The 80% Rule about Relationships Has been Verified!

by | Jul 9, 2023 | Break Free From Relationship Anxiety | 39 comments

Our recent wedding anniversary

When I had Covid last year, I watched several episodes of Indian Matchmaking. I’m always interested in shows about relationships (for obvious reasons), and I’m especially interested in how non-American cultures approach romantic love.

Arranged marriages hold a particular fascination for me; if you have the Break Free From Relationship Anxiety course you know that I reference the book “First Comes Marriage“, which holds, at its premise, that friendship is the essential ingredient for marriage success. So when Netflix made the suggestion, I clicked and got hooked.

Here’s what stood out for me:

The matchmaker, Sima, after hearing the list of criteria from the available bachelor or bachelorette, says, “If you get 60-70% of this list, keep moving forward.”

Every time she says it, the young person’s face falls. But the parents, who are often present at these meetings, nod approvingly.

“I was hoping for 100%,” the young single says.

“You won’t get 100%, and if that’s your requirement you’ll remain single forever.”

Notice that she doesn’t say, “You will only have 60-70% of these criteria forever.” No. She says that’s the minimum you need in order to move forward and continue to get to the know the person.

Perfection is Impossible

The older generation knows what we across the globe – from America to India – have forgotten: perfection is impossible.

In one episode, a woman named Viral goes out on a blind date with a lovely, sweet guy. She calls the matchmaker afterwards and says, “It’s 80% there but there’s no physical attraction.”

Matchmaker Sima pauses, sighs, and says, “Very few people get to 80%. Viral, do you think you’re superficial? I think you’re giving too many marks to beauty. The person should be good at heart. He should be down to earth.”

This is solid, safe advice. But most people reject it. Conditioned by a culture that tells you that you can “have it all” and “don’t settle”, many marriage hopefuls walk away from a good match because it’s not perfect, especially if the “hook” is lack of physical attraction.

“I’m Not Attracted!”

When people share this hook with me, it’s often in hushed tones suffused in shame. “I feel so superficial but I just don’t know if I’m attracted to them.”

The first line of action is to remove the shame. Of course you believe that physical attraction is the most important thing and that without it the relationship would be doomed. Everything in our culture sends you that message everywhere you look. No need for shame! (If you struggle with lack of attraction, please read through this Collection and sign up for the free compilation of interviews with people who broke through their attraction spike. This spike is also addressed in depth in the course.)

Those of us who have been with our partners for decades know that attraction grows over time and perfection doesn’t exist.

We know that 80% is an excellent starting point.

We know that it takes years, decades even, to grow into the ease and flow that we all long for (and the more trauma you each bring to the relationship, the longer this will take).

We know how rare it is to find someone with whom you have a shared connection, to whom you feel attracted in the true meaning of the word, and with whom you have a sense of home.

We know how fear can distort perception, and we know the immense, priceless value of working through the fears so that you don’t walk away from true love. Not Hollywood love. Not Disney love. But real love complete with its imperfections, opportunities for growth, and a lifetime of the fulfillment that arises from creating a deep, abiding connection that can only happen with time with the person who is your home.

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39 Comments

  1. “The person should be good at heart” – for me, this is the Number One. It is the one criterion that cuts through relationship anxiety, and I’d venture that the majority of people who find their way here know that their partners are, fundamentally, ‘good at heart’. Almost anything else is negotiable.

    I also agree with what you say about attraction growing over time. This has never been my particular spike, but I can confidently say that I am more physically attracted to my wife after nine years of knowing her than I was when we first met!

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    • Yes, I agree that “good at heart” is the most important criteria. I would also add a willingness from both partners to work on the relationship and on themselves. Willingness + good at heart = relationship gold.

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      • yes – and for me a good heart implies this willingness

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        • Interesting. I see them as separate. Someone can be a good heart / solid character but not have the willingness to look at their own stuff and grow.

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          • I agree with what you say here Sheryl, with these being 2 separate things. My husband is definitely good at heart and a solid good guy with good character. However, he hasn’t been willing to work on himself or the marriage. The willingness just isn’t there.

