‘I’m too infatuated with my new girlfriend to use basic social skills’ – The Irish Times


Dear Roe,

I’m a 24-year-old man. I’m too infatuated with my new girlfriend to use basic social skills, and I fear this will negatively affect our relationship in the long term. I care for her deeply and passionately. Unfortunately this passion often prevents me from acting rationally, and this causes me to be immature, excited and nonsensical.

When we are together I often find myself being a source of embarrassment and unwanted attention for both of us. I have a history of negative mental health, which often results in me feeling extreme highs and lows. How do I control my behavior so that I can keep our relationship stable?

Many readers (and this column writer) remember being young, completely infatuated with someone they liked, and feeling like they were constantly making an absolute eejit of themselves, so rest assured that in the Hall of the Loved-Up Nonsensicals, you are in plenty and esteemed company. But I do want to make sure that you think about the difference between both an infatuation and a relationship, and manageable insecurities and something more serious.

Your relationship is not the most important thing here; your mental health is. Right now, it seems like your issue with the relationship could be affected by your “negative mental health”. This column isn’t the place for receiving an armchair diagnosis, but if your struggles are important enough to mention here then they are important enough for you to seek help from a professional.

If you’re aware that you struggle with extreme highs and lows and that your self-esteem and mental wellness suffer, it’s vital that you seek out mental health support so a therapist and doctor can help you discern whether you have issues with anxiety, depression , a mood disorder, or something else entirely.

Sometimes people are scared to go to therapy or to potentially receive a mental health diagnosis, but a diagnosis is simply information about yourself that can point you in the direction of support, management and treatment. Understanding why you feel such highs and lows, understanding why you struggle with negative mental health, and having tools and treatments in place to help you manage it will help you in so many facets of your life, not just your relationship. Investing in your mental health is a long-term project, so start now.

I’m going to take your claims that you have been a “source of embarrassment and unwanted attention” for you and your girlfriend with a grain of salt. Maybe you have done some things you find embarrassing, but when we are self-conscious or anxious, we tend to overestimate both how awkwardly we have behaved and how many people are actually paying attention to us. People are quite self-absorbed creatures, truth be told, and often even notice our embarrassing moments.

As for your relationship, there can be something thrilling and exciting and knee-melting about being with someone that makes you stumble over your words and fumble in your actions. But we also overestimate the importance of “chemistry” in a relationship. What we call “chemistry” is often a combination of physical attraction and a certain frisson that makes us feel anxious or on edge, unable to fully relax. We talk about “butterflies” and “electricity” and can romanticize these connections that leave us feeling slightly out of control.

But chemistry is not compatibility, attraction isn’t everything and infatuation is not the basis for a good relationship. Infatuation isn’t about connection, it’s about projection. It’s being in such a heightened state that you project on to a person that they’re perfect – while this infatuation gets in the way of you actually connecting with them.

Real love and relationships aren’t about gazing at someone tongue-tied, feeling like they are an immortal goddess and if you, a mere mortal, speak, you’re going to lose them. Relationships are about connecting with another person, getting to know them, building safety and respect and trust; feeling like you are in a partnership that helps bring out the best parts of each other and supports each other in the tough times.

You are infatuated with this woman. But what do you know about her as an individual, what does she know about you, and what do you know about your connection with her? Are you able to be yourself around her and show the most interesting, thoughtful and engaged parts of you? Or are you so distracted by your infatuation that you don’t feel like yourself, and are unable to forge a real connection with her? Are you so busy reacting to your emotions and bodily sensations when you are with her that you are unable to be in the moment, to listen carefully, to engage thoughtfully, to relax and feel comfortable?

Chemistry is not compatibility, attraction is not everything, and infatuation is not the basis for a good relationship. Infatuation isn’t about connection, it’s about projection – and projection creates disconnection.

If this is the case, you’re right to think that this is a problem – although it is not an issue that can’t be solved. Therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, could let you explore things, and you could start to explore mindfulness yourself. Mindfulness can help us stay with the present moment instead of getting caught up in anxiety or projections. There are many grounding techniques that could help you to breathe, stay present and relaxed, and engage in a more thoughtful way with your girlfriend, instead of feeling overwhelmed.

Working on your self-esteem will help you remember that you are worthy as you are, and may help alleviate the pressure you feel to constantly impress her, or the fear of getting something wrong. These types of anxieties can keep us caught in our own minds and prevent us from truly connecting with other people.

Think of the people who you feel the most comfortable around and the relationships in your life that bring out the best version of you – friends, family members. Keep this version of yourself in mind when engaging with her, and try to hold on to the feeling of being comfortable, confident and accepted. Remind yourself of the ways you most enjoy interacting with people, and remember to ask thoughtful questions, to share your interests and passions – and to move slowly. In a new relationship, you aren’t trying to see the entire road ahead of you and trying to control it – you are focusing on what is in front of you now, navigating through it, and trying to enjoy the experience.

As you interact with her, pay attention to how you actually feel. Does she make you laugh? Is she kind to you? Do you feel like she wants to understand you, and do you feel free to express yourself? Do you share the same values ​​and interests, and are you interested in hearing her take on the world? And, an important question: do you feel safe enough to be vulnerable with her? Do you feel safe enough to tell her that you like her a lot and sometimes feel like you’re not being your best self, and would like to move slowly so that you can start to feel more comfortable and really get to know each other?

This relationship is not about you worshiping your perfect girlfriend. This relationship is about both of you imperfect humans creating something together – which means you are an equal part of it. Focus on taking care of yourself, staying in the moment and noticing how you really feel. Chemistry is exciting, but connection and compatibility are the real qualities to look for. Breathe, and start noticing if they are there.

Have a question for Roe McDermott? Submit it anonymously at irishtimes.com/dearroe



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