didn’t have a besotted honeymoon period. Because I’ve seen evidence of how good they are together, how happy and well-matched they are, so when they say their love isn’t perfect it makes me feel okay about the imperfections or reality of my own relationships.
You could discuss the social effect of social media until the cows come home, on a variety of levels. But I think we can all agree the social apps have created a cultural angst around how our lives shape up compared to the faux-lives of people we know on Instagram. It’s important to remember people upload the best moments of their years, not the mediocre or shitty ones usually – so don’t use Instagram as a gauge against your real, warts-and-all existence.
But it’s more than that. As people, can we all commit to being more transparent with our friends about or long term relationships and love? Instead of keeping up appearances for fear of seeming less than ecstatic at all times, be honest about the multi-faceted nature of your relationship and your feelings. It is hands down the most helpful thing my friends have done for me, and it’s what has kept me going in relationships I would have prematurely binned had I believed everyone around me was obsessed with their partner from the get-go and maintained that rock-solid sureness about their partner, their overwhelming attraction and permanent state of bliss every day from the moment they met.
Maybe you genuinely fell in love easily and you’ve felt rock-solid about your feelings since the get-go. That’s great. But it’s not everyones experience. I know some people will tell me the reason I’ve felt confused in the past is because I “haven’t been in love” or “wasn’t in love” but I can tell you now, people with anxiety around relationships have shared with me similar experiences. Relationships aren’t the same across the board, which is why being honest helps everyone so much.
It’s not about being vulnerable to the masses, but with people you trust. Be transparent with your friends about long term relationships and love – don’t pretend. Be truthful, because we’re all going through the same confusing shit and it’s just the nicest feeling in the world to know you’re not wrong or defective, but you’re experiencing things someone else has already experienced.Image: In A Relationship