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Anxiety or Butterflies? How to tell what you’re feeling when you first start talking to someone

Anxiety or Butterflies? How to tell what you’re feeling when you first start talking to someone

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Spring has sprung and it’s time to talk butterflies. No, not the beautiful flying insects that were recently caterpillars. I’m talking about the warm, fluttery feeling you get around that special someone new. The way you know you’re excited to continue getting to know someone and are hopeful about where things may go. THOSE butterflies.

While butterflies may take flight during all stages of a relationship, we most often associate them with the beginning. It’s fun to feel excited about a new romantic prospect, but because of the way relationships unfold in modern times — via text, DM, Snapchat, and other indirect communication methods — and because many people are preoccupied with keeping their options open, sometimes that harmless, delighted feeling can metamorphize into something else: anxiety.

A quick Google search will give you the definition of anxiety: “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.” I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know – the talking or dating stage can be a super uncertain time. BUT uncertainty can deepen if someone is exhibiting unhealthy behaviors early on. The way the other person acts in this situationship has a lot of influence on whether you experience butterflies or anxiety.

So get curious about how the other person is showing up. How do their actions make you feel? Optimistic or pessimistic? Confident or insecure? Confused? Be brave and ask for clarity where you need it — their response can tell you a lot.

Look out for people who seem to be intentionally withholding their feelings, affection, or time right off the bat, as this can establish an unequal power dynamic. This person won’t meet you in the middle – they’ll wait for you to text first, be difficult to schedule with, and be evasive when it comes to talking about what they’re looking for or how they think things are going. It might feel like a roller coaster ride, or like you have to tread lightly for fear they’ll move on. This hot and cold, power-grab behavior is textbook volatility and it will give you the unpleasant, squirmy feeling of anxiety.

For a healthier option, try looking for signs of equality. Notice if you are both putting in the same effort and are similarly invested in the relationship. Feeling a sense of security may seem impossible as you’re just getting to know someone, but it’s not! You can (and should) communicate at all stages of a relationship, even early days. That doesn’t mean sharing everything upfront, but being open and honest when you feel things in the moment. You don’t have to know exactly what someone is feeling and thinking in each moment to trust their character and intentions — or to feel the flutter of wings when you think of them.

Still unsure? Try to identify yourself in these scenarios:

They text you and ask if you can hang out, but you already have plans.

If you’re feeling butterflies, you’ll feel happy (maybe even giddy) that they asked. You’ll text back to figure out a time that works for both of you.

If you’re feeling anxiety, you will drop everything and rearrange all your plans to make the hangout possible because you’re worried they’ll lose interest.

You want to define the relationship.

If you’re feeling butterflies, you may be a little nervous to ask for what you want, but you trust they’ll be honest with you (and tbh, you have a hunch they feel the same).

If you’re feeling anxiety, you’ll be worried about how they’ll react because you have no idea where their head’s at.

The beginning of a relationship comes with lots of emotions and it’s easy to confuse anxiety for butterflies when they’re in the mix. It’s important to learn to discern between the two, otherwise you could be ignoring signs a situation isn’t quite right. Don’t be afraid to let go of a relationship that is causing you more distress than joy and remember that you deserve someone who is just as excited about you as you are about them.


Sheridan Riolo is an Engagement Manager in One Love’s California Region.  Her “why One Love?” — I do this work because I’m fascinated by so many aspects of relationships, and being at One Love allows me to talk about relationships day in and day out.

Sheridan’s favorite healthy sign is Comfortable Pace.

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