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          • My boyfriend is good at heart but he doesn’t want to learn or grow. He has no interest in making effort, just small changes that he knows will help our relationship. I don’t know what to do 🙁

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      • What if the willingness doesn’t seem to be there? My partner isn’t willing to make small changes in order for us to have a happier relationship e.g he is extremely negative and puts a downer on almost every situation. I get really angry/upset about it and I’ve spoken to him countless times about how it affects me but he doesn’t seem to want to address it. He just says that’s the way he is. I can’t help but feel he isn’t willing to learn/grow and I can’t accept him the way he is.

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  2. This is beautiful! And reassuring. I was struggling for the better half of a year trying to figure out why I wasn’t madly in love with my girlfriend. And after several moments of uncertainly almost breaking us up and one moment that did, I realized how amazing she is and that I was searching for perfection. I was looking outside of myself for things to make me happy and to make me fall in love with her. I put so much emphasis on her and our relationship, I was blind to the fact that i wasn’t willing to work on myself and let go of the search for perfection. Thank you for sharing this. I love your words of wisdom

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    • I’m so glad you found your truth and center, CJ. This is gold.

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  3. Awesome post. I have to say thank you for all you do.

    I had relationship anxiety and broke through it with your posts. It gave me understanding.
    Married my now wife and all is sweet as honey.
    If it weren’t for your posts I would’ve remained in a panic.
    The root behind my anxiety was not trusting my self enough to make such a decision. But I trusted my inner man and my refuge was the friendship (as this article states) I had with her prior. It played key role there for sure.

    Thanks again Sheryl.

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    • Beautiful to hear, Giancarlo. Thank you for letting me know.

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  4. Love this article. Its interesting because I feel my anxiety spike when reading “someone who is good at heart” and I ask myself “how do we define someone as having a good heart? How do I know if my husband has a good heart, if that is the criteria?” and I had to stop myself from googling about it. It seems fear will try to find a foothold with even the simplest of criteria which is a reminder for me that this is an internal work.

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  5. “many marriage hopefuls walk away from a good match because it’s not perfect, especially if the “hook” is lack of physical attraction.” – this part kind of reminded me of the situation I’m in now. This guy I like and have been hanging out with is a little outside of my usual “type” (type based on noticing common features or traits guys I like seem to have), to the extent that I questioned at first if I was actually attracted to him. To tell you the truth I’m not even sure I could pinpoint what initially attracted me to him. I could say more about it now. He’s really sweet, very encouraging, makes me think, and clearly makes me feel comfortable because I ended up sharing some pretty vulnerable stuff with him the first time we hung out just the two of us. There’s also clearly something that happens when you watch someone play music, because I saw a video of him performing a song and it made me cry- not because of the song itself but because I was moved by him playing it. Which I think speaks to what Matchmaker Sima said about “do you think you’re superficial?” Watching someone perform music is sort of like seeing through into their soul.

    The main thing I observe, at least for myself, is that attraction is sort of just something that happens, like on a subconscious level. Like, it’s not necessarily based on anything that I’m able to intellectualize. It’s kind of like “I really like you but I’m not sure I know why or could explain it if I did” It’s sort of mysterious. Some of it becomes clear later, but not necessarily all of it. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it’s been my limited experience so far.

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  6. I have struggled through relationship anxiety with the help of your courses and blog posts Sheryl, and am now married to a wonderful man who is definitely an 80%er, with a good heart and willingness to work on himself – thank you so much!

    However, recently I have been struggling with the 20% which in our case is that we like to talk about different things. He is very practical and technical whereas I like to talk about psychology, philosophy, what-ifs etc. This means it’s hard to relax in each others company as we are both trying very hard to stay focused on topics that ultimately bore us. I can’t help but feel disappointed especially when I want to share something I’m excited about and see his eyes glaze over. We’ve been together nearly 6 years, is this really likely to improve?

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    • Fear is likely creeping in here maybe even under the surface – “what if we can’t talk about the things we each like, what if that means we shouldn’t be together”. As long as there’s a willingness to listen, which shows acceptance of the person’s differences, then there’s no need for the other person to have passion for all the same things as you. It’s no different than if he wants to read a book before bed but you want to watch your favorite show. Each of you should allow the space to talk about the things that interest you without having the expectation that the other is going to share that interest.

