Before I hit the big '30'
January 8, 2006 6:52 AM   Subscribe

What am I doing wrong and why should 'I' change and need I even ought to, in the first place ? Some advice before I hit the big '30'..

I have a tendency to get attached (in both romantic terms and otherwise) to people more easily than most others. Not the most pragmatic habit to have, I know, as one invariably ends up with a greater share of letdowns and not just in relationships. But I 'really' believe there are some things in life that are worth trying harder for and we just live once and we need to make the most of it and all that jazz. I don't want to live my life as a series of 'what-ifs'. But it has come to mean that I'm almost invariably the one who has to go the extra mile. Shades of the 'Nice Guy' syndrome, I guess, but I'm sure there is more to me that being a stereotype.

I am going to turn 30 soon and though still far from jaded, the pain takes longer to go away now. A little introspection seems to be in order.

So am I 'wrong' in the way I approach life? What does this say about me? Clingy, needy, some other hole in my personality? I would like to think I'm none of these but one can hardly be objectively about oneself.

Not looking for a solution so much as advice from the collective wisdom of AskMe-Fi. Psych. majors and armchair philosophers, please feel free to counsel at length.
posted by sk381 to Human Relations (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Keirsey's personality analysis is a great tool for sorting out one's behavior and recognizing much of it simply as part of your temperament. You also might 1) lower your expectations of others or 2) be more selective of the kinds of friends you choose, or some combination thereof.

I had a female friend who was perennially disappointed in me because I didn't remember birthdays, her AA anniversary, and so forth. Of course, she always did these things for me. Her mistake was the expectation that I would mirror her behavior if I cared about her. Wrong. We simply have different temperaments and therefore behavior.

Let me know what you think of Keirsey!
posted by philmas at 7:54 AM on January 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

perhaps re-evalute what is "worth trying harder for". Not everything or everyone is "dying over". If someone doesnt' want or like you, let'em be and find those who DO want or like you.

If you don't like carrots, will eating them day after day make you like them? Proabably not. You'll learn tolerate them a bit, but any chance you to ditch them you will.

If you haven't already, develop a few hobbies that can sustain you throughout your life. Take up scuba diving or oil painting. It'll give you an outlet for being obsessive about something and make you more interesting.

As you're discovering, the pain gets harder as you get older, if you contain doing the same things over and over. You've got a finite amount of time to be here and some of the crap you're worrying about probably isn't worth it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:02 AM on January 8, 2006

As you're discovering, the pain gets harder as you get older

I find the exact opposite -- as I get older, it's much easier to shrug off life's slings and arrows. After all, "been there done that."
posted by kindall at 8:28 AM on January 8, 2006

Maybe what's happening in your life is that romantic fascinations unduly telescope your focus. It goes something like this:

1) Unattached, you have a life pattern that is acceptable, but borderline boring. Maybe you have casual friends, a decent job, some interests, but nothing in your daily routine that is absorbing. You go through the days with little emotional activity, until, inevitably, a Person of Interest crosses your path.

2) The Person of Interest becomes a source of fascination to you, and your interest is flattering to them, at least initially. So long as that initial phase lasts, you appear to them to be more interesting than you actually are, because of the attention you pay them, and many times, they instinctively drive this new focus of yours by giving you more of whatever qualities you initially found attractive than they would normally present in "real" life, simply because from their perspective, it feels good to be fascinating to someone.

3) At some point, the effort of keeping you interested (that is, of presenting, perhaps somewhat artificially, a higher level of whatever qualities attracted you in the first place than they might naturally), is equal to, or greater than, the pleasure your attention provides.

4) At or about the same time, they discover that the fascination isn't entirely reciprocal; that, in fact, what they most liked about you, was simply that you liked them a lot.

5) Things go downhill rapidly thereafter, and you find yourself back in the ho-hum of real life, until yet another Person of Interest crosses your path, and your pulse goes up erratically, and another ride on the merry-go-'round ensues.

But now you feel a little introspection is in order. Good. That's the first sign of a dawning recognition that the merry-go-'round may not be the most satisfying ride in the playground of life. So, you could be on to something here.

