Hello, Internet! Welcome to Ask Dr. NerdLove, the only dating advice column that is a registered agent of the Shadow Proclimation under clause 2814 subsection G.
This week we have a reader who wants to know: can he save his relationship? Should he even try? Meanwhile, another reader wants to know: how can he get over his nasty case of Oneitis?
Let's do this thing:
I'm a college student halfway through school and I've been with my girlfriend for 11 months. Although not perfect, the relationship had been almost exactly what I wanted for a long time. We meshed very well, worked as a team, we were sexually compatible, and we could spend long periods together without getting bored or angry and also spend time apart without damaging the relationship.
About 3 months ago I fell ill with a bad case of mono. I missed a whole month of school, lost 15% of my body weight, I was hospitalized, and I needed surgery before the recovery process could even begin (surgery? for mono? its complicated). Anyways, due to the nature of mono's contagion there was a complete lapse of intimacy for that month, whereas previously we would have sex anywhere from 5-12 times a week. A lot. She stuck with me and helped take care of me while I was down and out, but she was very excited to resume our busy sex life as soon as I started going back to classes. But mono sticks in the body for a long time. I needed 12 hours of sleep a day, when normally 7 or 8 was the usual. My organs were swollen in a way that they would literally rupture from any exercise besides short distance walking for 2 months. Missing 4 weeks of school right after transferring to a new major I had a lot of catchup work in a lot of classes I was very new to. In short, I was busy, out of shape, and always tired and lethargic.
We began having sex again but nowhere near the former pace. 3 or 4 times a week at most, which is still fairly often in my opinion. I didn't feel deprived. The sex wasn't as good because I was out of shape and low on energy. But to me it wasn't such a drastic change and I didn't view it as a problem, just a phase that would pass.
My girlfriend did not adjust well to this. She began being picky and resentful over benign issues and she was verbally snappy with me often. She would yell at me or become angry at me during normal conversation without expressing the true reasons for her feelings. I know there were reasons, she isn't some unsolvable puzzle like some men think women are. She is a human being.
After about a month of this behavior she finally tells me she feels unwanted and she thinks I am depressed. I see the problem now, although I don't feel depressed exactly. I'm lonely and I'm struggling to my head above water at school, but I'm not intensely sad. She says she doesn't want the burden of being with someone who is depressed, which almost sounds like an ultimatum to me... Anyways, I've been trying to make her feel more wanted by expressing deep interest in her, valuing her life, her problems, and her triumphs, and by increasing the amount of sex.
However, my sex drive is just low right now. And I don't know how to change that. Sometimes she will try to get me aroused without my consent or approval. Usually after we have already done it once that day and she wants more.
I know to most it doesn't seem like an issue. "Just have more sex with your gf, why is that a chore?" It's not a chore, but its a lot of pressure when I am really not feeling it. I'm still sexually attracted to her, but she thinks otherwise. Rather than meeting me in the middle and helping me to help the relationship she's started putting her problems above mine and asking me to fully commit to solving her issues. We've gotten into a fight or two trying to find common ground and jealousy has crept in. She made me delete the contact info of a friend of mine who happens to be a girl because I had a conversation with her about my loneliness (because to me, it sounds like my gf keeps telling me I'm not good enough, I'm not good enough, and that makes me in turn feel unwanted).
I'm not comfortable with her picking who I can be friends with and she is not acting like herself. I've only told you the bad, but trust me there has always been good along the way. Even through the bad times. She's been my anchor and I Love her. But as it stands now I don't want this relationship. I want to find a way to fix it, but I don't know if I can. Time is running out.
Does this sound salvageable? if it is, is it even worth it? Help.
- Under Pressure
Dude. Break up with her. Do it now. This is not a good scene for either of you. The further you get into this email, the more red flags I see, and by the end it'd starting to look like a military parade in Tiananmen Square.
Right now you're standing on the edge of what is an increasingly toxic and abusive relationship and frankly, it's probably only going to get worse from here on out.
