My boyfriend is a light sleeper, and when I move in the middle of the night, he awakens in a panic, reaching out in the dark to feel for me on my side of the bed. Half-asleep, he whimpers, “No, don’t go, no,” holding me in place once he has found me in the dark. I cradle his head against my chest for a moment and assure him I am coming back, caressing his hair and kissing him. After a while, he calms down, and drifts back off to sleep.
My boyfriend’s repeated anxiety-based responses to my absence initially bothered me, as his fear of being left alone was unfamiliar and unsettling. I spent many a night trying to understand why he reacted this way at the beginning of our relationship, and I was unable to come to a solid conclusion.
After about a month of sleeping next to each other every night and the guesswork put into trying to find out why he reacted the way he did, I was able to identify with his fear. Maybe his reaction to my late-night stirring wasn’t about being left alone so much as feeling abandoned. And in coming to this realization, I had to admit to myself that it was my fear as well. Intense fears, stemming from childhood, plagued the both of us. While his fear of abandonment manifested itself in panic, my fear presented itself in leaving a partner before the opportunity to be left arose.
Now, I can treat his panic with sympathy instead of confusion, holding him close to me until his fears subside. And my response isn’t just about easing him back to sleep. Every night, I hold him and let him know I’m not leaving. Maybe in the near future, he’ll feel it.