Knowing The Difference Between Happy And Nervous Butterflies Can Help You Avoid An Unhealthy Relationship

By Meghan Dillon··  5 min read
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Picture this: You’re meeting a cute guy a friend introduced you to at a bar for drinks. After chatting for an hour, he gives you a hug goodbye and a quick peck on the cheek, and you can’t help but feel butterflies in your stomach at the thought of seeing him again.

Though you might interpret these butterflies as a sign that the date went well and you’re excited to see him again, there’s also a chance that it’s your body’s way of pointing out a red flag. It can be challenging to tell the difference between nervous butterflies and happy butterflies, and knowing which is which can help you avoid an unhealthy relationship before it begins.

Butterflies Are Connected to Anxiety Too

Butterflies in your stomach aren’t exclusive to dating – they’re also connected to anxiety. Whether you have an anxiety disorder or not, you’re bound to experience anxious thoughts and feelings every once in a while when you’re nervous (like before a job interview) or anticipating an exciting event (like a first date). We can tell the difference between these two types of butterflies by taking our situation and surroundings into consideration, as well as how the rest of our body feels.

It’s typical to be nervous on a first date, so it’s common to have sweaty palms and a racing heart accompanied by butterflies in your stomach, but the key is to interpret whether or not your nerves are due to anxiety or excitement. Excitement should feel good and hopeful, and make you want to smile. If the butterflies are accompanied by feelings of happiness (even if your heart races or palms sweat a little), there’s a good chance that they’re happy butterflies. If you feel nauseous, your muscles are tight and tense, or like you’re about to have a panic attack, chances are the butterflies in your stomach are your body’s way of telling you this guy could be bad news.

Honestly, it took me a while to learn how to tell the difference between nervous and happy butterflies when it came to dating. I was journaling about what I wanted in a relationship (highly recommend if you’re single and looking for love) when I realized that more guys in my past had given me nervous butterflies than happy butterflies. I compared the stark difference in my feelings to the quality of the relationships and discovered a pattern: The healthy ones had happy butterflies and the unhealthy ones had nervous butterflies. I compared the giddy feeling of seeing his name on my phone during a healthy relationship to my heart racing nervously when it happened during an unhealthy one and realized that knowing the difference between happy and nervous butterflies early in these relationships could’ve saved me some heartache.

Examining your situation and how the rest of your body feels can help you discern if it's anxiety or excitement.

Self-Reflect To Save Yourself from Future Pain

Our bodies have interesting ways of protecting us from harm, and one way is to let us know when something (or someone) could possibly be a red flag. Clinical psychologist Ray Zarrabi writes, “Our subconscious minds are primed to be drawn to what is familiar to us, so when we meet someone who reminds us of a person from our past, we may feel a magnetic pull to be with them; a sense that we’ve ‘known them forever.’ Initially, you may feel like you’re on cloud nine, but if you didn’t have a healthy role model for a romantic relationship growing up or your relationship with your caregivers was strained or inconsistent, then it’s possible you may be feeling anxiety around a potential partner but interpreting it as strong chemistry.”

While it’s possible to feel like you’ve “known someone forever” and not have them remind you of something traumatic from your past, it’s important to examine why you feel this way. It’s possible that you have a good relationship with your dad and your date has the same sense of humor as your dad, making you feel at ease in his presence. Or, maybe he reminds you of how the relationship with a toxic ex began, making it crucial to look inward to discover why you feel this way.

Your romantic history is a good indicator of whether or not you’re experiencing excitement or anxiety. Reminders of unhealthy past relationships can cause your body to go into panic mode as a warning to avoid going on a second date, but a reminder of something comforting can also cause happy butterflies and sparks to fly. In short, it’s important to take a step back and try to figure out what your butterflies mean. Taking the time to do so can help you realize that you’re repeating a mistake from your past, saving you the time and heartbreak that would come with ignoring this gut instinct.

Closing Thoughts

It’s easy to confuse nervous butterflies in your stomach for happy butterflies (and vice versa), but listening to how other parts of your body respond and looking inward can help you spot the difference. This can not only help you avoid an unhealthy relationship, but also give you the green light to go for a guy who genuinely makes you excited. Either way, having the ability to distinguish nervous butterflies from happy butterflies will only help you in your future relationships.

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