Why Do I Do This To Myself?
May 20, 2014 11:54 PM   Subscribe

Need attention from guys to feel sane. Feel miserable when in a long term relationship, but when single, want to feel liked by someone just so I can reject them. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME and where do I turn for help? Lots more details inside. I promise I will try to nutshell.

My now ex-boyfriend and I had been skirting along the death of our relationship for about a year. To make a really long story short, I had jumped into the relationship because I felt ready to settle down with someone and it came at a time when I least expected it... had been taking really good care of myself physically, emotionally and spiritually... and I thought this would be the cherry on the perfect sundae. While our relationship lasted 3 years, there were a lot of issues that were just fundamentally wrong. At any rate, we grew apart (I became an adult, got an adult job, dragged him along to a new city where my new job was located -- while he's stuck in party central could care less about jobs since his girlfriend pays for everything-land) and have been splitting up and getting back together in the past 6 months a lot. I finally grew the balls I needed to end it for good about a month ago.

I don't feel bad about the end of our relationship. I feel I've learned a lot, but it's time to grow as an individual and move on. It took some time, but he's finally accepted that I have no plans of getting back together and we're trying to be friends. He moved out of state which makes that a little easier. While contemplating the break up, I'd told myself that it would be good for me to be single. I really missed it. I also knew that if I didn't get my singledom fun while still in my 20's, life just might not be the same. So here I am, 28, 4 class away from my completion of a bachelor's degree, decent paying job where I'm making more money than anyone else I know who is my age, I have a nice car, my own apartment and I'm getting back into shape.

But in the past couple of weeks, I've really plagued myself with finding a fuck buddy. I don't want just any fuck buddy, I want all the perks of a relationship without the messy stuff I dealt with with my ex. I had a really nice time with someone I'd met last week but his contact with me has been sporadic. It's the weirdest thing. I know I'm likable. I know he liked me. But at the same time, if he's not contacting me back exactly when I want him to, I get pissed and try to write him off. I did this over text message last week and when he finally got back to me he said that I must just be angry in general and said he didn't mind and I shouldn't be embarrassed since it seemed like it was something to get out of my system and that he still wanted to see me. I can't stop checking my messages to see if he's responded but I'm trying with all my might. It's like a nervous tic.

I have plenty of other attention from other men that want to take me out on real dates. I don't understand why I'm obsessed with this one guy. What am I so obsessed about? I don't think it's him. It might be the sex and everything that goes with the sex, but otherwise, what gives? Is it the chase? The game? The fact that I have to basically fight for his attention? I'm struggling here. My friends say I must 'have it bad'... that I should just give up on him/whatever that fling we had was.... but the thing is, I don't. Or do I have it bad? Am I in denial? Am I lonely?

Why can't I just BE ALONE? Why do I crave this attention?

I feel like I need a therapist to help me get to the bottom of this, but I'm cash poor at the moment. Any experiences, books, or what to look for in this kind of therapist would be super helpful at this point. Thanks!
posted by camylanded to Human Relations (18 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: To disclaimer, between school, the now-dead relationship and my 50 hour/week job, I have few friends in the area and the ones I do have are my work friends. I moved here a little less than a year ago. Also, I do have a cat, so I'm not completely "alone".
posted by camylanded at 12:14 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

So, let me get this straight: you are young and healthy, with a job earning good money (although your note at the end about being too broke for a shrink is a little confusing) and you have your pick of fuckbuddies. And your problem is that you're maybe feeling a little hung-up on one of the people you fuckbuddied?

I am not a big enough person to resist saying that sweet christ I wish I had your problems, but that being said, the solution to this problem is to either pursue a relationship with this guy beyond fuckbuddydom or to stop seeing him and just forget about him. Those are the two paths before you. If you try for a middle ground, continuing to see him but trying to keep it casual, this will probably get more complicated and painful. Either your feelings for him progress, or they cease. They probably aren't going to stay in the convenient in-between state where you want them to.

I don't know if you need a shrink. You just sound like maybe you need to ripen a bit, these strike me as young person problems. But if you feel like you need a shrink, and you feel like you can't afford one, by all means call a shrink in your area and ask for a referral to shrinks that offer a sliding scale. If there's a major university nearby, they may have a program where you can see intern therapists. (I have had excellent luck with a program like that in LA.)

I hope I don't sound harsh or condescending. If you're hurting, I'm sorry. But seriously, count your many blessings. Like the ketchup song said, these are the good old days.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:26 AM on May 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

You know that only you can answer these questions, right?

