heartless heartbreaker
January 23, 2011 7:51 AM   Subscribe

Why do I keep stringing people along/breaking their hearts? Or...why do I not seem to be able to love deeply?

This question is about more than why I'm so flaky when it comes to breaking up with people. I'm also confused about why I keep dating people I'm unsure about in the first place, why I never seem to be sure about anyone, why I feel like I never care about anyone as much as they care about me, why I stay with people so long when I know I don't really want to be with them anymore, and why letting go of them is so hard even when I'm sure it's the right thing to do.

I'll try to unpack all of that the best I can, but truthfully I'm confused about it all, am just starting to realize that the problem most likely lies with me and not the people I'm dating, and I'm worried that I'm actually a narcissistic, selfish, person, with expectations that are too high, and some kind of attachment issues.

If you want the childhood stuff: raised by a single mom (smart, independent, self-conscious woman), with some contact with my dad (alcoholic, empty promises, poor communicator, moody). Neither of them modeled good relationships to me (mom always seemed antagonistic towards her partners, never stayed with anyone very long, found fault in everyone, dad had explosive fights and multiple divorces).

Then came me. I've never had my heart broken (except maybe once...the girl who unknowingly turned me gay made my heart ache and ache, but she was never aware of this, and we never had any kind of relationship. That unrequited love was the closest I've ever come to feeling heartbroken though, and I hardly knew the girl), but I've broken many a heart. I always feel bad about it, and string people along for extended periods of time, not wanting to hurt them (even though I'm aware a clean break would hurt less in the long run). I think the other problem is that I end up staying with people for a while even though I know they're not quite right for me, and then feel attached to them even if I don't want to be with them anymore. I watch people I date sacrifice for me, and be really good to me and really in love with me and imagining our futures together, and I see how hurt they are when I don't reciprocate, and I don't know why I never feel that strongly about anyone. I'm starting to feel like maybe I lie on an autistic spectrum or something.

That said I'm very loving and caring in certain ways...I love animals deeply. I've always been very sensitive to the plights of underdogs or oppressed groups. I've volunteered with terminally ill people and felt a lot of compassion. But somehow, when it comes to my personal relationships, I encounter a block where I just can't quite care about people the way they want me to.

THis happens to a certain extent in my friendships as well. I don't make concerted efforts to maintain friendships, and friends have expressed to me that they would like me to be more present and less flaky. I often cancel plans because I just don't feel like socializing. I have two best friends who live in different cities, and we're very close and can tell each other everything, but they both also feel comfortable going for a month or so without talking and still feeling like we're right where we left off....our friendship survives long periods of not talking.

However a lot of friends don't function well like this, and I'm terrible at keeping in touch with friends both near and far. It always seems to be my friends who initiate plans, and often I find myself dreading the hang out as the time for the plans draws near, and often canceling. I do have some depression and social anxiety, I'm on an SSRI....I also do really love being around friends who I feel really comfortable with.

Sorry this is so all over the place....I've tried to write a structured question a couple of times and couldn't seem to figure out what I was trying to ask/describe....and this seems to be the only way that this stuff will get out of my muddled head and onto the green.

So basically I feel like I love my friends but don't put much effort into showing that/hanging out with them, which makes me kind of a crappy friend.

Relationship wise the same kind of thing happens, but a little differently. I like to spend a lot of time with the person I'm dating, but feel uncomfortable committing to anything with them, and it seems that they are always way more into me than I am into them. When I realized I was a lesbian I thought that maybe that had been the problem, but now I've had a few relationships with women and the same pattern keeps emerging. There was one guy I dated who I felt like I could marry/have kids with someday, but he wasn't interested in sex and I ended up breaking up with him after a long time. It destroyed my self esteem for a little while, as he couldn't explain to me why he didn't want to have sex, and didn't want to go to therapy or anything about it, but I knew that he truly loved me, and he was devastated when I broke up with him.

I don't even quite know what I'm asking anymore. I guess I wonder why I don't ever feel as deeply as most people seem to. Why I'm always the one breaking hearts. Maybe it's because I only date people who feel safe...who I know won't break up with me, and maybe that's why I always end up breaking up with them. But I never really encounter anyone who doesn't feel 'safe' who I really like (besides that one girl, who I was too terrified to even talk to)...but I don't want to go through my life never loving really deeply, and I don't know why I don't find more people to love deeply. I guess I did feel really in love with this one boyfriend who didn't want to have sex, and still miss him and mourn our relationship, but I know that I don't want to be with him because of the physical problems (I'm gay but still am attracted to a small percentage of guys...).

I don't even know if this question will make it up because it's so rambly and incoherent and almost seems redundant...I don't know. I'm in therapy....we've established that I do have a fear of rejection...but I feel like the people I date are scared of rejection too but are willing to risk it and be with me.