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      • A beautiful and wise response, Steve. Thank you.

        I would also add that with the millions of topics on this planet I’m certain that you can find a few that you both enjoy talking about. Perhaps there’s a show that you both enjoy that you can discuss afterwards? Or a new interest that you both want to pursue together?

        Also, as Steve alluded to, there are likely other underlying elements at play here that are causing you each to glaze over. My guess is that there’s a disconnect that has nothing to do with the topics of discussion, and that when the disconnect is addressed, you’ll each have more space to listen to topics that aren’t your top choice.

        Connection is KEY. It’s everything.

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  7. I actually find posts like this, and your other posts about friendship being the central elemental to a successful relationship quite triggering and I’m wondering if it’s cause I truly don’t have those things present in my partnership, or if it’s some sort of fear trick. Id love to hear what you think.

    I have been with my partner for almost 10 years starting in my late teens going through into my late 20s now. Having had doubts about my relationship for the last two years starting suddenly with a panic attack with thoughts like “I’ll be happier with someone else,” I’ve never been able to shake this idea that at the core, I simply don’t like my partner anymore. I find the day in day out activities of just living with my partner to be extremely difficult as I find almost everything they do to be annoying which leads me right into thinking I simply do not like them. I certainly wouldn’t force myself to be friends with someone I do not like, so I’m worried that I really should be considering breaking up. I mean, we do things together that we both enjoy, but I spend the whole time thinking I’d be happier with someone else doing other things. At the core, I’m deeply worried that there isn’t a friendship to build upon and all my anxieties and worries that I’ve been trying to address simply do not go away because at the center the truth is that there isn’t friendship.

    What do I hope I’ll find if I break up? Well I’d hope to find someone who I truly enjoy their company, with whom I have more in common with, and someone I don’t find constantly annoying.

    I know this is just a short explanation— but does it seem as if there truly isn’t a basis of friendship in my relationship anymore and that we’ve simply outgrown each other as our tastes evolved? Or is the annoyance and feeling of dislike clouding my ability to see a clear sense of friendship?

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    • I’m sorry to hear you feel like this. Sheryl does have a great blog post about feeling irritated with one’s partner. It might be worth looking this up.

      I do know that, when I’m anxious, I find most things my partner does annoying. But things are different when anxiety isn’t in the way.

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      • I agree. Kevin, there’s definitely hope in your relationship I think. 10 years is something to be so proud of! Have you tried gently letting her in on your struggles? Or do you think she senses your struggles?

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    • Dear Kevin – In my very humble opinion, late teens to early twenties is YOUNG. Most people at this age explore, experiment and gain life experience. For you to have been in an exclusive, 10-year relationship already is extraordinary…. You say being with your partner has become annoying and that you’ve grown to dislike them, even as a friend. Perhaps you have outgrown each other, perhaps you want to experience other lifestyles and people, perhaps you’ve just bumped up against some deeper issues in yourself. In any case it sounds like a reckoning time…. However breaking up is hard to do, and you want to look deeply into your motivations. This would be the best time to treat yourself to a few private sessions with a GOOD therapist – someone like a Sheryl, or anyone with a lot of wisdom and experience to help you navigate this difficult dilemma. Because maybe you’re not ready or wanting to commit to a lifelong relationship with your current partner and you’re feeling the stirrings of discontent. I encourage you to find the support you need to get to the bottom of it and see more clearly what’s going on. Best of luck, and love to you.

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      • in my opinion, meeting your life partner when you are young is a good thing – it cuts out all the BS, haha

        big love and solidarity to you, Kevin. Whatever is going on, one can’t see clearly if anxiety is in the way.

