Hello, all you Twitternet spooklets of sexcrime, and welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only advice column that helps you find real love in a virtual world.
This week, we’re solving the little glitches in the Matrix that’re keeping your relationship from being the perfect, leather-clad version you wish it were. How do you fix things when you’re getting ghosted on the regular? What does it mean when the sex dies shortly after you move in together? And how do you move on with your life when you’re haunted by the dating mistakes you made in college?
Strap on your Quests and Vives, clear out the furniture and dive into a digital world of amore. Let’s do this.
Doctor’s Note: today’s column includes discussion of suicide and a suicide attempt.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I’ve been reading your posts on Kotaku for a few years now. In that time I’ve dated, been in a long term relationship, had it go south and wind up back in the dating pool again. Since I’ve started dating again, I’ve encountered the same issue three times now, and I’m very curious to find out why.
About a year ago, I moved to Portland, OR after my breakup and almost immediately met a someone on Bumble. We went out after a few days of texting, and it was great. We shared a lot of nerdy interests, including MST3K, improv comedy, video games, you name it. Second date, even better, and before going home we made out in her car for half an hour. Third date, still good, I’m making her laugh, we are starting to share more intimate things about ourselves, but nothing too serious or red flaggy. We made out again and made plans to have a fourth date in a week. The day before we were supposed to meet, she sent me a text saying she doesn’t want to date anymore, theoretically anyone. I figure, okay, fair enough, that’s how it goes sometimes, wished her well, and moved on. Last I heard of her.
Now that alone isn’t so unusual, things happen, she had kids, she was a nurse, life gets busy. No biggie. I liked her a lot but thems the breaks.
Cut to a few months later. New connection on OKCupid. Another nerdy connection, this time about poetry and tea. Go out on a date almost immediately, her idea. We go out for tea, and turns out we wore almost the same outfit. We bonded over books and then moved to a bar and had a few whiskeys. I walk her back to her car and she kisses me, which I responded well to and we neck for a while. Then, we both decide to make plans for another date. I tell her goodnight and walk back to my car. I never hear from her again and she doesn’t respond to any texts.
“Huh?” I say. “That kinda sucks. She seemed great, and I thought she liked me. But thems the breaks sometimes,” and while it stung to get ghosted (is it ghosting after only one date?) I moved on. Well, I took a break from dating, actually, but then I moved on.
Now, just three weeks ago, another OKCupid match. This time we text for about two weeks before deciding it’s worth it to break social distancing and meet (I know, I know, we already fucked up there). We meet at the park (which had a lot more people than I expected), we have a picnic 6 feet apart, drink some wine, feed some ducks, walk around town, she shows me her old college campus, the date ends up being 8 hours. Since we had such a long leadup, we both expressed it felt more like a second date, and about halfway through, we sneak out onto a little trail and engage in some heavy petting like teenages at makeout point in the 1950s.
Great! this date went really well!. We continue to text for a week after that, every day, all day. We share some hopes for the future, which are quite similar, we bond over some bad times from the past we’ve both encountered. I’m getting way into her. She asked to come over on Saturday, I got all the fixing for chicken parm and some wine, everything was going great!
The day before, she texts. I’m really great but she isn’t going to continue this romantically. I ask why? Silence. I haven’t heard back in three day, and I think I expended my limit of good phone etiquette calling three times to no answer and about ten texts. So I give up. “Thems the break sometimes.” But that isn’t really something I am able to let go this time around. So now I’m analyzing it in my head over and over.
Result: sudden loss of interest. Is it a pattern: Yes. Common denominator: Me. Emotional conclusion: something is wrong with me or something better than me came along. Logical conclusion: I’m not good enough to stick with or to compete with another other options.
I invited my platonic friend Shannon over and had a friend date to make up for the cancelled one. She tells me that this is a them thing, not a me thing. A cultural thing, and generational thing (but these women were all within two years of me) and all the nice things friends tell you to make you feel better, but I don’t, I feel like shit.
So, I’m still gainfully employed, I’m kind, I’m creative, most people tell me I’m one of the funniest people they have ever met. I’m progressive, feminist, and try my best to behave in a kind manner all the time. I’m educated. I have empathy. I’m tall, I’m a little dad-bodied, but I wear it well, I’ve been told I’m handsome in a traditional sort of way, I’m in good health. I do get social anxiety, but usually only in groups of three or more, it didn’t really manifest to any of these folks. And I am a little worldweary, but I’m 39, who isn’t by my age.