That said, maybe you would find it helpful to do a bit of thinking on the meta-level about how your relationships work and how you tend to approach them. I came across a book called Attached and although it has a few flaws, it might be a good place to start.

Basically it's based on attachment theory - as young children, based on your early experiences, you develop an attachment style of stable, anxious or avoidant - and this can have a big effect on how you approach romantic relationships. Oddly, the people who have the least-suited attachment styles (anxious and avoidant) often wind up together. It sounds to me like you have found an avoidant person and - whether you are stable or anxious - his behaviour is pissing you off. At the same time, it's also attractive because you're coming out of this relationship that wasn't good and you obviously don't want to get sucked back into another dysfunctional LTR.

Maybe totally off, who knows! But it might spark a bit of recognition, or get you thinking of something else.
posted by Athanassiel at 1:41 AM on May 21, 2014 [9 favorites]

Best answer:
"So here I am, 28, 4 class away from my completion of a bachelor's degree, decent paying job where I'm making more money than anyone else I know who is my age, I have a nice car, my own apartment and I'm getting back into shape."

"I don't understand why I'm obsessed with this one guy. What am I so obsessed about? I don't think it's him. It might be the sex and everything that goes with the sex, but otherwise, what gives?"

"Why can't I just BE ALONE?"
Hey. Feeling horny, lonely, and confused isn't a uniquely terrible personal issue. Obsessing over texts is like a defining habit of the decade. Being comfortable by yourself isn't a super easy thing that everyone else just does naturally. Life is often painful and difficult!

Lots of money and a nice car won't help. It sucks to lack money, but "success signals" lack nutrition if you want to be happy and content.
"The unhappy person is one who has his ideal, the content of his life, the fullness of his consciousness, the essence of his being, in some manner outside of himself. He is always absent, never present to himself." — Kierkegaard
When you talk about being "single," can you specify what you mean? What kind of "single fun" do you desire and what's the obstacle?

I've got way too much experience with being single, and my single fun involves stuff like visiting museums, playing music, biking, meditating, baking, reading. It's not a subproject on my life checklist to do before 30, it's just what I enjoy doing: it's stuff that I've noticed tends to give rise to some happiness.

Total wild guess: you enjoy your job enough during the day, and then you get home and see last night's dishes, scroll around on Netflix, and within an hour you're feeling restless and a bit anxious and want the guy to come over and like you. (How could I possibly know?)

One thing meditation can make very obvious is that the mind really loves to dwell on stuff: it always needs an object. It also needs problems. If various guy-related wants and doubts tend to come to the foreground in situations when nothing much else is going on, that's a natural tendency. Call it libido. This is why the staple advice for singles involves projects, hobbies, simple pleasures, novelty, bike riding, and weight lifting. Call it distraction.

If you want a fuck buddy without messiness, you can't be relying on him for your personal day-to-day joy. If you don't know how not to do that, you probably should be focusing on other ways to lift your mood and feel good about yourself. Not just think good about yourself in terms of career and life narrative, but actually having things to do that help you feel alive.
posted by mbrock at 2:20 AM on May 21, 2014 [13 favorites]

Look, you've just ended a relationship, and it's normal to crave the reassurance and ego boost attention from others gives you.

I don't want just any fuck buddy, I want all the perks of a relationship without the messy stuff I dealt with with my ex.

I don't know what you actually want, but I can read what you're saying and what you're saying is that you want a relationship that's better than the one you had with your ex. That's also fine, but calling this guy a fuck buddy when you are clearly focused on him with more than that kind of casual attention seems silly. You need to sort out how you actually feel, rather than how you wish you felt. Doing otherwise is creating the messy you say you want to avoid. Maybe that's the only way you've known how to be in a relationship, but one of the signs of maturity and learning from past relationships is the ability to navigate with less drama, more communication.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:22 AM on May 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

Rejecting this guy may give you some feeling of control, even if you do want to get his attention. I don't think this unusual, albeit not good for you, to want some control over a new guy you have feelings for given the recent breakup of an unhealthy relationship, where you probably felt little control over how your partner was treating you and behaving. Rejecting someone is a funny thing--we want the person but want to push them away at the same time. It hurts to face a relationship that may fail, but we're all in the same boat when we meet someone we like. I suggest you put your fears aside, just for a few moments a day and imagine what you really want out of this: sex, good communication, consistency, fun. focus on those things rather than what you believe he may do in the future. What is most important is you find someone who treats you well, not someone who you "think" will treat you well based on a few texts within the first week of meeting. Maybe meet some other guys as friends, at least to fill the loneliness gap, which may help you make better decisions about future partners.
posted by waving at 4:46 AM on May 21, 2014

Seconding mbrock, that you are the only one who can make you happy.