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  8. My fiancé and I have been planning our wedding for 3 months now after I worked on the Relationship Anxiety course (suggested by a friend!). We actually took a break after engagement due to my fear, but we are now genuinely better than we ever were even while dating, and this attraction issue was the primary problem for me, along with trust which went hand in hand. What worked for me (along with lots of prayer) during the really bad days when I felt wobbly on EVERYTHING was that I could never go wrong with showing him love and making him feel loved, and that I’m working hard on this because he’s worth it, even though I can’t predict the future. That was one of the ways I interpreted this course, and I’m so thankful I was brought here. Hang in there friends! If you’re willing to work at it, you can get there, and all anybody is expecting from you is your imperfect best! <3

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    • Beautiful, Anni! Thank you for the encouragement to others, and what a beautiful message to have received from the course: love is what you give. You can’t go wrong with that intention.

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  9. Thank you, Sheryl! Your work and writings on character and essence were so helpful to me when I was dating my now husband. I was stuck on the fact that he wasn’t my “type” or someone I’d normally date – based on his looks, interests, etc. But I hung in there because I saw that he would call when he said he would call, prioritized me over his friends (hard to find in my 20’s) and didn’t waver when I’d have periods of anxiety. And we had fun together! Come to find out, he’s the most trustworthy and solid man I had ever dated who I then married – and he now loves me and our boys unconditionally. The fears still creep in sometimes (am I truly attracted? Do we have enough in common?) but I am confident that I’m with someone who I can always communicate with, who’s a great storyteller and is my rock. I look forward to growing our relationship as the years go on.

    It’s hard to find the truths you share and I am so grateful to have found you in 2013!

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    • Big smile over here reading this, Nicole! Thank you for sharing ❤️❤️❤️.

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  10. Hi Sheryl,

    Another great post. I have commented before and always appreciate your wisdom and guidance. I have a wonderful wife who is definitely 80% plus for me and I love her dearly but I continue to struggle with the attraction spike because of lack of sexual attraction and arousal. After years of a porn addiction and fantasizing about other women during sex I am really trying to commit to staying focused on my wife and making intimacy more of an emotional connection. But when I fail to get aroused enough for sex, I really get discouraged and the fear and anxiety hit me again. Rewiring my arousal template to sex is proving to be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done but I feel it’s really important for my marriage. Any guidance is always appreciated. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Hi Jonathan,

      Yes, rewiring arousal template is never easy, especially with a history of porn addiction and fantasizing about other women. You’re on the right track: 100% abstinence from the addiction is essential. Seeking support in groups of other men on the same path might be helpful as well.

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      • As always Sheryl, thank you so much for taking the time to reply. Based on your response, I would appreciate your thoughts on this question – given what I’m trying to do with the physical intimacy/sexual relationship in my marriage, how do I gauge progress?

        For instance, after a 3 week family trip, I initiated intimacy with my wife determined not to let my mind wonder to achieve arousal and orgasm. We kissed and touched each other and all the while I maintained my focus on her. But I was not able to get aroused. I spent the night filled with anxiety thinking that I may never be able to achieve my goal and therefore, perhaps not complete happiness in my marriage. Now, had I let my mind wonder and achieved orgasm, I would have felt like “mission accomplished” and had no anxiety – I say this because this has happened many times in the past. It’s weird – shouldn’t I feel worse when I “cheat” and better when I stay honest?

        Thanks again.

        Reply
  11. I’m dating a man who has a lot of good qualities and I feel comfortable with him but there’s a big difference in the level of
    depth we bring to the relationship. He’s Mr Handyman (simple) and I’m a writer (complicated). He has a good heart and is very caring and that’s what attracts me but I find myself doing the Push/Pull thing. I’m just giving it time and we’ll see where it ends up. He seems way more interested than I am, but I don’t want to run, just yet. We’re also on opposite sides of the political divide but avoid talking politics. We’re both in our mid-70s so who knows how long long-term would be! Lol. But it’s still nice to have someone special in your life.

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  12. Ouu I like this one. I remember I worked closely with an East Indian family and the daughters learned from mom and dad to not marry based on love. Arranged marriages in the culture are ideal as you learn to love someone.

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  13. I love this Sheryl- thank you for posting!

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  14. I couldn’t agree more and this is so beautifully expressed! Thank you so much for sharing your important insights with the world.

