I was less than enthused about the last person I dated, but could not put my finger on why. He was nice, smart, attractive, and I had enough fun with him, but something wasn’t right. At first, I chalked my indifference up to a personal tendency towards being overly critical. I had shoved off the detritus of my last long-term relationship, and was feeling open to new things and experiences. Dating him felt like something I should be doing — or at least trying — so I did. My enthusiasm never peaked though. It merely flatlined at a “I guess this is good enough” level for six months. It was only after we broke up that I was able to identify what was really going on: I was in a panic relationship.
A panic relationship is one that is formed by reaction as opposed to desire. Perhaps you meet someone, and you’re in a delicate emotional state, emerging from a long, drawn out breakup. Perhaps the future looms ahead of you, with a vision of yourself greying slowly into spinsterhood. Maybe you’ve decided that you are ready to drop your mantle of shunning new experiences and will let someone in, completely and totally. Or maybe it’s fall and the prospect of romping through foliage is enticing. So you do it, you commit. You go on some dates, you settle into a routine — and then what?
We can argue that at the heart of it, every relationship is a panic relationship, operating out of the innate desire to stave off loneliness. Humans are social animals, and this extends to every aspect of personal interactions, from being nice to your coworkers to forming a necessary but taciturn communication with your bodega guy. Every relationship has its ups and downs, because nothing is perfect. However, once the dust settles, and the shiny newness wears off a little, it’s essential to take stock of how you really feel.
We want to please people, and we want to have faith that relationships will work out, because despite how much you don’t believe it, to be in a successful relationship with another human being proves to society that you are a functioning adult, capable of loving and being loved. Listen to me; there’s nothing wrong with you if you find yourself in a situation that feels as perfunctory as paying taxes, or calling your mother. Here are some key signs that you’re panic dating someone:
1. Your time together is an obligation, not a desire. I enjoyed spending time with my ex, but every time we were together, I was casting glances at my phone and sending clandestine texts from the bathroom of bars. At the core, relationships are a set of desires. You want to be with someone, so you are. You want to go to the movies with this person, so you do. You want to spend a day in bed with this person, so you do, with no other desire to be anywhere else. The minute you wake up in the morning and find yourself wishing you had the bed to yourself so you could just read and play Candy Crush, do what you can to get out. I’m not saying that all mornings should be killer sex and secret smiles under the sheets, but you should wake up not silently wishing the person next to you would find their things, get up and leave.
2. You are reluctant to address the person as your partner. It’s never easy to have “the conversation” with someone you’ve just started dating, because it’s scary and new and it puts you and your messy, weird feelings out there, quivering quietly on a table. When my ex and I had “the talk,” it was three in the morning on the walk home after my birthday. Standing under a streetlight, in my stocking feet, holding a pair of boots, I watched as he told me he wanted me to be his girlfriend. I was drunk, I was tired, I was uneasy, but I agreed, out of an attempt to end the conversation and get to bed, and because I felt like it was something I should try. Here’s a hint: you should feel happy to be in this relationship! Having the “are we or aren’t we” conversation should be something both of you want. Once you’re booed up, you should be happy! If you’ve been dating someone for a period of time and keep referring to them as “the person you’re fucking,” then you need to consider getting out. It’s better for the both of you.
3. You speak more negatively than positively about this person. Infatuation often invades your mind space, causing almost everything you mention to friends, passers-by and pets to be about this person that you’ve just let into your life. Take stock of what you’re saying — is it positive, or negative? When I heard myself delivering a 15 minute monologue on how my ex’s habit of singing in public made me want to die, I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time I had anything nice to say about him. There’s a smug satisfaction in complaining about a relationship, because, even if you don’t realize it, you’re taking a small comfort in the fact that you have something to complain about. Recognize this feeling, acknowledge it, but then examine the words that you’re actually saying. If you find yourself saying things that are more negative than positive. That’s not a good thing.
4. You’ve considered cheating. Let’s be clear. It’s perfectly natural to imagine yourself sleeping with people other than the person you’re currently sleeping with. Celebrities, that hot dude you see on the train on your way to work, or even old flames — all these impulses are perfectly natural, completely normal and perfectly fine to have. Monogamy is not a comfortable state of being, so it’s healthy to imagine what it’d be like to be with someone else. These imagined romps are much different than actually following through. My last relationship was such a dud that I spent about a week or two telling friends that I’d sleep with my ex if he came into town, and it wouldn’t “really count”. That’s an issue.
5. You can’t imagine much of a future: I’m not saying that when you start dating someone, you should take to scribbling your names together in a hear in your spare time. I think a good sign in a relationship is being able to envision past the next two weeks. If you can’t see yourself making plans in the future, for anything, be it a concert or a brief trip out of town or really, anything that involves planning on your end, then that’s a sign, too. My ex got us tickets to a concert for Christmas, and all I remember thinking to myself is that it was mighty presumptuous of him to assume that we’d still be together in February. We had been dating for 5 months.
To know whether or not you’re in a panic relationship is to know yourself very well, and often it’s not clear until it’s all over. Keep in mind — all relationships don’t have to work, and it’s not necessarily something that’s your fault. Be aware of yourself, your feelings, and know that sometimes, a relationship is not the best answer. Embrace being alone, take a minute for yourself, and approach a relationship with the best version of you.