And yet I’ve struck out three times in a row here with what seemed to be good matches that gave me every indication they were into me. The most recent had a total of three weeks we were in constant communication, all positive up until the moment she decided to leave earth because her home planet needed her or whatever reason or lack of reason she had.
But I don’t know. Do you have any insight into this? I mean, other than it’s all their fault, because regardless of whose fault it is, it still just sucks for me sitting here disappointed once again.
-Not Good Enough to Keep
I’m a big believer in doing some self-examination when you’re running into the same dating dilemmas over and over again, NGEK. Often if you keep having the same problem, then it’s likely there’s an issue that you’re missing, some x-factor that you aren’t quite aware of that’s cropping up in ways you don’t expect.
Like I’m often saying: if you keep encountering the same glitch, start looking for the commonalities in all those instances. And yes, sometimes the only—or biggest—commonality is you.
But that doesn’t always mean that you are the problem, or that you’re coming away with the right conclusion.
Such is the case with you, chief. While yes, you’re one of the commonalities in all of these encounters, that doesn’t automatically mean that you’re the author of this particular misery… at least, not directly.
Part of the problem is, honestly, one of omission. One of the things that us relationship coach dating advice columnists aren’t supposed to say is that dating is a numbers game. We’re supposed to tell you to do X, Y and Z things correctly and you’ll be able to land any relationship you want with any woman you want. But in reality, that’s not going to work… primarily because people stubbornly insist on being individuals and not computer programs.
The truth is that starting a relationship requires three things: 1) the right person, 2) who is in the right place, and 3) at the right time. If those three things don’t line up, then it’s just not going to happen. You might meet someone who’s in the right place in her life to date, at a time when she’s ready, willing and actively looking… but you and she may simply not be compatible on some fundamental level. You might find someone who is so perfect for you that you may as well have created her from the ground up, but she’s about to move across the country, just left a long-term relationship or is in the middle of some sort of familial or financial crisis. It sucks… but as a wise man once said: it’s possible to make no errors and still lose; that’s not weakness, that’s life.
One of the realities of dating is that you’re going to meet folks who aren’t right for you or you won’t be right for them. That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you, it just means that you two didn’t sync up the way you need to for a relationship to work. And yeah, sometimes it takes a few dates to figure this out. Sometimes we go on a date with someone who we kinda like but aren’t OH HOLY GOD excited about, so we give it a second or even third try just to be sure. Sometimes we’ll start off thinking that this person is sex on toast and you’re ready to throw caution to the wind… only to discover there’s something about them that you’re just not into. Maybe it’s the way they kiss or the way they taste. Maybe you have incompatible views on breakfast tacos. Who knows. Point is: it’s something that took a little time to realize and now that they (or you) are aware of it, it’s something that can’t be overlooked.
Now, it’d be great if they would say “hey, I don’t think this is going to work for me, best of luck to you” instead of just pulling the fade or ghosting, but unfortunately, that’s just part of dating. Always has been, it’s just that social media means we hear about it more now.
Similarly, it’d be nice if someone could say why they weren’t feeling it. But honestly: they may not know. And even if they did… you probably don’t want to know anyway. The least helpful thing you can do is take someone else’s personal preference and assume that this is a flaw in you instead of just not being their favorite flavor.
And just to get this out of the way: dating isn’t a competition. Nobody—except for sociopaths, anyway—keeps a spreadsheet tally of people’s points and decides who to date by who’s got the highest score. You’re not “competing” with other guys; you’re competing against a night alone. It’s not that she’s trying to decide between you and Dirk Chestmeat, it’s does she like you, period, or would she prefer a night at home with the Battery Operated Boyfriend and Too Hot To Handle on Netflix?
Trust me: if someone clicks with you, has a great time with you and feels connected to you, they’re not thinking “oh he’s not bad but I bet there’s someone even better…” they’re thinking “Wow, this guy’s great!”
So what do you do about all of this? Well, to start with, you try to manage expectations; a handful of dates doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. Putting all of your emotional eggs in one basket after a date or two is a good way to end up getting needlessly hurt. It’s also why keeping your options open, continuing to match with other people, going on dates with other people and not focusing on any one person early on is a smarter plan. It may sting when someone you like doesn’t like you back, but having that abundance in your life helps you realize that they’re just someone you didn’t click with.
