Chasing Amy Syndrome

Okay, now let’s get back to what really seems to be my problem. I’ve seen a few people write about Chasing Amy Syndrome, referring to a guy who is unhealthily insecure about his perception/his perception that his mate is more sexually experienced than he. The term is a reference to a Ben Affleck movie.
“Kevin Smith once explained why he made it—it’s well known that the story was based on his real-life relationship with Joey Lauren Adams and the way he unfairly projected his insecurities onto her.”

“He wrote in this 2000 piece: “The day I saw disbelief, outrage, and hurt reflected in the eyes of the woman I loved as she realized I was insisting that she apologize for her life up until the moment we met… well, that was the day it struck me that I wasn’t quite as liberal as I fancied myself and instead came to grips with the fact that I was rather conservative. And rather than enter therapy, I decided to exorcise my demons on screen. Chasing Amy was conceived as a sort of penance/valentine for the woman who made me grow up, more or less—a thank-you homage that marked a major milestone in my life, both personally and professionally.”

There’s not much written about how to exorcise this syndrome. Suggestions seem to include: therapy, “get over yourself,” and cognitive behavior therapy techniques to reduce the symptoms. I’ve been working on all three, with some success. I do need to specifically discuss this with my therapist, and get her off of the time-wasting tangents we otherwise discuss. As for “get over yourself,” gratitude is a helpful tool for me. Compassion and friendship are also helpful. And, the cognitive behavior therapy techniques do help: interrupting unhealthy thoughts and redirecting my thoughts.

I would be interested to find others who have struggled with this syndrome, and to learn more about it.

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20 thoughts on “Chasing Amy Syndrome

  1. In my professional life I help clients to literally place a line between past and present (in present I include your current relationship). Yes, I do let them all spew it out first. Let’s get all in the open!
    After that, hangovers from the past are dealt with individually.
    The type of jealousy you refer to, is to me imho less so about jealousy but more about you and your hangups on how you measure up. It is a non-issue…as
    TL wanted you and she still wants you. So, obviously you do not have to care about how you measure(d) up…you won!
    Nurture this woman as there are not many like her and I know!
    Elisabeth

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    1. Thanks. I think you’re right about my hang-ups and comparisons.

      My rational mind knows you’re also right about TL having chosen me. But, the irrational part of my mind asserts itself too much. It says: “She preferred them for their masculinity, and only chose me because I stuck around and appeared to be a friend. They didn’t stick around and offer a choice.”

      In any case, having done all the hurtful things I’ve done to TL, I have no right to feel anything but gratitude toward her now. I can’t afford to chase her away with more of my insecurities. The only reason I bring up this topic now is as part of my quest to be sure I don’t hurt her again. I’m just trying to understand it.

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      1. I have this same problem and I’ve had it from the first time I fell for someone. I’ll slowly get over it as the relationship develops – or more accurately, I’ll find a way to deal/cope with it but it’s always there.

        I recently began seeing someone new and have found out things, as always happens. We’re both mid 30s so why would I expect there not to be a past? And the crazy thing is, there isn’t much of one. Mine is possibly 30 times what hers is – but what always niggles away in my brain in what don’t I know? I kind of want to know everything, but can’t bear to know anything.

        I found this post because it’s hit a peak, probably because this is definitely the girl for me. But I don’t know why it happens, it’s illogical, irrational and downright embarrassing. I want to sort it out properly this time because I can’t live like this.

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        1. Steve,

          Thank you so much for writing. It’s been difficult finding other men who admit to having the same problem. I can’t say that I have all, or even most, of the answers to this problem. I do know that though comments such as “get over it,” or “grow up” seem unhelpful and dismissive, growing up may be part of the answer.

          Maybe there is some virginal woman out there who would not make you feel this syndrome. But, that’s probably not the type of woman you want. Maybe you’re of two minds: one wanting an innocent, non-threatening woman and the other recognizing that such a woman would not interest you in other important ways. That internal conflict is what I experienced.

          As I said, I don’t have all the answers. One thought that comes to mind at the moment is that part of growing up may be leaving behind childish fantasies of Disney princesses who would admire your experience and masculinity. Here’s something I can ask myself. Do I want a dumb, uninteresting woman who may not exist or who does not share a set of goals, non-sexual experiences, and views of the world as me? Or, do I want this intelligent, interesting, multidimensional woman whom I know and with whom I share many views, hopes, fears, and non-sexual experiences? Sex or no sex, do I enjoy being with this person and do we have a productive and happy partnership?

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          1. Thanks for your reply.

            The thing is, I’m with the perfect girl. I don’t expect her to not have had any partners and she has told me about her history, after I explained how much I struggle with this (and usually invent things in my head). Her history is very tame, certainly compared to mine and most of my male and female friends. She pointed out I’d been with more people in the last year than she had in her whole life, and she hadn’t been with anyone for years before we met. And to clarify, she is attractive and outgoing and would certainly have no trouble attracting interest.

            I don’t think it’s anything to do with her. It’s happened with previous girlfriends, and none of them had major history. Except one actually, who ended up cheating on me…so I’m sure that plays a part, but I have absolutely no concerns that my current girlfriend would do that. I don’t feel jealous or insecure so the obvious causes don’t seem to apply. It only ever happens with girls I really care about – there have been many others with whom it has never crossed my mind.

