How can I stop wanting senpai to notice me?
July 31, 2014 3:38 PM   Subscribe

Your 2000th snowflakey question on the how to be an emotionally healthy single person. How can I live for myself and grow my social networks instead of seeking validation from my abstract idea of a desirable partner? Navel-gazing after the jump.

I'm female, in my 20s, bisexual, and recently realized that my relationship boundaries are not where they should be. I grew up culturally and gender non-conforming, rebellious, and naively hopeful that I would grow up to be an Independent Enlightened Woman and yet I find myself living for (imaginary) male attention. I don't know what part of it is just the human condition, and what part of it is gendered programming that I need to deprogram.

The Mythical Senpai

But, this imaginary male attention isn't male attention in general. I'm talking about this mythical desirable partner my subconscious has pieced together from all the people I found attractive in the past. He's like a mythical senpai that I constantly live in the shadow of, despite the fact that I am an adult with bigger concerns that I should be dealing with, and the fact that he isn't a real person. My automatic negative self-talk mostly take the form of "Why are you doing this/What are you doing/Why aren't you better, senpai won't be impressed and you'll never find someone awesome and compatible with you, ever."

I find that really weird especially since I mostly fail at female performance anyway. I'm not genderqueer (I firmly identify as female), and I occasionally like to wear cute tops, but I don't go out of my way to look attractive. When a past partner said "I like long hair," my first instinct was to chop it off and rock a pixie (and I did and he continued to find me attractive). So my inner critic doesn't criticize my beauty/fashion regimen, but it does criticize bigger things--like my health, physical desirability (in terms of athleticism), career, choice of hobbies, ambition, my place of stay, the things I take pleasure in, etc. It makes me second-guess everything and it's such a drag.

I *know* that if my mythical senpai disliked all these things about me, we wouldn't be compatible anyway, so why bother trying to impress him? Why bother trying to impress anyone other than myself at all, especially since I am not a people-pleaser? Despite this level of self-awareness, my inner critic still pops in with more comments of "senpai wouldn't be impressed!" and I'd take it seriously on an emotional level and feel like such a failure.

It's hard for me to counter the negative self-talk in the moment, so instead I just use my powers of too much imagination and conjure up Frida Kahlo, and wonder what she'd say if she were with me on a smoke break. I imagine her saying that X element in my life is intriguing and a source of wonder, and I should keep at it and fuck what senpai thinks. That keeps the inner critic at bay, but eventually the negative self-talk will start up again with the "senpai wouldn't be impressed!" framing.

Actual Relationship and Validation-Seeking History

When I was a teenager, I was the female equivalent of the nice guy. I crushed hard on older male friends and spent a lot of time around them (which explains why I use the "senpai" metaphor). Since I crushed hard on geeks, I spent many hours of my life listening to them ramble on about subjects I didn't care much about, or listen to them mansplain our shared fandom and interests. I innocently thought all the time spent would turn things into something more romantic, and when I expressed my interest, I was continually rejected.

I've continued to always do the approaching. I'm in my mid 20s and I think that only one guy has ever bought me a drink, ever. I've come to accept that people generally won't approach me because I am not conventionally attractive and I am a weird mix of political views, geeky interests, and ethnic/cultural backgrounds. I'm okay with doing the approaching, and the internal locus of control is nice. But then I wonder how that can cross into validation-seeking behaviour in the present.

But when I click with someone, it feels like worlds colliding and the momentum is intense. I had never felt the need to slow down a relationship because the connection is so intoxicating, and it's such a relief to be desired and understood. But once the honeymoon period ends and the actual relationship starts, I find myself acting as the parent in the relationship, trying to "train" the other one to be more responsible, and to take the risks in life I want to take but am too anxious to pursue. Eventually I learned that this is a terrible relationship dynamic and I should stop living vicariously through my partner because it just ends in frustration for everyone.

