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Amy Alkon


Wane Of Terror I've been seeing this guy long distance. I haven't really been feeling it and kind of let it drop off, thinking he'd get the hint. He keeps texting and calling. I keep telling him I'm just really busy. The truth is I've met somebody else. Do I have …Read more. Eyes That Light Up A Womb I'm a 35-year-old guy who's doing online dating and who's against having kids for moral reasons. Don't get me wrong; I love kids. I just don't think we need any more people on this crowded, violent planet. I'm wondering whether I should make the "…Read more. The Sociopath Of Least Resistance My girlfriend has been hurt, cheated on, and even ripped off in past relationships, and I'm paying the price. If I don't text back immediately, she is convinced I'm dumping her and flips out. If I'm busy, she thinks I'm with another girl or …Read more. The Taming Of The Spew This guy I'm dating usually texts back when I text him. But sometimes, like last night, he doesn't write back. And I'm just texting stuff like "How was your night?" — not "OMG, I miss you." His not responding feels so disrespectful. I want to …Read more.
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Flee Circus


My mom left when I was young, and my former husband left me, too. Maybe because of this, I've noticed that I'm quick to assume that any man I'm seeing is ditching me. In the early stages of dating, if there's a lag in calling or texting me back, I'll lash out — block the guy on Facebook and delete him from my phone — only to feel stupid when I learn that his phone battery died or he was already asleep. As a relationship progresses, I still perceive relatively innocuous things as signs it's over, and I keep testing a guy's limits with demands and drama, pushing him to (finally) bail. How do I stop doing this? It's totally unconscious in the moment. — Abandonment Issues

It's good to make an effort to see what a man's made of — just not to the point where he's unsure of whether he's in a relationship with you or he got really drunk and enlisted in the Marines.

You seem to be turning your past — getting ditched by those closest to you — into prophecy. This isn't surprising. British psychoanalyst John Bowlby had a theory that our "attachment style" — the way we relate in close relationships — stems from how attuned and responsive our mother was to our needs for comforting when we were infants. If your mommy (or other primary caregiver) was consistently there for you during your infant freakouts, you end up "securely attached," meaning that you tend to feel that you can count on others to be there for you when you need them.

Research on adults by social psychologists Cindy Hazan and Phillip Shaver did find that patterns of relating to romantic partners seem to trace back to childhood attachment experiences. But attachment history isn't the whole story. Genes, temperament, childhood environment, and other factors also shape how we relate. And though research finds that securely attached children seem likely to end up securely attached grown-ups, adult shifts in attachment style are common. In other words, just because somebody's mommy was kind of an ice bucket, they aren't necessarily doomed to see every boyfriend as an ice bucket with a penis.

Unfortunately, though we have the ability to reason, we hate to wake the poor dear from its nap. As behavioral economists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky pointed out, in the heat of the moment, the brain's emotion department is our "first responder," quick to hop on the drama pony.

If our rational system parses the situation at all, it's usually much later (often after we've burned two or three bridges and carpet-bombed a relationship into fresh farmland).

Not going all Full Metal Jackie in the moment takes preplanning — pledging to yourself to step back and run suspicious-seeming situations through the reason department. A technique called "cognitive reappraisal" seems to help. This involves dialing down your emotional response by changing the meaning some situation has for you. Instead of thinking "I know he's left me!" when an hour goes by without a text back, reframe his absence in a positive light. For example, "He's out getting me flowers." You don't have to know that this explanation is true. It just needs to be positive and possible. Research by psychologists Iris Mauss and James J. Gross and others finds that using this imaginative reframing not only decreases knee-jerk negative emotions but activates the prefrontal part of the brain involved in emotional control and downshifts the pounding heartbeat of stress to the thumping heartbeat of possibility.

This next bit of advice may sound lame and unbelievable (because it did to me until I read the research by psychologist Mario Mikulincer, Phillip Shaver, and others that suggests it works). It seems you can boost your sense of emotional security through mentally "priming" yourself — like by repeatedly imagining yourself being treated lovingly by a man or a parent. You can get this security-enhancing effect just by viewing positive images — for example, by repeatedly looking at a photo of lovers gazing into each other's eyes or a video loop of a mother cuddling her baby (as opposed to leaving it on a counter at a train station).

