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How To Avoid Getting Too Attached, Too Quickly

Nicole asks:

A 47 yo recently contacted me on Bumble, and we proceeded to have long, intense conversations over the next two weeks, which he initiated. We were both overwhelmed with work, hence the delay in meeting. He was evolved, polite, intelligent, easy to talk to and considerate. He'd left his 11 year unhappy marriage to a woman with borderline personality disorder. His next gf of 6 years abruptly dumped him (who he deemed a narcissist) and he was blindsided. About a year later he posted his profile on a dating site, where he met his next two girlfriends, both 25. This gave me pause. One lasted 8 mos, and they split because she became too attached and wanted children. That's what usually happens with younger women of child bearing age. The next lasted 4 mos. and they split. I started speaking with him about a month later. After googling him, to my surprise I discovered that he was a very well known journalist. NYC is full of accomplished people but I've never encountered anyone like this. My immediate thought is that this person is WAY out of my league. That said, he was very grounded and we really connected on the phone and had SO much in common.I told him that I had graduated from a state school and he said 'look, i'm 50, i'm past caring about such things'. WE both felt that we were an intellectual match despite the differential in our status.

We meet, he's even more attractive, interesting and charismatic than I'd expected. I, on the other hand, was feeling a bit insecure (which I hadn't on the phone) and was exhausted; I should have postponed the date. I didn't put my best foot forward. We still had fun, he invited me up to his apt, which was in Soho and impeccable. Amazing sex, in fact the best sex I had ever had. I contacted him a few times over the weekend, and we engaged in some idle chit chat, but I requested a call which was not returned. We then spoke again and he said he could speak the following day, and called me after I asked him if he was busy and could speak that day. I was in a state of high, high anxiety waiting to speak with him again.It was intolerable. I became way, way too attached far too fast, and I don't know how to prevent this from happening. I understand that I have to chill out and leave the ball in his court, but until I heard from his I had horrid anxiety. This is going to work against me, always and I don't know how to control it. We spoke for a while, were disconnected, he called back and when I suggested meeting later this week he said he was far too busy over the next two weeks and would be for some time, and it was simply too late tonight. I know that he IS extraordinarily busy, I don't doubt that. He's working on another screenplay, teaching in another state, has two daughters in yet another state, and writing for the paper, and I've verified this. So yes, I doubt he has time for any relationship. I was discussing dating online in general, and he was giving me tips. Clearly he's not interested. I point blank ask him what he wants, and why he initiated a relationship that he couldn't sustain, and he said he had just far extended himself professionally. I apologized for putting him on the spot,I supposed that if i point blank asked maybe I'd get the answer I wanted to hear. He said it was healthy that we were having the conversation and that it was the adult thing to do, and that he simply couldn't devote the time to me that he needed. He said he had no idea if we were a potential match since we had only met once.

We then hung up, and I immediately sent him an email saying I get it, I can read between the lines, and apologized for backing him into a corner. I said that I know he was being kind and trying to spare my feelings, and that I would have handled it in a similar manner. I did borrow his mittens and leave my hat at his house (inadvertently) and he explained on the phone that we did need to exchange them. I closed my email by letting me know what time was best to do the exchange and said that if we crossed paths again that would be great, and if not, so be it. No response. I have to go home tomorrow and told him I wouldn't be home for a few weeks and that I couldn't get his gloves to him until then (which he needs). I closed by saying we should go to a tapas bar (we've both been to spain several times) when his schedule loosens up. This was several hours ago. No response. When he first contacted me, he had mentioned that even if there wasn't a romantic connection, that he thought we could still have a valuable friendship. I feel horrible and depressed and can't stop thinking about what he found wrong with me, why he didn't want to move forward after we had had a great night. The day after our date, I thanked him for the date, said i had fun, and he replied that he had had fun too, and thanked me for coming out and staying over, but didn't suggest a future date. At that point I should have just waited for him to contact me again, because the writing was on the wall, correct? I suspect that he would have been open to remaining friends, and I want to believe that I could, but the reality is that it would just be torture for me. I've never, ever met someone who satisfied all my 'requirements', and I can't stop torturing myself about where I went wrong on our date. Did I talk too much, was i boring, was he not attracted to me, was I awful in bed and I'm filled with self doubt. But he did reply to me that weekend, and call me two days later, but only after I had requested it.I tried to keep my last email casual and brief. I don't know where I went wrong, and I don't want to repeat the same mistakes, nor to I want to give in to this desire to speak to the guy for confirmation the next day that he had fun.