I spend probably a little over six months single between relationships. I've never had a period where I was intentionally single. I also haven't dated around or kept things light much, because attraction and compatibility seems to work like a binary switch for me. There's not a lot of people I find attractive, but when I find someone, I get very one-track minded. I back off when they don't express interest, but it seems like I just fantasize about mythical senpai until I find the next actual attractive person.

But as I reflect on my romantic choices thus far, I wonder where I'd be if I didn't spend so much of my 20s so focused on relationships and trying to get other people's shit together. I want to channel my energy into my own personal development, and create my own definitions of success and attractiveness and so on. I want to see myself as successful and attractive without demonstrating validation-seeking behaviours, if that makes sense. I want to grow my friendships and networks, all these things that don't go away when a relationship ends. I don't want my personal life to be defined by relationship of the year anymore.

At least I am not dependent on a particular person for a relationship (I read Baggage Reclaim and I'm good with breaking things off and No Contact), but I am still dependent and defined by relationships in general, and I really would like to find something else to orient myself towards. I want the inner voice challenges me to appeal to the better parts of my humanity, rather than to an arbitrary attractiveness scale to please some imagined male attention.

I've been single for the past two weeks, and before that three month relationship, I was single for 10 months. The last breakup was a brand new pattern to me, because my past self would have spent at least a year trying to fix things instead of facing the deal breakers. But despite the fact that my ex and I are still attracted to each other and my ex was interested in fixing things, I decided to end it because it easily could've been a time-suck and yet another distraction from getting the rest of my life together.

What To Do?

I'm contemplating doing the intentionally single thing. But what if "the one" shows up then and I lose him/her because I didn't pursue him/her? Should I still be open to a relationship, just not actively seeking? Or should I just clamp down on any desires and urges for that kind of companionship, and pretend I'm a monk with vows of celibacy for a while?

I disabled my OKC account and it feels wonderful to no longer browse around and wonder what attractive people think about my profile. It's such a relief to no longer have that channel of checking out cute people, then feeling all defeatist and self-conscious that they're nowhere near me and I'm not good enough for them. And online dating is the worst because people are always very attractive when the interactions are just through short messages. In real life, I'm not attracted to people who don't share an intense emotional and conversational rapport with me, so it's a non-issue.

And how much is my frenemy senpai internal criticism related to my relationship history? Is it just a red herring and not related at all? I don't know, what do other people's internal self-talk sound like? Is the senpai thing weird but part of human nature, or does senpai need to get evicted from my brain?

And why is my mythical senpai a dude? Why am I attracted to women, but less interested in impressing them? Is seeking male validation that strongly programmed in me, or is it just that I have more relationship history with dudes?

I have been treated for anxiety and depression in the past, although I am not seeing a therapist at the moment. I would like to hear your thoughts or be recommended books and blogs to read. I really want to spend the rest of my 20s (and life) putting more energy into other aspects of my life, and have non-relationship-oriented internal self-talk. I want to evict senpai. Thanks!

Throwaway email: (yes, evit is missing a c)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (6 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
But what if "the one" shows up then and I lose him/her because I didn't pursue him/her?

Apologies for recycling a previous answer of mine, but what if you start to think of "the one" not as a person, but rather as a relationship? In other words, start to consider that the potential for a mutually loving, supportive, exciting, healthy relationship is not situated in some sort of static way within somebody outside of you; it is created as shared potential between you and somebody else.

This means that if you take time off from dating for the sake of your own emotional development -- which, by the way, is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself -- then by definition you won't accidentally miss "the one"... because if "the one" is a relationship (not a person), then it can't come along if you are not presently in the emotional space to enter into a relationship in the first place.

I disabled my OKC account and it feels wonderful to no longer browse around and wonder what attractive people think about my profile. It's such a relief to no longer have that channel of checking out cute people, then feeling all defeatist and self-conscious that they're nowhere near me and I'm not good enough for them.