As for the 'new relationship' I'd guess that its a combination of rebound, wanting to prove to yourself that you can in fact have a relationship of some sort that works where your last one didn't, and liking the attention, as is normal after a breakup.

The age-old suggestion in situations like this is, take your time, get to know yourself a little better (and like & love yourself!) and generally grieve the old relationship, heal, and truly prepare for the next step. You deserve a relationship where your partner is your equal, your friend, and your lover.
posted by Jacen at 6:06 AM on May 21, 2014

It sounds like you like control and are afraid of intimacy.

There is a good book about this. It is called Fear of Intimacy.

The Attached book mentioned above is good as well.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:17 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't want just any fuck buddy, I want all the perks of a relationship without the messy stuff I dealt with with my ex. So, what you want is a relationship, then. Just a less messy one.

Normally, people are advised to take time to recalibrate/be-happily-alone after a breakup. And frequently, this is pretty solid advice. It's not a one-size-fits-all thing, though. My last relationship lasted about as long as the one you just got out of. It was a fairly healthy one, too, but ultimately didn't work out. After the mutual breakup, I started dating again within a couple of weeks. I found another "serious" SO within just a few months of beginning said dating. There were no baggage processing issues involved in this transfer of affections. Like, seriously, none.

I'm wondering if you feel like it's required to spend some quality alone time, rather than than truly feeling that it's personally necessary. Along the same lines, I'm wondering if the guy in question is perhaps keeping his responses on a casual level because he's trying to honor your concept of a casual relationship?

Actually, take dude out the equation for a minute (especially since you indicate that he's apparently nothing special?). I'm of the belief that we should trust our guts, except when we know we shouldn't. Meaning, that unless something that feels compelling is also setting of some kind of "bad pattern" alarm bells, maybe we should go with that compelling thing. Why can't I just BE ALONE? Well, maybe you don't want -- or need -- to be?

Another way to look at this is that you've effectively been distancing yourself from your previous relationship for roughly a year, already. Sometimes it's fine to jump back in, right away.
posted by credible hulk at 7:32 AM on May 21, 2014

Anecdotal: I was much like you in my 20s. Got divorced after a bad 3-year marriage and was ravenous for male attention. Had buddies, a completely wrong-for-me rebound, etc. Now happily married in my 30s. You're still young, this will pass. If it doesn't, talk to a therapist.
posted by juniper at 7:48 AM on May 21, 2014

From what you wrote above the jump I was expecting something completely different, like the confessions of a histrionic woman. We all get hung up on people. You seem anxious and, I agree, talking to a therapist would be ideal. Another possibility is yoga or meditation as mbrock mentions, something to bring you some inner calm so you can see more clearly what's going on.

I once met a man who had something about him I was really drawn to. He was very charming and I was easily seduced. For me it came from essentially not knowing who I was, which put me in a vulnerable place. Unfortunately, hidden beneath his charm ran a slight misogynist streak. He would suddenly cancel, not return my call, send me cryptic texts to string me along, then smooth things over with kind words, which took me a surprisingly long time to equate with what most people would call bullshit.

A friend once told me about another man she found very charming. For a while she thought he liked her because he was so nice to her. It turns out he wasn't interested in her at all. He even confided in her that women regularly mistook his kindness to them for something more and he didn't know what to do about it.

In the case of myself and my friend, the attention from a man we found attractive was filling some lack or need that had more to do with us than them. Being sporadic make it that much more powerful. Whether intentional or not, this guy is hitting your buttons and that's why he's more to you than a friend with benefits, as DarlingBri wisely pointed out. Therapy would help you figure out what those buttons are.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 7:49 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is it possible that this is a case of low self-esteem? For example, you only want the crappy guy because you don't deserve the better guys, or because you can't get or have the better guys? Or that it will be too much work or too challenging to have the better guys? Why don't you try forcing yourself to go on dates with the non-crappy guys and see how you feel?
posted by Dansaman at 8:00 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

There is some evidence that we are more responsive to intermittent rewards than we are to consistently positive rewards. This partially explains why gambling is addictive. You get the dopamine you crave when you get what you desire but it feels more powerful when you don't know whether or not you're actually going to get it.

People who run hot and cold may be doing it purposefully or they may not be but our brains are conditioned to keep chasing that dopamine hit. Perhaps that is part of what is going on with this guy. You may also be used to or conditioned to getting these kinds of intermittent rewards from your relationship with your ex - things were going downhill but you stayed and tried to make it work and probably had some good times with him in the end, but they were more intermittent since your relationship was going South - and your brain might just be perpetuating that cycle since that is what it is used to right now.

