As human beings we are on the eternal search for meaning. Everything must mean something, or why would it happen in the first place. For some, the idea that there is no meaning, that everything is just a coincidence is a burden, and idea that cannot sit with them no matter how they process it. There has to be something behind it all, some driving force that is the explanation for why things are the way that they are. It’s no secret that the anxious mind does this in dating as well.
It was often that I would look for meaning in things. I spent a lot of time thinking about what each action might mean to me, what it meant coming from the other person, signs the universe might be giving me to tell me that something was right or wrong, and many other facets that meaning might bring to my life. It was exhausting. It was overthinking, rumination, uncontrollable catastrophizing thoughts that consumed me for hours on end as I struggled to make sense of it all. The answer to the question “does the other person think about me as much as I think about them?” is often an emphatic NO. Anxious people like to think, and break things down, and go over details many, many times. It’s no secret that my attachment style is Anxious. It’s due to hard work and self moderation that I feel comfortable saying that I’m Secure/Anxious now. It was a long journey, and there were many pitfalls along the way.
Searching for meaning in relationships was dangerous. The idea that you ‘feel’ like you are supposed to be together can weigh heavy on someone who is being broken up with, or someone who is staying in an abusive relationship.
“They are the best sex I’ve ever had, that has to mean something!”
“Nobody makes me feel the way that they make me feel.”
“They gave me flowers on a day that they didn’t even know I was depressed, it’s meant to be.”
These thoughts take an infinite number of intrusive forms as we line up birthdays, experiences, and other minutiae into the foundation for why we’re there in the first place. They become a crutch that keeps us in place, and, in certain cases, weapons in our fight to avoid being alone (and in extreme cases, to hurt). These things have lost their meaning to me outside of showing a persons character. Of course I can use them to adjust my view of a person, but never as an excuse to believe anything other than choice or coincidence has a say in whether or not I am with someone.
How can these things be a crutch? Using the meaning we create we can keep ourselves from recognizing or addressing issues. The meaning I am talking about is the meaning that comes from things outside of our control. Many people won’t agree with this, and that’s ok. I’m not speaking from a general point of view, I’m speaking from my own experiences. I used meaning to justify years in an abusive relationship. I used meaning to try and fight for the wrong relationships. I used meaning to try and coax people into making different decisions during relationships. And I used meaning to try and make myself feel better as a last ditch effort. It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s one that only results in more pain. It can artificially move relationships forward too fast, or put the wrong people together. The idea of being alone is a terrifying thought to an anxious person. Your brain will NOT be on your side during that fight.
What meaning can we use? Surely we aren’t in some nihilistic void where nothing matters? The meaning we should look to provide us with answers is the meaning of choice. Choice is a powerful indicator of character, although not necessarily intent. Your boyfriend making you some soup when you are sick doesn’t necessarily mean that he wants to be with you forever. It means that he believes in picking up some slack and making sure you get what you need when you need a little help. Indication of character is important, and we need to see the value in the choices we and our partners make. And, when the meaning of something might be a little obfuscated behind ours or someone else’s thoughts, we need to be ready to explain what we mean by what we have said or done. In my own relationships I am quick to explain what means something specifically for someone, and what speaks more to my character. It’s no secret that I would listen to someone who was depressed and hurting regardless of whether or not I was dating them, but the choice to take a day to make someone feel special and loved is a little more of a pointed effort in the dating category.
On the other side of things, I no longer let silly things like favorite bands/songs, birthdays, coincidence, or whatever little thing seems to dance it’s way into my vision keep me from seeing the reality of a situation. It took a lot of training, and a lot of practice, but I finally feel like I am able to date with control and intent.
Finally, be on the lookout for people who want to use meaning to make you feel a certain way. The person who makes a statement by taking back what was given, changing the perception of what was said or done, or twists the choices you make into something to further their own agenda is a toxic person indeed. And you, my friend, can do a lot better than that toxic person.
Better days ahead!