It started with a heartbreak emoji. Or rather, a succession of them. A WhatsApp response to my glowing review of a Very Sad Film the guy I’m dating had recommended. So far, so normal. Then…nada. For, what felt like incredibly stretched out, painful, hours.
Until I messaged him in the evening to goad something. Anything. “This is a non-message with no real point other than to say I hope you’ve had a good day. Saturday suddenly feels far away, but then tomorrow’s Tuesday which is basically mid-week. Anyway hi hi hi.”
Oh god. Thoughts spiralling, almost immediately as I pressed send. Did my message(s) sound too earnest? Too needy? Too much? So, I did what I normally do in such scenarios where my neurosis takes a joyride. I phoned my mother. Unhelpfully, she makde a joke about a scenario in which “someone actually broke up with a person entirely in emojis. Could! You! Imagine?!” Ugh, well that was a terrible idea.
I see those words glaring back at me now and I cringe. Admittedly, I’m very good at reading into things. I’ve made a career out of it; so actually, this character trait - of which we’re all susceptible to now and then - actually pays my rent. Yet, this was knock it out of the park over-worrying. In hindsight, he was probably busy working. We’d been dating less than a month. And it was a Monday. The day of the week when almost nobody has anything truly that interesting to say.
But am I being "crazy"?
I’m not alone in the but-am-I-being-"crazy" camp, though. It appears that a whole lot of us are over-analysing our relationships – romantic or otherwise – more than we ever normally would.
Just a few weeks ago one of my closest friends of more than a decade, Martha, called me up to confirm whether we were, in fact, still friends. “Emma, I feel abandoned!” She mock-cried, but I could hear she was being absolutely serious. My response: “What are you talking about?! I love you! Ugh, I’m sorry I’m so shit at texting back…how are you?” Cutscene to filling in the gaps of our lives since we last spoke and laughing at the absurdity that there could possibly be any real fractures in our friendship.
"I felt that you weren’t available," Martha explained, later. "The fact that people are so seemingly available through technology all the time, definitely exacerbates the problem [of feeling abandoned]. Because you think, well, they could answer if they wanted to?"
"This time has been more emotionally difficult for most people," she added. "So you rely on those interactions more [with your friends]." On the flip side, you notice when people aren’t available to a much greater extent. You’re at home more; there’s (theoretically) less distraction; everyone’s schedule is wide open, baby! (I think it’s necessary to point out that me and Martha are quite different in our social behaviours. She’s someone who enjoys being around people all the time, loves to have a plan each evening. I, however, will gleefully put my phone on airplane mode the entire weekend, having little to zero interaction with anyone and be perfectly content. Neither is better or worse, just different.)
Consulting Dr Becky Spelman, Psychologist and Clinical Director of Private Therapy Clinic, she agrees that as a result of the pandemic, we are collectively more anxious than ever. "There are a lot of roadblocks that are put in place now that were not there before," she reasons. In the Before Times, we may have been able to see a person more frequently. Having less physical contact with someone can cause issues, particularly for the anxious person. "This [distance] can make them feel quite insecure," she says. "They don’t have the reassurance they had previously."
When our brains go into analysis overdrive, it is usually a way of trying to regain control or certainty over a situation. Which can, sometimes, result in ‘over the top’ behaviour patterns and setting ‘unrealistic’ standards (yup, guilty). Becky says, "For example, someone might want to have far more communication with their partner than is actually healthy to be able to maintain a good relationship."
Before we get into how to overcome Analysis: The Spin Cycle, it’s important to weed out what is a legitimate, healthy worry versus plain old paranoia. The latter is more like a broken record playing over and over in your mind, with no real solution. Just worst-case scenario, with little basis. Google, ‘Jumping To Conclusions’ meme, you get the idea. My friend, Alice, once went out with a guy who would obsess about her ex-boyfriends, which ultimately led to their breakup. "I felt like he didn’t trust me," she said. Though a "tiny bit of analysis in a relationship is healthy", according to Becky. "This is when we step back from a situation and consider how we’re being treated."
Breaking the cycle
The answer to breaking the cycle is threefold. First: accepting you may feel alone, over-worried, upset, or whatever the emotion is in a moment. Second: reaching out, having a chat on the phone (no WhatsApp), like my friend Martha did, is no bad thing. Third: remember, the most important relationship you need to analyse is the one you have with yourself. Considering human dynamics is part of the richness of life. It can even be quite entertaining. Though, it’s important to disentangle the insecurities you have about yourself from the relationship itself.
Before lockdown 2.0, I was having a romantic dinner in an actual restaurant with heartbreak emoji man. I made a comment about having a thick skin. Like it was a badge of honour. An aural mirage to mask the fact that I actually am, probably, quite a sensitive person. "I think you have a thin skin," was his response. "It’s not a bad thing," sensing my internal worry that I thought he thought I was weak. "It means you care."
This was liberating. Because I think in many ways the key to over-analysing less is knowing I do. Sometimes. That it’s a bit part of the fabric of me, myself and I. Like I said to my friend Katie the other day, who was suffering from a bout of nervousness. "Don’t worry! BUT IT’S OKAY IF YOU ARE."
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