Why Love Can Make You Crazy
... and why it can be dangerous.
Posted Apr 11, 2016
by Dena Domenicali-Rochelle, LCSW
As a practicing psychoanalyst, I can confidently declare: Everybody goes a little bit crazy at the beginning of a relationship. Is that a massive generalization? Yes. Have I also found it to be true? Absolutely.
One could argue that it’s bad form for a psychoanalyst to use the word “crazy” in such a nondescript manner, so let me be more specific: What do I mean by crazy? I mean that at the beginning of a relationship, people often lose touch with reality. They have a hard time distinguishing between fact and fiction. They invent stories in their head and convince themselves that they’re true. Good judgment and patience fly out the window.
How love can make you crazy
Here’s an example of the kind I hear all the time in my practice:
“I texted him at 11 a.m. the day after our date and when he hadn’t texted me back by 4, I was in full-on crisis mode. I was anxious, obsessively checking my phone, and convinced that he didn’t like me anymore. And I was so confused! Was he turned off by the fact that I texted him first? It seemed like we had had such a good time the night before. I had been so convinced that he liked me!”
This young woman is constantly checking her phone and having a hard time focusing on anything else. She’s distrusting herself and what she previously knew to be true about how her date felt about her. In other words, she’s freaking out! She’s not thinking clearly or calmly. Her emotions are ruling her.
Think about your own experience the last time you started dating someone you really liked. Did you go a little crazy in any of these ways?
Why this is dangerous
I don’t mean to suggest that this “crazy” is always a bad thing. In some ways, it’s exciting to get caught up in the drama of new love. But that “crazy” place often feels uncomfortable. It’s full of fear and anxiety. But more importantly, it’s a dangerous place because, though it’s not real, you respond to it as if it were. And the more decisions you base on an inaccurate assessment of what’s going on, the more of a mess you’re going to get yourself into.
Let’s say, for example, that you’re in a state of panic because you haven’t heard from a romantic partner and you allow yourself to make the assumption that it’s because the person doesn’t like you. In reaction to that assumption, you back off. You wait longer to text and your texts become shorter, less flirtatious. If this person does in fact like you—if your assumption was wrong—then you might risk making them feel unwanted.
If someone feels you backing off, they might assume you’re not interested, prompting them to back off too. Which then prompts you to back off even more. And all of a sudden, two people who are interested in one another aren’t talking. Now, I’ve seen the movie He’s Just Not That Into You too. I’m not suggesting you start stalking someone via text just because you like them. But I am suggesting that making decisions based on emotionally volatile assumptions can lead you down a problematic path.
We’re crazy because we’re scared
So if this kind of “crazy” is so uncomfortable and unproductive, why do people go there? The answer is simple: Because they’re scared. When you’re scared, it’s hard to calm down and be thoughtful in a way that allows you to see a relationship in a more complex, nuanced, and realistic way.
When you’re scared and you ask yourself, “Does he [or she] like me?” it’s easier to rush to the assumption “He doesn’t like me!” than it is to find the more realistic, thoughtful answer—which is often, frankly, “I don’t know how he feels about me. I’ll have to wait and see.”
In my experience, people have a really hard time dealing with that "I don’t know" place. But here’s the thing: Sometimes it’s the only place you can be.
It might be too early in the relationship for certainty. The other person—and probably you, too, if you’re honest with yourself—just doesn’t have all the information required for certainty about whether a relationship will work.
So rather than rushing to assumptions and impulsively reacting to those assumptions, try and ask yourself to build up a muscle for “I don’t know.” Sit with it, try not to be overwhelmed by panic, and try to remember: You’ll be fine no matter what.
Dena Domenicali-Rochelle, LCSW, is a Clinical Social Worker and Psychoanalyst. She is a graduate of New York University School of Social Work and the William Alanson White Institute for Psychoanalysis. She has a private practice in Midtown Manhattan.