So I missed out on my 20's...
March 6, 2011 9:01 AM   Subscribe

So I missed out on my 20's, how to catch up? Should I catch up? Lengthy explanation inside.

When I was 18 years old (34 yo now), I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The very serious, break with reality kind that required hospitalizations in a psych ward. Throughout my 20's, I was hospitalized something like 8 times. Further, at one point I had moved back home and was eventually kicked out with a restraining order filed by the mom, a misdemeanor trespassing plea, and six months in jail (mom and I have been fine for a few years now).

Despite all of this, I managed to graduate from a well regarded state university, get a job, and eventually end up in grad school where I am now about halfway through a competitive PhD program with a well known and respected advisor (who knows nothing of my past). The bipolar is under control and I am looking forward to the rest of my life. To give you an idea, I'm in great shape (ran 9 miles today and will benchpress my bodyweight a few times on Monday), many people have told me I'm very good looking throughout the years, and I can count on being approached by a random good looking woman around 1-2 times a month.

The big problem is that I really missed out on the dating / relationship things that most people go through up to this point in their life. I've never had a long term relationship (hetero male). Longest I've ever had was around 6 months, in high school. Honestly, I haven't been laid in over a decade. Grand total, I've had sex 7 times with 6 different girls. Add to this the fact that my father died when I was very young and my mother never dated or remarried after that. Consequently, I was never exposed to the day-to-day aspects of relationships that many people see when growing up. Further add to this that I don't drive and I am in a city where this is seen as strange and/or a glaring indicator that you are a loser. The cherry on top is, of course, the bipolar.

The obvious answer to my situation is to seek therapy, which I have done, however it has been more than useless. My therapist will be somewhat uncomfortable, give somewhat useful/useless advice, and continue on to another subject. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I've read dating advice from many different sources, including the PUA guys (boo! hiss!) and Cosmo/AskMen/Men's Health etc.

From what I've read on the female perspective, I am about every red flag in the book and then some, I should probably give up now. Further, even when I am getting to know most women I am generally a "nice guy" and get slotted into the "friend" / "keep him at arms length until I figure out if he is serious relationship / marriage material" buckets very easily. Either (1) I never even get the chance to tell them about all of my red flags before things become platonic or (2) they don't even need me to explicitly tell them about the red flags before they determine I am not for them (this is fine with me and what dating is all about IMHO).

From the PUA perspective, none of this backstory matters and I should just concentrate on working on my game and bedding girls ASAP. Sadly, the PUA stuff has actually helped me more than anything else. I do ignore the "wear a feather boa, three pieces of jewelry and compliment her nails then ask if they are real" type of stuff and instead try to gain insight into the psychology of dating.

My skills with women have increased substantially, and I do get a fair amount of attention and looks, however I have very limited time to invest in socializing and getting better.

So I am looking at being 36 years old, with a PhD, a good job, zero adult relationship experience, a nonexistent set of bedroom skills, abundant red flags with very little idea of how to reveal them tactfully, and a decent amount of attention from women (many of whom are looking to settle down at my age).

I'm not really sure what to do here. Should I even keep trying? Should I resign myself to loneliness and become the nutty professor type? This has been on my mind a decent amount lately and I would appreciate any advice / insight / stories the hive mind could offer, especially from anyone in an a position even remotely resembling mine.

Also, since this is a sensitive subject for many people, you can send me an email at

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

Do you have good friends? Having good friends can serve as a great counterweight to any possible red flags and generally facilitate meeting cool people who are more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt. It's hard when you're busy, though.
posted by ropeladder at 9:27 AM on March 6, 2011

(Also, I didn't mean that to come across as patronizing. You didn't mention anything about other social relations in your life, is all.)
posted by ropeladder at 9:29 AM on March 6, 2011

A university is a great place to meet people and do things without a car--go to lectures together, see movies on campus, etc.--so you're relatively set there. I'm not sure I get what your near-term goal is: score? get a girlfriend? settle down? But whatever the case, you should figure out what your needs are. Maybe it's just sex. Maybe it's the whole nine yards: long conversations, recreational companionship, a steady source of affection and admiration, a feeling of complete trust, a financial partnership, someone to split the chores with, a family, and so on.