How secure you feel can also be transformed by whom you're with. The best partner to help you shift out of auto-panic is one who is loving and caring and has a more "secure" attachment style — in other words, a person who doesn't leap to the conclusion that your being in the bathroom for 20 minutes means you've crawled out the window to freedom. With some consistent work and the right guy, you could someday get to the point where absence really does make your heart "grow fonder" — instead of making it get out a tiny hammer and wood strips to construct an itsy-bitsy coffin for your relationship.

Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email ( Her weekly radio show can be found at Her latest book is "Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck."




16 Comments | Post Comment
And to say that sometimes I have one too many "flights of fancy," look at Amy's long-winded explanation about something relatively simple.

I can't speak for what on earth caused your mother and your former-MFA husband to leave, but I'd say good riddance to them. They didn't give a f- about you, just their own hedonistic, spur-of-the-moment, sick ways. How sad.

And how sad that it's now come to this ... your need for security and some constant in your life, ruined because of these experiences.

I'd suggest therapy. You need someone to help you understand that what happened in your life is not your fault, just the result of poor (or perhaps deliberately selfish) choices by others who were supposed to love and care for you. For whatever reason, it's resulted in this needy-clingy persona and it's not healthy for any relationship.

That's where the therapy can help ... help re-program you to know that someone not responding to a text message 30 seconds ago is not the result of wanting to flee a relationship, but because (indeed) they may be sleeping or simply have the phone off (to sleep or do something else that they don't want to be interrupted) and that it's not personal. After that, you might try to find a good relationship and it will work out.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Bobaloo
Tue Apr 14, 2015 8:09 AM
Bobaloo, Amy is using illustrations that are rooted in psychological research, not reaching for effect of what MAY be possible.

If you actually take the time to read "Amy's long-winded explanation about something relatively simple" you'll see that she's talking about WHY the LW tends to react as viscerally as she does in these situations -- it's logic-based.

And you'll see that her suggestion details exactly HOW the LW can "re-program" herself, possibly without the need for therapy.

Because a therapist is basically going to tell her "yes, you're not crazy, it's understandable that you react this way in these situations. Understandable, but -- as you know! -- not helpful. So don't beat yourself up for the reaction, just learn how to control it and move past it to a reaction that's more likely to help you in the long run. This week, when you're feeling sure he's left you because he hasn't texted you back, I want you to take 10 deep breaths and reframe his absence positively. What does that mean? It means think of a reason that he may be delayed to counteract the negative image you have, a reason that has positive outcome for you, such as he's out buying you flowers."

Sound familiar? That's because it's EXACTLY what Amy said.

This isn't a life-threatening emergency, and so it makes sense for LW to first try some small steps to help herself BEFORE going to the time and expense of seeking therapy. If she's unable to make progress, or gets stuck, then therapy will be very helpful. But I don't go to the doctor for every cut or kitchen burn I get!
Comment: #2
Posted by: hedgehog
Tue Apr 14, 2015 10:17 AM
LW1: Totally unconscious? LMAO You're not too bright, are you? Don't breed. In fact, to help prevent breeding - I don't want you to change a lick.

Comment: #3
Posted by: Diana
Tue Apr 14, 2015 1:14 PM

No, of course you don't go to the ER for every burn you get. Neither do I.

I have to wonder if LW has heard this advice before? Perhaps she has. If she has and has not tried it, then by all means, go take those small steps. If it works without professional help, great.

But if she has tried this and has not made progress, or is at a point where she needs help getting off to that start, then therapy is appropriate.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Bobaloo
Tue Apr 14, 2015 1:30 PM
Diana - your comment #3 was super vicious and unnecessary.

I agree with Bobaloo, therapy would help. Some of this is anxiety-related.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Red Ree
Tue Apr 14, 2015 3:21 PM
Re: Red Ree
Diana is a troll, ignore "her".
This person should stop getting into relationships for at least two full years while getting some therapy. Repeating this pattern of behaviour over and over will only solidify it.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Seabeast2
Tue Apr 14, 2015 4:17 PM
LW1 - You've taken the first step, realizing what you're doing wrong.

Therapy might possibly help, but may not be necessary. I would suggest journaling, to explore your life and past and get to know yourself better. Write about your life, what's been good and bad, your experiences with your mother, how you were and how you wish things had been. Remind yourself, in writing, that though you may "feel" abandoned when your boyfriend doesn't text, the feelings most likely have no basis in present day reality. It's fine to "feel" them ... it's a good sign in, or can be, because it may mean you're working through those feelings... but you don't have to act on them.

I usually like Amy's advice but I'd be cautious of her recommendation that you tell yourself he's out buying you something (instead of calling), because most likely he isn't. He's having a life of his own, something you need to recognize and support.
Comment: #7
Posted by: sarah morrow
Tue Apr 14, 2015 11:23 PM
Sarah M, I get your point about telling yourself one thing (positive) to counteract the opposite, but I think in this LWs case, it would be a good bit of mental discipline - and a good habit, because the habit she's trying to get control of is the one that says something just as unlikely: "He's leaving me!" Maybe he's not getting her flowers, but it's just as unlikely that he's planning his escape. Her case sounds extreme enough to me that just deciding "he's having a life" would be meaningless because it would always default into rejection.

I do think Amy sometimes winds herself up way too far trying to be clever, but I really like her studies-based approach to answering the LWs. Sometimes just knowing why you behave or react a certain way is the crucial beginning to making a change.

Comment: #8
Posted by: Maggie Lawrence
Wed Apr 15, 2015 6:35 AM
@Maggie -- I'm with sarah morrow on this. Even though I understand what this exercise is SUPPOSED to accomplish, it makes me nervous to tell someone who clearly already has "issues" to caulk over those issues with something that may simply lead her to her next "issue." There she'll be, telling herself, "he's not leaving me -- he's out buying me flowers!" Then when he shows up empty handed -- probably every single time -- at some point, that's just setting the guy up for failure. Yes, Amy is careful to note that LW needs to understand he almost certainly is NOT out buying her flowers, but instead of substituting one false reality (He's Leaving Me!) with another equally false reality (He's Buying Me Flowers -- can't wait to see them!), it would be far better to get her firmly in reality, not some alternate universe apropos of "let's play opposite day!"

So, instead of replacing "he hasn't called me or texted me back immediately -- he's leaving me" with something that probably isn't actually true, let's replace it with what actually is most likely to be true: 'he hasn't called me or texted me back immediately -- he's probably just really busy at work and will get back to me later."
Comment: #9
Posted by: Lisa
Wed Apr 15, 2015 9:33 AM
Maggie Lawrence, TOTALLY agree that there is huge value in knowing WHY you react a certain way to a situation, especially when that way differs from what you observe in others, and when you want to change that reaction.

If you know your fear is an absolutely logical reaction to a past event, that gives you ammo to counter your Inner Critic (or whatever people call it these days) when it says, "How stupid of you! How many times do I have to tell you this is an idiotic reaction, not something any sane person would do!" And I imagine this is what LW has been telling herself AFTER she's given in, in the moment, to her first reaction.

I would expect, Red Ree, that she's been advised or figured out that she needs to change it, but hasn't ever been aware that preplanning for the reaction helps. My guess is that she's told herself immediately after an episode: "NEVER gonna do that again, I feel like an idiot!" and then goes about her life until she's already in the middle of the next episode, with heart racing and shallow breathing and fear taking over. Most people aren't aware that you CAN change a reaction, or if you can, how to go about doing so -- they just resort to the familiar because it IS familiar and easier.

If she can role-play with herself -- or journal! -- it can help THOSE reactions start to feel more familiar, which makes it less likely that she will quickly default to full-blown Panic Mode.

And yeah, it might not be "getting me flowers" but it could be something else positive and plausible and even something where she can take positive action to counter her instincts: "The presentation must be running long at work -- I wonder if that's good or bad? Maybe I should go ahead and pop a pan of blondie brownies into the oven."

[Secret beauty of a strategy like that is that not only are you keeping yourself distracted, you almost don't WANT him to show up before the brownies are done, so you're counteracting the "where is he? where is he?" in your head with "not yet! not yet!" ]
Comment: #10
Posted by: hedgehog
Wed Apr 15, 2015 9:35 AM
Good point, Hedghog - and Lisa - I like the principle of Amy's advice, but maybe the example is not as good. Something she can't actually verify after the fact (like buying roses) might work better. (He's stuck in that meeting, he's writing secret romantic thoughts about me...)
Comment: #11
Posted by: Maggie Lawrence
Wed Apr 15, 2015 12:32 PM
LW1 -
You're thankfully aware that your abandonment issues are making you shoot yourself in the foot and turn your relationships into self-fulfilling prophecies. Identifying the problem and its source is a big part of the work here.

You also admit that you have no control over this and that it's totally subconscious on the moment. You need help from a therapist then, to deprogram and reprogram yourself.

I don't think there is any other way, since you seem to have no control over your knee-jerk reactions and only see them for what they are once the harm has been done. Get going and good luck.

Comment: #12
Posted by: Lise Brouillette
Wed Apr 15, 2015 4:41 PM
@Maggie -- exactly! Even if it's more likely that he's actually just too busy having a life, I far prefer your example to Amy's. And if that eventually gets her to a place where the more likely reality -- that's he's simply too busy to respond right away, and it doesn't mean he's leaving her -- then I'm all for it.

@hedgehog -- only problem with the idea of doing something like bake a special treat is that unless they're married or living together, there's the very real possibility of his calling her -- late -- and saying, "hey, babe, I know we planned that I would come over tonight, but I am just so tired after all the stress and drama of that presentation that all I really want to do is go home and crawl into bed and go to sleep." And that's hours after she's baked her cookies or fixed a special dinner or what have you. Heck, I've been in that situation -- on both sides of it. Fortunately neither party had abandonment issues, so while there was disappointment, there wasn't an emotional meltdown over it. This woman appears to have a very itchy trigger finger, as it were, so I'd hate to steer her toward doing something special for HIM and then have him not come through.

But perhaps I'd steer her toward doing something special for HERSELF -- take that long hot bubble bath that she so rarely indulges in; watch that rom com on dvd she knows he doesn't want to watch; reorganize her pantry. I've done that when my husband is working late or has business dinner, etc. And there have been times where I'm not quite done with whatever activity I took up when he gets home, and I kind of wish it had taken him just a LITTLE bit longer to get home so I could have finished up before he got there.
Comment: #13
Posted by: Lisa
Thu Apr 16, 2015 6:43 AM
I have had the same problem in the past. I drove away many a bf with my insecurity. Even when I first got married I really tested my husband out without meaning to. I tried and tried to push him away, but in the end his expression of emotion is what made me stay. It showed he really did want and love me. It has been a hard row to hoe but I have stopped trying to push him away. I am incredibly lucky to have such a patient man.
Comment: #14
Posted by: EHB
Thu Apr 16, 2015 8:27 AM
Give yourself some credit, you have no problem attracting men to date and get into relationships with. Your mom never left because of you although you may be following her pattern - she didn't set to good of an example. We don't know why your husband left only assume it had something to do with your "I keep testing a guy's limits with demands and drama, pushing him to (finally) bail." I think the answer has to do with what EHB said in her post "really did want and love me;" that's what you're wanting. I think maybe you are afraid of someone loving you and you are afraid to love somebody so you push them away. Everyone say's you have to love yourself first so maybe you should stop dating for a while and find yourself.

EHB -- I'm very happy for you and that patient man must have seen something you didn't - the incredible woman you really are.
Comment: #15
Posted by: J
Thu Apr 16, 2015 11:10 AM
LW1--You know what you're doing is driving guys away so just STOP doing it already!!! It's really just that simple. Do you need me to draw you a picture?
Comment: #16
Posted by: Chris
Fri Apr 17, 2015 4:13 AM
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