911 Operator: 911, what is your emergency?
Girl: My boyfriend (crying), he is missing. (Sniffles) I have no idea where he is or what he is doing and I am so scared!
911 Operator: Ma’am I need you to take a deep breath. Now, you said, that your boyfriend is missing? We can’t file a missing person’s report until it has been 24 hours. How long has he been missing?
Girl: He left for work 2 hours ago. He seemed annoyed when he left, so I texted him asking if he is mad at me and and he won’t respond. I have texted him 10 times and he hasn’t texted back! What am I going to do!?
People have become so incredibly obsessed and addicted to their phones for constant connection and attention in their relationships. It is now the norm to text your partner throughout the day, nonstop as if you were never apart. It is also expected that you provide immediate responses once a text message is delivered to you.
Technology has facilitated relationships having intense enmeshment and with it, a new kind of anxiety. This is an anxiety of impatience, waiting, wondering, and ruminating over the absolute worst possible thoughts or outcomes. The text message is sent and when a response is not immediate,you experience separation distress which is manifested by racing thoughts, worry, restlessness, muscle tension, lack of concentration, sleep disturbance and irritability.
This anxiety can also propel you to engage in impulsive action. The next minute you find yourself texting way too many times, accusing your partner of not focusing enough attention on you or even being preoccupied with someone else. So the challenge in the modern dating era is how to break away from your dependency on constant reinforcement that you and your partner are “okay” and learn to tolerate the space.
Here are 3 suggestions of how to handle those moments when you feel like you don’t know what is going and are crawling out of your skin.
1) Find a Healthy Distraction
When you notice that you are filled with anxiety and
wondering and worrying, develop an arsenal of go-to coping strategies that help you shift your attention. Distraction can help from the constant obsession of “when will they get back to me?!” So, get busy with other preoccupying activities: text other friends, continue with work or school activities, write the anxious thoughts down in a journal, meditate, go for a walk without your phone, watch TV or read a book.
2) Focus on you
Some of the racing thoughts that occur in the “waiting space”, after you have sent a text message, are often about your partner: where are they, what are they doing, what are they thinking, are they mad at me, why aren’t they responding? Those phrases are focused on the other. What happened to thinking about the words ME or MYSELF or I? Shift the focus to you and engage in something that is soothing and helpful. Think about your perspective in the situation and taking care of your feelings and needs, and don’t get so caught up in what the other person might be thinking or feeling.
3) Date like it is 1995
In 1995, we had cell phones, but not everyone owned one and people were not text messaging as their mode of sole communication. At night or at a point in the day, the phone would ring and you could curl up talking to that person for the “last call of the day.” Try and live your life in your relationship as if it were 1995. Expecting to have an ongoing stream of contact and connection from a relationship can be hard to keep going all day long. A way to decrease the anxiety is to minimize the amount of texting throughout the day. Practice leaving some time in between texts or possibly don’t text during the day at all and use the phone to speak with your partner.
Relationship anxiety and worry can be minimized when people can develop some tolerance and shift from needing automatic responses to being a person that allows the space and the pause and doesn’t ascribe it more meaning than it really has. Developing the capacity to embrace the “waiting space”, although frustrating or difficult, may actually bring your relationships closer together.