It actually sounds like from your description that you want a good relationship, or one without the problems you had with your ex. Rest assured that any romantic relationship is going to have its own set of problems. If similar problems repeat (like potentially this desire for intermittent rewards, which isn't even conscious, but it seems to be happening based on your description) that is a good indicator that you might want to take alone time to work through them so you don't repeat the past with a new man.

Best of luck to you. It's a hard journey. I struggle with similar problems sometimes and friends and hobbies do really help. Like, a lot. Partially as a distraction and partially because they are fulfilling. Can you try to make some new friends and meet new people for fun rather than for dating?
posted by sockermom at 8:15 AM on May 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't understand why I'm obsessed with this one guy.

My aunt, a full clinical professor of psychology, once told me that we obsess over things and people when there is something else, totally unrelated that we are avoiding thinking about. So I'd look for work, family or school issues that you don't want to think about. Actively focus on those things and an answer to your question might just pop up.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:21 AM on May 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

Why can't I just BE ALONE? Why do I crave this attention?

there is a sort of reward system going on in your brain every time you get a bit of attention, right? it's easy to get and feels good, like another point added to the tally. these are small accomplishments and while it's nice to be wanted (on whatever level) in the end you realize that none of this really matters because it isn't productive or really building towards long term happiness.

finding happiness with just yourself sounds like something you had before you got into that 3 year relationship - back when you said you were taking care of yourself physically, mentally, emotionally. what were things like with you then vs. how they are now? what are you doing for yourself lately that doesn't involve other people? any activities, rituals, meditation, good books? try to focus your thoughts inward, go back to working on yourself and let other people come to you.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 8:55 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah. So I'm you, and you're me. I almost got married young, then had a rebound, then a very long stint of singledom, then a few casual relationships, and finally actually got to the point where I just wanted a FWB. I can speak to the "nice guy vs fuck buddy" dichotomy. I get chafed by nice guys, I think because of a lot of very confusing and hard to articulate feelings. I hate just being Girl to some guy who wants Girlfriend. I'm tired as hell of putting up with needy guys. I don't want to owe someone something after he insists on buying dinner. I'm sick of being some guy's manic pixie dream girl. So many "nice guys" are actually just douches who are less good looking and confident and think they have to "buy it" with money or poetry or some tiresome shit. Eff all of that! You get to the point where you think, "if they're all actually douches, why the hell should I waste my time with dinner? There's no difference between any of them, so screw it, I'm just gonna pick the hottest and most honestly douchey. It'll save time." Does this ring a bell at all?

I mean, you should be more angry than you are, IMO. Of course you're freaking exhausted! Your boyfriend used up a lot of your energy and time and youth! He was needy and petulant and that was shitty and exhausting and unfair. You were in a good place! He messed it all up! And now you just want sex and this new dude has the nerve to still blow you off. That would piss me off, too.

And you broke up a month ago. I find that right after relationships end is when I typically miss sex. My body kind of gets used to having none after a while and it gets easier to stop thinking about it. You'll probably find this to be true- like anything else, you get used to it.

Feel your anger, IMO. Feel your need for revenge, your disappointment, your hurt. Don't bury it.

It will pass eventually, and you'll be able to open yourself up to actual love- the sappy tender really really real and non-superficial kind. (I think of it as the "Velveteen Rabbit" kind.) But the way out is through.
posted by quincunx at 4:11 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've said a version of this before, but I think you're looking for a sex unicorn. You want a boyfriend who isn't your boyfriend. I'm sure it's possible in theory, but in reality, it's hard to find. Believe me, I've tried.

If you want causal sex, keep it casual. If you want attention and affection and all that shit, get a hobby or something because a fuck buddy isn't going to help.

PS: It sounds like you're doing really well. You seem really self aware, you're fresh out of a relationship, and things could be a lot worse.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 4:19 PM on May 21, 2014

Also, I tend to find I hit peak frustration at being newly single about 4-6 weeks after a breakup, because I am used to a certain level of companionship, sex, affection, and basically just having more of my time filled up without having to think about it. YMMV.

But yeah. Notice how much more time and energy and kind of, mental space you have now? There's a big gap from a relationship ending, and it takes a while to 'fill' it. Especially the mental space. How much time did you spend thinking about your dysfunctional ex-relationship? Your brain is used to taking up space with 'relationship worries'. Part of it is just a habit.

Points above about anxious/avoidant attachment, and that if you're obsessing, it's usually a distraction from something else, are also things I'd concur with.
posted by Elysum at 7:29 AM on May 22, 2014

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