Even when those dates seem to go well, that doesn’t guarantee that it’s entirely reciprocal. Hell, even making out or agreeing to another date right then doesn’t guarantee anything; folks will often do both, with someone they don’t intend to see again. Sometimes it’s a way of making sure things end smoothly and without drama. Sometimes they’re cool with it for one date but don’t want to take it any further, and saying so just leads to long, uncomfortable—and occasionally dangerous—confrontations.
The next thing you do is focus on having great dates — dates that’re fun, unique and engaging. Fun is, hands down, the most attractive quality in a man; the more that somebody enjoys their time with you, the more they’re going to prioritize their relationship with you. Amazing conversation, making someone laugh, doing interesting and (physically) exciting things together all create that sense of “this person makes me feel great, I want to spend more time with them and keep feeling like this.”
The third thing you need to do is not work so hard trying to get the next date or the one after that. One of the things that people rarely realize is that if someone is into you, trying to spend time with them is easy. Someone who’s excited to be with you will try to see you; you won’t have to work at it (outside of external scheduling snafus, anyway). If trying to make plans or even get a hold of them is like pulling teeth… well, that’s generally a sign that they’re not feeling it.
Just as importantly, though: do the things that make your life worth living. Part of what makes someone a desirable partner is that they have a great life, one with passion and interests and things that satisfy the soul. The more that you love your own life, the more you’ll find people who’d be interested in being part of that life, especially when you do the things that you love that bring you in contact with other folks who also love those things, or love things that are related to it. Someone who has passion, ambition and direction also has certainty and confidence, incredibly important traits that others lack. Those all inform who you are as a person and—importantly—help bring you in contact with people who are compatible with you and your life.
Those are the folks who’ll be excited to see you and who’ll stick around.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
My girlfriend is one of my very best friends. We’d known each other for about 5 years before we started dating. There had been very brief flings in the past, but she didn’t feel right about being in a relationship. She’d had several bad relationships in the past with emotionally unstable partners and, for a long time, I was dealing with the emotional baggage of a failed marriage. Admittedly, I was needy, and she couldn’t handle another partner who she needed to prop up. We still cared for each other and decided to stay friends, which we did quite successfully.
I’ve long dealt with anxiety and depression, but one day, I had an epiphany about self-care. I started to get my shit together. I began working out for my own health and well-being. I started to say ‘yes’ to things that made me anxious before. I have confidence that I found for myself. And thanks to my now GF, I got a job at her company that I love.
One night after hanging out with a group of friends, we opened up to each other. She told me that she has had feelings for me for a long time but didn’t know if I felt the same. I admitted to her that I’d never really stopped caring for her as more than a friend and we began seeing each other in earnest. It’s the purest sense of love I’ve ever had with another person. We would talk all night long, have great sex, and couldn’t get enough of each other.
We had about two months of this before the pandemic hit. Now we spend all of our time together in lockdown. We started having petty squabbles (I wouldn’t consider them arguments) and when I told her I thought the dynamic of our relationship had changed and wanted to fix it, it hit her like a ton of bricks. She hadn’t seen that there was a problem and now she was doubting the strength in us she formerly reveled in. Now things really have changed.
I’ve taken steps to earn that strength back by being vulnerable. By talking things out and really listening. By doing my best to have a positive attitude. But the intimacy in our love life has taken a sharp decline. The spontaneous nature of our sex life has come to a standstill, as has even making out. She still wants to hold my hand, or lean her head on my shoulder, but the nights of talking all night long have disappeared.
Before we were a couple, she would brag about her sexual escapades, showcased her collection of toys to me, and talked about the multi-partner experiences she had been involved with. But I’ve come to learn that she views herself as predominately asexual. She explained that sex with a partner becomes ‘A Whole Thing’, whereas with one-time encounters, it was purely physical. This feels like a 180, not only from the things she’s said in the past, but from how things were with us before I tried to discuss a perceived problem. Things have been this way for about the past eight weeks.
I find it very difficult to express myself in this situation. It’s not just the sex that is the issue, but more a lack of intimacy. I want to feel desired. I want to feel sexy. She becomes defensive when I bring it up, to the point where I’ve stopped trying.
