Catherine Townsend: Sleeping Around

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The Independent Online

This week, I had my first full-blown anxiety attack, while naked. It happened when I was sleeping next to Charles, a British architect who I've been friendly with for almost a year. He's recently moved back to London, and we've started seeing each other.

Charles is handsome, incredibly successful, kind, secure and emotionally stable. He calls when he says he will. He's not threatened by my job, and even though he is proud of my writing, he chooses not to read my columns or books, because he wants to get to know me first hand.

Yet I keep waking up at 2am next to this blissfully oblivious man with my heart racing and chest constricting, feeling like I can't breathe. Last night, I finally figured out why. For the first time in my life, I'm in a drama-free relationship.

In the past two years, I've dated men who were married, old enough to be my father, men who lived on other continents, or men who claimed to be crazy about me, but turned out to be just plain crazy. My most recent serious ex-boyfriend had "commitment-phobia issues", which meant that he kept breaking up with me every five minutes. Yet I kept going back for more.

I read once that a rat exposed to cocaine will continue to press the bar dispensing the drug until it dies. I was doing the same thing by dating men who I knew were bad for me. I had to face facts: if I kept picking emotionally unavailable men, maybe I wasn't emotionally available myself.

So I've been going through a sort of 30-day Drama Detox, which involves going cold turkey from dramatic behaviour. Shortly afterwards, Charles came back into my life. A year ago, I probably would have dismissed him because he seemed far too normal.

"What is wrong with you?" I asked him. "Why are you single? I'm looking for flaws." I was only half-kidding. I started Googling his business interests, wondering what he was hiding – illegitimate children? Dead bodies? I came up with nothing.

I told my friend Victoria that I was concerned that I don't have the head-over-heels feeling. "Honey, that stomach-churning feeling that you got from your ex was based on fear, not love," she said.

I feel that I'm in a dilemma: I've read way too many love stories that involve conflict, and this one seems far too easy. But thinking about it, how many of those ended happily? In Wuthering Heights both of the main characters ended up dead, and Jane Eyre only got her man after he was blind and broke.

The next day, Charles asked me to meet his family, and I inwardly freaked out. But I smiled, calmed down, and accepted the invitation. These days, I'm trying to save the ecstatic highs and screaming fits in my relationship for the bedroom. I hope it lasts.

www.independent.co.uk/sleepingaround

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