It sucks to keep hurting people. I'm really bad at breaking up, and I go back and forth a lot. And don't get me wrong, I have felt in love with the people I date, it just always seems to fade, or like....I feel like eventually I always end up breaking their hearts for some reason.

Not that I want to have my heart broken, but I'm beginning to feel like an emotionless robot who goes around getting people to fall in love with me and then slowly and painfully ripping their hearts out. And these people are all good, well intentioned, genuine people who don't deserve me to hurt them real bad. I always feel like they fall for me way faster than I fall for them, and I usually break up at that point, but then I do still want to be with them I just don't want it to be so serious, and then eventually I come to feel comfortable and good with them, but it doesn't last that long, and then when I do get that feeling it's like I knew it from the beginning but maybe denied it or forgot for a while or something.

I don't expect relationships to be in the honeymoon phase forever. I like it when they settle into a comfortable routine. My therapist says I attach and partner well. I am very open to communicating...
One thing is that I feel like I can't always deal with the emotions of my partners...especially where they concern me. I can deal with someone being stressed out, but when they get mad at me, or upset with me, I really can't handle it. The one boyfriend who I saw myself with...we rarely fought, and he never really got me at me for things. But it seems like the girls I've dated are often mad at me, and often the reason is because I'm not caring about them enough, or spending enough time with them...I feel drained and beholden a lot when I've been in these relationships. I feel like I can never quite provide them with the amount of love and caring that they want, even though I come across as a very loving and caring person, and even if I do love and care about them.

I'm worried that I'll never find anyone I want to spend my life with who wants to be with me too. I want to get married and have babies someday and I'm worried that nobody will ever feel right enough for me, or that I'll never be able to give people what they need. I do give a lot of love and caring in my relationships, but I never feel selfless, and I feel like my partners seem selfless a lot. They still have a lot of self respect, but they just seem willing to sacrifice so much for me that I don't seem able to reciprocate. I feel really selfish and maybe I am. How do I stop being so selfish?

This was all spurred on by an email I got from an ex where she ripped me apart...just told me what a selfish jerk I was and that I don't consider other people and was generally a sucky person...I guess I want to take a hard look at myself and figure out why I make people feel like that, and how I can start changing it.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
You stop being selfish by having consequences made for you, viz., the people you want to be with stop putting up with your selfishness.

Alternately, you find yourself with a partner even more withholding than you, and then the tables get turned.

Of course, many narcissists go through life never really being called on their shit and it works for them. You sound pretty satisfied with yourself, so I'm not sure what the problem is. I'm not saying that to be mean. This is you. So far you haven't met anyone whom you want more than they want you. If you ever do meet such a person, this particular problem will go away.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:16 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

For starters, how about not claiming that someone "turned" you gay. Sounds like someone perhaps helped you become aware that you had a wider variety of options than you previously realized.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:57 AM on January 23, 2011 [18 favorites]

This is interesting. I feel like I've been gamed into answering the question. Your air of rambling innocence is compelling, but I'm guessing you already know that.

It doesn't distract me from the essence of your question, which is, why do I keep scamming people into relationships when I have no intention of loving them in return? Probably for the same reasons that drive all con artists: desire to get something for nothing, and the feeling of control and superiority that comes from manipulating others, and the lack of commitment perversely assures you that Love Is All Around. This would also explain why you don't just forgo relationships altogether, which the tone of your post otherwise suggests would be satisfying to you. Your methods (which I believe you employ more consciously and deliberately than you're admitting to us) don't get you relationships, but they do get you an audience or fan club of sorts, who for a time are under the illusion that they are more than that to you.

"This was all spurred on by an email I got from an ex where she ripped me apart...just told me what a selfish jerk I was and that I don't consider other people and was generally a sucky person..." Am I supposed to say this was outrageously abusive and you shouldn't pay attention to it? It sounds like a response to passive aggression.

To get what you say you want, you would have to be willing to forgo having audiences or fans or the trappings and benefits of relationships, and stop manipulating or gaming people into relating to you, and instead put yourself out to reciprocate your friends' loving actions towards you. You would have to take romantic relationships off the table as you're not yet relationship material.

How you could get to that point, I lack the expertise to say. Maybe you could print out this page and show it to your therapist.

FWIW you probably don't lie on an autistic spectrum. It's unheard of for an autistic person to be capable of this kind of manipulation.
posted by tel3path at 9:07 AM on January 23, 2011 [17 favorites]

Seems like writing this served as a bit of catharsis for you. It is a bit rambly, but I would have written the same thing. Just broke up with my ex after what she says is a callus declaration that I don't want a relationship with her. But if it doesnt feel right, it probably isnt. Maybe we're both guilty of being over obsequious and not making choices based on our own real desires? Who the F knows. I don't.
posted by AutoPilot83 at 9:10 AM on January 23, 2011

I'm usually up for a speculative answer to a relationship question, but you're asking about your entire history & your entire personality structure. I can think of about 6 general labels for what you're describing off the top of my head, and at least a couple of different ways of approaching each of those. This is something you would probably want to bring to a qualified professional, who will be in a position to devote the time and the skill needed to discuss these issues with you in a sensitive and informed manner.
posted by facetious at 9:11 AM on January 23, 2011

Can you print out this question and bring it to your therapist? Or maybe consider a different therapist, if you don't think your current therapist is the person to help you with this question?