I mean, let's look at this rationally. You've just gone through a major illness - one that's going to have some seriously lingering effects on you. Mono takes a long damn time to get over so it's not at all surprising that your endurance and libido are low. It's taken you a lot of work - both in terms of your body and your school work - to get caught up. That's going to take up damn near all of your mental and emotional bandwidth. Your relationship - any relationship - is going to have to take a back seat while you try to get your literal and metaphorical feet back underneath you.
It's good that your girlfriend helped you with the mono but the way she's treating you now seems to imply that she expected you to be back at full fighting and fucking trim as soon as the doc gave you the all-clear. 3 to 4 times a week is pretty damn good considering everything that you've just gone through. Yeah, it's a shame that you're not able to do it every day and twice on Sundays the way you used to back before, y'know, you were so sick you required surgery, but come on.
The fact that your girlfriend is treating this as a slight on her is the first red flag. Laying down an ultimatum (and yes, "I'm not going to date someone with depression" is an ultimatum) is another. Right now you're dealing with the fallout from being seriously ill; that's going to do a number on you emotionally, especially as you're playing catch-up. While I imagine you are dealing with a certain level of depression, I think the bigger problem is that you're dealing with someone who is being abusive.
(And as an aside: depression doesn't just mean having the blues or being sad. Feelings of helplessness, isolation and that everything is pointless are also signs of depression)
Threatening to break up with you if you don't recover? Red flag. Blaming you for all of her problems and demanding that they be your top priority? Red flag. Forcing you to quit talking to somebody because she's irrationally jealous? BIIIIG red flag. Picking who you can be friends with? This is known as "isolating" and that's textbook abusive behavior. Trying to get you aroused without your consent? Let's be honest here: if I'd read about this with the genders swapped, we wouldn't be talking about the relationship going south, we'd be talking about the fact that it was sexual assault.
I know you've had good times with her, but it's clear that this relationship is fucking bad for you. You need to get the hell out and you need to get the hell out now. It's time you focus on getting better and that's never going to happen as long as she's in your life. It's only going to get worse. Break up with her, reconnect with your friends and find the emotional and social support you need.
And since you're in college, take advantage of your school's health services. Talk with a counselor about the emotional issues you've been having during your recovery; they'll be able to help you out and possibly get you some assistance in getting back on your feet with your course work.
Good luck. And check back in so we know how you're doing.
Eh, what's up Doc? (Sorry....),
I was reading on Kotaku about a guy who was stuck on one woman, appropriately dubbed "Oneitis," and looked at another article you wrote about scarcity mentality. It was all good stuff but I didn't find it particularly helpful in my dilemma. I have Oneitis type deal with a girl I've known since I was a lot younger. We never saw a whole lot of each other, we just both volunteered for a program as counselors for 2 weeks every summer and that was about it, we always got along really well. We both stopped volunteering after we finished high school and I kinda figured that was that, it was a fun little crush and now it's over. Recently we started hanging out a bunch and going on weekend trips with some of her other friends. Those old crush type feelings unsurprisingly resurfaced.
Enter my dilemma. I don't want to tell her how I feel. I don't have any reason to believe she feels the same way and I don't want to ruin our convention weekends and other such trips by adding any kind of awkwardness about feelings to the mix. We're a great bunch and I don't want to be the cause of us falling apart because of any awkwardness I introduce. I don't have the problem of dreaming of us together in our perfect fantasy relationship. I've got pretty low self esteem and depression issues as well so I've definitely got myself convinced that I would be bad for her anyway. I wouldn't want to subject her to my shit, she has her own real problems to deal with she shouldn't have to fight to drag me out of a corner because my brain told me I'm worthless and I believed it.
