My current boyfriend is also my first boyfriend. In other words, every other “relationship” (using that term loosely here) up until this point burst into flames before we even managed to become official. This happened so many times that I eventually started to believe every romantic situation would inevitably end in disaster. The second a guy took a little too long to respond to my text or said something that came off even slightly unenthusiastic, my gut told me that things weren’t going to work out. Only through a combination of therapy and life experience did I eventually realize what I was perceiving as gut feelings were, more often than not, just my dating anxiety messing with my head.
I’m hardly the only one to get confused. Jessica, 23, developed dating anxiety after multiple dating app matches made it obvious they weren’t ever planning to meet her IRL. “I definitely find that anxiety clouds my judgment,” she says. “It’s hard to tell what someone’s intentions are right off the bat, so it’s this weird purgatory when you start being nervous that it’ll be another negative experience.”
Andrew, 33, who is in a polyamorous relationship, finds dating anxiety “doesn’t get better even with supportive partners to talk to about it [with]. Don’t get a message back in 24 hours? They probably hate me…or maybe they’re just busy.”
“[After experiencing rejection multiple times], some people become hyper-sensitive to little ‘signs’ and become anxious that they are being rejected [again],” says Emma Donovan, M.A., LPC. “The more anxious and in their heads they become, the more they are cut off from their intuitive knowing. They may then confuse their anxious thoughts with their intuition.”
Next time you have a “feeling” things aren’t going to work out with someone you’re into, go through these four steps to determine whether it’s your anxiety or intuition talking.
1. Check in with your body.
Before you even try to start sorting through your thoughts, take a moment to see how you’re physically feeling. “Intuition and anxiety are typically felt in different places,” says Donovan. “Anxiety typically makes your breathing short and choppy, your hands might feel jittery, and your heart starts to race.”
Conversely, “intuition is [felt] more in the stomach and gut,” says Emmalee Bierly, LMFT — hence the phrase “gut feeling.”
2. Reboot your intuition.
You know when your iPhone is acting a little wonky and you turn it off, then on again in an attempt to remedy the issue? That’s basically what you have to do with your intuition if you want to be able to hear it clearly. “Intuition is a very, very real thing,” says Bierly. “But the reality is that most of us haven’t done enough training for it to be the only thing we’re hearing.”
If you haven’t worked through the insecurities you developed growing up, what you’re perceiving as your intuition is most likely really what Bierly refers to as your “core wound” talking to you. These emotional wounds usually develop during your childhood or adolescence. For example, fear of rejection may come from your parents never wholly accepting you for who you are. The ever-present feeling of being less than might be a result of growing up with a seemingly perfect sibling.
In order to push past the core wound and get back in touch with your intuition, Bierly recommends meeting each of your emotions with curiosity. Let’s say your crush is taking a while to text you back, and you instantly feel that they must be rejecting you. Before deciding that’s the case, conduct a reboot of your intuition by asking yourself why it is that you feel that way. Is it because your parents left you fearful of rejection and now you’re hypersensitive to it? In that case, it may be your core wound — and the anxiety that accompanies it — talking. If you determine, however, that your feelings have nothing to do with your core wound, your gut could very well be warning you that something is off.
3. Examine the B.S. dating advice you’ve gotten.
Now that you’ve gotten in touch with your intuition, it’s time to tune into your thoughts. That means separating your original thoughts from the bullshit rules of the way things “should be” that you’ve absorbed from other people. Ask yourself, What sort of script do I have about relationships and what they should be like?
Let’s say your mother taught you that if someone doesn’t reach out within 24 hours, it means they’re not interested. The feeling you have that they’re not into you because they haven’t texted in the two days since your first date is most likely your learned anxiety rearing its head, says Bierly. But if you’ve never been told anything like that and you still have a clear feeling in your gut that this isn’t going to work out, e…?
Intuition sounds very different. Whether it’s through one clear thought, a feeling in your gut, or a sense that you just know, it’s unlikely to ever leave you feeling worked up or indecisive, says Donovan.
5. Let’s end this right now.
To avoid this whole song and dance, Bierly recommends being extremely upfront with people you’re dating. As early as the first date, tell them point-blank that you plan to be open and honest with them about how you’re feeling if you continue to see each other — and ask the same of them.
“We’re all playing by these dating rules to protect ourselves and to play the game,” she says. “But we’re also playing by different rules because there are no set rules [and, as a result,] we’re all freaking out with anxiety.”
By being straight with your dates, you leave less open to interpretation — and that makes it a whole lot easier to identify and trust your gut.