            So to summarise, our relationship is great (except this thing in my head), in all aspects. She’s the first person I’ve truly been with who I have no fear about committing to a long term future – could it be self-sabotage? Maybe but again feels too obvious, and if I knew that was what it was, wouldn’t I just stop?

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            1. Steve, your case sounds much like my own: it happens with people about whom you really care, you fear things you invent in your head, and it happened with previous partners.

              I’m working on a post about the origins of mine. In short, in my case I see the roots of the problem as: internal conflict surrounding obsessions with female chastity and male virility that came from a religiously conservative upbringing, imbalance among my sexual desirability and other aspects of who I am, and lack of self-confidence.

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              1. I still struggle to work out where mine has come from – I wasn’t brought up in a religiously conservative environment, far from it. I’ve always been reasonably confident with women, although to be fair, I will often wonder when they’re going to work out I’m maybe not who they think I am.

                At the moment I’ll create scenarios or think about things she’s said, distort them, make myself feel terrible and anxious, then work through to the end usually using other things she’s said that directly contradict what I’m inventing in my head before finally feeling a bit better. But then, a few minutes (yes, only minutes) later, repeat the whole process.

                Or if she talks about something at an old job, or something she did years ago (unrelated to all of this), I’ll hear her but then start creating scenarios around it. It’s draining and exhausting, and just so pointless. I’ve decided to see someone about it because it might be more complex than I originally thought – there are some aspects of my childhood that are a bit of a horror show so this may be long overdue.

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                1. It sounds like you have some self-doubt. Maybe sometimes a part of you fears people will think you’re a fraud. Maybe that’s part of my problem too. I think I know the origins of my self-doubt. I’d be curious, in almost a purely academic way, if any of the origins of your self-doubt are similar to my own.

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              1. Thanks, I’ll take a look. I just read some more of you and TL’s background. Wow. You’ve both been through a lot.

                Previously when this has happened with someone, I haven’t opened up completely about it. I’ve told my current partner basically everything. How it starts, how it works and how it makes me feel. She has been amazing, when she’s had the right to get pretty annoyed with some of my questioning.

                With previous partners I’ve had similar thoughts to some of what I read in your early posts…”maybe if I cheat it will make me feel better”. And again, except when I was very young, I’ve always been significantly more experienced than my partners so it is such an illogical mindset.

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                1. Maybe it is good that you told her. Now, try to resist the urge to tell her the same problem again, and again, and again. She probably wants to help you, but I doubt she knows how. Who does? I think, in the end, only you can help you with this.

                  Yes, I find books, counselors, blogs, and good discussions like ours to be helpful. But, none of those things really definitively help me if and when I fail to help myself.

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                  1. It is not about sharing the problem itself that is detrimental. It is about getting angry with her because of your problem, it is about harassing her over her past that had nothing to do with you, it is about treating her as your possession instead of as a unique individual who has the right to her own life before you, it is about an expectation that there is something she can do or say to take away these thoughts. Nothing she can do or say will help you. Only you can help you (with professional guidance, of course). You can NEVER change her past. You can NEVER change your past. You can affect the present and future.

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                    1. I guess one positive is that I didn’t get angry but told her in a “here’s this thing that’s going on in my head – I’m embarrassed about it but want you to know” kind of way. In the past I wasn’t quite as good at dealing with it. The good thing is, when I tell her the type of things I think, and how I can take an innocent comment she made and make it something crazy in my head, she laughs about it because it’s not her at all, this person I’m creating (and I know even if she was, it is no justification for it).

                      While it doesn’t deal with whatever causes this craziness, it does make me feel better. She will bring it up more than me now. She might just ask what craziness I’ve had lately, then laugh at how ridiculous it is. I am very lucky in many respects to have her.

                      After the peak it hit a few weeks ago, things have calmed down a bit in my head. I still plan to see someone though because it will happen again.

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                    2. Steve, did you used to get angry about it? I’m not criticizing. I’m really just curious. I think I used to be angry about it too. It helps me to recall that the anger is unfair, hurtful, and also self-defeating.

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                    3. I did get angry with previous girls and I guess I still do but I do my best to hide it. It came out a couple of times when I was younger, after drinking too much. Obviously this had disastrous results. At the moment I’m just trying to put up a big STOP sign in my mind when it starts heading that way. Same old thoughts, making me feel the same old way. It’s infuriating doing something so pointless and self-defeating, knowing it is pointless and self-defeating, and being unable to stop it. The only outcome is losing a girl I really don’t want to lose. I know all this…and still struggle to stop it.

                      Here’s some real crazy aspects. If she used a certain word when telling me anything about her past (usually an entirely innocent word) I will try and avoid using it and when someone else uses it, I’ll go down that path again (Example: An ex once used the word “certainly” when telling me about something). If she lived in a certain place, I don’t want to go there or think about it.

                      When anything from the past comes up, I won’t get angry but will get very anxious and my heart will race thinking about what I’m about to hear. It ends up with me not paying attention to something important she might be telling me, and of course she notices.

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                    4. The big STOP sign does get easier with practice. But, as you’ll see from my wife’s October 18 post called “Me too,” it’s not foolproof. I’m much better than I used to be in controlling my stupid jealousy, but I still have room to improve.

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            2. Steve, I also recommend my October 30 post called “Some correlation between serial infidelity and conservative upbringing.” Though infidelity may not be part of your story, the post does talk about some of my sick obsessions you and I are discussing.

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