So now I come to the scarcity mentality. I definitely have one of those in general (and am now trying to work on that now that I'm aware of it), but not in the way you described in regard to women. The idea of "The One" is absolutely absurd to me. I am a firm believer that there are lots of people, hundreds, maybe even thousands, that any one of us could be happily in love with forever, we just have to meet them. I guess my problem is that I like this one right now but I don't know how to handle it. Normally I would just tell her how I feel and if she wasn't into it move on with my life, but with her I feel like I will ruin this great thing we all have a group of friends because I'm selfish. I've tried to just forget and get over it, but every time I see her I'm reminded of why I feel this way to begin with. Should I just say "fuckit" and tell her? Should I bottle it up until I physically explode into slimy giblets? Maybe you have a method for getting over someone that I'm unaware of that could help? Who knows (well, maybe you do), but thanks anyway for reading this, Doc.
Bad at Words, Worse at Feelings
I have a question for you, BaWWaF: are you seeing anyone for your depression? Because that, I think, is a big factor here.
While you think about that, let me give you some general advice about handling crushes and attractions on people. Generations of television and movies have taught us that having a crush on somebody is a call to action. Either it's something that needs to be followed through - making confessing your feelings a moral imperative or something to be resisted at all costs because being attracted to somebody could ruin everything.
What we almost never hear is to just accept that you have a crush on someone. This idea that attraction is something that must be acted upon is part of why we have this myth that men and women can never be friends because sex is always going to get in the way.
(Strangely, nobody seems to believe that gay men can't be friends or that lesbians can't. And if sexual attraction always gets in the way, who're bisexuals supposed to be friends with?)
I mean, let's look at the way you've framed your question about whether or not to tell your crush how you feel about her. You've basically given yourself two options: tell her or keep it inside and explode from the pressure. But you have a third one: just accept your feelings for her as feelings, not as a command that must be obeyed.
Confused? Stick with me for a second. See, one of the problems with Oneitis - one of the reasons why it can be so hard to get rid of - is that we make those crushes a part of who we are. They become part of our identity; we treat them either as something that we need to act on and strive for or to be fought against at all times. But all either of these options do is reinforce the existence of the crush. It doesn't matter that you say you believe there are other people out there who you could love and find a Happily Ever After with because you have made this specific crush part of your identity. You are BaWWaF, Guy With Oneitis. Trying to win over the woman you're fixated on or trying to repress those feelings both just fix them in the forefront of your mind. It's become a giant fixture, this omnipresent thing that you have to strive against.
But if you just accept that you have this attraction, you're cutting the power it has over you. It quits being a cruel hope for a future that - in your mind - can never be or a Sisyphean boulder that you have to continually push away. It becomes just one more thing: "ah, I'm attracted to this person, ok then." By accepting it, but not feeling the need to act on it, it goes from being this major obstacle to background noise - just one more random moment in an otherwise busy life.
It seems a little woo-woo, I know; I'm basically asking you to wish your crush away. But it does work. You acknowledge how you feel, accept your feelings… and then also accept that they're just feelings. Enjoy the crush—that happy queasiness, that sudden rush when you hear their voice—without feeling that you need to do anything about it. Treat it like a roller-coaster or floating down a river—you're just along for the ride for now. When you're not struggling with it, you'll be able to let it go and let it fade over time.
But then we have your depression and your low self-esteem complicating things. Right now you're using your crush on this woman to punish yourself. I mean, look at the way you're describing things: ruining things because "you're selfish"? Squeezing it all down until you explode? You don't want to drag her down?
I think holding on to this crush - making it part of your identity - is has become an extension of your low self-esteem. I think that holding onto it has become a sort of self-flagellation for you, a reminder that you're not good enough and don't deserve happiness. That's why you portray this in such negative terms - it's the hammer with which you're tapping yourself in the nuts.
I think what you need to do, more than anything else, is see professional about your depression. Working through your self-esteem issues and the way your brain fucks with you will be the first step to not feeling like you're continually putting your friendship at risk.
Then, as you recover, just relax. Don't try to control your feelings or force yourself to act on them. Just feel them. Enjoy them. Let them flow through you. Before you know it, they'll have faded, leaving you and your friendship intact.
Have you escaped from a toxic relationship? Did you get over an inconvenient crush? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments and we'll be back in two weeks with more of your dating questions.
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 podcast. His new book Simplified Dating is available exclusively through Amazon. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove.