Psychological research suggests that people who are prone to anxiety and depression are most likely to struggle with ambiguity.
In the face of ambiguous situations, those who are anxious or depressed tend to think the worst and most threatening interpretations of the events. Unfortunately dating is a minefield of ambiguity and the threat of rejection is all too real for some Singlettes:
“Why didn’t he call?” “Is he dating other people?” “Does he really like me?” “What should I do in this situation?”
We have all either had, or heard someone express these anxieties.
In the most distressed of Singlettes, thoughts like these can become obsessive and interrupt their ability to concentrate on other things. Rather then living their own wonderful lives, these Singlettes respond to these thoughts by stalking their dates online; compulsively checking their phones, emails, Facebook and dating accounts; and stressing their friendships by unrelentingly seeking reassurance- asking versions of “What do you think he means by this text?!”
Unfortunately, with technology infiltrating the dating world, ambiguity is becoming even more pronounced. Communicating in written form be it via text message or email reduces the amount of cues you can use to glean an accurate interpretation of someone’s true feelings or intent.
The advent of internet dating has increased everyone’s access to new dates and therefore, (for both good and bad) made dating multiple people easier and the sorts of relationships you can form more varied. Social media such as Facebook also allows for access to ambiguous information about your dates that you would otherwise have been protected from until you developed more security and trust in the relationship.
Modern dating technologies also allow for ‘minimal-effort’ dating. I would imagine that in the old days, if a suitor took the time to saddle his horse and visit with your family in order to ‘call on’ you, there was little mistaking his intent. Surely no one who wasn’t interested would put in so much effort!
Now, texts and emails are so easily sent that little effort needs be applied and therefore the meaning of that effort can be ambiguous. Men and women who are ambivalent about dating someone can string the relationship along as it requires relatively little time.
Compared to the discomfort of ending the dating relationship, many people prefer this ‘minimal effort’, ‘fade away’ option over clean unambiguous endings and closures.
So how do our lovely Singlettes navigate such a dating landscape?
1. Notice worst-case thinking and learn to generate alternatives
Every time you catch yourself feeling bad about a dating scenario, ask yourself:
Do I really KNOW that my interpretation of this situation is right?
Do I have any evidence AGAINST this interpretation of the events?
What are three other explanations that could explain this event?
2. Minimise ambiguity
– Call or meet up in person rather then text or email.
– Ask to meet an internet date sooner rather then later.
– Make what you are looking for in a relationship clear both on your internet profile as well as in what you say about yourself on dates. Remember, if you do want a serious relationship, hiding the truth and trying to play it ‘cool’ is a BAD strategy. It will only scare off people who want what you really want, and keep interested the unsuitables.
– And Facebook… DO not add your date as a Facebook friend until you have a very well-established relationship. Until you have the sort of bond where you feel comfortable asking him about anything on his Facebook page that makes you are unsure about, it is too soon to be Facebook friends. Similarly, if things don’t work out, agree to delete each other as friends. This can be a temporary measure if desired, but it is important to minimise any temptation to check.
3. Minimise checking and reassurance seeking
a) Set strict rules for yourself around when to check your phone and email
e.g. I’ll only check my phone/email if I hear a message come in OR I’ll check my phone/email twice a day
b) Notice the urge to stalk him on the internet. Many of the below questions may help talk you out of it:
Do I really want to be learning about him this way?
What if I learn something bad and then feel stuck asking about it because he’ll know I was checking up on him?
Is this how I want to spend my time, if he asked me what I did today, would I want to say ‘stalk you’… or something else? What happened last time I did this?
Did it really make me feel better/more secure in the relationship? From my own experience, is what is on the internet about me a TRUE representation of what is going on in my world?
Often we are very selective about what is in the public realm and therefore any information gleaned is likely to be skewed or inaccurate
c) Do not ask the people around you to interpret anything for you.
They know even less about the guy then you do!
Yes, you might respect their advice, but their advice can only be based on their experiences and ideas. Your situation and theirs is as different as comparing that of Romeo and Juliet to Brad and Ange’s. In fact, any similarities you might find are likely to be purely random!
You will find that everyone will have good intentions when trying to offer advice. However, the information you gain from various sources will likely contradict itself and just leave you confused. Alternatively, if you persist in asking for advice in the face of getting consistent answers, then you might need to think about whether you are in denial.
Part of forming a healthy relationship is learning how to talk with each other about your needs and feelings. If you have doubts or questions try to be brave and speak about them as soon as possible. Doing so in a vulnerable, non-accusatory way will not scare off the right sort of partner. Make sure you use “I” language, rather then “you” language and BE SPECIFIC.
eg. “I feel deflated when you say you want to meet up with me on the weekend and then I don’t hear from you until Sunday night”
rather than: “You never follow through!”
5. If all else fails use the guideline… If there is any doubt, the answer is NO.
The above statement is not strictly true. However, some people find it preferable to feel they have certain closure around a relationship then to be kept in limbo about it.
It might be that if trying the above strategies doesn’t work to calm your anxiety then this isn’t the relationship for you. Perhaps given your own relationship history or personal vulnerabilities, this guy is just not capable of giving you the consistent feedback and attention you need.
If you have tried talking about what you need to no avail, then rather then trying to repress your needs and feelings, ending the relationship may be the more self-caring option.