Nun? Or libertine?
April 27, 2012 1:19 PM   Subscribe

I'm dealing with depression and don't want to date until my brain is a bit more balanced. In the meantime, should I just completely avoid men, or attempt the FWB thing and hope that neither of us develop feelings for the other?

I'm 35 and have been dealing with depression since I was a teenager. The depression is still quite severe and I'm currently seeing a psychiatrist for medication and therapy.

For the past 3-4 years I haven't dated at all; I feel like I need to at least get a little better before pursuing a relationship. I also have terrible self-esteem and self-confidence which I know I have to address. During this time no men had approached me and I didn't approach them.

Being invisible was ok for a few years but it eventually got a little boring; also I was masturbating so much that I thought I'd give myself carpal tunnel syndrome. So for the past few months I've been posting/responding to FWB ads. I am always clear that I am not looking for a serious relationship, always have safe sex, etc. I have very low expectations for these FWB arrangements, but no matter how well they go I never hear from the guy again after 1 - 2 "dates".

I am trying so hard to get better; it's really frustrating me that it's taking so long. Ideally, in my depression-addled mind, I would just be a robot and have no need for human contact. There is just so much work I have to do and I am so messed up about men and relationships.

Please let me know if you have any advice, or if you have been in this situation too. Throwaway email is
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
For people who are actively dealing with a mental health issue, FWB is probably going to do more harm than good. Not everyone is wired for that sort of thing, and even the people who are find themselves inexplicably attached or attached-to. Considering how powerful of an emotionally loaded the whole concept of sex is, and how easily you can tie your identity and self-worth into it, you may be complicating things for yourself unnecessarily.

Like, right now, for instance, the fact that you can't get a FWB to stick is making you feel shitty. You probably feel like there's something wrong with you. Well, on a general basis, guys who aren't assholes don't tend to hang around on FWB/Casual Encounters boards too much. I'm not saying there aren't perfectly nice, good people on there. And I am not saying there's anything wrong with engaging in this sort of behavior. You can do whatever you like as long as you make sure to stay safe. I am saying that expecting anything outside of a single night of (hopefully serviceable) intercourse from that sort of a connection is wishing for the moon.

So if you can't keep the standard of behavior (i.e. one night stands) common in this sort of situation from fucking with your self-esteem, I say avoid it.
posted by griphus at 1:27 PM on April 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm dealing with depression and don't want to date until my brain is a bit more balanced. In the meantime, should I just completely avoid men, or attempt the FWB thing and hope that neither of us develop feelings for the other?

Your either/or scenario seems punitive and frankly, impossible on both scores, especially for someone who is feeling fragile to begin with! Avoiding men is impossible, your libido is telling you so. FWB is for the heartiest of souls, IMHO, very hard to negotiate and navigate under the best of circumstances. I think you should carefully, gently, with eyes-wide-open just try dating decent men. I know, easier said than done. I know. But maybe it's time to seek someone who will love you while you move along the continuum to a "balanced" brain. Whatever that means. Good luck.
posted by thinkpiece at 1:40 PM on April 27, 2012 [12 favorites]

My experience is that transitory, low-investment relationships are not great for depression. (Or low self-esteem and poor self-confidence.)

Do you have a lot of social contact with people otherwise? I'd guess not, if you are severely depressed. Perhaps a compromise here between "I'll just be a robot" and "I'll just look for FWB" is to seek out platonic relationships with both men and women (or whatever you are comfortable with) and practice intimacy and relating and sharing and caring and all the other human interaction stuff in a safer context than a romantic one. Usually new friendships are easier to pace than new romantic relationships.

Making friends can be excruciating when you don't feel good about yourself, but in the long term the genuine reciprocity involved is incredibly nurturing. Sexual relationships don't always have this reciprocity - I would go with your instincts that you are not ready for that kind of thing right now, and instead focus on building relationships that might fall closer to your comfort zone.
posted by newg at 1:45 PM on April 27, 2012 [7 favorites]

Have higher expectations when it comes to relationships. The FWB that you're speaking of are not FWB but one night/two night stands the objective of which being to shag as many different people as possible not the same ones. So the lack of ongoing shagging has nothing to do with you.

I would concentrate on making friends with a variety of people, continuing to masturbate, and continuing to seek help for the depression.

And I repeat, have higher expectations for your relationships. This is very important.
posted by mleigh at 2:13 PM on April 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Warning in advance: the tone of this link is kind of flippant, and you sort of have to be in an OK place to read it. (I mention this because when you're in a bad place, then you read things differently. I know because I've been there.)