So herein lies the issue. I’m aware that this is a stressful time for everyone. I’m aware that she’s had issues in the past with sex and trust. I’m aware that relationships ebb and flow. But I do not know how to talk to her about the way I feel. It seems like an issue she’s not interested in fixing and I’m unsure if I’m being paranoid, insecure, and over-analyzing.
I love her. I know she loves me. I still want us to have a future together. But I don’t know how to shake this feeling that perhaps she’ll never see me in the way she used to, and I don’t know how to deal with it. Help!
It’s true that sex and passion tends to fade over the course of the relationship, just by virtue of all of us being mammals. But fading to almost nothing within two months? That often means something happened. Sometimes it’s a case of “hey, we had a great physical connection, but not one that was enough to last more than the short term.” Other times, there’s been an external change—something outside of the relationship that cratered that person’s libido. That could be stress, a new medication or a crisis of some sort.
Fortunately, this one’s easy, ILBB. You say this has been an issue for the last eight weeks. What happened, oh, say, about eight or nine weeks ago that wasn’t in effect beforehand?
COVID-19. The lockdown. A global pandemic that’s infected more than a million Americans and killed nearly 100,000 people in the US alone. Even if you’re someone who’s in a fairly secure place in life—you still have a job, you’re financially secure, you’re not in danger of being evicted or being unable to pay your rent or mortgage—you’re still dealing with an unprecedented level of stress and concern. The spectre of a disease with no vaccine and no cure that spreads like wildfire and the effect it’s had on literally everything in our lives looms over everything we do like Banquo’s ghost.
That’s the sort of thing that fucks with people, often in ways they never expect. People are having a hard time sleeping or working or even just thinking. Productivity is down because oh, hey, we’re in a time of unprecedented crisis. All of our emotions are louder and harder to deal with because we all have such reduced bandwidth right now. And for a lot of folks, the pandemic and the lockdown is absolutely cratering their libidos.
I strongly suspect that this is the case with your girlfriend. She feels profoundly unsexy and unsexual because… well, **gestures at everything**. The problem is that it’s hard to really explain that in a way that doesn’t seem shallow. It’s a little hard to say “Hey, the current state of everything is fucking with my head in a profound way” without sounding like you ALSO think that you can’t really get hornt up because the stars aren’t right. And, in fairness: she may not know why, specifically, she feels like this, just that she does. And when you bring it up, you end up making her feel like she’s failing at being a girlfriend right now, which is only going to make her feel defensive and upset and even LESS like fucking.
Now, let me be clear: your feeling rejected is understandable. Wanting to feel desired by your partner is valid, as is being disappointed that things seem to have changed. So is the frustration of feeling like “we had this amazing physical connection, now it’s gone and I don’t know why.”
The thing you’re running into here is the conflict between the understandable and valid desire for physical intimacy with the whammy that this crisis is putting on… well, pretty much everyone. And unfortunately, there isn’t much to be done in this case besides gritting your teeth and realizing that this isn’t about you, it’s about what stress, anxiety and, y’know, everything, is doing to people.
But the fact that she isn’t feeling sexual doesn’t mean that she doesn’t want to be intimate with you.
Notice how she still wants to cuddle and be held? That’s because she, like you, still craves intimacy and contact. And you should be giving that to one another. But the more you push her for sex or about why she doesn’t want to have it, the more she’s going to shut down.
So what you need to do is simple: you need to tell her that you understand. Tell her “Hey, we’re in a weird place right now and the world’s in chaos and we’re all stressed and I don’t want to add to that. So for now, let’s cuddle, let’s hold each other and when you’re feeling like more, you let me know. Until then, it’s all good.”
On your end of things: you need to realize that this isn’t about you, it’s about her reaction to a unique situation. She wants to be intimate, but she can’t do so in the ways that you want right now, and that’s going to be more important in the long run. For now, be the point of human connection that she needs. Hug, cuddle and just be. Knowing that you’re her rock that she can cling to at this time will mean everything. Meanwhile, get yourself a Fleshlight or a Tenga and some lube to keep yourself satisfied. It won’t be the same, but it’ll do the job while we all grit our teeth and white-knuckle our way through the crisis.
Because this WILL pass and we (and she and you) WILL feel normal again. Giving her space to feel the fuck out of her feels without feeling like she’s doing something wrong will do far more to get her to a place where she feels like having sex again than any amount of trying to analyze things and trying to get there before she’s got the emotional space for it.