Just decide what your near-term needs are, invite people you like to do innocuous things with you, and stumble--like everyone else--through the initial bit where you work out whether they could meet your needs and whether you could meet theirs. Sure, you've got baggage, but if it's under control, as you say, then go ahead. If you make sure you're doing things that are positive contributions to others' lives, they probably won't care about your past.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:34 AM on March 6, 2011

It really doesn't sound that dire from an outside perspective. You are good looking, in a competitive PhD program, have the bipoloar under control and are seemingly pretty funny (adecadewow...). I would say stick with the therapist (after finding one you like and consider to be more on the useful than useless side of things) and avoid the PUA and Men's health articles(which area all about great abs anyway- although i guess those wouldn't hurt!). I wouldn't actually worry about the 'bedroom' skills aspect of it. I think women (overgeneralization, sorry!) are willing to overlook that kind of thing (as i'm sure men are too!) once they find someone compatible that they care about and can form a relationship with (another reason to avoid PUA stuff). Stick with the therapist and go with your strengths (2nd sentence).
posted by bquarters at 9:49 AM on March 6, 2011

Everybody sucks at dating except people who will always be single. That is, be happy you're not good at it. Beyond that, you're way too hard on yourself. If women are approaching you 1-2 times a month, you get to not think about your appearance at all. Find a better therapist.
posted by rhizome at 9:49 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think your current status and behavior is worth way more than anything in your past. When and how to bring up the red flags is the least of your worries, assuming you are now a stable and responsible adult who is not going to suddenly have another manic episode. If I were getting exclusive with someone with a past diagnosis of bipolar that's all I would want or need to know unless it came up again and you felt like disclosing.

But I bet you do have some lingering social hinkiness that women can pick up on, and that more than the material details of your past is a problem. I think the best way to fix that is date and socialize alot; set up an OK Cupid profile and meet as many other people as you can through university orgs or volunteering, whatever. Don't be afraid to hang out with or date women a little younger than you because you will learn more from them than a woman in her mid thirties who is conducting a business-like husband interview. Set a goal to go on three dates or group activities a week for at least a month. Tell yourself you're just gathering data. You're not trying to get a girlfriend or anything right away, you're just there to learn what you can from others. When a date goes badly, don't assume its you but if you have a hunch you did something offputting, its okay to ask for feedback once, briefly, then drop it. Your goal is to get pilot data so that when you do go into the real experiment that is your first long term relationship, you have some idea about the broad range that constitutes 'normal' in most relationships. The sources you are getting your info from now (PUA, Men's Health, blegh!) are biased and crappy, and as a PhD you should know there is not substitute for original research and good data.

The main difference between you and most people your age is that they have that experience and they get less upset when things don't work out with everyone they meet. That's lesson #1 you need to go out and learn for yourself, the rest is luck and being nice, mostly.
posted by slow graffiti at 9:54 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's a lot going on in this question -- in fact too much going on to give you any chance of receiving a straightforward answer.

Your relationship with your therapist isn't working, so get a new one. Your wasting your money/insurance otherwise. Take this question to your new therapist and use it as your launch pad.

Once you have what it is that you want sorted out, then come back here and ask away.
posted by davidjohnfox at 9:57 AM on March 6, 2011

36 years old, with a PhD, a good job, single + and a decent amount of attention from women (many of whom are looking to settle down at my age) != resign myself to loneliness

You are basically rejecting yourself before you give anyone else the chance to do so. How do you think that's going to work out for you in the long run?

Your situation isn't that far off the map. I dated a 36 year old guy who was coming out of a 15 year marriage to his high-school sweetheart. I was the 2nd person he'd ever slept with, including her, and he was a complete nervous wreck. He may as well have had no experience for all of the finesse he brought to the bedroom. I adjusted my expectations accordingly, exercised a little patience and compassion, and worked it out with him. It did not take long to find a mutually satisfying groove - a couple of nights, I think. Sex is not that complicated but every lover comes with a learning curve, whether it's your first or your 40th. It is never, ever like the movies. (Or porn, for that matter.)

As to the bipolar, as long as you're medicated and holding your shit together, well... by 36 everyone has baggage, honey. Failed marriages, debt, herpes, whatever. No well-adjusted woman is looking for the perfect man; she's looking for the perfect man for her, and there is nothing that eliminates you from being that package.

So buck up, put on your big boy pants, and follow slow graffiti's good advice.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:18 AM on March 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

As I read your post, I thought "wow! no baggage!" Though you have mostly missed the opportunity to observe or be in a long term relationship, you have also missed the substantial possibility of being damaged or forming bad habits in fraught, warped relationships. You get to proceed from here as a mature person who knows himself rather well. THAT state-of-being is rare, and seems quite charming and attractive. Don't forget to appreciate that side of things.

Just about the only useful advice is: treat women like real people. Not like points in a game, or sex toys, or decorative accessories, but only and always as whole, entire, real individual people.
posted by Corvid at 11:35 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Congratulations on an amazing recovery!

You're a package with baggage. Common at your age. Not as big of a deal as you fear, although I know it will seem that way for as long as your central issue goes unaddressed. You've got a lot going for you, though, and, as others have said above, you've got to accentuate the positive and not be so hard on yourself.

Most importantly, you need a different therapist. What you describe isn't right and you don't have to put up with it.
posted by batmonkey at 11:37 AM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Frankly, I don't think you missed out on anything.

Look at it this way. If a woman decides to have a child at 40 rather than 20, does she "lose out" on something? You can come up with a list depending on how you look at it. But you could also come up with a list of why she is better suited to be a great mom at 40 than 20. That decision tells you two things about the person- 1. they are actually thinking about what they are doing with their life and 2. they have the courage to live the way they think is right.

It's like looking at one side of a coin. There is always more than one side to it. You have to be your best friend here and tell yourself the right things. You seem to be very concerned about something that may not be important to a lot of people. And trust me, there are women out there who couldn't care less about it so just relax. If a woman cannot appreciate the man you are today and all she cares about is your sexual history, would you really want to be with that person? Its not what they think about you, its about what you think of the other person. Do the women measure up to your standards?

A lot of people here are concerned that they are "late bloomers". Why does it matter? Is it a race? And if the census tells us anything, we can rest assured sex isn't something that some of us are incapable of figuring out. Definitely not the ones pursuing PhDs.
posted by xm at 4:23 PM on March 6, 2011

When I was 28, I dated a guy who had had very serious suicidal depression. He had finished college quite late (after failing out of the first college) and was still living at home at 29. He had, however graduated from college, gotten a job, and made some friends. And after we were dating for a period of time, he told me about it and I understood. And I admired him for getting his sh%t together. And I admire you for what you've accomplished (my mother is bipolar so I know what a challenge it is). I think if you go out and date you will find that women will understand.
posted by bananafish at 4:50 PM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Why give up? That's not going to do anything but make you sad. Everyone stumbles all through the process. it's no big thing.

It's not so bad. Nthing getting socializing assitence from metal health providers. Believe me, there are a lot of people that realize that they could use a hand well into their 50s and more. it's just one of those things.

As for dropping the bomb of being in the hospital- it's like a second date thing, and can be presented well. And you are under no obligation to tell them all at once."Part of what makes me so happy with how my life is now is the road i took. My twenties were really rocky, but my life keeps getting better." That can move on to more specific things as the dates progress. Metal Illness is a health issue. You don't need to tell a woman who you've only met three times that you've had horrible gut eating paristes that made you shit blood and had them sucked out with a giant hose.

Please stay away from the PUA stuff, for the only reason that the smart single ladies know about it, can pick it out and will think you are an asshole who doesn't respect women.
posted by Blisterlips at 6:49 PM on March 6, 2011

Don't give up! There are more people than you might think who have somehow not gone through the conventional 20's phase. People who married very young, people who grew up in a restrictive religious background, people with name it.

No PUA stuff and no games. The kind of person you might attract by playing games is not the kind of person whom you want around long-term. If you have to play games to attract someone, why bother?

One thing that other posters didn't address: Unless there is a medical reason why you don't drive (doctor says you CAN'T, full stop) then it would be worth your while to learn. Many people learn in their 30's and above and become fine drivers. A course with a driving school and passing your driver's test would give you incredible self-confidence.

There is a wonderful board - But You Don't Look Sick! - it's for anyone with an invisible illness (like bipolar). The people there are warm, kind and supportive, and many of them are going through just your difficulties, I'd swear.

Above all, never give up. I know many people who marry for the first time in their 40's and 50's.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 2:15 PM on March 7, 2011

« Older When your SO makes a really hurtful comment   |   Wet House Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.