It sounds like you're on the right track to raise these questions and pay more active attention to your patterns of relating. Reading your post reminded me of some of the trust/responsibility/vulnerability issues common in children of alcoholics. I don't have an easy answer for you, but you're on the right path in paying attention to your own behaviors and motivations.
posted by ldthomps at 9:23 AM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't see what in your question/post says that you want to stop hurting people, other than the fact that you say that a few times. This:

I always feel bad about it, and string people along for extended periods of time, not wanting to hurt them (even though I'm aware a clean break would hurt less in the long run).

is an example of you not wanting to hurt yourself or make yourself uncomfortable in some way. If you didn't want to hurt them, you'd dump them when you knew it was over rather than stringing them along.

Anyway, if you've told all this to your therapist (that's important!), it's unlikely that AskMeFi is going to be able to diagnose your problems in a way that (s)he can't. If you do have asperger's or some kind of autism spectrum disorder thing going on, your mental health professional is in the best position to diagnose that.

Also, angry an angry email from an ex very well might not be objectively accurate because it comes from a place of anger. You're in the best position to know that, but deciding you're heartless because one person is pissed off about getting dumped is questionable. How do you know you really are hurting everyone?
posted by J. Wilson at 9:44 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Maybe you just haven't found your people, posse, crew, tribe, team, peeps, yet. You're just not that into any of these people. Or you're afraid to go after the people you're really attracted to. Hard to say.

With respect to hurting other people, go slower, be more aware of what your words and actions imply. Try to be on the same page, and don't move forward if you're suspect they're not. Get more comfortably with relationship ambiguity and be more patient. Be ever vigilant about this, and, beyond that, they are responsible for their own feelings, boundaries, assumptions, and hearts.
posted by zeek321 at 10:19 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

I guess I wonder what you mean by "stringing people along". I've certainly been (like a lot of people, I bet--especially when younger!) in relationships where I stayed with the person for a couple of months after I knew I wanted to break up. And just how many hearts have you broken? If you're talking about a string of short relationships and you're fairly young, this might be par for the course.

I'm interested in the "dating only safe people" piece. What makes a person safe? Do people ever combine safe and not-safe qualities?

My immediate suggestion would be to belt up and stop dating for a while--get used to being single and then only date when you meet someone who isn't "safe". Maybe you're one of those very good-looking, interestingly troubled women who are constantly being asked out--this was a problem for a friend of mine who, out of insecurity and low self esteem, had a long string of really awful relationships. She always had to be dating, even if she knew the person wasn't a good fit. (She finally married an awful, emotionally-abusive guy who made her cry in public and we lost touch; don't be like that.)
posted by Frowner at 10:21 AM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I just finished reading Crucial Confrontations, so my take on this is largely influenced by that...

How do you feel about your conflict resolution skills? Do you feel confident in your ability to break up with someone without hurting their feelings unduly?

Do you have discussions about the issues that ultimately lead to the breakups with your partners before it gets to the point where you have to break up with them, or are you perhaps avoiding them because they tend to lead to emotional reactions you describe, which you're afraid of?

As for people you'd be more into, do you perhaps avoid them because you fear being on the receiving end of the conflicts you describe?

Ask yourself this: Do you feel comfortable having candid discussions about the issues that are bothering you? If not, this is an ability that can be learned.

Your ex's email isn't the literal truth about you.

Before I go, though... I really hope you're not viewing empathy and mutual respect as things that have to be "earned" in the sense that they're only for people you feel a certain way about, or only for people to whom you're committed. They should be for everyone.
posted by alphanerd at 10:26 AM on January 23, 2011

I think you're being way too hard on yourself. Sure, in hindsight, you may think that you knew it wouldn't work out, but didn't you - at least a little - have a hope at the beginning that it would? I think you can chalk this up to not knowing what you want in a partner, and rather than figuring it out, you keep moving from relationship to relationship looking for a good fit. In other words, you know what you don't want, but have no idea what you do want.

I recommend that you spend some time single. Get to know people with no intention of dating them, find some friends that are couples and watch them. Do some research on yourself and find out what you want. And.... talk to your therapist about your negative self-talk.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:35 AM on January 23, 2011

I read your question with great interest. I care deeply about someone, and currently feel very hurt by someone who I think could have written much of what you have. No, you're not on the autistic spectrum. I was hoping to read some interesting insights from fellow Mefites which might be helpful for me to wrap my head around your situation and how not to continue to be hurt in a similar circumstance. The Mefites' posts above give me no such hope.

