Voices
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(photo: Josh Willink/pexels.com)

Are you obsessively looking at your phone every two minutes? Checking your texts and missed calls? Reviewing the length of his/her texts versus yours and evaluating time lapses between responses to uncover hidden messages in these cryptic (or not so cryptic) communications? What happened? Wasn’t this supposed to be fun? You barely know this person. You are annoyed at yourself. You throw the phone away from you across the bed and try to distract yourself with a TV show, maybe read a book for God’s sake. Except you can’t focus. Your eyes dart to the screen of your phone once more; you pick it up and this time go browsing through your social media — here you are cyber stalking. You promised yourself you wouldn’t do it, but you just can’t help yourself. It’s been hours since you’ve heard back, and you are starting to crawl out of your skin. You tell yourself you are having a moment, that there is a lucid self in there somewhere, telling you to relax, but you can’t. It’s like binge eating cookies — you hate yourself and can’t stop at the same time. This irrational obsession makes you feel crazy, weak, broken. It’s your dark secret you want to hide. No one likes that, no one wants that. You are sure to be abandoned again, rejected. Sound familiar? 

This is often the dark truth behind new relationships; this is the unfun part of the “fun.” And you don’t know when and who will trigger it. You don’t know when it will strike you, but when it does, you are in its grip and who knows how deep this rabbit hole goes? It really depends on your early attachment trauma and how secure you feel in yourself, how grounded you are. And now, for some good measure, let’s add COVID-19 to the equation, and here we have a whole new brand of attachment trauma altogether. Get ready for some dating drama.  

The fact is liking someone is a risky business. It’s especially risky in the age of Tinder and Bumble, and now you are coming out of 12 months of pandemic isolation. You stared into the abyss of loneliness with horror and drank yourself to sleep while days blended into weeks and months, and now you are re-emerging. It feels like learning to walk again. You’re wobbly, decrepit even, less sure of yourself than you have ever been perhaps. You never knew just how lonely you could get, and you sure as hell don’t ever want to feel that. And so, you bravely attempt to greet the world and meet new people. What a concept! Take off your mask and sit at a table without getting blown to smithereens by the winter draft, yet it’s awkward, it’s scary, it’s novel. Maybe you catch a glimpse of the “quarantine 15” version of your reflection. Maybe you are still fighting the panic of having lost your job or slowly trying to crawl out of that hole we call depression. You fake a breaking smile, but are you entertaining enough? You look through and beyond the person across from you; even the conversation feels surreal. Your therapist said to put your best foot forward, that it would be normal for it to feel weird. We are awakening into a new world, unknown to us, after a year of forced isolation, self-reflection, self-assessment, boredom, too much time thinking, surviving, panicking, and for many, facing all of it alone. Your therapist was right — of course it is going to feel weird. You just discovered the definition of weird. 

The feeling of safety in a relationship takes time and work. We have to show each other over time that we are safe, that our behaviors are predictable, that we separate and return, that we are held in each other’s minds even when we are not together, that we are special and loved and cherished. This takes time, and it can take extra time for those who have been abandoned by significant others, parents, lovers, and friends. Relationships can sometimes feel like a never-ending string of rejections. Attachment anxiety in early stages of connection is common; you are not alone. Post pandemic, we all desperately want to connect, feel each other embrace, and re-engage with one another. Our need to reinstate some sense of meaning is magnified, hence, anxieties run high. You just spent a year asking yourself: What is the point of all this? What is the meaning of life if we are to be alone and isolated? Who is really there for us when we are in need? The traumatic impact of this pandemic on individual lives is very real, and the recovery will take time. Be gentle, be kind, be patient. Spring is coming; it’s almost here! spt

Sophie Schoenfeld, MFT

Sophie Schoenfeld, MFT is a local marriage and family therapist. For more info, visit sophiemft.com.

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