Let me contribute some ponder points for your introspection, that I've found useful in similar circumstances.

A) Why do I settle for a boring life of my own? What would I really like to do/be/achieve, as an individual? What have I done to get any personal goal of this category accomplished recently?

B) What is interesting to me about the most interesting people I know, to whom I feel no romantic connection whatsoever?

C) (Not purely introspective, but provides fuel for feeding the internal dialogue): What do people I trust, but have no romantic connection with, think is interesting about me? What do these people think of how my life is going? What do they think I'm missing/overlooking/avoiding about myself and my life?

D) What am I doing to cultivate a sense of adventure in myself, outside romantic entanglements?

E) What are my non-romantic regrets? What can do to fix them?

Give yourself 6 months off the externally powered merry-go-'round, get some answers to some of the above, and you may start a broader emotional life with yourself. You'll surely appear less "clingy, needy" because, well, you won't be.

And you may find some other really interesting rides on the playground.
posted by paulsc at 8:29 AM on January 8, 2006 [2 favorites]

Regarding why you should or shouldn't change: If what you are doing isn't bringing you your desired results, or is bringing you pain, why not change what you are doing?

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and xpecting different results.
--Albert Einstein, (attributed), US (German-born) physicist (1879 - 1955)

posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:33 AM on January 8, 2006

I believe that Einstein quote (which I've also seen attributed to Ben Franklin) is apocryphal. It's just proof that every supposedly wise saying has a supposedly wise opposite -- in this case, if you don't succeed, try, try again.

So let the pain make you stronger and find someone worthy of your attachment to them.
posted by johngoren at 8:55 AM on January 8, 2006

Psych major and armchair philosopher reporting.

If you think "nice guy syndrome" might be applicable to you, read this great article from the heartless bitches. Note the extreme amount of comments (posted by FARKers, mainly)--"methinks thou dost protest too much."

The message from this article is the same as M. Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled (great book), which is love yourself, with the caveat and understanding that the opposite of love is not hate (that's a false dichotomy as demonstrated in Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land), it's laziness.

For example, why is good grooming a primary turn on? Because it shows that you care enough about yourself to take care of how you look--you want other people to think well of you (called normal narcissism), not as a play for attention, but as a reflection of your inner being. You can only really care about someone else as much as you care about yourself. There was a great dramatization of this in the recent biopic Walk the Line--i.e. a drogaddicto is not really compelling when he asks June Carter to marry him, but Johhny Cash, the performer and gut-wrenching reality poet, is.

I suspect that's what is plagueing your relationships, if not, you do need be more "objectively" about yourself. You could start with how you present your problem to yourself (and others), i.e. there are no concrete examples provided in the question, it is airy and formless. You need to pin down what exactly is bothering you before any real analysis or plan can be formed to change it.
posted by gilgul at 9:20 AM on January 8, 2006 [2 favorites]

I would recommend reading The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain De Botton.

This is probably my 7th time reading it in the last 3 years and it has really given me a new outlook on things such as getting disappoipnted with people, expectations and all sorts of other things that used to really get under my skin. Now I don't get annoyed as quickly or as much.

You do have to be open to change though and this change doesn't mean that you are disregarding or completely throwing out your sense of personal identity. Part of it has to do with recognizing what it is that you're actually seeking in your life and learning to let go of the things that you think you need but really don't and learning to recognize the things that you need to hold on to that you might not have even known you needed.
posted by eatcake at 9:32 AM on January 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm like you in many ways, sk381. I don't get attached all that easily, actually, but when I DO get attached -- WHAM! I have a very hard time playing hard-to-get, pretending to be aloof, etc. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve and it's obvious to everyone that I have a HUGE CRUSH or a huge desire for friendship, etc.

The sad truth is, to many people this is unattractive. It comes across as desperate -- and as if you have low-self esteem. I don't think that's always the truth (or the whole truth) of the situation. It may just be that you're expansive and not good at playing games or hiding your feelings. But that doesn't change the way it comes across.

So I think you have two choices:

1) Try to change the way you act. It's possible, even if it seems unnatural to you at first. The best way to do this is NOT to try to become a dispassionate person. Rather, STAY passionate, but channel your passions towards work, hobbies, projects, etc. This will make you seem productive, passionate (in a non-creepy, non-clingy way), interesting, dedicated, etc. And hopefully, if you dive into stuff that you like, it will be fun, too.

2) Keep doing what you're doing with the understanding that MANY people will be turned off by it -- but not ALL people. I fell hard for my wife when I first met her. And I was SHAMELESS. I followed her around like a puppy, even though I knew that she wasn't interested in me "that way." Everyone knew how I felt. They made fun of me and told her, "Look, your shadow is here again." But in the end, she came to love me. We got married. And we've been together for ten years (I just turned 40!). This sounds romantic and wonderful, and it IS, but just realized that I didn't date much when I was younger and didn't meet a woman who I really clicked with until I was 40.

That said, I DO think it gets easier in your 30s. Not because you are older, but because the people around you -- including the women you're interested in -- are also older (unless you're one of those older guys who likes 19-year-olds.) That feeling of, "He seems desperate, so he must have low self esteem" is much stronger for younger women. Particularly in high school and college, there's too much pressure to "be cool" for most girls to saddle themselves with a guy like that.

Good luck!
posted by grumblebee at 9:38 AM on January 8, 2006

Oops. It's too early in the morning for numbers. In my post, I claimed that I've been with my wife for 10 years and that I met her when I was 40 -- AND that I just turned 40. No, I wasn't talking about "ant years." I actually met her when I was THIRTY.
posted by grumblebee at 9:44 AM on January 8, 2006

I've found that neediness (or clinging, or over-pursuing, or however it makes sense to you) like this can come from a deep and probably unexpressed feeling that the other person will somehow fill up an emptiness that you're feeling -- that being with them with make you complete, so to speak, in a way that you believe you cannot be complete by yourself. All this can trigger a kind of compulsive fear of abandonment -- which, as you say, can actually get more painful as you get older, rather than less. It also, as you may have noticed, have the effect of driving people away rather than bringing them closer.

In the end, this is a way of relating to people that's fundamentally childlike (and I truly don't mean that in an insulting way). As you may have a suspicion (based on your note that maybe you should start facing this before you turn 30), getting frequently over-attached -- whether to friends, crushes, or lovers -- is not how healthy adults relate to other healthy adults. In order for any of us to be able to love and to receive love from someone else, we've got to (here comes the cliche that's absolutely true) be capable of loving ourselves, warts and all. We've got to complete our own lives. No one else can "make" us happy. No one can nurture us all the time or fill all our needs -- the last time that happened for any of us, we were infants.

If any of this rings a bell to you, a book you might want to check out is How To Be An Adult In Relationships (this is the second time in a week I've recommended it on AskMe -- no, I'm really not getting any kickbacks from the author!) or the author's earlier book How To Be An Adult. They both examine just why and how healthy adulthood and healthy relationships need to be predicated on taking responsibility for our own happiness and well-being.
posted by scody at 10:40 AM on January 8, 2006

I've found that neediness .... like this can come from a deep and probably unexpressed feeling that the other person will somehow fill up an emptiness that you're feeling ...

My reaction to this is complex. On a literal level, I agree with it, except that the feeling needn't be deep or unexpressed. I fully admit that my wife fills a void in my life. I also admit that I feel incomplete -- or at least unhappy -- without a partner. (It can't be just ANY partner -- it must be the RIGHT partner. I'd MUCH rather be alone than settle.) Maybe I'm rewriting history, but it seems to me like all this ubiquitous attitude of "there's something wrong with you if you look outside yourself for happiness" is relatively recent. Is it a reaction against an earlier, more romantic philosophy? Is it a by-product of the "me generation?" Is it a result of Feminism -- of women (and men) empowering themselves by rejecting traditional roles?

I'm not saying it's necessarily bad or wrong. The fact is one MAY find oneself alone. If so, one CAN'T find happiness in a partner. So it's prudent to try for it in other ways. And I also realize that people vary in regards to how independent they are. Some people LIKE being alone; others hate it; many people -- squarely in the middle -- like a certain degree of independence and a certain degree of interconnectedness.