    I have been following your work and newsletter for a while now, since right before getting married about 1 1/2 years ago. While I didn’t take your relationship anxiety course then (though I probably would have benefitted from it!), I found that reading your blog and perusing your website and YouTube videos greatly re-assured me and extinguished that initial feeling of doubt saying “this is too good to be true” – which was really just my intrusive thoughts trying to sabotage what I knew deep down was undeniable – that my partner feels like/is home. We are still in the beginning stage I’d say (we’ve been together 6 years now, and married just under 2), and of course, neither of us is perfect – our relationship is a growing, evolving, organic, beautiful thing. Yet, I know the commitment is there and the friendship is solid – the love has flourished from that point, and I believe it will continue to in the future with intention, patience, and time.

    I don’t think it’s ever too cliche to recommend to someone to “marry your best friend”, or at least share your life with someone with whom you share a rock-solid foundation of respect and mutual vision. So yes, 80% can definitely and quickly turn into the unexpected 100% of being a “perfect” fit.

    Thank you, Sheryl! You continue to inspire. And that photo of you and your partner on your wedding anniversary is so beautiful.

    Reply
    • Beautifully expressed and shared, Natalie. Thank you. I especially love this:

      “So yes, 80% can definitely and quickly turn into the unexpected 100% of being a “perfect” fit.”

      YES!

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  15. I also loved the Indian Matchmaking show. However, if we continue Viral’s story, we do know she ended up with what she felt/”believed” to be 100% – someone who she was attracted to, and also who she connected with. So I wonder if she is the best representation of what you are suggesting.

    Reply
  16. I love this post! It’s been a while since I’ve been here, but I’m always glad when I do. I just have one thing. This is most likely the exact same thing and I’m fixating on how “I’m the exception”. I’ve never really focused on physical attributes of my partner. When I look at them I see someone stunning. But the desire for sex doesn’t come naturally like it did with my previous partners before I began dealing with RA. I think what I’m thinking of is lust. And then I feel guilty because he loves me and seems to have an endless sex drive for me while I’m just like “meh”. And of course I tell no one this because I’m afraid people are just going to tell me it’s not a great match then. But truth is I’m very content with him. He balances me incredibly well and I trust him more than I’ve ever trusted anyone. He’s really my best friend. I guess I’m just hung up on this, because obviously culture says if I don’t want to jump his bones, then we can’t be together.