These are all excellent clues that taking a break is what's right for you, right now. Stick with these good feelings. Spend some time thinking about all the (excellent) questions you've raised here. Maybe 6 months, maybe a year... who knows? Take the pressure off. One way you might know you're ready to begin dating again is when you feel you have so much in your life that you want to share, rather than a hole in your life you want to fill. Come at it from a place of abundance. Be your own senpai.

Two things, from Buddhist perspectives, that have been helpful for me in the past on a lot of these questions, from being secure in myself to stopping negative self-talk: Pema Chodron's Getting Unstuck, and David Richo's How to Be an Adult in Relationships.
posted by scody at 4:23 PM on July 31, 2014 [13 favorites]

And why is my mythical senpai a dude?

It could be that he is really more of a father figure. Perhaps you are looking to improve upon whatever father figure you grew up with?

Alternately, perhaps your senpai is your animus. Certain male figures in dreams of mine are not about wanting a lover. They are about my "masculine" side -- in short, my desire for a career and/or self determination.

I'm contemplating doing the intentionally single thing. But what if "the one" shows up then and I lose him/her because I didn't pursue him/her? Should I still be open to a relationship, just not actively seeking? Or should I just clamp down on any desires and urges for that kind of companionship, and pretend I'm a monk with vows of celibacy for a while?

I read a comment once on a public forum by a non-American. IIRC, he was French. The gist of it is that Americans seems to have this idea of making it a goal to either have a relationship or be intentionally alone but in Europe/France/wherever, people are more inclined to view it in terms of "Well, first you have to meet the right person."

It echoed a sentiment I saw in a movie I liked. In the movie, an American woman living in Italy spends one night with a local man, then always has an excuse any time he calls. By the time she is ready to see him again, he has another lady. She is upset. He says something like "These things need to happen naturally." and he talks about how she had other priorities and never had time for him.

So I would recommend you be open but not actively seeking. However, given your history, it might be wise to set a date or a goal of some kind and be intentionally alone until that date/goal happens. Then, after that, try to be open but not seeking. I am not sure you can really, honestly be open but not seeking without a firm break of some kind from this mentality.
posted by Michele in California at 5:34 PM on July 31, 2014 [7 favorites]

You're trying to date the person you want to be. Everyone does that at some point in their life, and for some couples it works. For you it obviously doesn't so I'd focus on dating people who compliment you who you're not pushing or competing with or secretly intimidated by. The senpai is you. Its not another person
posted by fshgrl at 6:42 PM on July 31, 2014 [8 favorites]

Advice from how Frida lived:
She would tell you to engage with, and sleep with, whoever smells and tastes delicious today.

When you find someone that enthralls and consumes you, (and you will) it will be obvious and there will be no stopping this Big Big Love. Not even if someone else temporarily smells more delicious than your Big Love.

Live every healthy day fully. Eat all ripe fruits and smell all blooming flowers. Dress beautifully to be a noted treat to the public. Spend time each day thinking and creating.

Know that each day is precious and you are a gorgeous, complicated being and value each day accordingly.

Confidence is supremely attractive. Luck and timing are factors.

Your self awareness will serve you well.
posted by littlewater at 8:51 PM on July 31, 2014 [10 favorites]

Oh I hear you. Girl, I hear you. I have one of those in my head too. I have never ever heard anyone else talk about this. What I do is imagine this person watching what I'm doing. Somehow it helps me feel less alone (and I am single these days). He's not critical though. I imagine that he adores everything I do. It's like I have to imagine being held in someone's loving attention. The absence of such a thing is too much to bear. When it isn't the person I'm crushing on, I like to imagine it as my higher power. I think it is OK to focus on relationships. I just don't think they have to be with people.
posted by macinchik at 10:43 PM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with an above poster that it sounds like you are describing an animus (sometimes referred to as Beloved) archetype/figure. You might get something out of reading the work of Donald Kalsched. He writes about an inner figure, often male for women, who is both a protector and a persecutor. I've read his book The Inner World of Trauma: Archetypal Defenses of the Personal Spirit and thought it was brilliant.
posted by tacoma1 at 5:31 AM on August 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

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