After He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and I broke up, I went to see my therapist. I hadn’t seen her in over a year and I haven’t seen her since. This was back in March. I was struggling with my anger and I felt confused because I knew I wanted nothing to do with him but somehow I still missed him. It didn’t make any sense and it pissed me the fuck off. It wasn’t until the end of the session that Theresa (that’s not her real name) told me, in so many words, to stop leaning on other people and realize that I don’t need to lean on them. That I’m fine on my own. She then asked me if I had ever heard of separation anxiety. I had not. Theresa told me to look into it.
I did, and was blown away to find out that these feelings I had were actually a real thing people have and there’s a name for it.
Separation anxiety is mostly known to occur in children, but adults can develop it, too. For some people, it carries into adulthood, but for others, it doesn’t even begin until adulthood. There are different types; the one that resonated the most with me was ambivalent attachment. Google had this to say:
“As adults, those with ambivalent attachment are susceptible to problems such as high anxiety, eating disorders, or depression. They have difficulty managing stress and the challenges life presents, but may not seek help.
“They are self-critical and insecure. They seek approval and reassurance from others, yet this never relieves their self-doubt. In their relationships, deep-seated feelings that they are going to be rejected make them worried and not trusting. This drives them to act clingy and overly dependent with their partner.
“They possess positive views of other people, especially their parents and their partner, and generally have a negative view of themselves. They rely heavily on their partner to validate their self-worth. Because they grew up distrustful of their inconsistent, unavailable caregivers, they are “rejection-sensitive.” They anticipate rejection or abandonment and look for signs that their partner is losing interest.”
That last part isn’t completely true. My parents weren’t exactly inconsistent or unavailable. I was just one of five kids and they had A LOT on their plate. To say the least. Combined with that is good ol’ Jersey ‘tough love’, so it still may have contributed to some ‘rejection sensitivity.’”
Here’s the last bit from Google:
“They feel resentful and angry when their partner doesn’t provide the attention and reassurance they feel they need. They often believe that unless they dramatically express their anxiety and anger, it is unlikely that the other person will respond to them. Many of those with preoccupied attachments are reluctant to express their angry feelings toward a partner for fear of potential loss or rejection. When they try to suppress their anger, their behavior tends to vacillate between outbursts of anger and pleas for forgiveness and support. In some cases, the fears and anxieties can lead to more serious emotional disturbances, such as depression.”
A lot of this rang true for me. I started to go back, to figure out where and how it all began.
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had trouble sleeping. Mom jokes about how it makes no sense because when I was really little, a tractor trailer could have gone through my room and I wouldn’t have made a peep. She’d put together a make-shift bed of blankets and jackets in the bleachers at my brother’s wrestling tournaments. I would fall right to sleep, surrounded by people yelling and whistles blowing.
Mom and Dad didn’t have people over too often when I was younger, but when they did, I loved it, because it meant they would stay up late. All us kids would be upstairs in bed, “sleeping.” The muffled sounds of their voices and laughter a floor below was the best lullaby to put me to sleep. I have a vivid memory of walking over to the vent in my bedroom floor and laying down with my ear against it to hear them.
And now it all makes sense. I was only able to sleep so soundly as a kid BECAUSE of all the noise and commotion around me. Maybe it didn’t start out that way, but I’m sure it’s what eventually happened.
Freshman year of college is hard for a lot of people, being away from home for the first time and all, but even though by my senior year I couldn’t wait to get back to my friends, I was always overcome with sadness after a short visit home. There was something about the comfort of my house and my family and my friends that I was scared to let go of. Or maybe just sad to let go of.
Whenever a visit or trip with Steve ends, I get incredibly sad. Of course. But I’ve noticed it’s been getting worse, even though we’ve been seeing each other more and more. On a recent trip, we promised each other we wouldn’t get sad when he left because I would be seeing him only eight days later. That’s nothing! But somehow, I became hysterical. Not joking. I was sobbing.
It was later at night, and Steve was Ubering to the airport from my apartment. I was so overcome with this immense sadness and loss. I couldn’t stop crying. It was crazy. I knew I’d be OK the next day, but in the moment, the sadness is so real and so great that I can’t look past it.
The next day, I even felt a little silly, like, Jesus Lynn, you’re going to see him in one week. So then on his most recent trip, I told myself not to break down again. At least it was in the early afternoon – night is harder – and I was driving him to the airport this time. As we were getting ready to leave my apartment, it hit me.
Yup. That lump in my throat and that pain in my chest, followed by waterworks. Jesus Christ. Poor Steve. He didn’t know what to do. We hugged for an extra long time at the airport (thankfully, he flew out of Long Beach this time, so there’s no one there yelling at you to move along). I cried and cried and finally, he walked into the terminal.
I hate thinking back to this day because it felt so awful. I had about six hours until work that night, and I felt like I couldn’t do anything except lay in bed until I had to leave. I couldn’t clean up, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t do a single thing productive. I laid in bed and cried. I really don’t remember doing anything else but eating and showering. And texting Steve between flights.
It became so unbearable that the only thing I could do to make myself feel the tiniest bit better was email Steve and pour my heart out to him and tell him everything I was feeling. I got mad at myself for how ridiculous I was being. I was sad because…. I was so happy in my relationship??? That’s outrageous. Everything is so great between us and I’ve truly never been happier. I always thought I would find true love but I never knew what it would actually feel like. How can I describe it? It’s like a permanent high of comfort and support and love. It’s like all my problems melt away or at least become something a lot smaller that I can tackle. It’s knowing that I can be my complete true self, and be absolutely loved for it.
Anyway, the next day, as expected, I was fine. I still missed Steve, of course, but I was able to get back into my normal routine. But it got me thinking back to this separation anxiety thing. When I learned about it in March, I put a lot of effort into being happy on my own. It took a while, but I really felt like I got to a good place.
It’s a lot easier to be OK on your own when you don’t have a partner to share your life with. Fortunately, I do have that person, so I really need to face this anxiety rather than experience one more awful goodbye. I know what I have to do. I have to immediately surround myself with people when Steve leaves. Whether it’s going straight to work, hanging out with a friend, doing something out in public. Problem is, that’s the opposite of what I want to do after he leaves. What I want to do is be alone. And wallow in my sadness.
I know how dumb that sounds. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s what happens. I’m already picturing him leaving and getting sad just thinking about it! But writing about the thing, as always, makes it seem more manageable and possible to overcome. So here’s to our next goodbye! May it be loving and sad in the moment, but tear-free in the hours that follow!