But I think the problem is that you're going in expecting a FWB situation from the outset, when those situations more often evolve naturally out of pre-existing relationships. Like so.
posted by dekathelon at 2:24 PM on April 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

It doesn't have to be so either/or. You should definitely have higher expectations, but you can continue not seeking anything super serious. You don't have to choose between searching for a forever life partner and just sleeping with people who only want to see you twice! Be open to the middle ground and listen to yourself/your instincts...and maybe there's more use in working on really healthy friendships right now and setting the sex aside for a bit.

I think the advice given above is sound. Be kind to yourself.
posted by zdravo at 2:26 PM on April 27, 2012

I think most men (speaking purely in terms of numbers) do not really want FWB. I think for most men who do not want monogamy, the freedom to sleep with other partners is only half of it. The other half is not having any responsibilities or obligations to the other person, not needing to talk to them, to keep up a friendship, to stay in touch with them, to be there for the person in any way, to use any of one's free time in hanging out with them, to spend time doing any non-sexual activities with them, etc.

I'm not saying no guys want that I just think it is, relatively speaking, rare. I think most of the time when a guy gets in an FWB thing it's because he's in love with the girl and wants more but that's all he can get. Otherwise I think they mainly just want 1 night stands or really sporadic things if they can't find anything else.
posted by cairdeas at 2:28 PM on April 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've thought several times about asking a similar question here-- my version would be, should a person with depression and low self-esteem try to date? (Your question sounds like you've decided that no, you shouldn't date right now, but should you maybe try to meet your sexual needs in the meantime?)

But I wonder if you see the casual sex (I think true FWB means you're actual friends already, not just strangers on the internet) as a backdoor way to get some companionship because (you assume) nobody would commit to you in your current state? If it were just about scratching your sexual itch, why wouldn't one or two meetings be enough to tide you over for a while? Just post another ad, right?

I have assumed that casual sex isn't something I have the confidence to pursue-- and of course I miss sex and think about it-- but I really think I miss the intimate human contact much, much more. Having an interested witness to my life, giving and receiving emotional as well as physical affection-- not having these things is partly *why* I'm depressed!

For what it's worth, my therapist is always glad to hear that I'm trying to date, and she apparently thinks I should continue trying. So do my friends. When I debate about whether to hide my OkCupid profile for a while, it's because of popular notions that we shouldn't expect other people to fix us or make us happy, we have to like and love ourselves first, blah blah blah, etc. It also doesn't help that I live in a place full of ambitious, well-educated, driven people who I assume have no interest in taking on a fixer-upper. As a result of these thoughts I don't write to many people, and I try to be upfront about my emotional state with those I do. Sure enough, it filters most people out, but I expect that. It's not a great feeling, but I know that as long as I'm honest, I have the right to ask just as surely as they have the right to say no.

TL;DR, I think I come down as saying, you should actually be open to dating now, especially if you don't know when you're going to be "enough" better. Like that famous quote from Shit My Dad Says, be honest about who you are right now, and let people decide why they won't date you, don't do it for them.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 3:30 PM on April 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

FWB can be emotionally difficult for people who aren't dealing with depression - I would really recommend against it in your case.
posted by Ragged Richard at 4:10 PM on April 27, 2012

I'm pretty much in your spot. I struggle with this because I want to be in a relationship, but I'm torn because I feel like I'm not in the "right" place to be dating. But, then I think about what that even means because the reality is that so many people struggle with mental health (I'm one of these people). So many other people also struggle with personal issues and life obstacles.

But, if you can take care of yourself by creating a safe space for yourself, have a sense of emotional stability, and think you can take care of someone else then go for it. Consider what your coping methods are like and whether or not these are healthy too. If they aren't then I'd recommend not pursuing dating until you have worked on this.

But, so far based on what you have stated-you are working on getting better and that's great! What I'd recommend though, is learning how to develop better self confidence and self-esteem. Perhaps you can work on this with your psychiatrist and s/he can give you certain techniques to try out too.

For what it's worth though, I wouldn't recommend FWB for two reasons: 1) it requires clear boundaries (emotionally draining if you don't understand or accept these boundaries) and 2) you seem to be looking for more than one night stands/FWB arrangements (you stated that you don't get calls back after 1-2 hook ups...)
posted by livinglearning at 4:37 PM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

FWB relationships are hard enough when you're actually friends and it just evolves, and you can't expect any kind of "friend" investment from a stranger, so I think this just may not be for you. I think both of your scenarios are bad for you - you don't need to lock yourself away or settle for less just because of your depression. If you only WANT FWB relationships/casual sex then you need to seriously recalibrate your emotional involvement and expectations so that they don't make you feel bad. If you want human companionship, make friends. Do that cuddle meetup thing. Date, when you think you are ready.
posted by sm1tten at 5:21 PM on April 27, 2012

I'm echoing what others have said. In my own checkered past, FWB relationships amped up my depression dramatically. I didn't see it then, but each time I got tangled up in one, I just gave myself more ammunition to hate myself. I logically understood the terms, but emotionally I still held out hope that this connection "might turn into something.." and worse, that something was better than no sex or even just no physical closeness.

