Why am I so desperate for love?
November 5, 2016 1:58 PM   Subscribe

[Gayfilter] I am a 23-year-old gay man who has never had a serious relationship, not through lack of trying. When potential relationships come to an end, I get severely depressed and can't handle the rejection. I have tried therapy, medication, self-medication, hobbies, you name it, but I cannot shake this unbearable heartache that plagues me every time a guy I like calls time on our fleeting romance.

Since I came out when I was 19, I have had nothing but bad luck in relationships. To begin with, I thought I was just dating the wrong people, but I have dated a varied mix of guys and it has always ended on their terms when I was ready to take a step further.

For example, my most recent relationship ended 2 weeks ago. We have been working together for and developed a friendship for 4 months. 6 weeks of that we have spent dating, and when he asked me to be his boyfriend I, ever so smitten, said yes. 2 days later he was avoiding me and when I finally got through to him he told me he had made a mistake and was not ready for a relationship. Better to know now than later, yes, but that didn't make it hurt any less. The whole thing still feels raw to me, while he seems completely over it. Ranting to my friends only gives me temporary relief, until I am back obsessing over him and how we are not together...when in all essence, I barely know him.

I have always had a habit of getting attached too quickly, and I have to actively control myself if I think I am coming across as needy and desperate. This makes it hard for me to be myself in a relationship and let my true personality shine through, as I spend most of the time worrying about what the other person is thinking of me and if they have lost interest. Every failed relationship I cling onto in one way or another, and some of the people I occasionally stalk them on social media to see what they're up to, if they're in another relationship, even if we haven't spoken for 2 years. This makes me feel like a lunatic.

I have tried therapy, anti-depressants/anxiety medication, self-medication (booze), throwing myself into hobbies, throwing myself into my work... nothing has been effective. When I meet a guy that I become interested in, the feeling takes over me and I find it difficult to live my life day to day without it stressing me out. Every text, every kiss on the end of a text, every interaction. I am mentally exhausted from living this way, but I just don't know how to stop. Self-esteem issues, self-confidence issues, I just don't know what's the matter with me. Why am I so obsessed with finding a relationship?
posted by Lewnatic to Human Relations (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm really sorry you're having such a hard time.

Have you tried meditation?

Also, do you have friends and family members with whom you feel close? I think being single is easier when I feel connected and loved, and harder when I'm lonely anyway.
posted by bunderful at 2:26 PM on November 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Honestly, this sounds pretty normal to me, especially when you're 23 and haven't had a lot of relationship experience. Breakups suck. They will always suck. And it's okay to take some time to "grieve" a breakup or rejection or to have nerves at the beginning of a potential relationship.

The one thing that does help is building a strong social support network, so that you aren't hanging your whole self-worth on one person. Do you have a lot of friends and activities that you take part in? Is there someone you can confide in and who can cheer you up when a relationship goes south?
posted by capricorn at 2:27 PM on November 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hey can I offer you some input as an older gay guy? I may be wrong, but I think maybe what you're going through is a slightly more intense version of what a lot of us go through, and it will ease up. Here's a thing about being gay in this world, even if it's gotten better since I came out: you don't get to figure out dating and rejection and heartbreak and productively get it wrong when it's a little more developmentally appropriate (not to be terribly normative) like everyone else, at least if you come out after high school, as you did and I did. Suddenly you are to some extent an adult in the world figuring out other stuff about independence and responsibility and you're supposed to figure out the decidedly non-straightforward business of dating at the same time. Also depending on your circumstances, you may be working through the bullshit that has been piled onto you about being gay.

I know this is a tedious line, but 23 is really young. You're going to have a lot more chances. Which is cold comfort, because waiting is not fun if you are temperamentally bad with being alone. Something useful someone once told me was to go on a date with the thought that this was an evening's entertainment and nothing more. If the date sucked, see if you could regroup the next day and laugh about it with someone, then go on the next date. If the date was great, well: happy surprise. It is so hard, when you're lonely, not to go in thinking WELL HERE WE BOTH ARE ARE WE GOING TO GET MARRIED WHAT DOES HE THINK OF ME AAAAGH. But you may be able to get some of the way there.

I think I'm going on and on and not quite answering your question. Why are you so obsessed with finding a relationship? Because culturally you've been told all your life that it's a measure of success in life for one thing, but I'm going to go back to "because you're 23 and came out a few years ago so it's only been a possibility for a little while and also because being in a relationship is, in fact good in a lot of ways, so why wouldn't you want it?" I think the over-eagerness will calm down.

I'm not sure what to tell you about the time between now and when it's easier. I had some hard times with it and I get it. Probably keep trying some of the stuff like therapy and unloading about your frustrations with sympathetic friends and concentrating on making your own life interesting and enjoyable. And meanwhile keep going on some dates and see if you can have fun with it (which can be hit or miss! there are lot of bad dates in the world!) and if you need to, keep on being a little obsessive about them and try to forgive yourself for that. It doesn't mean you'll always be dealing with this same stuff. If you feel like it's truly pathological, explore different kinds of therapy, like support groups and 12-step groups. You never know what will work.