So I wonder, what would you suggest to someone like me who is being deeply hurt by the actions of someone like you? Should I continue to hold any hope of a relationship? How long should I feel the pain of this? Would you tell me to abandon hope that this person is obviously not capable of a friendship with me, and clearly is so self-centered that they hide behind "flakiness" rather than acknowledge how much they hurt me and can't take responsibility for their own actions? What would you advise me, if you were my friend? Are you empathetic about my questions?

I guess the point of change would come for you because you didn't wish to be seen like that by others, because you really didn't want to cause others pain, because you wished to be considered as a responsible adult and caring human being, because you did wish to be someone who can have a meaningful, caring, reciprocal relationships, and because you wished to learn the skills to be able to maintain a real relationship with someone that you really did care enough about. When that's what you really really want, then it seems to me, that all you really need to do is just start doing it.

But that's just my perspective as someone who has been hurt by someone like you, and it's not clear to me why you would care about the opinions of random Mefites sufficient to change yourself, when clearly you haven't been motivated enough by the pain and suffering of people you do claim to care about. I'm sorry if this sounds harsh to you.
posted by sockraticpielogue at 10:43 AM on January 23, 2011 [11 favorites]

Another reason to pursue professional help about this is because, even if you are entirely well-intentioned, it's hard for anyone here to give a useful answer. Most of the answers will come from people who've dealt with others similar to you, and reached the end of their rope, and have no freakin' idea what to do, and are just mad as hell. If (if) you're for real, the anger you're eliciting is only going to discourage you. A professional, ideally one specializing in these kinds of issues, will be best placed to give you real help unbiassed by emotional reactions.

I have to say that my first reaction was that this post had been put here as some sort of bait by someone I used to know. If I didn't know how vanishingly unlikely and paranoid that was (even by that person's standards - and they specialized in vanishingly unlikely tactics that made people look paranoid) I would in fact be convinced you were them. I'd love it if I thought they were looking for advice like this in a genuine quest to change their ways. At the same time, I'd suspect they were escalating the game for some unknowable motive of their own.

See what a weird thought process that is? I'm feeling worse just for answering the question, which is finally too big for AskMeFi.
posted by tel3path at 11:10 AM on January 23, 2011 [13 favorites]

I had the same weird thought process reaction as tel3path. I dearly hope that you and others like you are genuine and actually pursue this to make personal changes that would support people like me to be able to have relationships with people like you.
posted by sockraticpielogue at 11:22 AM on January 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

OK I don’t know you at all but here’s my armchair diagnosis:

There is a certain comfort you feel in remaining in control of your relationships. You like to keep the upper hand. You dislike discussing issues facing relationships (or your partner’s feelings) because this puts you in an uncomfortable position. You probably prefer to walk away from arguments and hope they don’t come up again. If they come up too often you get frustrated, exhausted and lose interest.

Yes, some of this has to do with the way that you grew up. Because of your mother and father's behavior you work to avoid to any overly emotional situations. You were probably very independent and avoided confrontation as a child and adolescent. I hope that you are still relatively young – I’d guess you are in your early to mid-20s. I hope you are in your early to mid 20s. As J.K. Rowling said in her address to the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association [paraphrasing from memory here] “there’s a statute of limitations on blaming your parents”.

So, what to do? You have to get over yourself and grow up. You may never be the kind of person who is into long discussions with your partner but you will eventually have to give more in this arena. You will have to learn that being emotionally distant from those who are close to you gives you nothing, and does not make you superior to them. This requires a fundamental shift in your attitude and a willingness to open yourself up to others.

If you are a serial monogamist (and I'd bet you are) I’d also suggest that you try being single for an extended period of time. You probably get a lot of your self worth from being “desired” and it will do you good to go without this and work on yourself solo for a while.
posted by Cuke at 11:38 AM on January 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

And by extended period of time I mean at least a year.
posted by Cuke at 11:39 AM on January 23, 2011

Studies have shown that people are most attracted in push-pull situations. So if you give someone some indication that you are not averse to going out with them, but then pull away and keep doing this, on some level you're going to get people that are convinced they are massively attracted to you. This is the same principle as a slot machine, it gives you a little then withholds and keeps you coming back for more again and again. The people that you attract have their own issues in the sense that they are attracted to an ideal of you that isn't in the reality of your behavior. They are attracted to an idea of a "future" with a you that is different than what you're currently doing. In some ways this was probably what was going on with the guy you dated. His lack of interest in sex probably got you very interested.

