Dating in my 20s meant constantly, compulsively checking my iPhone.
So many weekend nights, I was tipsy in some bar, biding my time and stealing glances at my phone while pretending to have a good time. “You have that look,” my friend would say, “that look you get when you’re worried and waiting.”
There was always a guy who had said, “Text me while you’re out and maybe we’ll meet up;” always a guy who had casually said, “I’ll text you some time later this week.” He always had a beard. He always wore a plaid shirt. And he never texted soon enough. Sometimes he never texted at all. And then I would walk home crying in toe-pinching heels.
I often met this guy online, while swiping through Tinder or three other similar apps. I swiped on the subway so I knew which stations did or did not have service. I swiped in my cubicle at work. I swiped on the toilet in the bathroom stall. I swiped in line at the bodega though I knew the man in back of me could see. My friend called this “war swiping” because there was an unnecessary urgency about it.
When it was good, and I liked a guy, I could text them all day long. Then my mind was always somewhere else: on the relationship happening in my phone.
When it was bad, I was trapped in the same anxious cycle: 1. I would wait for text. 2. My phone would not light up with his name. 3. I would try not to jump the gun. 4. I would do it anyway. 5. I’d feel foolish, desperate, and needy. 6. I’d apologize via text for the forwardness of my initial text.
I’ll admit that I sometimes sent a nude pic to demand a man’s attention when he was being neglectful. I was saying: “Here are my boobs! And if you look between them, there is also my heart, aching for you and your stupid text.” Sending boobs was a good trick for getting a response but it never solved the underlying problem.
Hey, what was the underlying problem, anyway? I was anxious as fuck but I believed that if this guy would just text me back, I’d be a perfectly normal, functioning person. I’d stop doing the weird things I had been doing to self-soothe.
Like how I tried to trick myself into forgetting about my iPhone: I took lots of hot showers, because in the shower, you cannot bring your phone. Still, you can perch it on the toilet tank and reach your wet arm out from behind the curtains to press the home button.
Or you can leave the phone in your bedroom and return to it, shaking in a towel, to see if he has gotten back to you to solidify plans. If he hasn’t, it’s time to panic! It’s time text something long that is both demanding and overly apologetic. Like,
6:05– “I’d like you to nail down a time when we can get drinks tonight. I have been waiting for you and this is disrespectful!”
6:11– “Sorry. Whenever you get back from the gym, it would be cool if you could let me know about tonight. No worries if this isn’t a good night for you!”
6:15—“I am also free later this week.”
It’s time for you to get yourself to a therapist.
When my therapist told me I had generalized anxiety disorder, I said, “OK, but like, doesn’t everyone in New York?”
“It’s common,” she replied, “but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. That’s why they call it a disorder.”
It took me most of my 20s to realize that checking my phone was a symptom of a problem, not the problem in itself. The problem was anxiety; the problem was dating men who were young and not right for me; the problem was that I put so much pressure on myself not to be needy, but the truth is we all need love. We all need someone who will follow through on plans.
When I started dating my current boyfriend, I thought that my anxiety would end. Instead, it found new targets. I no longer had to worry about waiting for a man’s text, but I found myself fretting over work emails, money, my weight… the rest of life’s concerns.
I still struggle, but the difference between now and then is not the boyfriend. The difference is knowing how to be extra kind to myself when I feel anxious. I recognize those cyclical thoughts swirling around in my head. Then I sit on the floor, light aromatherapy candles, and breathe with the aid of a mindfulness app. It’s like I’m saying to myself, “Aw, honey, take a break.” I wish I could travel back in time to one of those bar nights of my early 20s so I could catch myself in that awful whirlwind and rub my own back.
Now I can even take pleasure in letting my iPhone die on purpose. I leave it in the bottom of my bag. And when I hear it, softly buzzing like a living thing amongst my wallet and books, it still holds the promise of something new and grand.