So, of my many neuroses, two of them are general anxiety and depression. And… they can get pretty bad.
See, sometimes I fuck up. Everybody does. But because of how my mind works, oftentimes the line of thought following my mistake escalates into what my family calls a “pity party;” I hide in my room, crying because I’m overwhelmed by my emotions, and there’s nothing I can do but wait for the episode to pass.
Here is my concern: I worry that, even if I am handsome and friendly and good-hearted (which people have told me I am), I can’t imagine any woman being willing to deal with my depressive episodes. Maybe they’d tolerate it ONCE, but when it happened again they’d get sick of it and piss off.
I freely admit that I’m a crybaby, and once I get stressed and upset, there’s nothing to do except wait for that mood to end. Because I can’t exactly cure my mental problems, there is nothing I can do to change it.
My friends have told me that any woman worth dating would be understanding and try to help me, but… somehow, I doubt it. I literally can’t imagine a potential girlfriend wanting to stay with my after two of my breakdowns. Humans have limits on the amount of BS they’re willing to tolerate. It’s not realistic.
What do I do about this?
Cry Baby Cry
You’re right and you’re wrong at the same time CBC. You’re correct in that you are going to have an incredibly hard time finding and keeping a girlfriend if you’re having these breakdowns on the regular. While people don’t need to be in perfect shape – physically or emotionally – in order to date or date successfully, they do need to be in good working order. Nobody, men, women or non-binaries, want to sign onto a relationship just to be somebody’s full-time therapist. Most people have enough on their hands keeping their own shit together; having to be in charge of somebody else’s emotional state is too much to ask for.
And to be honest, it’s an unreasonable ask. NerdLove’s first rule is “Handle Thy Shit“; you need to be able to take care of yourself. If the slightest mistake sends you into a screaming depression where you have to hide away to cry… well, you’re gonna have a hard time operating in the world, period, never mind in a relationship. Relationships, after all, will involve conflict. It’s an inevitable consequence of being involved with another person with agency and wants and needs.
But you’re wrong that there’s nothing that you can do about this. There’s a difference between feeling helpless and being helpless. Part of why this continues to be a problem is because you’ve decided that this is inevitable and unfixable.
That ain’t true. What you need to do is start to build up your emotional resilience so that these emotions don’t overwhelm you at the first sign of trouble.
The first step is that you need to start learning how to process your feelings. This means that instead of just letting them run wild, you start to note them. That is: you don’t just run off and wait for the thunder and the rain to pass you by, you start to be mindful of those feelings. You need to name them, describe them, get your head around the exact shape, texture and trigger. Are you feeling despair, hopelessness or helplessness? Despite how similar they may seem, those are three entirely different emotions. Why do they hit you so hard that you have to flee from them? What, specifically, triggers those feelings? Is it the sense that failing at something makes you a failure? Is it the belief that you shouldn’t fail at this because someone else wouldn’t? Is it a worry that you’re not as competent or skilled as you should be at your age and stage in life?
The more mindful you are about your feelings, the better you are able to handle them in a healthy and productive manner… as well as working around those triggers.
The second step is that you need to embrace failure. The trick to becoming emotionally stronger isn’t to never screw up, it’s to recognize that failure won’t destroy you. Not being able to do something isn’t a mark against your value as a person; it’s simply a fact. You attempted to do something and it didn’t work. What’s important is what you do next. You can let that setback destroy you, or you can learn from it. Understanding why you failed or fucked up is crucial, because this is how you eventually succeed. Maybe the way you were approaching the particular task or situation was just sub-optimal. This means that you need to try another approach, one that may work better for you. Maybe it was just pure bad luck. In this case, you just need to take another swing at it. Maybe it’s true that you can’t do that thing, whatever it is. OK, fine… so what can you do to work around that limitation and still achieve your goal?
Accepting failure as something that will happen and reframing it as something to learn from and overcome, takes away it’s horrible power. You’ll get knocked down, but you’ll know that you can stand back up again and keep going.
The third step is to let go of this all-or-nothing thinking. The fact that you may or may not have a chronic mental health condition doesn’t mean that this is a binary state. It’s not “perfect mental health” or “constant crying jags”. You don’t need to be Jonny Stoic, stonily unfazed by life in order to improve. Even a tiny improvement like speeding up the amount of time it takes to process and let go of those feelings of stress, will make your life immeasurably better. By focusing on the idea that if you can’t be cured, then you can’t do anything, you’re choosing to never find ways to mitigate your problem and make it more manageable. The fact that it may never go away completely doesn’t mean that you can’t find a way to make it something you can live with and work around.
And that’s why the fourth step is simply to get help. The fact that you have neuroses or anxiety disorders doesn’t mean that you’re doomed; it means that you need to find ways of working with them. You may not be able to cure them, but you sure as hell can find ways to manage them. This may mean medication – depression and anxiety can often have a neurochemical component. It may mean talk therapy, where a counselor or therapist teaches you coping mechanisms and ways to defang your triggers. It may involve something self-directed, like the cognitive behavioral therapy exercises from sites like MoodGym. Or it may involve some combination of all of these. There’s no shame in accepting that you can’t just force yourself to not have these incidents; as much as we like to mythologize the rugged individual who doesn’t need anyone else, no man is an island. We all need help from others from time to time. The only shame comes from not getting that help and continuing to suffer out of a mistaken sense that you shouldn’t have to get help.
There’s hope for you, CBC. You just have to reach out and take it.
All will be well.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I really like the advice that you give because it’s fair and takes both male and female perspectives into account. I need some help here. I started off dating a younger guy, J, casually about a year and a half ago after splitting from my ex-husband. For the first like 9-10 months things between us were very casual, I’d show up, we’d have some drinks, get physical, and then I’d go. This arrangement worked well for both of us and I enjoyed it. We had no commitments to one another whatsoever. I left for a few months to work in a different city and was unfortunately date raped. J was supposed to visit me, but I called him almost immediately after my experience and told him he shouldn’t come because I was just too messed up. Apparently, for J, this was the wakeup to realize that he had real feelings for me.