I think you should definitely date now. Just be honest with guys about what you're dealing with. Many will be fine with it, and many more are dealing with similar problems. You are doing the very hard work of digging yourself out -- be proud of that. Depression compresses the world into this deep inward focus. As you do feel better, reach out more and nurture friendships without the benefits part, and enjoy the company of men you find intriguing. I guess I wish I'd given myself that advice.
posted by bluemoonegg at 5:39 PM on April 27, 2012

You aren't in any kind of mental position to see other people in any capacity at the moment. I can guarantee that being some rando's FWB will only make you feel used and even more depressed. Work on healing yourself before you bring anyone into your life.
posted by lotusmish at 8:58 PM on April 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

I second lotusmish. You're just going to have to stay 100% single and celibate until you work your shit out, even if it takes years. Sorry, but that's the only way you don't get more messed up from relationships in the meantime.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:27 PM on April 27, 2012

You're just going to have to stay 100% single and celibate until you work your shit out,

Not true. There are many many people suffering from depression who manage successful relationships, or relationships that work for them, anyway. Depression does not mandate celibacy and loneliness; it's sometimes a lifelong affliction. Healing comes in the most unlikely forms, and can most definitely include finding and falling in Love. I'd highly recommend The Noonday Demon for more about building a life -- not waiting for your life to begin -- while managing depression.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:06 AM on April 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah I think the problem is that many people have had periods of depression/low self esteem and gotten better. So people who have experienced this are thinking about how their relationships sucked during that time compared to when they were healthier and if a depressed period is a momentary lapse you will entirely work out of, then waiting to be in a better place makes sense.

The thing is, there are such a huge range of physical and mental conditions that can be described as "depression" that many people are talking about completely different things when they say "I had depression and got better"

Some people experience an acute depression and it's terrible, they take a few different types of meds, find one that works and then feel better. To them, the solution is pretty straight forward. Go to therapy. Find the right med. Make good choices. Then you're better!

For some people it REALLY IS like this, so the notion this is how it is for everyone gets promoted as fiercely as the idea that losing weight involves the right diet/exercise/effort/patience and you WILL SUCCEED! And it works for some people!

For the rest, they get thrown under bus with these ideological notions that this is how it is for everyone. If this is something you've dealt with your whole life, your "normal" when you feel in a good place, might look different than someone elses normal. Take inventory of what areas of your life are compromised by your condition and think how you would manage that while sharing life with someone else. There are many others in the world whose "normal" may be different than the average normal. Your journey in finding a partner may be longer and will take a lot of self awareness and willing to find solutions to any complications your condition brings, but it's about finding a partner who is complimented by and compliments your strengths and weaknesses. No one (even healthy people) are really gauranteed they will find such a match and building friendships is more important while you keep your eyes open for such a person.
posted by xarnop at 7:53 AM on April 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

BTW I do also think it's ideal to be in the healthiest place you can be before dating. I know what it feels like to think "I am not good enough for anyone and the only hope of intimacy I have is sex because women don't like me and men will tolerate me at least for a night because they want sex"

It's important to remember that's not really intimacy. Whichever women think you aren't good enough as you are, because depressed people need to be kept in isolation-- are wrong.

Seek out good female friends, try to be good to your friends, learn to love yourself and to value the idea that even people like you (hey you're not alone, there are a LOT like you out there!) deserve love and relationships too.

We just have to do a little more work to make sure when we have relationships everyone feel free and happy and mutually benefitted by them.
posted by xarnop at 8:48 AM on April 28, 2012

if you want to date then date, if you don't, don't. your brain may or may not ever be "balanced" enough but you only have one life.
posted by cupcake1337 at 9:11 AM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I guess the problem is where do you draw some virtual line that says now you are healthy enough to date. The story you tell defines how you feel about yourself. At what point does the story become, I'm perfect and able to handle relationship. is it when a therapist says so, or some magical event occurs that proclaims you desirable? Relationship is a way to get and stay healthy and there is no bigger goad/carrot/reward than being in relationship and needing to improve your relationship with yourself so your relationship with some other can also thrive. If you're a healthy, whole person needing some physical release, that's one thing. If you are denying yourself relationship waiting for some myth of wellness, doing FWB is just another way of delaying what you really want. My two cents worth. You may want to pay a therapist lots of money, time, take pharmaceutical drugs and other ways of giving away your autonomy before finding what works for you.
posted by diode at 12:10 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

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