Just asking this question feels like self-indulgent wallowing
November 14, 2009 6:47 PM   Subscribe

Why am I such a pathetic sad-sack these days, and how can I shape up before I drive all my friends away?

I am miserable. I just got out of a three-year relationship about 3 months ago. I don't regret breaking up and I don't want to get back with him, it was all very amicable and blah blah blah, but I guess I now realize that being with him masked some pretty terrible emotional problems I have.

I met him when I was 18. I really hated myself then. I just knew no one would ever love me. I’m lucky to have met him, a genuinely nice guy, because I was just asking to be taken advantage of. And I thought that being with him had made me better, because I was very happy with him and I liked myself and all that. In fact, ironically, being with him made me strong enough to say goodbye when the time came- he made me confident enough to do that. I thought, leaving him will be ok, because I’m strong now and I’ll find someone else. But now I realize- I'm not fixed. Being with him just covered up my problems, and now I'm almost 22 and I'm still the same needy, pathetic wreck I was in high school.

My life. I had behavioral problems as a kid which meant that I never had close friends. Some school friends, but nothing meaningful. Finally got some good friends in high school, one best friend, but I didn’t appreciate them and I didn’t know how to be a friend to anyone. I was too scared to even pick up the phone and ask someone out for coffee because I KNEW that they didn’t really like me and would just go along, not enjoy my company, and then talk about me to everyone else. As you might guess, I never dated anyone in high school. I did go on two dates with a guy I met outside of school, but that was it.

College was wonderful, in that everyone really did seem to want to be friends, I joined clubs where I could contribute, etc. All good stuff. And I had a little success with guys. A date here, a makeout there. But somehow it was all sort of pathetic. I wanted a guy, no matter who, and so I spent some time with some major sleezeballs. Even though I had finally gotten guys to notice me I still didn’t think I was worth dating and I was still very sad about it, although my life was immeasurably better.

Then I meet my ex. He was and is a sweet, attractive and talented guy, and we hit it off immediately. Like talking for 6 hours the first night we met, and that was that. I became a different person with him. I liked myself. I had a ton of friends. I felt attractive and loved. We went out for 3 years, but age, distance and different life directions made us realize this summer that we were growing apart. Now we are friends (we did the no-contact-for-6-weeks thing).

Here’s the thing. When I was with him, by the end, I thought- there are ways in which we’re not good for each other. There is a guy out there for me who is a better fit, and I’ll find him. I just knew it- I would be ok. Being in such a better place than I was 3 years ago, I would go back out in the world a changed woman and everything will be so different from how it was before.

Well now I sit alone in my room wishing that I could get just one guy to glance in my direction, no matter how stupid and assholey he is.

And the REALLY stupid thing? I did! I slept with a very attractive guy after the breakup, and I was the one to tell HIM, sorry, this was a bad idea, it’s too soon for me. And there’s another guy I know who clearly likes me who I am not attracted to. Those guys liked me! And I know that just because all the guys I’m attracted to are taken, it doesn’t mean that that will continue to be true forever and I missed the boat on love. And I know full well that since my school is 60% girls and my major is 80% girls, the fact that I don’t have guys all over me doesn’t mean anything. I know I’m not actually some ugly unloveable hag. But I don’t BELIEVE it.

Here’s some other stuff I know but don’t believe:
-Hitting on guys doesn’t make me a pathetic skank, and guys don’t laugh about my efforts after I’m gone
-The fact that all my friends have boyfriends and I don’t doesn’t mean all my friends are more interesting and hotter than me
-I am someone worth knowing and someone who a person might actually want to have sex with
-My ex was not the only person who will ever love me
-If I am unattractive right now it’s because of my bad attitude, not because of who I am

I am well aware that I’m wallowing in misery. What’s worse is that my friends all know I’m feeling like this. I try to keep it under control but, last night I drunkenly spent an hour crying to my good friend about this stuff, and while she was very sympathetic I know I need to get it together. I need to stop being miserable or my high school fears will come true and no one will ever want to spend time with me. I am ‘that girl’ and I don’t want to be. Twice I have gotten drunk because I was sad. I have never let myself do that before. The other day I was cleaning my room and just burst into tears.