The waiting in limbo is awful. And now I can't stop thinking about him. I suppose I should start dating again to distract myself and remind myself that he's not the only man in nyc, but I fear that everyone will pale in comparison which will make me feel worse. I just wish I could get out of my own head and move past this. I mean, it was only 2 weeks of intense conversation and one date! I wasn't with this person for 6 mos. I know this message is disjointed and probably contains irrelevant information, but I don't want to sabotage the chance for a second date again, and I believe that would have been a possibility when his schedule relaxed had I not pushed.

Should I be dating several men at once to maintain perspective? when he said he had an unbelievably busy two weeks, should I have just said ok, let's stay in touch and let me know when your schedule eases up? I did say that, but then I called back to ask him exactly where things stood, and as I mentioned, he did say it was a reasonable, healthy conversation and one that we should be having. I really have absolutely no idea what i'm doing when it comes to dating, because I simply haven't had much practice. the 'just be myself' works over the phone, and very well via email,I'm not insecure about my physical attractiveness or personality, but then I freeze on dates. And drink to relax. I know dating requires a strategy, but I don't know where to start.

I'm not sure this is an issue of perspective or even expectations. Everything you describe is an earmark of an anxious attachment style.

All of us develop our own attachment style. Some are secure, some anxious, some avoidant, and some who are a mix of the latter two, aka anxious avoidant or disorganized. Anxious attachment showcases itself in the exact way you describe: an overwhelming and sometimes uncontrollable fear that someone is leaving or rejecting you. An anxious attachment's response to that fear is to reaffirm the connection. If they can't do that, the anxiety is exacerbated to the point where it becomes impossible to think about anything else.

It sounds like you encountered what you thought was a Dating App/Online Dating Unicorn. He was accomplished, with a prestigious career and education. He lived in Soho, a neighborhood known for attracting people of status. He came off worldy and sophisticated, and even opened up to you about those terrible, awful women from his past that just. didn't. appreciate. him because bitches be crazy, amirite? It couldn't possibly be that this guy showers women with attention, builds a false sense of intimacy by yapping about his bruised heart and romantic failures, then pulls back once he gets what he wants. No! It has to be that women are just riddled with mental illness and he's the unfortunate soul who has done what he could to nurture and care for the wounded bird.

Fuck that guy.

He knew exactly what he was doing. He waxed poetic about himself, leaving a bread crumb trail so that you could Google him and find out just how amazing he is. Someone who is forthcoming to a stranger about such intimate details from their past either have boundary issues or they''re being manipulative. This was all intentional, you see. This is what he does. He woos, then pulls away, woos, then pulls away. It's that behavior that triggered your anxiety. People with anxious attachment styles often find themselves drawn to people like this. Avoidants exhibit similar patterns. Because they avoid intimacy at all costs, they tend to trigger the anxious attachment style of their partners, which in turn allows them to continue believing that people just want too much from them or that it was the other person's fault things didn't work out. We repeat patterns for different reasons: in a counter-intuitive attempt to break the cycle; as a way to reaffirm our distorted beliefs about intimacy; or simply because it's all we know.

While this guy very clearly shows signs of being psychologically abusive, he's not responsible for why you got so attached. That goes way, way, WAY back to when you were a child. If you want to avoid this kind of scenario again, you have to do the work, preferably with a therapist who can help you unpack where your struggles with attachment started.

What I can suggest for when you feel triggered are called grounding techniques. These are activities or behaviors you can use to change your thinking so you can temper your anxiety and compulsion to confirm someone's interest.

You can confront it by asking yourself what is behind your fear that someone isn't interested in you. That will take the focus off of him and place it on you.

You can confirm the anxiety by telling yourself that it is temporary and not rooted in reality but rather a fear of being rejected and abandoned.

You can redirect the thoughts by turning to something completely unrelated, like a book or TV or project of some kind.

The best thing you can do for yourself is become aware of what awakens your anxiety and recognize situations that might trigger you. Then, of course, avoid them until you feel confident you can navigate them without traumatizing yourself

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