One last thought: relationships either end or they don't. Don't look too much for patterns that indicate your failure. It's possible you're really doing fine, except for the part where you're unhappily obsessed.
posted by Smearcase at 2:34 PM on November 5, 2016 [29 favorites]

Another thing. You say:

I have tried therapy, anti-depressants/anxiety medication, self-medication (booze), throwing myself into hobbies, throwing myself into my work... nothing has been effective.

Do any of the things you have tried bring you joy or satisfaction? My hobbies bring me very real pleasure. They do not keep me from being sad after a breakup or from having butterflies with a new relationship, but they help make my life happier overall. And sometimes they give me an outlet for my feelings or a place to put anxious energy.
posted by bunderful at 2:46 PM on November 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm also gay and I agree with Smearcase. This seems within the range of normal for a 23 year old. I know it sucks. As above, I agree with building your support network. Hopefully you have a group of friends you can hang out with on the weekends, and at least one or two you can call when you're feeling down/anxious. (But not too often; friends aren't your therapist.)

It's normal to be swept away by a guy you like. They may be breaking up with you because you're needy, or because they're also young and immature and there's so much out there to explore before settling into anything serious. Or a combo.

Develop some habits so that when you feel like you simply must text him or check out his social media, you can take action in some other way. Go for a walk and leave your phone at home. Set timers so you only check for messages every 8 hours. When you start to obsess, exercise instead. Quit self-medicating, eat right, get good sleep. You are not going to feel like doing these things! You will feel like you are going to go crazy if you don't check for texts or whatever. The only way out is through. You clearly can't wait until you feel like taking action - take action first and I promise you will feel better.

In any case, at 23 your frontal lobe isn't quite done cooking yet, so this will probably naturally subside with time.
posted by AFABulous at 2:50 PM on November 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

And there's nothing wrong with wanting love. I think there's a current strain of pop psychology that wants as to see ourselves as the only ones who can make ourselves truly happy, the only ones who can change our lives, you can't love anyone else until you love yourself, etc. And there's some value in that, but I don't think it's completely true. I think we are wired for love and connection and community and most of us don't feel quite right without it. Don't beat up on yourself. There is no one in the world who deserves love and understanding more than you do.
posted by bunderful at 2:54 PM on November 5, 2016 [10 favorites]

Yes to all the above advice. And just to add some good advice I got once: the point of dating is to see what works, to further define your lists of "must have"s, "would be nice"s, and "dealbreaker"s. Of course it's natural to get crush-y excited feelings and hope each one is The One, but the above helped me process some of my past relationships in a better way. Good luck!
posted by Zephyrial at 3:36 PM on November 5, 2016

Following from Smearcase, here's some hard T from one gay man to another regarding difficulties making and sustaining gay male romantic relationships, especially when you're younger. Empirical fact: the average gay man is more likely to have dealt with trauma, to have a mental illness, and to have an insecure attachment style. And it's directly related to and predicted by all the internalized homophobia, bullying/harassing/attacking, and strained identity formation that most gay men have to deal with to some degree at one point or another.

So, in addition to the fact that you yourself may meet some of the above descriptors, the average guy you might find in your dating pool? ... Yeah, they are more likely to have dealt with these things as well. Whether or not they want to admit it to themselves (or to you), they might be pretty scared about some aspects of being in a relationship, being intimate, being themselves in the world.

And, regarding coming out later and not having a love life when you were (relatively) younger, I can imagine feeling that much more pressure to "get started" and to do it right and get all these experiences that were unavailable to you. That's genuinely hard to deal with, speaking from personal experiences and those of others I know. At the same time that's a painfully real feeling that you (might) have, I would wonder if that intensity is fueling how crushingly disappointing it is when a budding relationship doesn't work out.

Be compassionate to yourself. You're really doing the best you can.
posted by The Sock Puppet Sentience Movement at 4:45 PM on November 5, 2016 [6 favorites]

In your "I have tried..." list, I don't see "expanding my circles of friends, and/or deepening my existing friendships." When (deliberately) single for an extended period[*], I made a number of new friends and renewed old friendships. I felt cared for -- I was cared for -- I was more than content with close platonic friends. I threw parties, I bought a kayak, I did many things people tend to do as a couple, by myself or with friends. It was a needed break, a needed series of lessons in how to be a better person.

I had no real desire for a relationship; I ended up 'getting right with myself,' so to speak, and was, unsurprisingly, much healthier at approaching the idea of a relationship. I did not want a relationship for the sake of a relationship -- I ended up firm in the idea that I would stay single until I found somebody who would not just be a good boyfriend, but who would improve my life, and whose life would be, I hoped, better for having me in it. "Good enough" was no longer good enough. I didn't feel that I was missing out by being single. I didn't expect to remain single forever, but expected that when I did fetch up with a partner, it would be a far better relationship than I had ever had previously, especially during phases when a vague neediness would leave me thinking "I want a partner" instead of "If I were to have a partner, how could I do that so it would be the best thing ever, for both of us?"

