Myriad emotions

I'm feeling so much about a new relationship that it's scaring me and flipping my world upside down.

By Cary Tennis
Published March 1, 2004 8:56PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

Relationships scare the f%*@ out of me. And I mean really, really, really scare the f%*@ out of me. I have no idea of how to go about entering a relationship -- and even if I have the logistics down (go on date, have fun, conversation, kiss), I have no idea what an appropriate time frame is for how quickly things could/should progress. The real problem lies in how to deal with all of these myriad emotions. I became very good at living a single life, but starting to date has flipped my world upside down.

I am at this wonderful point in my life where I am opening up to the world and really feeling emotions in real time as opposed to running them through my intellect filter like I have done for my whole life for reasons I won't go into. So it's good, right? I mean I have had the best relationship with my father and my sister that I have ever had really, except for that time when my sis and I were kids and played with stuffed animals all day, but that was not nearly as deep and satisfying as this is.

I have emerged from anxiety and depression to a state of self-knowledge and confidence that crystallized over the Christmas holiday and I came back to Chicago ready to date.

This is a recipe for hurt, I tell you. So I meet this amazing girl and have a lot of fun and it kills me, really kills me internally because I don't know how to deal with what I am feeling. I am scared and fearful and excited and I end up retreating into my intellectual shell to a degree when I'm with her, but when I'm not with her I make up for it by feeling as anxious and raw as I ever have and I experience difficulty as I try to sort out all of these new feelings with my newfound sensitivity. Part of it is the fear that she will end up not liking me and find me boring or not smart enough or just not exciting enough. And part of me fears that I might find the same of her. But a larger part of me yearns to ignore that crap and cut to the chase, to see her as a person and witness her true being in an I-You relationship à la Martin Buber -- appreciate her little quirks and find all the reasons to adore her that other people disparage. This is my true romantic nature, but I also fear that this is a bit heavy for a one-and-a-half-week relationship.

But is it too heavy? Romance films are not the only reflections of instant passion -- literature is rife with it; Gabriel García Márquez is a perfect example of this, his characters driven by the winds of fate and with a ferocity that screams of passion. And if love is sublime and divine and the divine is an ultimate truth and relationships are but a reflection of the divine, can feelings ever be qualified as hasty?

She probably doesn't even know that I am dying like this, and I fear most that she would freak out if I laid this heavy stuff on her. But if I don't, we might never have the chance to explore it honestly. I should mention that she is one month out of a two-year relationship and has said that while she is "not able to be in a relationship tonight," she "does not know about next week." So slow is on the agenda; and despite my above ravings I can also say that I am completely OK with that. And here is the gaping paradox embedded in my above comments. I'm sitting here talking about how passionate and immediate these feelings are, and on the other hand, I really believe (though this is my intellectual filter talking here) that feelings need to be slow, I mean I have known this girl for two weeks, how much can I like her?! So there is not so much a paradox as there is a differing of opinion between my heart and my head. My head says whoa! things need to go slowly, in fact it is the only way things can go, rationally speaking, but my heart says ... now, you are feeling this now and you have to deal with it now!

And I have no idea how to reconcile the two.


Dear Overwhelmed,

How uncomfortable are you right now? You sound a little agitated. But at the same time, you sat down to write this letter. So it sounds like you're pretty uncomfortable but you can handle it. I would say if you're uncomfortable but you can handle it, and if you are fundamentally sound otherwise, not addicted to drugs or having bipolar disorder or some other serious mental disturbance, I think you're going to be fine.

As to your concern about your head and your heart, I don't think it's necessary to reconcile the two. Your feelings and your thoughts represent different possibilities for action. But they are unrealized, so they can get along fine without contradiction. That is, you can't actually do two opposite things at once, but you can certainly feel or desire to do them. And when it comes to action, you can't go fast and slow at the same time, but you can certainly alternate: Fast now, slow now, fast now, slow now, like an eccentric driver.

I know that doesn't solve your immediate problem, which is that you're kind of freaking out about a girl. But no one can solve that: You're having feelings. There's nothing any of us can do about that. Besides, it's a good thing that you're having feelings. You know that. It's the feelings that are keeping you alive.

Since you omit your age and occupation, I'm going to guess that you are a student, you are precocious and you are quite young, so young in fact that you are still "putting yourself together" in certain fundamental ways. I'm also going to guess that you had a childhood with some turmoil in it, that caused you to develop certain ways of coping that you are now trying to abandon. I get the feeling, because of your intellectual spirit, that you're going to learn to use this "intellect filter" more skillfully and more judiciously as time goes on; you're going to keep having feelings, but you'll learn to identify and sort them as they arrive, so they don't overwhelm you. And occasionally, because that's just the kind of guy you are, you're still going to have powerful feelings that seem to engulf you and threaten your existence. But you'll learn that such feelings don't actually obliterate you, that they are frightening but they pass.

I don't know what else to say, my friend, except that I was looking at Martin Buber's "I and Thou" myself just now; and like you I'm a lover of García Márquez; and one more thing: In the realm of dating and relationships, it's not necessary to know what to do before you do it. Sometimes you just do it and then you find out how. You know a lot of things you didn't know you knew. You'll find that out once you start doing them.

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Cary Tennis

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