Reading you post it strikes me that you have a sense of people as being kind of random, desultory. As such, you missed the idea that some people can be trusted, you can be trusted, etc This is very fundamental to having a relationship. I'm not sure exactly how you reconsider the idea that people are always random and start to see that you can be counted on as can they ...
posted by blueyellow at 11:48 AM on January 23, 2011 [8 favorites]

I am willing to take the flak I will get for engaging in armchair diagnosis here because I think you need a fairly brusque wake-up call. You sound like someone who is deeply enmeshed in a personality disorder (more granular than that I will not go with the armchair diagnosis), and who has some fundamental difficulties in understanding the very nature of healthy human interactions.

People date and break up. That's what happens. Relationships end. It makes people sad, but it's part of how we learn as humans. Instead of saying "Wow, what a bummer that I am not finding the right matches," you seem very invested in some idea of yourself as a "heartbreaker", which to be honest is quite off-putting.

Your self-presentation in this AskMe strikes me as manipulative. Your whole thing about "selflessness" is also terribly wide of the mark; "selflessness" is not actually a positive quality in intimate relationships except in times of crisis, because healthy relationships always include a strong component of self-differentiation in each (or every) partner. I don't know if you're just finding lots of enabling partners, and you're characterizing those people as "selfless", or if the people who are attracted to you are all doormats or what.

But "selflessness" is not an appropriate or normal part of a romantic relationship unless an actual crisis ensues--Gabrielle Giffords's husband is being appropriately selfless right now in jeopardizing his space-shuttle command to be with her as she recovers from brain trauma, but that's a crisis. If you experience or demand self-sacrifice from your partners in non-crisis situations, that's not a healthy relationship.

You need to do your work. You need to figure out how to relate to people with give and take, not just take. You need to understand that you are not unusual or special or different from the 7 billion other people in the world. How to Be an Adult in Relationships by David Risho is a fine place to start.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:29 PM on January 23, 2011 [16 favorites]

I'm inclined to give you a little more benefit of the doubt and assume that these behaviors you're displaying tie back to some need unfulfilled from your childhood.

I agree that doing some research on adult children of alcoholics is a good idea.

You probably have an inaccurate sense of your own value, mainly because you've lived for +/ - 18 years with people who haven't validated you in a way reflective of how the majority of people would, objectively.

In other words, you're probably a lot more attractive than you might assume based on how your childhood went, or how your parents treated you. People can't tell at first glance that you have issues. I know it seems like you walk around with a stamp on your forehead that reads "daddy issues" or whatever, but the truth? People really can't tell. They have no idea. They either don't think about it, or fill in your backstory with some generic/typical framework.

I would experiment with trying for someone you think is "out of your league" or "just a little bit more attractive/together than I am" - I think you'll find, after you get to know each other, that this person is actually on your level. Courage to try that will teach you more than another repeat of your failed pattern in relationships or just "trying harder to be nice" will.
posted by Nixy at 12:53 PM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

This question has obviously been triggering for some people who have been in relationships with people who withhold love and string them along. That's why there's been a bit of a pile-on, as tel3path mentioned. I think you should take this in to help you understand how long-lasting the hurt from such relationships can be, but try not to take it personally. Sure, some people who do this are sociopathic manipulators, but they usually don't take the time to reach out for help because they're too busy conning their next victim. Since you've reached out for help, I don't think you're doing this on purpose, and I hope you don't feel shamed by people lashing out in this thread.

I'm not a mental health professional, but I've known a lot of people who were diagnosed with personality disorders and/or have had intimacy issues. To me, your post came off as quite sincere. I didn't see what others saw as manipulation or a reluctance to face your issues, and I read your question twice. Also, from what I know of people with personality disorders, I didn't see enough information in your question to tell if you have one or not.

You mentioned narcissism. People with NPD generally don't seek help or admit anything is wrong with them, so perhaps you can rule that one out.

Your relationship to your friends sounds like a fairly typical introvert. If your friends are cool with sporadic contact, they're probably introverts too. There's nothing wrong with introversion. Autism spectrum people can be very introverted, but their tendencies are more along the lines of not getting facial, vocal, and body language cues from others about what's socially acceptable to do and say. You don't mention that, and if it's not an issue for you, you can probably rule it out too.

It sounds like you feel safe enough to have a huge crush on someone from afar, like the girl in your coming-out narrative. Also, the guy who didn't want to have sex. First of all, he wasn't your preferred gender; second of all, he was withholding intimacy. But when people get too close, you shut down and withdraw. You can see yourself distancing, but you can't force yourself to open up emotionally to receive and give love, or to make future plans with a lover. Maybe you perceive the person as clingy and overly demanding. Is it like a switch in your brain shuts off and you're suddenly repulsed by them when they become vulnerable? If so, that can point to a fear of intimacy.

So, the question is, are you picking people who really are too needy, due to a subconscious need on your own part to repeat a family pattern until it's resolved, or are you picking normal people with appropriate intimacy needs, and those normal needs trigger past emotional trauma from your family of origin, and your shutting down is an automatic defense mechanism? Did one or both of your parents expect you to take care of their emotional needs instead of the other way around?

