Dear Captain Awkward,
My boyfriend and I have been going out for about a year and he is the best and I hope we stay together for a very long time. Lately (being about half a year) I’ve been dealing with feelings of jealousy. And not toward other women, he has never given me a reason to doubt his faithfulness. But I do get jealous of his time. We spend a lot of time together, and often when we’re not together we’ll chat over Skype. He feels very strongly that he requires time for himself, whether that means working on his own project while we’re hanging out or playing a video game while we’re skyping, making a back and forth conversation difficult. And I understand and am sympathetic to his need for personal space. But when it comes right down to it I end up feeling ignored and rejected. I want his attention to be on me when he’s with (or “with” in the case of Skype) me. I always promised myself I wouldn’t be one of these clingy, jealous girlfriends, and I try to fight the feelings when they arise but I can’t stop myself.
And so, on an almost daily basis, I’ll start feeling a little abandoned. I will then say something or do something to try to get his attention. When he catches on he insists that I back off a bit. This leads to me feeling more abandoned than I did before. And then, in the most childlike fashion, I will throw a fit, which usually ends in tears until he comes to comfort me. And lately, he’s been getting so fed up with my antics that he refuses to comfort me, leading to greater fits, the most recent one almost ending in a panic attack.
I know that he is frustrated by my behaviour, and I am frustrated by my behaviour, especially as it drives a deeper and deeper wedge between us. And I always end up blaming myself which only adds to my already enormous anxiety. And I know that I am the one over-reacting in this situation, but I do wish the he would maybe be more sympathetic to how I feel and more willing to share his attention. I think his fear is that if he gives in an inch then I will take a mile (which, in all honesty, is possible).
I’ve tried to be better for him and to change and to turn off how I feel, but my anxiety and self-doubt always wins. Is there anyway you can help me to a) better express how I feel to him in a way that might help him to undestand? and b) maybe become a more emotionally balanced individual in general? (small order, I know)
Thank you Captain Awkward.
Jealous of a Video Game
Dear Jealous of a Video Game:
I have a couple of suggestions for you:
1. Read the thing about attachment styles. It sounds like you have an anxious-insecure style relative to your boyfriend. Whether it’s comforting or not, that means that there is probably not much he can do to make you feel more secure. Your insecurities are yours to manage and not for him to totally solve for you. You recognize and identify in your letter that the more anxious and clingy you get, the more he withdraws, which makes you feel worse, which makes you cling harder – it’s a horrible, self-reinforcing cycle. The rest of this response is about how to break the cycle.
2. Seek out some counseling for why you feel the way you do and to help you manage your anxiety. That’s one way to become a more emotionally-balanced individual. Your therapist’s office is a safe place for you to get as anxious and insecure as you need to be and completely unpack those feelings, which may take some pressure off of your relationship.
3. Your boyfriend actually sounds like he is great at boundary-setting, so I suggest moving the boundary one step further.
When you’re with each other, be fully with each other. When you’re not together – when he’s working on his own projects or playing video games, don’t be on Skype trying to get little scraps of attention and playing a weird video game of your own where you try to get attention points from him at the expense of the other stuff he’s doing. It’s annoying him and unsatisfying for you. That need for alone-time is real. He doesn’t have to be thinking about you every second. Your need for love and attention is real, too, but he already spends a lot of time with you. He doesn’t have to spend all of his free time with you to prove something. I think that having him somewhat available to you but not quite is actually worse than if he were just logged off the computer.
4. What awesome stuff did you do before you had this boyfriend? Hobbies, friendships, exercise, books? Time to reconnect with those things, or find something else that interests you and fills the void.
5. If you do Skype (Don’t Skype, is my thinking, but sometimes you will anyway), instead of passively-aggressively saying stuff to “get his attention,” can you find a way to say “I’m feeling anxious. I know it’s not your fault, but can you stop what you’re doing and talk to me for 5 minutes? Then I will feel better and leave you to your game.” Then after 5 minutes, say thank you, log off, and go do your own thing. Show him that you can ask directly for what you need and then respect his limits. If you do this every day it will obviously lose its usefulness, so do this sparingly, <once/week.
None of this is a guarantee that you and this guy will find something that works for you both, but it’s your best chance of pulling yourself out of the spiral and setting yourself up to succeed. Love does reduce loneliness and make us feel more connected, but it’s not our partner’s job to cure all of our anxieties. Treat your anxiety like the real problem it is and take care of yourself around it.