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  17. I met a guy in the summer at an indie festival and we clicked straight away like we had known eachother for years I thought he was funny , goodlooking, even tho I wasn’t attracted initially,same music taste as me we got a long very well and when I left I was sad then we spoke for two weeks I felt so excited but still felt off I didn’t want a relationship and he was being so nice maybe two nice that made me get my first thought of what if I hurt him and it’s been hell since, he was saying all these lovely things but I have trust issues so I wasn’t believing him 100% and then we finally met it was good our second kiss was way better it was a good time but something felt slightly off only a little and then it’s just got worse and worse and worse can’t eat feeling sick loads of anxiety I kept questioning if I liked him and was going to end it but thought I should give it more time. With my past relationships they weren’t great and my recent ex emotionally cheated on me I knew he wasn’t a good man from the start even tho he was nice at first ,how he spoke about his exs etc but we had fancied eachother for a long time so when we finally got together it was great it was good but he left his ex for me even tho he didn’t admitt that and over time he got narcissistic couldn’t say how I felt half the time was always anxious if he liked me but also had rocd if I loved him enough etc. with my new relationship I didn’t want to be official yet as I didn’t want a relationship from the start but didn’t want to miss a good opportunity as we got on so well . The more we met the more off I felt idk why . When I’m with him my anxiety has gotten worse so I can’t even enjoy my time with him . When I didn’t think too much I had a better time with him things were different the date didn’t seem bland it was good and I felt happy so he asked me out and I said yes cause that’s what I wanted then it got worse again and I kept thinking all these solutions as I was waking up feeling anxious anxious if he messaged all sorts. Even now if he buys me something I feel anxious and guilt instead of being happy ,Now I don’t get anxious at him messaging as much I get excited to see him sometimes and then when I do I get confronted with anxiety again but cause I’m so anxious before hand idk if that’s what’s making me anxious with him . Sometimes are good sometimes I want to end it and I feel repulsed and don’t enjoy our time together. Near the start when he was saying how he felt I believed him and as soon as I didn’t have trust issues with him it switched over to me and I felt anxious when he was saying how he felt I kept thinking what if I hurt him what if I’m just staying because he’s in a place rn where his ex is literally giving him a hard time he was in a domestic abusive relationship and the police got involved but I knew I wasn’t staying for that I wanted to be there for him and help him I wanted him to be okay she even messaged me having a go when I don’t even know who she was that caused a lot of anxiety also but it’s like sometimes I don’t enjoy our time together and other times I do and if I do enjoy our time then I get all these thoughts again last time I saw him we went to a concert I felt very anxious around him even tho he makes me feel safe sometimes and he’s the only boy to ever understand me I can say how I feel without him flipping it round on me my ex used to make me feel bad sometimes for saying how I felt. I don’t have this intense feeling between me and my boyfriend that I did with my ex I enjoyed all the time with my ex I didn’t feel slightly bored but there were times in the beginning I felt like this and felt nothing sometimes and felt bad but not as bad as I do with my current partner but I don’t know if that’s because we fancied eachother for a while so when we finally got together it was intense even tho in my head then I didn’t think it was bad he had broken up with his ex alot of drama etc and idk if it’s cause im used to drama . My parents also got divorced when I was young and they always argued. Normally in a relationship I get scared there gonna leave me but now I know how my boyfriend truly feels about me im scared I’ll hurt him instead and feel as tho if he leaves me I would be relieved and now I’ve switched to fearful avoidant when I used to anxious if my ex would do something which he eventually did. It started off with my boyfriend I kept questioning if I liked him cause I felt off when we were together and wasn’t engaged alot and not as excited as the past and then now it’s gone to do I love him. And im scared that what if the attraction just isn’t there not physical attraction cause I am physically attracted to him but that feeling you get when u look at them I don’t feel that intense feeling and I want too cause I’ve never met a guy like him in my life I keep crying and not eating. I want to heal but scared it might just be we’re not right for eachother but he’s fighting for me every day and I get scared im just not leaving cause I don’t wanna hurt him but then at the same time I don’t think I could live my life without him. I don’t have any money afford any of the courses , at the beginning I literally convinced myself I was gay and literally felt hardly any attraction to guys whatsoever and then it changed to it maybe not being right. Sometimes I’m bored and now how excited I was in the past with relationships. I came to him to end it cause after all the ocd I thought maybe it isn’t right and it’s unfair on him but I always told him how I felt I’m also autistic and have adhd so I like to be honest maybe too honest at times I tried ending it with him but then I had a major anxiety attack at his house I couldn’t breathe he was trying to calm me down cause it was the thought of losing him. I nearly collapsed with intense panic and anxiety. I keep saying maybe we should be friends but I think I’m his first true love so it’s unfair on him but then I’m confused I can’t say I love you either I can’t talk about future things I keep wanting to end it but people with this have normally experienced them feeling in love or love their partner and then they get this I’ve got this and not felt that in love feeling or intense excitement and feeling before so that’s why I’m scared. Even tho when we first met I didn’t think he was my type I woudlnt of gone for him but then when he started talking to me i found him funny and was excited to wake up to his messages but still feeling like what if I hurt him because what if I don’t like for the first week or two of knowing him but now I get anxious and dread ,and we got on so well I felt like it was meant to be because aswell he wasn’t supposed to go I nearly didn’t end up going we were supposed to camp somewhere else but didn’t I believe we met for a reason and I don’t want it to end as much as I think I do right now I’m scared there’s no chemistry that’s why it felt off and boring sometimes or what if it’s cause I’m not used to someone being that emotionally available that I don’t like it I feel now its best to leave him as he deserves someone better and can meet his needs I’ve complained when people have treated me badly now I’m being treated like a princess and from the start questioning I think it came from his kindness and lack of attraction to him at first as he initiated it ,Any help would be appreciated

    Reply

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