Exploring your childhood in therapy can help you figure out if family of origin issues are creating a fear of intimacy. If there were traumas (i.e. divorce, verbal abuse, physical abuse, substance abuse, etc), a technique called EMDR can be very helpful to resolve and integrate trauma. It definitely helped me.

I agree with the people who suggested printing this out and showing it to your therapist. It's their job to help you in a non-judgmental way, and to support you in figuring out your patterns and triggers. In the meantime, please take a break from dating. It's not fair to those you might date to know you're not in a good place to have a relationship and to pursue one anyway. Also, it's going to slow down your progress in therapy.
posted by xenophile at 1:34 PM on January 23, 2011 [14 favorites]

Can someone explain to me how exactly the asker is being manipulative here? It seems like there's a whole lot of projection going on in the answers. I see the asker as more guilt ridden and sad than manipulative. And (here comes my own projection) it's hard not to label oneself a "heartbreaker" after you've been the one calling things off a whole bunch of times. Condemning the asker is just reinforcing the guilt cycle that makes her feel obligated to enter into and stay in relationships that aren't right for her. She's not a bad person for not falling in love with people who love her.
posted by yarly at 1:41 PM on January 23, 2011 [5 favorites]

Maybe you're focusing on the wrong gender? It could be that while you are substantially attracted to women, you might feel more at home with men emotionally. I have certainly heard a lot of my bi female friends say that they feel there are more emotional difficulties dating women as compared to men. I realize this is a stereotype, but it could have some grain of truth having to do with gender and communication styles or relationship expectations.
posted by yarly at 1:49 PM on January 23, 2011

Can someone explain to me how exactly the asker is being manipulative here?

The "selfless" business is way off. Also this bit: "the girl who unknowingly turned me gay made my heart ache and ache".

Seriously, this is not someone who understands how healthy relationships work. At all. The self-diagnosis as being on the autistic spectrum because of not understanding how healthy relationships work is fairly common among people living with personality disorders.

Look, my armchair diagnosis is worth exactly what the OP paid for it, so discard that if you like--but no matter what, it's clear that someone who goes on and on about "selflessness" and says that someone "turned her gay" isn't someone who's asking the right questions about how to be in a healthy relationship.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:56 PM on January 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've got similar troubles. Several relationships, but I never liked them as much as they liked me, and I've been the dumper every time, sometimes not as expediently as I could have been. Maybe I thought they needed me, or maybe I liked the attention they gave me. Maybe they distracted me from other things in my life. Nothing malicious - I met someone and they pursued and I rationalized that I should like them and thought that if I gave it enough time that my feelings would develop. Never worked.

Then I really fell for someone out of the blue, and due to circumstances there was no chance of anything romantic, and it made me realize how shallow my relationship instincts were, and how lukewarm my feelings were for my partners. I have now been single for a couple of years. I'm not going to be in a relationship again until I feel something real for the person in return.

Don't settle for the flattering feeling you get when someone else likes you. Maybe you're just the sort, like me, that other people find easy to crush on, and it stunts you in the long term because you don't have to work to get attention. You don't owe them anything - except maybe the truth of how you feel. It's safe and comfortable when they're taking all the risk and all you have to do is show up and go through the motions of "good girlfriend". Maybe they beg and plead for a chance (mine did) - have the guts to do what's best and firmly turn them down, instead of perpetuating the charade. Find someone who makes you want to risk your own heartbreak. Whatever chord that girl struck in you, the girl who made your heart ache, that's what you need to be looking for. You might have to be single for a while, and it will suck, and you'll want to find someone who makes you feel good by association just to distract yourself from the uncomfortableness of your own growth. But the longer I am single, the better I get to know myself, and the more I see what a cheat and unkind thing it is to accept less.
posted by griselda at 4:03 PM on January 23, 2011 [11 favorites]

Also, as an addendum, it might be helpful to consider that it's not always about you. I mean that part of this problem is your partners and who they are attracted to. I spent a great deal of time beating myself up about how I "made" someone like me and if I hadn't done this or that the crush wouldn't have happened, etc. Or if it was a painful breakup it was my fault for not handling it right - waited too long, didn't say the right thing, whatever. Truth is, it takes two to tango. Recognize that it is arrogant to assume you can control if others will crush on you or not, and you can't control if the breakup will be good and they won't get hurt.

Your partners also have responsibility for their feelings. You cannot and should not prevent them from feeling pain at all - which is partly what you have been avoiding by dragging things out, or even dating them in the first place.

People have their own faults. If they fall for you and pursue you all over the place and you're not feeling it, consider that it's not because you're such a heartbreaker, or something's wrong that you can't like them that way, blah blah, but because they have a weakness for the sort of person you are. Maybe they like the pain of pursuing someone unavailable. Maybe they want the challenge of validating themselves by changing your mind.

