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Robin Hoffman Headshot

Embracing Fear in Relationships -- And Learning to Use It as a Tool

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Since I can remember, I have always been a bit more anxious than the average person. As a very young child (at even 3 and 4 years old), I can remember worrying and thinking about things that I knew other kids my age likely didn't think about. I would worry if my mom was a few minutes late to pick me up from pre-school. I would worry if the magic marker I used to draw my pictures would wash off. And sometimes, I even worried that people close to me, who I loved, would get hurt or die. I found myself, as an older child and younger adult, paying very close attention to details. I noticed when the heat would turn on and off or if the weather was changing or how people were acting. I was sensitive, intuitive, and hyper-aware almost all the time of my surroundings.

As I got older and grew into my teens and then made it through my 20s, I learned how to deal with this part of me and learned how to reduce my anxiety as much as I could. Though I was still very aware of everything and very sensitive and tuned in, I was able to reason with myself and separate rational fears from irrational fears and conduct myself on a relatively relaxed wavelength. Around my 30th birthday, about eight months ago, I had finally reached a place where I was so confident in myself and my life that I hardly worried about anything anymore. I considered myself "healed" from the hyper-awareness and overly-sensitive labels that I'd been carrying around for most of my life.

Five months ago, I met my boyfriend. Now, I am almost 31 years old and have had my fair share of boyfriends. I've dated long-term and short-term and casually and seriously. I've lived with a few different boyfriends in the past and I've even been engaged. But when I met this man, everything in my life changed. A few months prior to this, I was crying to my mom one day that I would "never find the man for me." I told her how I was scared that I'd never be lucky enough to experience what I truly want in my life, which is partnership and to have kids with a man who I deeply love and who deeply loves me. And she told me not to rush it, because once I did meet "that person" everything in my life would change in a minute -- and every decision that I made after that would never be only based on myself. In other words, she told me to enjoy the process because once it happened, nothing would ever be the same again. And she was right. I met him and my life, which was on one path, changed directions and started on a different path. I didn't realize it at first, as it was subtle, but within a few weeks, I finally was experiencing what my mother had been talking about. I was no longer looking forward into my life and making decisions only based on myself -- I was thinking about someone else's feelings just as much as I was my own.

Five months into the relationship and I can say it has been a life changing experience for me. Most of the past few months has been one positive feeling after another, for which I am very grateful. But one thing that I did not expect to experience was the return of my anxiety and some (irrational) fears that I had worked so hard to let go of. A few months into the relationship and I started to feel that same feeling of anxiety creep back in that I felt when I was just a few years old. When a text wasn't returned within a specific amount of time or hours went by where I didn't hear anything, I found myself starting to worry. At first I was able to brush this aside and focus on other things, not letting my fears get the best of me. But as time went on, and our relationship deepened and expanded, so did my anxiety. I suddenly realized that I had so much invested in this person and in the relationship that I had a lot to lose. Even in previous relationships when I loved someone very much, I never found myself worrying about their well-being. I knew that if (God forbid) something happened, I would be sad but I would move on and be ok. But this time, it felt different. And over the past few months what I have learned is though I thought the greatest fear of all time was never getting to experience true love or the life I wanted -- the fear is actually that now that I have experienced it, somehow it will go away. This, for a lack of better words, has taken me completely by surprise. I have spent so much of the past year of my life reframing everything into something positive and focusing only on positive things and to suddenly feel so full of fear and worry was so confusing. I had never felt so happy and loved in my life -- and at the same so terrified that I would lay awake at night wondering how I could do this. But I did. And I still am -- and every day I learn more and more.

The thing is, part of feels like I have been "waiting" to be happy. I have spent so much time in relationships that didn't work and so much time feeling unhappy that to suddenly be faced with everything I have always wanted scared me. Of course I was beyond happy and excited but with that came the realization that I had "found" someone who crossed my Ts and dotted my Is. I realize how ridiculous it sounds as well as sappy, but it's true. I met someone who was the most perfect soul for me -- from personality to views on life to upbringing, to interests, to physical appearance. We wanted the same things in life and neither of us was afraid to move forward with it. I felt happy, Deeply, authentically happy and it was as if all those years of unhappiness suddenly melted away and everything in my life matter much more than it ever had. Suddenly I thought about how my life impacted someone else's and how someone else's life impacted me. And as I was experiencing so much beauty in him and our relationship and the world in general, I also saw how scary it could be to realize that I had no control over anything. And as much as I didn't (and don't) want to dwell on the coulds and what ifs of life, I still find it challenging when I suddenly see the value in things that I never even considered anymore. I am living my life next to a man who I would do almost anything for... and knowing that all I can do is enjoy our time together and swim in all of this happiness and joy... has created an anxiety in me that I am not only learning to deal with, but learning to embrace.

No one knows what's going to happen tomorrow or the day after. And one of the leading causes of anxiety and stress and overwhelm is looking too far into the future and seeing all that could happen, without taking any time to be in the present moment. I am learning more valuable lessons in this relationship than I ever have before, and one of them is to be present because there really isn't anywhere else to be. Because when I do take a minute and breathe and bring myself back into the moment, the anxiety leaves my body and I am able to relax into the moment. Am I warm? Am I safe? Is that a calming and comforting noise I hear/scent I smell? It's those times that I open my eyes too wide or look too far down the road that I start to feel my heart racing and thoughts jumping. And for me, someone who is always 14 steps ahead, forcing myself to be in the moment is a true practice of patience as well as discipline. I could go the rest of my life feeling scared and stressed out, or I could look around and realize that everything I have right now, in this moment, is perfect and beautiful. And if I go through my life minute by minute, I believe I'll really be able to experience the essence in life.

I think a lot of people experience anxiety, to some degree, in intimate relationships. Maybe it's a fear from childhood when a parent left or something else happened. Maybe it's a fear that stems from a previous relationship or an unresolved, subconscious fear. And maybe it's a fear of loving someone so much that the only thing to do is surrender and enjoy it. But regardless of what the fear is or what the reason is, there's a healthy way to manage the fear and not let it rule your life. For a little while, it did run my life because I was not sure how to manage it. And five months in, I admit that I have days where my mind still goes to places that I would rather it didn't. There have been moments where these feelings have brought me to my knees -- and others where it has helped inspire me to write or create or connect with myself. Someone once told me that fear is nothing more than excitement. And I recently thought of that and realized it makes sense. I am so excited to be living this life and so excited to have met this man -- I could call it fear or I could reframe it into something else. It isn't the love and happiness I am sacred of... it's some hypothetical situation that I have allowed fear to create in my mind.

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