DWP: Staying in the Fast Lane
Queery #1: My first relationship was messy. My ex was emotionally manipulative and I didn’t like them as much as they liked me. I learned some bad habits from our time together and I know I need therapy to properly address things. But therapy isn’t an option right now and I’m a lesbian who’s falling for friend. So I could use some advice on how to not perpetuate some of these bad habits. Something I learned from my ex is placing a lot of value on text messages. To them, texting basically nonstop throughout the day was essential and if they saw I was on social media and hadn’t replied to them they’d feel hurt. Because of this I hate read receipts (both sending and receiving them) as well as notifications on social media apps that say who’s currently active. Even when texting with friends I’ll feel guilty/fearful/self conscious if i go on Instagram or Facebook before replying to them (so I’ll go on twitter instead because it doesn’t show that I’m currently on the app) The logical part of my brain knows that not receiving an immediate reply isn’t a bad thing. But the trauma side of my brain still lights up and I have intrusive thoughts about the other person not caring about me and about me not being good enough. What advice do you have for changing my internal narrative to lessen this reaction?
By demanding constant texts and surveilling your social media, your ex violated your privacy and monopolized your time/energy. Your relationship was built on impossible expectations and a harsh, inflexible set of rules. Healthy relationships, for comparison, are built on trust. I wouldn’t call this an issue of “I didn’t like them as much as they liked me” as much as emotional abuse.
When I was writing this response, I thought about the role texting plays in my own relationships. I spend my work days staring at a screen and writing emails, so maintaining an endless text conversation feels exhausting. I’d rather wait until evening and talk on the phone. I also have this very specific curse where I receive zero texts for days on end and then suddenly, every one of my contacts will double-text me at the same time. This means I often triage my replies-- it’s not about who I love more, it’s about who sent me a time-sensitive question and who sent me a Gritty meme. If a text seems particularly heavy, I might wait until after work so I can be more thoughtful intentional with my response. Maybe I’m on Facebook but not responding to texts because I’m rushing out the door and need to double check the address. Sometimes I lose my phone or fall asleep at 8pm. Everyday is a winding road!! By interpreting every gap in communication as a personal attack, you ex was basically saying “I am the center of your world and you cannot have friends or a life outside of me.” Yikes.
Everyone has different expectations and needs when it comes to texting, sexting, social media contact, FaceTime, and all the other ways we conduct relationships in 2019. This is why it’s so important to talk to your new boo about communication. Tell them that texting is a source of anxiety for you. Explain where your feelings and anxieties originate. Some possible options: banning read receipts in your relationship, agreeing not to stalk each other on Facebook, or curtailing texting in favor of actual time together. Remember that quantity doesn’t equal quality when it comes to communication. I once dated someone for several months and although we exchanged thousands of texts, we never really decided whether or not we were monogamous resulting in a devastating moment of truth at an Indian buffet.
You’re worried about poisoning your new relationship with the bad habits you learned from your ex. This is a valid concern because everyone, to some extent, shows up to new relationships with baggage and trauma. What matters is that you know exactly what your baggage looks like and you’re determined to change. Turn off your read receipts, put down your phone, and communicate your concerns with your new partner in a way that’s helpful and collaborative.
Queery #2: My ex and I broke up 4 months ago. I know it was a relationship that had soured beyond repair and our attempt to remain friends has been futile. I’m going on a date with another girl and I am stressing out. I have always had an unreasonable and overwhelming need to protect, love and take care of my ex...and those feelings haven’t gone away despite having created a great distance between us. How can I let go of her so that I don’t make a fool of myself in front of other women in my attempt to move on?
If you’re worried about lingering feelings for your ex, it’s probably a sign you’re not ready for a new relationship. And that’s not a bad thing!!! Four months is not a long time to grieve a breakup, especially one that ended in smoke. This is a time to lean on your friends and a therapist, not someone you just met. Remember that a first date is no place for expectations, it’s a place for asking “how many siblings do you have?” and “where did you grow up?” and then your drink arrives with a cocktail umbrella and you’re embarrassed in a middle school way.
A lot of times when people (*cough cough* lesbians) get out of long-term relationships, they immediately want to jump back into something Serious and Committed. It’s like when you get off the highway and driving 35 feels agonizingly slow. Don’t get caught speeding. There’s joy in going the scenic route and dating casually for a while. For one, you can travel at your own pace. You can stop at the Starbucks drive-thru or explore a barn filled with antiques. You can pull over and watch the sunset. This road metaphor is out of control, but hopefully you catch my Tokyo Drift.