A couple months later, I get back home and we start up seeing each other again. We attended a festival together and had a great time and got really close because of it. He told me he wanted to start dating me, which freaked me out and caused me to run and hide for the next month and a half. During that time I got really flakey. Admittedly it was the wrong way to handle that, but I was really struggling to deal with things. I was just working some things out from my assault and couldn’t get physical or emotional.
Once I began to feel better, I started seeing him again. However, it was very different and both of us developed deep feelings for one another. At some point he tells me he is in love with me. After a couple months of doing that, he asks me to be exclusive with him. Throughout all of that time he treated me with kindness, respect, and understanding. He was very supportive when I was dealing with PTSD issues, although he was hurt that I ghosted him for a while which I apologized for. All this is to say, I thought that based on his behavior and words that he was loving, sweet, and gentle (albeit a supporter of the opposite political party of me, and we are both very politically opinionated).
About 5 months into our exclusive relationship I see messages on his phone to his friend saying things like “I can do better” than this girl and “I really love the girl and she’s given me no reason to break up with her.” Some these exchanges with his friend involved times where his friend encourages him to simply cheat on me; J would reply with “I would, but she’s been cheated on before and she’ll find out.” Well, this infuriates me and I break it off with him immediately. Unfortunately, I’m also studying for a very rigorous exam and I am stressed out to the max, so I take the break-up really hard. He meets up with me and tearfully apologizes and tells me he was wrong, and he can’t live without me. I decide to give him another chance.
Then I discover that he has previously been very involved in this Red Pill movement. In fact, he’s met people he chatted with on Red Pill chatrooms in person. After doing a lot of research on the Red Pill, it becomes apparent to me that his previous comments about me to his friends stemmed from this philosophy. He assures me now that he does not agree with the majority of what that philosophy preaches, and really he’s only interested in stoicism and self-improvement which he learned from that site. I’m skeptical because he remains in contact with those friends and still checks out the subreddit frequently. I’m not even sure how someone who followed that philosophy could have ended up with a person like me; very liberal, outspoken on politics, possesses a doctoral degree, proudly feminist, very assertive and not afraid of confrontation.
It’s been really hard for me these last weeks because I feel so torn. On the one hand, I abhor the Red Pill philosophy and I am very concerned that J either used these techniques on me in the past, or will use them in the future to try and trick me. Admittedly, I’m now on high alert so I doubt that’ll happen. On the other hand, he has been such a source of support and love in my life, we have a great time together, have similar senses of humor, even now the sex life is incredible, etc. He has literally been taking care of me day in and day out while I study for this exam (which I have been doing everyday for the last 8 weeks for 10-12 hours per day), and I have truly not been easy to deal with because the stress of this exam is causing me extreme anxiety (and is doing the same thing to my friends who are also studying for the exam, so I’m not alone in feeling this way). He’s been visibly trying to show me that he values me and wants to be in a relationship and is willing to do what it takes.
How do I reconcile dating someone who (1) at one time told his friends he thought he could do better, but now has backtracked and after our split has literally come back to me saying that it made him realize he needs me and wants me in his life more than anything or anyone, and (2) who has such different views about social relationships between men and women? I love this dude and I want to be happy, how do I do both?
I have a few questions, TB, for you and for J.
The first is simple: if all he wants is self-improvement and/or lessons in stoicism and “disagrees with so much of the philosophy”, then why in pluperfect fuckery is he still there? There are plenty of other communities that he could join, ones that don’t involve deeply misogynistic and manipulative bullshit. The second would be how, exactly, he can reconcile being in love with you and wanting a relationship with you and still being friends with people who keep telling him to hurt you. It’s one thing to have different groups of friends who may not get along. It’s another entirely when one of those groups is actively telling him to ruin a relationship that he supposedly values.
This, incidentally, leads to my third question: which version of him are we supposed to believe: the one where he says that he loves you and values you and wants to make this relationship work, or the one where he says he’s only with you because you haven’t given him some sort of casus belli that would justify his leaving you? Who’s he lying to, you, his asshole friends or himself?
He’s already jeopardized this relationship once. The fact that he seems to be back on his bullshit doesn’t exactly lend credence to the idea that he’s realized he’s wrong and he’s going to do better. It’d be one thing if he was trying to leave all this behind and was just struggling with breaking years of habit. But the fact that the Red Pill community is still such a big part of his life – even if it’s “just” the self-improvement bits – is a different matter. He may love you… but it doesn’t really seem like he respects you.
Were I in your shoes, I’d want to have a very long, drawn out talk about all of this – why he joined the community in the first place, why he’s still part of it, why he’s still talking to people who tried to ruin things between you and what, exactly, he’s going to do about it going forward. I would also say that it’s on him to show that he can be trusted. He’s neck deep in some toxic fuckery and while you can sometimes manage to filter out the good from the bad – that’s a major part of my secret origin after all – there comes a point where it’s worth asking why it’s so important for him to keep trying to pick the nuggets of corn out of all that shit. He can find other resources for the self-improvement if that’s what he wants, even communities that promote positive masculinity and camaraderie. They’re out there, if he wants to seek them out.
And that’s a mighty big if.
If he is trying to leave it all behind, then I support that. I honestly believe that it’s important to acknowledge that we can grow and improve over our shitty pasts. But he needs to show that he’s doing that. And if he can’t – or won’t – leave it behind, or you can’t bring yourself to trust him… well, as the sage says: sometimes love just ain’t enough.