Be careful of the arrogance of assuming the burden for all the problems in a relationship and your ex's pain. They're messed up too - just like we all are. Get yourself a time out. Learn what sort of person you really crave. Some people are just jerks and them liking you doesn't mean you are both bathed in the golden aura of superlativeness. It's much easier to get out from under someone's feelings about you (positive or negative) when you aren't under the impression you have control over that response.
posted by griselda at 5:00 PM on January 23, 2011 [6 favorites]

I'm sorry if this widely misses the mark, but I've been exactly where you have been, and I know I hurt people while I was dealing with the issues I had. I'll share what I've learned in the hopes that you find it helpful.

So the way a relationship works is that both people have to choose each other. What's happening in your relationships if that you're letting them choose you, and you're not choosing them back. Now, choosing someone really puts you out there; it makes your commitment to them real and takes away the safety you currently enjoy in relationships. You say fear of rejection, I see fear of commitment, but let's not quibble over terms.

In my experience, the only way over it is through it. You can talk yourself to death in a doctor's office, and I agree it's certainly helpful to have someone as your sounding board and mental back up, but in the end, it's not your shrink's issue, it's yours. You have to make it so you are ok with the possibility of getting your heart stomped into tiny little pieces. You have to find someone you really and truly want, who you choose, and you have to let yourself want them, and let them want you.

And it will take a lot of work. I had to try it two or three times, really try it, before I managed it. If you're anything like me, you're used to someone wanting you while you keep them at arm's length, and you're probably worried that if you turn around and want someone back, they'll pull a 'you' and suddenly want out of the relationship. This is possible. If you follow my advice you may get your heartbroken, and yes, that sucks for a while, but I wouldn't be sorry if that happens. It's one of those really human experiences, something that unites you with everyone else on this planet. And if you can put yourself out there enough to get your heart broken, you can also put yourself out there enough to fall in love, and to have the person who loves you in return know the real you, not some unreachable being of ice. Good luck. And feel free to memail me if you want to talk.

P.S. While you're in the process of finding someone who you really dig, learn to say 'no' to the people you feel apathetic about. Yes, it'll hurt them to be rejected, but it hurts a lot less to be rejected before a relationship begins, rather than six months into it.
posted by Grafix at 1:33 PM on January 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

"What's happening in your relationships if that you're letting them choose you, and you're not choosing them back."

I'm troubled by this interpretation. From the OP's description, and more so from subsequent interpretations of it, it seems as though people are just wandering into her life and starting relationships with her that only happen because she doesn't stop them. This passivity is carried over into the statement about having been "turned" gay by someone, as if the OP were just going along minding her own business and this woman knocked a bucket of rainbow paint over her and, shazam, turned her gay.

Starting a relationship is an active process. Turning down relationships is an active process, too, but usually less so than starting them. No-one has ever started a relationship just by sitting there like a bump on a log and not protesting when random suitors happened along and climbed on top of them.

Now maybe this (or a realistic version of this) is how it presents itself to the OP's understanding, but I'm not sure even about that. I'm very hesitant to interpret it that way. I suspect the OP is actively seeking these relationships out and if she really thinks she has this little agency, that's a problem with self-awareness that imho should also be addressed by a professional.
posted by tel3path at 2:41 PM on January 24, 2011

No-one has ever started a relationship just by sitting there like a bump on a log and not protesting when random suitors happened along and climbed on top of them.

I've been steamrolled into relationships I didn't really want. I'm not saying it's healthy or okay, but it happens. Why? Because when offered the option of taking a risk or being safe, I'm inclined to take a risk. Person A shows up and really really likes person B and wants a relationship. Person B says no. Person A persists. Person B starts thinking that maybe A knows something they don't. B actually would really like to experience what A feels for them. A seems so sure. A says, give me a chance. B thinks, well, what's the harm in trying? B is flattered, and notes A's good qualities. B would truly like to like this person back. So B says okay. But it doesn't work. A tries very hard. B does their part as they understand it. Be caring. Share stuff. But the fond feelings never grow into something stronger and real. B eventually ends it. A is hurt. B gave A what they asked for. B isn't exactly feeling awesome about the whole thing either. Maybe this is similar to the OP's experience.

I thought there was something wrong with me until I met the right sort of person, and then I realized that I was just fine. Rather particular about what rings my bell, but fine. If you've never met anyone you really liked romantically, how do you know the lukewarm feelings you've got are lukewarm? You don't. It's an error of ignorance.

I don't know about "being turned gay". Perhaps it is a way for her to describe something she was very surprised to learn about herself. The phrasing might be awkward, but perhaps it was quite the shock to her. When I finally got a real crush, I thought I was having some sort of mental problem, truly. Like my brain went haywire. Very disturbing. Not fun. I spent too much time trying to figure out what was wrong with me. But it's okay. Next time I will know better. The best part about finally getting a crush is realizing that if there is one person like that, there are more in the world.
posted by griselda at 5:34 PM on January 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, yes, I guess if you've never experienced attraction and a stream of people are coming along and harassing you until you get into a relationship with them, I can see how that can happen. I don't entirely agree that it justifies taking a risk with their feelings, but I can see it.

