Since I was a kid, I have not been able to keep things to myself. My nickname growing up was Allison “Spill The Beans” Raskin. I have made a career out of oversharing on the internet. If you share a secret with me I am going to have to then share it with at least one other person (probably my mom). So when I tell you what I’m about to tell you, please understand that this is a huge, freaking, personality-altering deal. I, Allison “Spill The Beans” Raskin, stopped talking about my love life for an entire week. And it was the best!
How did I get here? The journey was long and not pretty. Since I was four, I’ve struggled with OCD and anxiety. Since I was a pre-teen, my obsessive thoughts have always gone into overdrive around romantic relationships. I am quite literally obsessed with finding a life partner. It’s all I think about. And I hate it. It’s mortifying for me to even admit this in writing. I would much rather tell you the bizarre intricacies of keeping my towels uncontaminated than confess how much of my internal life is wasted on guys who don’t deserve a second thought, let alone a billionth one.
For most of my twenties, I have been in relationships. But recently, for the first time in a while, I was 100 percent single. And it started to drive me insane* (*more insane). I live alone and work from home, so the loneliness got to be overwhelming. I do not do well with an unlimited amount of time on my hands.
So I started officially “dating” again, and let me tell you: It stinks. Nothing triggers my anxiety more than not knowing what is going to happen. There is nothing murkier than the beginning stages of “getting to know someone.” Will he call again? Will he be my husband? Will I die alone? Will anyone find my body? Do I need a will for my dog? Why oh why did I let ____ or _____ or _____ get away????? Imagine this on an endless loop all day, every day. Horrible, right? I would not wish my internal thoughts on anyone. (Except maybe this one frenemy from high school.)
To make matters worse, I have a lot of friends. I know that isn’t inherently bad, but it can be exhausting when everyone you know and care about constantly checks in on your love life (because they are all happily coupled up and know you want to be). It’s hard to ignore a nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach when you spend hours examining the cause of it with a buddy over brunch. Or devote an entire evening to desperately trying to decipher a meaningless text with four of your closest friends.
My friends know about my anxiety on a theoretical level. Like, “Yes, Allison has anxiety. I have met Allison.” But it is impossible for them to know the extent to which this part of my life takes over my brain—probably because I somehow still manage to function in society. Unbeknownst to them, every time I talked about dating I was indulging my obsession, making it stronger. It was not just in the back of my mind, but in the forefront of my conversations, too.
My psychiatrist has given me tools to prevent the dreaded spiral. One of them is imagining an actual stop sign in my head. That has worked well at stalling my thoughts…for at least thirty seconds. I clearly needed a new plan of attack, something I’d never tried before. So one day, after a particularly disastrous interaction with a potential paramour, I decided to start a “moratorium.” I was still going to date, but I was no longer going to talk about it. It was my last-ditch effort against my own brain. I might not be able to extinguish the anxiety that courses through my veins, but I can stop giving it more oxygen. (I’m not really sure how science works. This thought process has not been approved by the FDA.)
My initial goal was one week. One week of not talking to anyone about anything. It was a tricky time to start, since I had told anyone who would listen that I’d met a great guy, whom I thought could be the guy, except he was dating other people and I was worried…you get it. I was obsessed. I was also sad because we had just had a weird fight and I was convinced I would never hear from him again. Normally, I would have asked my friends if they thought I would hear from him again. I would ask when they thought I would hear from him. I would ask what they thought I would hear. To be clear, none of my friends, to my knowledge, are psychic. Asking them to predict some strange dude’s actions was an unhealthy waste of time. So after the moratorium started, I talked to them about other things instead, like their lives and the Lifetime show You. (Hot damn, has Penn Badgley come back with a bang.) So when said dude finally texted me, days later, I told no one. And it felt like I had won some sort of battle, if not the war.
In typical dude fashion, he texted me during my first date with another guy. A first date no one in my life knew anything about. That’s right! I picked my outfit out by myself. (Velvet pants, long necklace.) I stalked him on Instagram by myself. (Cool photos, very few actually of him.) And I handled the post-date texts by myself. (Witty, not too long.) The only thing that gave me pause was not letting anyone know my location, but since it was a public place I figured it was fine since I go all over the city by myself daily. While I was standing on the sidewalk waiting for him, I had déjà vu of multiple other first dates, for which I’d also arrived early like an idiot. But instead of texting someone about how nervous and uncomfortable I felt, I simply acknowledged the feelings and looked at memes until his Uber pulled up. It all felt manageable. We even have a second date set up. I don’t know if this is “normal” or not, since I haven’t asked around. I am honestly very proud of myself for not taking an official poll.
One of the great things about having a moratorium on dating talk is that everyone immediately gets it. In the past, if I dodged a dating question it would just pique someone’s interest or offend them. During the moratorium, whenever someone asked what was going on, I simply and succinctly replied, “I am doing a moratorium where I no longer talk about dating. It helps my anxiety.” For the most part, people would then say, “Oh, cool!” and change the subject. They’d know it wasn’t about them and that I was doing something to help myself. Sure, they were potentially missing out on some juicy gossip, but at least they could understand where I was coming from.
Full disclosure: I did not make it to a full week. On the last night of my self-imposed sentence, I went to dinner with a good friend who has become my go-to soundboard for all male emergencies. I was bursting to tell her all of the updates, which is very normal: The best part of having a friend is being able to talk to them. I do still want to be able to share my life with the people I care about when I can do so in a healthy way. Six days into the experiment, I finally wanted to talk, so I did. After more than an hour of other banter, I finally launched into a recap of my week. We discussed, we briefly dissected and we moved on. Pre-moratorium, it would have been the main focus of the night.
I don’t like to live in extremes. So when it comes to this new part of my life, I’m not going to hold myself to unrealistic expectations. I wanted to go a full week; I went six days. That’s okay—no one thought I would make it past three. After that dinner, I reinstated the moratorium. This time, I don’t have any set parameters. I’m going to listen to my mind and my body and do my best to not give in to my anxiety. Just because I break and tell one friend one thing doesn’t mean I have to tell all my friends all the things. I can still use my simple and succinct explanation whenever I want, and anyone who loves me will respect my boundary.
I’m trying to retrain my brain, and that takes time, but I no longer feel helpless in a sea of harmful thoughts and patterns. I’ve spent my life afraid of my anxiety. Even when it’s not around, I’m bracing myself for its inevitable return. But now I’m finally armed with a new weapon. Is it strong enough to defeat the spiral? Unclear. But it’s putting up one hell of a fight.