I want to be happy with or without a man. I want to be the person I was with my ex- the person who was funny and fun to be around and didn’t dwell on her lame cliché problems constantly. I want to be able to be alone and not have these shadows of self-loathing always waiting for the moment when I hear a sad song or see a happy couple. What the hell is wrong with me.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

Sounds like you just need to take some time. Have some ice cream.
posted by alexei at 7:14 PM on November 14, 2009

You're at a perfect stage in your life- about to graduate from college (just guessing, based on the age timeline), single, wanting more out of life. Forget about guys for now and just go do stuff that's fun. Travel, go to the theater, eat at restaurants, cook, read, volunteer. Fill your life up and you'll slowly but surely crowd out the misery you're feeling. And then happy you will be in a great place to meet the right person.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:22 PM on November 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm so sorry you're feeling this way.

The other day I was cleaning my room and just burst into tears.

I am not your psychiatrist -- but: this sounds like textbook depression to me. (And you ain't the only one.)

You have depression as one of your tags, but you don't mention it in your post. Are you seeing a therapist? Have you talked to a doctor (even your GP) about finding a medication?

The best thing I've learned to tell myself when I've found myself crying in the shower for no reason: What you're feeling isn't real -- I mean, it's real in that chemicals (or lack thereof) in your brain are making you feel it, but it's not truth.

The evil thing about depression is that it makes you believe every bad thought you have about yourself and whatever situation you find yourself in, and it makes you feel like you deserve to feel as bad as you do.

You don't.
posted by crickets at 7:23 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I just love that you asked this question. I'm almost 40 now, but once upon time... you get the picture.

I've pondered my past dating history quite a bit - especially since I met and married probably one of the most amazing men on earth. He's talented, intelligent, super handsome - and he lives for doting on me. No. Really. It is the thing in life that makes him most happy. He's generally a good guy, sure. But taking care of me and being a true partner is, like, his wet dream.

If I didn't know him well enough, I'd say he was looking for this role to fulfill with anyone - but no. It's Us. It's me. He's just into IT.

... My point is .... many of your friends might have boyfriends, etc. But maybe they are different from you, and maybe their collective expectations are different, and maybe that's why they have boyfriends. From the outside - sure - but maybe these relationships aren't wht they seem to you from the outside?

Look. I don't know what your previous life experience has been, but I'm going to take a guess: you are at a stage where you require more than fakey boyfriend/girlfriend puppy love.

If you really do need something truer (and it seems you do) casual dating won't work out for you - so don't expect too much in the beginning.

Instead, cultivate your dreams. Work towards goals. Internalize that most folks you meet won't meet you on your desired playing field - socialize with them anyway, but guard your heart accordingly.

I'll tell you a weird thing that might help you: Once or twice, you might become really smitten with some friend or lover. You'll be head over heels for them, yet something won't be quite right.

I'm pretty sure that phenomenon is us seeing a phantom or mirror image of our ideal - but it is not the real thing.

The real thing is without drama. Not weird ethical questions. No worries about past romantic partners. Instead, everything will be positive and "win-win."

If you were keen to settle, or you gave off that vibe -- Hey! You'd probably already be with someone who made you miserable.

Work on yourself NOW and pursue your dreams NOW. You'll find the right someone when they come along.

(and everytime you feel lonely... maybe thank the fates you aren't stuck in a relationship with someone who only shows you partial affection?)

My two cents.
posted by jbenben at 7:30 PM on November 14, 2009 [6 favorites]

Breaking up is really, really hard. Even if it was your decision and the best decision ever, it is stressful. So, three months out of your first serious long-term relationship is not the time to subject yourself to a personality audit. Now is still the time to be taking care of yourself like you would a kid you were babysitting for: three square meals, a little exercise, a little social time, a consistent bedtime, "are you feeling sad? c'mon, let's go get you a bath." Take good care of yourself, show yourself some sympathy, and expect that you'll likely go through periods of feeling sad, lonely, lacking in social activities, socially awkward, and self-conscious. That's natural for this stage -- not proof that you're turning back into your old self -- so just hang in there for awhile.

