Barrelhouse is always here to help. To that end, we're thrilled to present another episode of our regular advice column, FOUNTAINE OF ADVICE, with Jaime Fountaine!
Dear Fountaine of Advice,
I am dating. I am dating much! But I have a problem. Whenever someone gets close to me, more in my life than casual, I get anxious. I get scared they will leave. I begin to make small things into huge, huge issues: Their texting pattern changes for a week, and I think they are ready to dump me. They can't see me for a few days, and I assume it's the beginning of a ghosting. A panic starts in my chest and I can't shake this dread feeling that I'm constantly going to be left behind.
How do I address the black pit inside of me so I can date like a normal person -- and not just keep waiting for the shoe to drop?
Anxious As Hell
I have no idea how one dates “like a normal person.” Is that when you go to a restaurant with someone you don’t know very well and hope that you don’t find out they’re a terrible tipper the hard way?
I’ve never dated much. I think that the number of dates I’ve been on that I didn’t realize were dates until it was too late are about equal to the number of dates I’ve gone on willingly. The mere idea of “dating much” makes me want to move to a cabin deep the woods where I occasionally help wayward children fight off dangerous outsiders, like Lillian Gish in Night of the Hunter, so I’m probably not the most qualified person to answer this question.
I might be wrong, because I’ve only ever been on one internet date, but I think that the idea behind being on the apps is that you can narrow your best options from the comfort of your own toilet. The reality though, is that you’re playing an incredibly low-stakes rejection game, where you have basically unlimited access to people you barely know, without clearly defined rules or expectations. Being able to message anyone at any time of day is great and also terrible. If you’re already an anxious person, it’s easy to spiral from any change in perceived pattern. If you’re an obsessive person, it’s easy to overdo it without even realizing. If your idea of what’s going on might differ from the person you’re seeing, it’s much easier to FREAK OUT privately than it is to have a serious conversation with a near-stranger, even if you’ve already seen their whole butt.
I wonder if it would help to reframe the way you’re looking at this whole experience as one that you’re always free to leave, rather than one in which you could always be left? If you made the process of dating not about “who will choose me” but “what will I choose?” I say “what” instead of “whom” because you don’t have to date any of these jokers. You don’t have to date anyone at all.
When there are allegedly millions of options at the touch of a button, not feeling chosen by any of them feels bad, even if you aren’t interested in what’s available to you. But you shouldn’t get down on yourself just because some chump you deigned to message “hey ;)” to on your lunch break a couple weeks ago suddenly slows their stream of texts. Just because a Tinder rando doesn’t appreciate you, doesn’t make you unlovable. You’re great! Just ask all your friends.
It’s easy to let the fear creep in when you’re facing even the smallest of unknowns, to let the void swallow you, but it’s worth learning how to back away from the edge. That might require a certain amount of work on your part, and a therapist is a lot more qualified to tell you what exactly you’d need to do to get it done than, say, a person who routinely eats salad with her hands, because “forks make things too complicated.”
Jaime Fountaine writes and tells stories. Her novella, Manhunt, is forthcoming from Mason Jar Press. She lives in Philadelphia, where she co-hosts the Tire Fire reading series with Mike Ingram.