How do I start dating now that I'm sane?
April 13, 2009 8:17 PM   Subscribe

I've been single for the last three years and my previous relationships have been few, brief and generally awful. I want to change this.

I'm a 27 year old guy from the UK. I have bipolar disorder. This began when I was around 12 years old and got steadily worse until, around three years ago, it completely derailed my life and I was out of work until the end of last year. Fortunately I'm now diagnosed and have the right medication. My moods have been completely stable for the last year or so and I've been back at work for the last six months. I'm happy with the way my life's going for the first time ever.

The bipolar disorder is one reason why my relationships have sucked. I've never had a relationship where I've been sane. All of them started while I was hypomanic and ended after that crashed into depression. Mostly they began with drunk sex and the relationship just seemed to follow along like the hangover (and was about as enjoyable and fulfilling, for both of us).

The other reason is that I spent most of my teenage years seriously depressed and with non-existent self-esteem. I believed that nobody would ever touch me, let alone love me, and that the only emotion I'd ever really inspire would be disgust. I'm over this now. I was pretty much over it by the time I actually got some therapy on this and other issues. I don't have any problems with self-esteem at this point. I like who I am, and I like my appearance now that I actually have the motivation to care about how I look. But because I spent my time hiding my interest in women (because I thought it would disgust them), I never learned how to express that interest. And because I never approached anyone, I never learned how to deal with rejection.

But right now I don't even get to the point where I'd have to deal with rejection. My initial instinct, when faced with someone I find attractive, is to hide any trace of interest in them. This isn't helpful. I know why I do this, and I don't believe any of the justifications I once had for this behaviour. But being aware of these things doesn't help me change it. Since I've recovered from my illness, I've been stepping outside my comfort zone in other ways. (For example, I started to go swimming earlier this year, which was new. It was the first fitness activity I'd actively sought out ever. I wasn't very good at it to start which is something I used to have problems with. And, although by that point I was comfortable wearing t-shirts that didn't hide all of my self-harm scars, it was a big step along the road to being completely comfortable with them.) Dealing with these other situations doesn't seem to have helped with this one. Often I don't even consider whether I'm attracted to women I meet, because it seems better to be able to interact with them normally, rather than freezing up.

So I pretty much have the emotional responses of an awkward teenager. I never had the chance to lose that awkwardness.

I've been trying to get past all this, which culminated in an experiment with online dating this last week. I've found this almost comically stressful in every possible way, from sending out initial messages to women I might be interested in, to waiting for possible replies, to worrying about replying to their replies. I've spent way too much time worrying about why a particular person chose not to reply, even though I know that it's not actually a big deal at all. It feels like a complete rejection of everything I am, rather than a fairly insignificant event in an environment where people do that all the time for lots of different reasons.

I'm much, much better at dealing with the negative emotions these things have stirred up than I used to be. I haven't let them lead to any of the poor coping strategies I've used in the past. But the fact that I can deal with these feelings in a fairly healthy way doesn't make them suck less, and it's exhausting. I've questioned whether it might not just be easier to reconcile myself to being single forever, though that's really not what I want. And if I can't learn how to manage my feelings when the women I'm approaching are represented only by pictures and words, I can't imagine how I'll ever be able to do this stuff in the real world, which is really my eventual goal.

So how do I go about getting to that point?

(Sorry this is so long and thanks for reading. I'm interested in all kinds of answers, whether it's direct advice, books I should read or other resources. I don't think more therapy is going to be all that useful at this point. And I'm not interested in any of the pick-up artist type stuff. Thanks.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (4 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Often I don't even consider whether I'm attracted to women I meet, because it seems better to be able to interact with them normally, rather than freezing up.

This is going to be your greatest strength in dating. Honesty, self-awareness, and clearly not playing games is pretty damn attractive. Get to know the women in your life. Let relationships develop naturally. Don't mistake honesty for over-sharing, though.