However, it does sound like the breakup brought up some deep-seated stuff. It sounds like you're smart and self-aware about it, and nevertheless, one part of your mind is still totally freaking out. For good reason! It must have been SO HARD to not have any friends and think it was because you had some behavioral problem. How painful and scary not to know if you'd ever have friends and be loved!! So, you could use this as an opportunity to give that whole history and the part of yourself that's still hurting from it some loving attention and do some of the emotional work necessary to get beyond that historical pain and leave behind some of the beliefs you developed during those years. The difficulty is that you're viewing yourself and everything else through a critical lens, so to give these past traumas some loving attention, you'll need to get help from others (a therapist, friends) and/or teach yourself a more concerned and warm-hearted perspective toward yourself (perhaps from a book like When Things Fall Apart or something by Thich Nhat Hanh) than what you say in this post. Criticism never made anyone a better person. :)
posted by salvia at 7:38 PM on November 14, 2009 [4 favorites]

And I thought that being with him had made me better, because I was very happy with him and I liked myself and all that.

You are the same person with or without him. You can still like yourself. But it will take time to get over the break-up.
posted by procrastination at 7:38 PM on November 14, 2009

I don't think it's the ex BF who made you a different person. I think you were different all on your own! You've been growing up, and like it or not you've still got plenty of growing left to do.

It's been said here already but it deserves reiteration: it seems like you just need more time. Time to grow more comfortable with yourself and time to figure out how you fit in with your friends and life without a boyfriend to fall back on.

For someone your age and your level of life experience, you were in a REALLY long relationship. It's totally reasonable to still be working through the ends of that 3 months later, and a couple more months to boot. If you want to date people, that's fine, but you should be concentrating on finding yourself, not finding someone else. Don't feel bad about it, and don't feel like you need to bottle up your feelings or your fears. If you need a release without relying on friends, maybe you could keep a journal, or try something cathartic like cultivating an interest in music or dance - sharing others' emotions can be really helpful when I'm having troubling ones of my own.

I've personally been battling depression since I was 11 years old. While you may be depressed right now, it doesn't sound like the type that will haunt you all your life. It sounds like you're a very normal person, going through very normal emotional growth. It can be hard! But please don't feel bad about seeking help with it, or feel bad for feeling bad! That's the exact wrong road to travel. You've got to learn to accept your emotions before you can move past them, I've found.

The only thing that sticks out to me as particularly bad in your question is your mentions of drinking. Getting drunk to help lubricate awkward social situations is one thing, but drinking to forget emotional pain is terrible. It sounds like you have some good friends who care about you; maybe you could ask them to help you not to drink? This can be accomplished by not enabling you at bars and things, as well as perhaps moving your liquor over to another person's home temporarily.
posted by Mizu at 7:43 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, I just realized you got drunk last night. So you must be kinda hungover today. No wonder you're feeling so bad! Alcohol's a depressant. You're in bad health today, so your mind feels crappy, too. Have some gatorade and fruit juice, maybe some noodle soup or some roasted vegetables or something, go to sleep early, maybe go running or for a nice long walk tomorrow, have a big salad, and things'll start to look better soon.
posted by salvia at 8:03 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

You're young. You're three months out from breaking off a relationship you were in for more than a seventh of your life. You're absolutely entitled to a good old wallow, and a good old weeping and wailing and a few rounds of getting sloppy drunk. Breaking up feels terrible, even without the unnecessary drama that, to your credit, you've avoided by doing it amicably.

The trick to avoiding a slide into a state of permanently depressed sludge is not to beat yourself up for feeling what you feel.

Remind yourself - often - that 22-year-old you has indeed learned lots of stuff that 18-year-old you had no idea about; some of it painful, but some of it flat-out wonderful, and that when you have given yourself enough time to grieve for the relationship you've lost, you will be in better shape than you were at 18.