The OP isn't actually describing a process like this. She doesn't say "a bunch of meh people came along and harassed me until I had relationships with them because I didn't know any better and thought maybe that's how relationships are supposed to feel, and then a girl came along and I crushed on her so hard I turned gay, and then a guy came along and I could've married him and had his babies but he wouldn't have sex with me so I was devastated, therefore I turned away the long queue of meh people who were begging me to get into relationships with them because I knew what it was like to get my heart broken and I didn't want to do it to them."

Instead it's like, "I keep stringing meh people along and breaking their hearts, why oh why?" For this process, I really don't think it helps to tell the OP that it's the other people's fault for forcing her into relationships with them when she is too bewildered to know what effect she's having. I see that it's probably well-meant, but it's more likely to just be enabling her.
posted by tel3path at 12:40 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

...but then again, it depends whether the purpose of this thread is to help the OP, or for us all to put our heads together until we find a scenario whereby she is innocent, and any putative broken hearts are the responsibility of their owners. This also assumes the OP wouldn't buy this explanation, be it true or not, and attempt whether innocently or disingenuously to sell it to the next putative heartbreakee.

If the OP has set her situation out honestly and exactly as it presents itself to her understanding, then the hivemind will not be able to figure out what's really going on. Behaviour changes (such as not getting into relationships AND not leading people on while congratulating oneself on not getting into relationships) are necessary, but they won't be sufficient to solve the OP's obviously very deep-rooted and serious problems with the way she thinks and the way she relates to people.

tl;dr Therapy.
posted by tel3path at 1:09 AM on January 25, 2011

tel3path, I'm not sure why you're so keen on indicting the asker here. She asked for help with a problem that's distressing her; she clearly expresses guilt about hurting people and realizes that her actions are affecting others. In fact, she says that repeatedly. I don't read anything in her question that makes it sound like she's trying to disown responsibility for her actions. To the contrary, she's really laid out her flaws quite clearly and bravely. Nobody here is trying to "find a scenario whereby she is innocent" -- that's not really the point -- but instead we're just offering up our own experiences to see if they're congruent. You seem to have had one particular bad experience that she's triggered, but yours is not the only valid way to see her situation. I think you're being distracted by your own past pain and unfairly painting the OP as some kind of damaged monster when all she's doing is making some mistakes in life, like we all do.

To get back to the details: yes, it is perfectly possible to enter into a relationship in good faith but end up not falling in love even though the person loves you back. Just think about how many times you've seen people write on Askme that "you shouldn't be overly concerned with spark in a relationship; wait awhile to see what develops." A lot of people follow that advice, to a predictable and unhappy resolution. What the OP needs to do is learn how to trust and follow her feelings decisively at the outset of relationships and cut things off as soon as she realizes they aren't going anywhere.
posted by yarly at 10:48 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree, yarly. What I'm questioning is the view that the relationships are just happening. It could be that she is being pursued by others and just going along with them, but that is just one possible story among many as to how these relationships are coming about. If that's what's happening, then Just Saying No, or Saying Maybe And Accepting The Consequences, is the way to go. But it's unclear from the narrative that that actually is the sequence of events.
posted by tel3path at 10:56 AM on January 25, 2011

I really don't think it helps to tell the OP that it's the other people's fault for forcing her into relationships with them when she is too bewildered to know what effect she's having. I see that it's probably well-meant, but it's more likely to just be enabling her.

I'm not laying blame on her partner as if one is guilty and one is innocent, just saying that a balanced look at the situation is important.

I'm not blameless, but my partner(s) also had their personal issues, and they were responsible for their part. That's the real curse of taking the label of "heartbreaker". It feeds that controlling, perfectionist side that wants you to be special and set apart and somehow above others. Taking all the blame is narcissistic. It steals the agency of one's partner. The truth is that I'm just a flawed person learning to know myself better, and I happened to cross paths with another flawed person, and we muddled around and made a mess. And that is a great comfort, to know I am responsible for my actions and my responses, not my partner's. It is muddled responsibility for another's feelings that may get the OP into these situations in the first place. It is a misplaced urge to put another's feelings and wants above one's own, or even adopt their feelings and wants in place of one's own, which perhaps remain hidden from the OP herself.

What matters is where the OP goes from here, after taking this critical look at herself. It takes time to learn how to feed oneself, to claim hunger and commit to learning what will satisfy it. Maybe some people come by this naturally and others have to learn it. This might be why she is ambivalent about friendships as well. Learn to be hungry, and what you hunger for will become more important. I wish the OP luck. It will be hard. Take your time.
posted by griselda at 12:43 PM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

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