But I STRONGLY reject the idea that there's something pathological about you (or something abnormal) if your equation for happiness involves pair-bonding. And I think genetics is on my side in this argument. And years of cultural baggage (which probably stem from genetics). We're BUILT to bond. We're reared on romantic books, movies, tv-shows, songs, etc.

Anything that makes you unable to function is a problem that needs to be dealt with. But I AM able to function when I'm alone. I DID function for three decades while alone. And I was productive. And I had personal passions. But I DIDN'T feel complete and I wasn't, at core, happy. And now that I AM married, I AM happy. And I DO feel complete. It seems to me that this is how I'm made. The thing I most enjoy about life is sharing it with someone. And yet I'm continually made to feel as if I should apologize for it. I don't remember my joined-at-the-hip parents ever being ashamed of their co-dependency, which is why I suspect this is a very contemporary phenomenon.

I remember once casually mentioning that every day, after work, I walk across the city (a 20-minute walk), meet my wife at her office, and ride the Subway home with her. The people I was with (all younger than me, and mostly career-driven women) looked stunned. One of them, looking at me like a was from Mars, say, "Why would you DO that?" But it was so simple to me. I did it because I enjoy spending time with my wife. After a long day at work, that's what I most want to do. It's fun. And it makes me feel whole.
posted by grumblebee at 11:37 AM on January 8, 2006

Is there a fear in you that you will end up alone? I have seen many people with this issue have the same type of pattern, myself included.

The fear of ending up alone can be a powerful one - if you combine it with a low self-esteem it can be deadly.

I finally got over this when I came to the realization that if I ended up alone that it would be ok and that I could have a full, interesting, and happy life without a romantic partner. During this time I really focused on myself - I started getting healthy and doing things to make me a better person in MY eyes. It was not about becoming someone I wasn't but instead about becoming more myself in every way. I also nailed down quite a few of my own morals and desires for my own life. Standards if you will for my own life and my relationships, not just with an SO, but with my family, friends and work. This was between 28 and 30 years old.

When I did this and finally realized (not just in my head but in my heart and soul) that it would be ok to be alone and that I would be happy with that, everything fell into place.

Since that realization I have been the happiest I have ever been in my life and so many wonderful things have happened to confirm that I am living right - for me.
posted by jopreacher at 11:51 AM on January 8, 2006

But I STRONGLY reject the idea that there's something pathological about you (or something abnormal) if your equation for happiness involves pair-bonding.

Oh, we're in agreement about this. I think the key to your sentence is where you say "happiness involves pair-bonding." That's not at all pathological; I think what's unhealthy is when one's equation for happiness is exclusively restricted to pair-bonding to the exclusion of every other type of relationship (including our relationships with ourselves). I think you also get to this when you say "I also admit that I feel incomplete -- or at least unhappy -- without a partner. (It can't be just ANY partner -- it must be the RIGHT partner. I'd MUCH rather be alone than settle.)"

The fact that even if you're happier with a partner you'd still rather be alone than settle is exactly what I was trying to get at earlier -- of course you might ultimately want to be in a relationship with someone else, but you (and your friends, family, creative pursuits, etc.) meet enough of your own needs that you know that you can be alone. An unhealthy need for pair-bonding would drive someone to settle, I think -- predicated on the notion that it's actually better to be in a bad relationship than alone, which is of course the opposite of what I think we're both saying.

I remember once casually mentioning that every day, after work, I walk across the city (a 20-minute walk), meet my wife at her office, and ride the Subway home with her. The people I was with (all younger than me, and mostly career-driven women) looked stunned. One of them, looking at me like a was from Mars, say, "Why would you DO that?" But it was so simple to me. I did it because I enjoy spending time with my wife. After a long day at work, that's what I most want to do.