Most of those things you know but don't yet believe are right on the money, except the one about being unattractive due to a "bad attitude". That one absolutely comes under the heading of "beating yourself up". The simple fact is that you're not unattractive; you're just not ready for another committed relationship yet. And that's OK.

Go walking.
posted by flabdablet at 8:03 PM on November 14, 2009

I could have written this, right now, with only a few details changed. It's almost scary. Which means either it's just the two of us, or it's common and normal and it just takes a little more time than you realize. From one sad sack to another: cut yourself some slack. You will probably be sad for a while. Even the split made all the sense in the world, it's still hard.

You recognize some old patterns, and don't want to repeat them. That's good. But also keep in mind that you know you are capable of overcoming those patterns. You've done it before. You're not reverting to your high school self, you're feeling the effects of the end of along relationship. And you're already doing better than me.
posted by Nothing at 8:10 PM on November 14, 2009

See, I didnt realise this when i was young. I thought breaking up was something that just made you somewhat sad. But even when you know the relationship is not right, it can really, really hurt. And thats OK.

Would it help to think about what exactly about that relationship made you feel so much better about yourself? And then look for something in your current life that would fill that need for a while? For example, if it was the company, consciously make the effort to spend more time with your friends. Thats a bad example, sorry ^^; brain refuses to supply another

I, personally, can only avoid spiralling depressing trains of thought by being really, really busy. Having lots of stuff to do means im thinking about that, rather than all the things i shouldnt think about.
posted by stillnocturnal at 8:30 PM on November 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd say you have a distorted picture of yourself. In one context, you had a perfectly normal relationship. In others, you struggled. Since we are innately social beings and take our cues from our local community, in some scenarios you found you were and are unable to get your needs met, for intimacy, for acceptance, for physical touch, to name a few benefits of relationship.
In your current context, you are falling back on old habits of self-derision, blame, ridicule and doubt. Check out cognitive therapy. Basically it's disputing the lies you tell yourself continuously. Very useful habit to have.
Physically, you may be suffering from depression. I don't have many answers for that except college food would kill me if I ever went back to eating it again. Alcohol will only make things worse. Exercise always helps.
You may have a strong need for male companionship. I wouldn't necessarily say it has to be relationship but you might seek out clubs or groups at college that would have a preponderance of males. That way you could meet some people in non-dating contexts, and get some male interaction without having a lot of pressure around it.
posted by diode at 8:54 PM on November 14, 2009

We all have baggage from our childhoods, but we can do something constructive about it, such as therapy. I think now is an excellent time to schedule an appointment with your school's mental-health service. Talking with a counselor will have two benefits — helping you cope with (what sure sounds to me like) depression, and taking a look at what happened in your childhood that's contributing to your negative self-image. This is the path to a brighter future.
posted by exphysicist345 at 9:15 PM on November 14, 2009

If you looked at me after my recent breakup and thought that was how I was all the time, you'd think I was a nutjob. Just keep in mind that time is one of the only things that will really heal this. You seem to be aware that your negative ideas are mostly in your head and not true. I hate dating and prefer to be in something steady, so I understand how you feel kind of untethered being single. Maybe try not dating at all for a little while so you can just be you. And if you feel like a loser for being single, remember that it's 100% by your choice, and that you're doing it for you. If you don't want to do that, then diode's suggestion to join clubs with males is a good one. At least for male friendship.
posted by fructose at 8:50 AM on November 15, 2009

I'm you! Well, a few years ago I was. Also, I'm a guy, but I still think this advice is applicable. Just forget about the love and sex side of life for a year or so. I mean, you can't forget about it, but set it aside and cultivate regular friendships with people. Flirt if the situation arises naturally, but think of it as friendly flirting. You might miss out on some potential dates, but you'll also have some time without the stress of dating to get your act together. Learn to recognize your blessings in life. Learn to love yourself, and find like-minded people to hang out with. In time, you'll fall into something better relationship-wise, when you are open to it.
posted by Chris4d at 11:56 AM on November 16, 2009

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