To get to the point where you might be rejected, and you might have to deal with that -- let them get to know the real you, not the online-dating-service advertised and circumscribed you. See who you feel a connection with. If you feel a connection, follow up on it. Ask the girl to hang out, then out on a date, and then, as the common advice here goes, "just kiss her." Make it clear when you're asking someone on a date -- "Can I take you to dinner on Friday?" tends to get that point across pretty clearly.

the fact that I can deal with these feelings in a fairly healthy way doesn't make them suck less, and it's exhausting.

This is totally normal. Looking is exhausting. Dating is exhausting. It's also exhilarating. Everyone deals with far more rejection than success when they're looking to date. If you want to find someone, it will be an exhausting process. But completely worthwhile. And back to the above, being yourself and interacting normally is the best way to find someone who will truly complement you. If (and, given the commonality of human experience, when) you get rejected, think about the traits that drew you to that woman. Identifying those traits will help you figure out what kind of woman you want to try with in the future. And if/when you experience rejection, remember that it doesn't mean that there's something wrong with you -- it means that there's something wrong with that pairing.
posted by amelioration at 8:44 PM on April 13, 2009 [3 favorites]

It feels like a complete rejection of everything I am, rather than a fairly insignificant event in an environment where people do that all the time for lots of different reasons.

I completely relate to what I think you're expressing here. You consciously KNOW that the reasoning process is complicated but you still take the rejection. Something that helped dull the edge of rejection for me was rejecting others. I fear being lynched for that arrogant-seeming comment but all I mean is that I have turned perfectly nice/smart/fun people down for reasons that didn't directly relate to their core personalities.

For example, I turned down a really kind person who may have been a good fit but I had just exited an intense/depressing relationship. Another guy demonstrated a particular habit that I couldn't stomach in the long run, etc. etc. I knew that if I said "It's not you!" that they still may conclude "It's me!" and I truly wished that they wouldn't because I really liked them as people, but I saw no romantic potential.

In summary... evaluate your own decision-making and note times that it's impulsive or silly or otherwise inexplicable and anticipate this from others. Maybe this will prepare you.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:27 PM on April 13, 2009

If I am reading this right, your question is how you can get to the point where you feel comfortable showing your interest in a woman, and even getting rejected?

Practice. That's all. You'd be surprised, probably, how many people have the same issues. You just kind of have to push on through, pretending you're not stressed out. And one day you'll be rejected and realize that although you're a little bummed because you really liked the woman, you're simply not taking it personally and you're able to move on.

The only way you're going to get there is practice. If you feel more comfortable, practice and then discuss your feelings with your therapist. But without actually experiencing the rejection, failure, etc., I don't think you'll develop a thicker skin, which is really what you're talking about.
posted by miss tea at 4:29 AM on April 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Hey, if you can re-orient the way you think about online dating, I think it could be really good "practice", as miss tea puts it.

The first thing you have to do when online dating is just drop all expectations. I'll tell you why people don't respond all the time, especially girls - because they are receiving a million other emails, are probably dating some of those folks, or have other shit going on, and its just not "real", its web-based. Its just not personal. But people are on there for myriad reasons, and you can meet a lot of interesting people in a short amount of time. Don't invest huge amounts of emotion in each exchange; just send out a million emails and you'll probably get a handful of dates from it.

When you go on these dates, don't expect anything - they are, more or less, blind dates. But you might meet a nice friend, have a terrible time (but a funny story for later), or meet someone you actually really like. I really think part of being able to approach new women for dating reasons is the ability to not have expectations, so that you don't feel stressed out if it becomes a friendship or something else.

Finally, rejection from someone you don't know is not that bad. Unless you are obnoxious or creepy about it (which you are not), women are usually flattered you are approaching them, and will be polite enough about 'rejecting' your advances.

Your question really makes you sound like a thoughtful, cool person - I'm sure you will do fine, just have confidence and an open mind.
posted by RajahKing at 9:44 AM on April 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

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