Got a doozy for you. I am a severe fuck up. And now I need to know, what is the path forward? What does the future hold?
So some context. I’m 36. Way back when I was 16 my military family moved (again) and this time to the Midwest. In the new Midwest town I moved to I ended up meeting a girl who became my world. First everything. While we dated we finished the last two years of high school (3/4th of which at schools an hour apart but we had new drivers licenses) and then going into college. She went to a college an hour away from mine. She always knew the school and major she wanted even at 16. I just wanted to be near her. I was 16, had a car, making 3.0 gpa, and a girlfriend… so as far as I was concerned my life was pretty much set. Again, fuck up. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. But my college had a program in biology, in computers, and in art and all were a possibility. Being an hour away was a definite plus to my happy little world.
Well college opens you up to a lot of new people. And while I was content in my pretty monolithic social circle, she wasn’t. Her social group at her college an hour away changed. That social group didn’t like me. And it wasn’t long before that social group was getting conversations I wasn’t, and was getting more influence than I was. Obviously a split happened.
When the split happened, it totally hit me out of left field though all of her friends at the time said it shouldn’t have. When the split happened my little world crashed and suddenly I was very alone in a place I had no idea what I was doing in. No future outlook. It didn’t help that at that time several other stressors crashed down. Tried to mediate a giant SNAFU between an artist and his model, suddenly failing a class which was not acceptable, and now this.
A month after the split I was having panic attacks, not eating, not sleeping, and grasping at straws frantically trying to get some sense of normalcy. I ended up during that month continuously reaching out to one of those new friends whom I hated dearly but felt I had to in order to regain some normalcy. The guy increasingly told me to stay away, put things “on the back burner”, “nothing is happening”, “just let it be”, “you’ll get past this”. He and some of the other new friends were also increasingly telling me this was my fault, that I was somehow a monster, or abusive, and that I just wasn’t listening. All horrifying concepts.
At the end of the month she decided to let me know she and this dude had been dating a month and just weren’t letting me know. There wasn’t overlap, but basically within days of the breakup they were a thing. Between this, and all the monster talk and talk of it all being my fault, for the first time in a month I had a moment of pure calm and clarity. Something that actually felt like it made sense. If it was my fault, if I was somehow a monster, and if I cared at all for her, then I needed to ensure she never feared that monster again. So in true fuck up fashion I went out to the middle of nowhere and downed bleach. Again, I’m a fuck up. While this was a colossally stupid choice of over compensation and inappropriate action, at the time I felt like I was stepping up. I was 20, inexperienced, and I thought I was making the biggest choice of my life and doing something bigger than myself to “save” someone I cared about if even from myself. Again, at 36 it was massively stupid and overly correcting. At 20 things looked very different.
Obviously I fucked up at fucking up as I’m still breathing today. That action makes you puke a lot of blood but doesn’t kill you right away, if at all. What it does do is completely change your life. I lost all my friends. She and her new friends immediately stopped talking to me. Saying I was an attention seeking, manipulative monster. I was kicked out of college, hospitalized, forced on medications, and basically isolated. No matter how bad life is, I learned it can always get worse.
It took weeks to get home. It took another year to get back into that college. A year that involved a lot of swallowing my pride, making deals with doctors and deans, and just doing what I was fucking told. Once back in school I did graduate with my degree, my class, and right at the end finally off medication. But I spent the last two years of college alone. Pretty much hated life and most people didn’t want to be around me. On top of that the new bf had changed to my school. And he hated me. I ended up on disciplinary probation when I went to visit an old roommate that lived next door to him and he had a webcam tapped to the peep hole of his door out to the hallway, proceeded to complain I was near his door.
Since then time speeds up and sort of splits. On her end she ends up graduating, getting the dream job in another state, new bf comes shortly after, they break up, she ends up meeting a guy on WoW whom she moves from a southern state, then marries, and 2 years later divorces. End up moving back to her home state, getting a job, and going back to her roots of art and cars. A successful woman should fill anyone with pride. Though she is alone as far as I know.
I graduated, ended up moving to a western state on my last Target paycheck (so next to nothing). Driven by my degree and by the fact that everyone back in the Midwest seemed to hate me and was telling me I needed to get as far from her as possible the chance to move west seemed like the ethical choice. While out west I did several jobs. Some more profitable or interesting than others. I survived. I even ended up dating briefly but it didn’t work out. I never could form that same human connection with another I once had. By 26 I won’t date again. Tried the shrink and medication thing, none of it ever made me feel better and talking usually results in someone telling me I’m a horrible person for some reason.
Now I’m 36. I’m even further out west. I have a salary based career, responsibility, more financial stability than I have ever seen. And it’s even marginally based on my degree. Never been arrested, never done drugs, been good about leaving everyone alone and just letting them live their lives. I don’t date, I don’t have friends. I work, home, sleep, repeat. On days off, assume more sleep. Between everything falling apart at 20 to today I’ve spent the vast majority of my adult life alone. I have survived, but I can’t say I have enjoyed it or done it with much purpose or planning. I am doing everything I think society wants me to do. If it helps to put a mental image in mind, all this COVID isolation has been my reality for most of my life.
But as far as I know the one thing that has ever made me feel happy, or even whole for that matter, is currently sitting somewhere in that Midwestern state either hating my guts or otherwise blissfully unaware of my existence.
So what is the way forward? What does the future hold? Because I don’t see life changing. I feel stuck. I know what I think is simple truth I’ve known half my life. But I also don’t see a path to make it happen. What you see on TV and reality are very different and frankly reality is far less poetic. Happily ever after doesn’t, can’t, shouldn’t happen. So how do I endure isolation another 40 years?
Slowly going mad
So, SGM, do you see the thing I said earlier to Not Good Enough to Keep about drawing the wrong conclusions about everything? That’s a lot of what you’re doing here. One of the mistakes people make is that we all assume we’re impassionate and perfectly objective observers of our own lives, but we’re not. We all have biases and beliefs that color our perceptions and make it easy to tell ourselves stories that aren’t true. And then confirmation bias kicks in and you only pay attention to the things that you feel confirm what you already believe and ignore the things that debunk it.
You’ve built yourself a narrative about how you’re a monster and a fuck-up when what you are is a guy who’s in a lot of pain and who hasn’t been dealing with it well. You’re in a self-destructive loop where you’ve decided that you’re awful and horrible and nothing you do will ever be right or good enough, and that’s not true.
The biggest issue is that you’ve taken teenage and college drama and internalized it to the point of being Greek tragedy.
Let me walk you through what almost certainly actually happened: you and your girlfriend grew apart, like most couples do after high school. The vast majority of high school relationships end shortly after graduation. Of the ones that don’t, the majority of those end within the first year of college. This is simply because you’re both in different places—emotionally and developmentally, often physically too—and you’re growing in different directions. You have different social groups, different experiences and different lives. You’re trying new things, meeting new people and discovering who you are… and that often means that the relationship that worked for you while you were in high school no longer works for who you are now.
You and your girlfriend were only an hour’s distance but worlds apart, so it’s not surprising that you were starting to grow apart. Not because you did anything wrong, but because that’s how life goes. You may not have fit in with her new group of friends. That’s not your fault. She grew closer with them because, hey, that’s who she spends her time with. Also not your fault. It’s not that they influenced her or gaslit her into hating you, it’s just that you and she were becoming different people, people who were no longer compatible.
Now the split hit you hard, that’s understandable. Break-ups pretty much always suck. The problem that you had is that you based your entire world around being half of that couple and apparently didn’t have much of a life outside of it. So now the keystone of your life is gone and you’re flailing. It’s unfortunate, but not surprising. It also doesn’t mean you’re a fuck-up or that you destroyed any chance at normalcy. You were just suddenly dealing with a situation you weren’t ready for.
Now, your ex’s friends likely didn’t know any of this and, to be blunt, it wasn’t their responsibility to know. To them, you likely came across as someone who couldn’t accept that things were over and was trying to manipulate your ex into coming back. They didn’t know that you were in freefall. It was also almost certainly abundantly clear that you hated them… and yet you were constantly trying to get a hold of them and your ex. So they likely responded to that; people will usually react to the emotions that people send at them, after all. If someone who clearly hates you is constantly making demands of your time, you’re likely to respond negatively.
Now I don’t know if they were telling you that you were a monster and abuser or if that’s your post-hoc interpretation of things, colored by the way that you felt then and clearly feel now. But regardless: the better thing to do would’ve been to avail yourself of the mental health care your university had on offer. You didn’t. Not judging, just observing.
To an outside observer—especially someone who already had a negative opinion about you—your suicide attempt could well have looked like an attempt to stir up drama and get your ex back. They didn’t know you were in severe pain and still are. So they continued to see things in the worst possible light… just as you do.
And from there… well, as you say, things split. You went your way, your ex went hers. And honestly? I can all but guarantee you that you think about her more than she thinks about you. Not because she’s living in blissful ignorance and couldn’t care less about you, but because you’re still living in that time period and she’s moved on. You’re a tree that’s grown around this thing that’s been causing you pain and you’ve made it part of your identity. Small wonder that therapy hasn’t been working for you. I strongly suspect that you aren’t able to give an accurate account of what happened, nor do I think you’re actually listening to when your therapists tell you that maybe you’re wrong about things. You’re clinging to this self-loathing because you believe that you deserve it and don’t want to let go because you haven’t done enough penance for your imagined sins.
And the things you describe about your life now? Well… speaking from deep and personal experience, you’re dealing with chronic depression, man, which only makes things worse. You’ve already got this bone-deep belief that you’re a fuck-up who doesn’t deserve good things and you’ve got this voice whispering in your ear about how you’ll never be good enough and how it’s all your fault and everything is pointless. And it’s whispering in your voice, which makes it easier to believe and harder to ignore.
But depression is a liar. It repeats the worst things because you already believe them. It saps away your desire and your motivation because there’s no point. And it leaves you rooted in the past because that’s where all your mistakes lie. You still feel them, still live with this, because you won’t let them go; it’s 2020 and you’re still living in 2004.
The first thing you need to do is hie thyself back to a therapist, and likely a psychiatrist as well. Getting on something like Zoloft or Wellbutrin can help ease depression symptoms enough that therapy can actually help. And it may take you a few tries, both to find a dosage and medication that works but also a therapist you can work with. Therapy is a lot like dating; you and your therapist need to be compatible and to have the right kind of chemistry if you want to make things work. If you feel like your therapist is wrong for you or isn’t listening, you can break up with them and go to a different one. If the medication isn’t working after a few months, or has side-effects that you simply can’t or won’t tolerate, you can demand to be on something else.
But the next—and possibly most important—thing that you need to do is that you need to forgive yourself. You need to forgive yourself for loving not too wisely but too well. You need to forgive yourself for being a teenager, with all the emotional volatility that comes with it. You need to forgive yourself for panicking at a time when you found yourself lost and adrift. You need to forgive yourself for making mistakes, like everyone does.
And more than anything else, you need to forgive yourself for the hurt you caused. Not to your ex or her friends or your classmates… but to yourself. It’s hard to let go of pain, especially pain that you cause to yourself. If you do, then what was it all for? If you don’t deserve that punishment, then does that mean that you were holding yourself back, cutting yourself to the soul for no reason? Did you spend all that time, lose all those hours and days, for nothing?
Yes, you did. Which is why you need to forgive yourself. You didn’t know what you were doing or why, but you were still doing it. And now it’s time to accept that, stop it, and begin the process of healing.
You lost time to this pain, time you won’t get back. But continuing to hurt yourself isn’t the answer. The answer is to finally put this burden down, forgive yourself, let the wounds heal and move forward. You have spent too long in the dark and now it’s time to turn on the light. You lost time to your pain… but you have your entire life ahead of you to live.
And the best way you can heal your past is to learn from it and let it go. It’s time to start living in your present and building a better future. You’re not a fuck-up, you’re just a man who’s been holding on to too much main for far too long, and it’s time to let that pain go.
You’ll be OK. I promise. You’ve got the strength to be kind to yourself and the courage to heal yourself. Life will get better once you let this go.
All will be well.
Did your college relationship fall apart? Has your sex life changed under lockdown? Share your story in the comments below and we’ll be back with more of your questions in two weeks.
Ask Dr. NerdLove is Kotaku’s bi-weekly dating column, hosted by the one and only Harris O’Malley, AKA Dr. NerdLove. Got a question you’d like answered? Write firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Kotaku” in the subject line.
Harris O’Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr. NerdLove and the Dr. NerdLove YouTube channel. His new dating guide New Game+: The Geek’s Guide to Love, Sex and Dating is out now from Amazon, iTunes and everywhere fine books are sold. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us.