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Pavlovian Anxiety Response To One Individual

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Ok here goes. Several months ago a relationship began between myself and a coworker. We work together at a retail store. It began at a time in my life when I was really "getting on track" with things - new job, new inspiration, positive events. Part of that was not online dating anymore, and trying to meet a lovely new partner the old fashioned way.

The relationship began with great promise - a very deep and natural connection, romance, sensuality. Lots of time together and deep conversations. We shared many things together - past experiences, common traits and beliefs, and complementing each other naturally in a variety of ways. I was cautious yet excited that she could be a serious partner. Six years after my divorce, and after years of disappointment with online dating (lots of dating), she embodied everything I could want in a new partner. She was cool, athletic, funny, sensitive. We were, in many ways, mirror reflections of each other.

I can't stress enough that this wasn't just some bulls*** fling. We connected very deeply, and I let down my guard and invested a lot in her. She told "don't hold back." I decided to surrender to my feelings. It felt entirely mutual, she was right there with me.

The problem was, she was twenty years younger than me.

We were not in the same place in life. While we shared a tremendous connection, a sigh of surrender when we touched, the fact was I was looking for a serious partner, and she was not. Deep down she just wanted something casual and fun. I never truly realized this until much later. I vastly overestimated her commitment.

We wrangled for about a month as she distanced herself. Many discussions. She didn't want to break up, but she didn't want to spend much time together. She'd say "we should hang out". I would say "ok, how about tomorrow?" And she would cringe. It was all very confusing. I should have dumped her when I was in a position of strength. But based on the direction and emotional intensity of what was happening, I was confused and struggling to keep her. As she spent more time going out with her college friends, we spent less and less time together. Halloween came around and she basically blew me off for days. The age difference was a real problem for her. She would not introduce me to her friends. There was no commingling of her wider social life and out time together. This was all revealed to me slowly, while we struggled to preserve whatever we shared.

I stopped projecting into the future of us, but still we spent less time together, and the "connection" suffered.

Eventually, in a moment of weakness I showed too many cards - revealing my neediness and frustration one more time. Very abruptly, she bailed. I don't necessarily blame her actually.

While she never intentionally lied to me or misled me, what I resent is that she dragged me out into deep water, and then she swam away.

We work together, and now twice a week we see each other. It has become VERY awkward. I don't do well with having great intimacy with someone, then reverting back to a normal meaningles chit-chat banter status. She seems totally cool with it all. There is baggage now. It's more of a problem for me than for her. She enjoys working with our other coworkers because they goof around well. With me, I've gotten rather serious about it all. I am saddened that this relationship didn't last. I could get over it, but again I have to work with her.

Seeing her now weekly, I have developed a Pavlovian response of serious anxiety around her. At our break up I began having severe anxiety attacks. For well over a month now I have been in a serious crisis. This whole experience has triggered an avalanche of broader issues deeper within me - failed career aspirations, failed romantic relationships, divorce, a lost child. Yes, I have baggage. There was such promise with her, that the odds of finding love anywhere nearby again is a long one. While things were seemingly improving in my life, this experience caused my world to crash down once again. Wrongly, I put a lot of hopes and dreams into this girl, and it was a mistake. I fell for the emotional connection I thought was occuring.

I dread working with her now. The job is boring, so there is a lot of time to stew and think. The night before our shift, I start to ruminiate relentlessly about our upcoming shift together. It's horrible. I become nervous and speechless, I clam up. I can't make stupid chit chat. It is a direct, physiological response I have developed around this girl.

I am planning on losing one of our two shifts together, but there is still one day when it is a perfect storm of factors - another coworker who she seems to really like, very long hours swimming around in a fish bowl together. She's not mature enough to give a s*** or acknowledge any of this any longer.

I started working at this place before her, and it was a new beginning for me that I take some pride in. So I refuse to give in to these feelings, to give in to her and quit or something. But any joy I had in this job is now stolen away as I think more about unbearably seeing her every week. My heart pounds, it is an acute anxiety response to her alone. Even seeing pictures of her slmost triggers this as well.

Any thoughts? Strategies? Thank you.

Edited by seeeker
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Here's a thought, on the chance it may help.

I met a man who was much older than me. He was the brother of my female friend. He and I were so well matched in terms of what we enjoyed, thought, wanted, etc. He was a brilliant man, highly esteemed in business, extremely wealthy. fun, adventurous, and on and on. So what was there not to like? Nothing. He was the whole package, and I appeared to meet everything that he wanted in a relationship. But I ended things, and I did it abruptly. It wasn't my finest moment, but I can let myself off the hook a bit, because there is a bit more to the story.

But, anyway, the chief reason I bolted was because I feared losing my independence to someone who was much more powerful than myself, and also because I doubted that I could maintain what to me was the facade of being everything he needed and expected me to be. I could only stand so much closeness, and I suspected he would want more than what I had to give. I left because I was afraid. I was afraid that I wouldn't measure up once he got to know the real me, which was a person pretty frightened and wounded by life. There was nothing wrong with him. It was all my own stuff. I saw him afterwards in a group social situation and he was cold towards me, actually insulting.

I doubt that the younger woman you were with was pretending. I doubt that what you two had wasn't real. My guess is that she simply wasn't ready, for her own reasons, having nothing to do with your desirability, to accept the level of relationship you saw as being possible on a long terms basis.

At the time of my situation, I didn't think enough of myself to consider that I would cause any heartache to, or regrets from, the man I so unceremoniously left. I would suggest you think along these same lines right now--she really has no idea of how this has affected you. Keep your dignity. Be polite and keep your emotional distance in any dealings you must have with her. I know it is hard, but this situation is all in your mind at this point. It's normal, of course, but not healthy to obsess over what was and can no longer be. By the way, the man I knew met a wonderful woman and they got married. Happy ending!



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