Consider just taking a break from the whole idea, and working on getting to a place where you are the sort of person people like to spend time with, and scaling up your friendship skills -- change the goal from "in relationship" to "enjoying life and love through solid friendships." These are vital -- you and a partner can not -- well, should not -- be an island. I lost an old friend this summer and the pain of that outranked the feeling of loss over many, many a romantic relationship. One thing I enjoy about my partner is that he maintains quality friendships and does not expect me to let my own slide to focus more on him. During a rough patch we both had lots of people to moan at, and I worry about what might have happened if we hadn't -- we each went off and moaned and came back stronger for the good advice we'd received. (Summary: "get over yourself." Such is the value of a for-real first-rate friend!)

That, and 23 is just sort of crappy for serious relationships. Few people, I found, were looking to settle down at that age. In my circles, many of the outliers who did make serious commitments at that age found themselves single later on, too; much can change in one's 20s. This of course ended up even worse where joint property, children, even pets were involved...

[*] I was busy, and, the last relationship had been a horror, and I wanted to unpack what led me to that, and work on myself. Fun part: I met my partner through an old friend I'd become better friends with during my single years. Had I not been working on being a better friend, I would never have crossed paths with the lovely man in question.
posted by kmennie at 7:46 PM on November 5, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm a straight female and older than you than I care to admit, so adjust your grain of salt accordingly. I've had terrible trouble with rejection all my life. Probably one of the few things Freud got right, but in my case I can trace it straight back to a lifetime of terrible relationship with my father. I've been in and out of therapy all my adult life, and while it hasn't taken the problem away like a magic bullet, I can tell you it has made it easier to deal with.

The therapist not like an antibiotic that knocks out an infection; it's more like a thyroid pill that stimulates an underactive gland.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:07 PM on November 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

You tend to feel things more intensely when you're young. As you age your skin gets thicker, along with getting wrinklier. You can still have highs and lows when you're older, but you're just more of a raw nerve at 23. I can almost guarantee that somebody you'll look back at the person you are now and you'll feel a certain fondness (and embarrassment) for that lost, swoony kid.

I think you're gonna be fine. You're desperate to fall in love and settle down forever, and that's not weird but you gotta stop and breathe. Just keep being your sweet self, and things will work out.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:18 AM on November 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Shoot. Someday, not somebody!
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:24 AM on November 6, 2016

My goodness, some incredible insight here! Thank you to everyone. I don't feel so crazy anymore.

Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of friends. I have 2 very close ones who I trust completely, and we spend a lot of time together, but as far as having a circle of friends to party with on the weekend... I haven't had that since high school. We all sort of drifted and some of them moved away. I do miss the "group" feeling but friends come and go just as romantic relationships do. I agree that I should probably try to expand my circle of friends, but like I said I've never been terribly good at making them due to my shy, sensitive, and introverted personality. I get on with everyone I work with and most people I meet, but forming lasting friendships never seems to happen.
posted by Lewnatic at 2:48 AM on November 6, 2016

You're 23. Trust me when I say this, but in a couple of years you'll look back and think "wtf was I doing/thinking?".

Until then, take things slow. Don't jump into bed on the first date. Don't have any expectations. Don't, or at least try not to get too involved with the bar/club scene.

Do be yourself, no bull shit. I'm not saying to bare all your secrets in the first weeks, but just be who you are. Do ask questions, take an interest in his career, hobbies etc.

I could keep writing 'till the cows come home, but you get the general idea. Other MF people above have some really good ideas/thoughts. Read them carefully, read them a few times. Again, take it slow, you're in no hurry.

Good luck Lewnatic!
posted by james33 at 7:22 AM on November 6, 2016

I agree that I should probably try to expand my circle of friends, but like I said I've never been terribly good at making them due to my shy, sensitive, and introverted personality. I get on with everyone I work with and most people I meet, but forming lasting friendships never seems to happen.

If you are like me, this may mean that you might have greater success if you approached friendships more purposefully and consciously. That could potentially be a separate ask.
posted by bunderful at 4:49 PM on November 6, 2016

Chiming in as a straight lady to confirm, this is just how 23 is. For like, almost everyone. Some people are just better at internalizing or otherwise keeping their distress under wraps. And of course there are the handful of folks who meet The One (gag) at 19 and never ever have a moment's unhappiness, but we all hate them. ;)

The most important thing you can do is not allow your entirely normal feelings of desperation make permanent bad decisions for you. Don't let your fear convince you to minimize abuse or mistreatment. Don't marry someone who's a bad fit because you're afraid nobody else will marry you. Don't get tangled up in bad money shit in order to grab someone or keep someone.

If you manage that, you will one day be 29 and looking back at your 23 year old self with a rueful smile. PROMISE.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:13 AM on November 7, 2016

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