See, I just think that's lovely. The key is that you choose to do this because you take pleasure in this ritual of togetherness -- you're clearly not being compulsively driven to take the subway with your wife out of some fear of traveling by yourself or irrational thoughts of her cheating on you if you're not there with her after work. You're there because it's an expression of love that works for you as a couple.
posted by scody at 12:10 PM on January 8, 2006

Yes, we're in complete agreement, scody. I DO think it's a problem is one's need for companionship is so great that one is willing to settle for ANYONE -- including someone horrible. I actually don't have much of a support system, other than my wife . I often worry about what my life would be like if something happened to her. I certainly would not have a big group (or even a small group) of close friends to prop me up. In short, I would be deeply lonely and depressed. But I feel SO strongly about the "settling" thing that I would PREFER to be lonely and depressed than to be with someone I didn't really click with. I didn't feel this way when I was younger, and I made some mistakes and got in some relationships that were WORSE than being lonely. I consider "better alone (even if alone is horrible) than with someone wrong" to be one of the great life-lessons that I've learned.

I'm very shy and misanthropic. Hopefully, it's not so either-or for most people.
posted by grumblebee at 1:41 PM on January 8, 2006

I think people who will uncomplainingly go the extra mile in the name of friendship are often sought out and preyed on by people who are lazy in relationships. Hopefully unconsciously, but I know people with borderline personality disorder-type symptoms who actually consciously sought them out.

The thing that I question is if you do the extra bit now and don't complain but later feel used by it and DO get upset, well then you have a problem that I think you have to deal with. Not a super-huge psych problem that indicates "issues" but something to be honest with yourself about and investigate a bit more.

When I do things for my wife, who is the closest person to me in the world, or in the past for "best friends", I have never done such things with a thought to what they may do for me at some point. I do it because it makes ME happy to do it. If you are honestly happy to do it, then it shouldn't be an issue that the other people aren't reciprocating.

If it is an issue, though, there is an exchange going on and I think that this could bear some re-thinking. If you are consistently doing X expecting Y to be done by others and Y is never done, there are two options. A) You take it as it is and do X regardless, and really be sure that you will NOT be upset by that. OR - B) you choose not to do X in the future unless you have some clear evidence that Y will follow.

There's nothing wrong with a bit of instrumentality in relationships. Even better if you can talk about it and get it out in the open in a relationships. There are some things even in my marriage that I expect will be noted and reciprocated - things like cleaning the kitchen and doing the dishes and things.
posted by mikel at 2:07 PM on January 8, 2006

I'm almost invariably the one who has to go the extra mile.

If you habitually feel like you HAVE to go the extra mile in any kind of relationship (not want to, but "have to"), and this role "almost invariably" goes to you, you are choosing the wrong people and/or the wrong relationships.

This doesn't sound like a case of "taking risks and putting yourself out there because you only live once"--more like, pursuing things that aren't meant to be (whether platonic or romantic) and/or letting yourself, as mentioned by mikel above, get sucked into one-sided situations by people who, consciously or not, can sniff out (and then prey upon) that paticular brand of "nice".

IANAG (I Am Not A Guy) but have been there--email's in the profile if this sounds familiar and you want to chat further.
posted by availablelight at 3:44 PM on January 8, 2006

You'd do better to see a therapist than to read or whatever. Seriously. I don't mean that you're crazy, just that you'd benefit from that, given people pleasing tendencies that are usually accompanied by anxiety. I've been there too. This has nothing to do with gender.
posted by raysmj at 4:58 PM on January 8, 2006

I find the exact opposite -- as I get older, it's much easier to shrug off life's slings and arrows. After all, "been there done that."

same here. I'm happiest when there's little drama and many tacos.

It takes a lot more to get me deeply upset than it did when I was young. These days, I'm more likely to make some noise, get on my way, and forget what it was that upset me in the first place.
posted by I Love Tacos at 6:05 PM on January 8, 2006

Listen to Tim McGraw's, My Next Thirty Years. Good song, and you sound introspective enough to enjoy it even if you are not crazy for country music.
posted by esquire at 9:23 PM on January 8, 2006

I Am Not An Expert In Anything, but it sounds like you're maybe using other people as an addict uses a drug -- to try to quench something with a substance that won't quench it. You keep trying, and it keeps not working.

Quench the hole (mixed metaphor alert,) and then have a normal relationship. Stop looking for relationships to fill the hole for you.

Wanting a life-partner isn't the same as needing one to fill a hole in your heart.
posted by callmejay at 10:05 PM on January 8, 2006

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