Learning to wait
May 1, 2017 1:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm a perpetually single person trying to get treatment for depression. How do I hold off on dating while I get my head right when it's all I can think about?

I'm a woman in my late twenties, and the last time I was in a relationship I was 19. I've dated on and off for years since then and some complicated romantic things have happened, but for a lot of reasons I haven't been able to find anyone. The longer I've gone without someone the harder it has become to find someone. I am lonely as all hell, even though my life is full of extremely close friends and family.

At the same time, I've developed depression and anxiety over the past few years and it's gotten really bad. I'm in treatment (therapy, considering meds, lifestyle changes, support networks) and I'm hopeful I will be able to manage this thing. But not by tomorrow, and not if I'm also trying to find a partner in the middle of it. Except loneliness makes it worse. Hence my dilemma.

I feel like I'm running out of time to find someone, or worse, that I already have run out of time and don't know it yet. But I also think I need time to myself to handle this disease. How do I make space for both? How do I learn to breathe through the loneliness long enough to get to a place where I can actually start doing something about it? Or am I thinking about this all wrong?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
OMG, do not worry like this. You are still young, and there is plenty of time. You will meet someone, I guarantee it. I am old enough to know that, plus everyone without exception, has problems. Find some passion in your life, something you love, this will help. It may seem impossible but it is not. Trust yourself, be easy, and take it one day at a time.
posted by chocolatetiara at 2:23 PM on May 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

You are doing a great job trying to get treatment. I think the best thing you can do is be active in getting treatment, visiting with your family and friends, and making some nrw social hobbies. Doing a hobby or two where you see people will likely help with your depression treatment plan. Also, when you are ready to date, you are more likely to meet someone with a larger network and when going to activities.

Also, when you are in a bad headspace, you typically attract another person in a bad headspace. Get yourself healthy so you can start a healthy, happy relationship.
posted by Kalmya at 2:24 PM on May 1, 2017 [10 favorites]

I think this is a question for you to bring to your therapist. Loneliness, a perception that "time is running out", a timeline of sadness about how you haven't had "a romantic partner", all say one thing to me--that you're looking for a romantic relationship to solve a problem that you have, socially and emotionally. Relationships can't do that, people can't do that. All this does is put your hypothetical partner in the no-win position of constantly needing to compensate for your ongoing psychological challenges, while not having any support for their own when and if they need it. That is not a good foundation for a relationship, which are supposed to be two-way streets in which both of you are getting to know each other and are exploring your mutual compatibility.

So I would implore you NOT to date at this time. The dating game is tough on emotions even when one is mentally in a generally good place. As things stand right now, I think that would be far too much of a burden on both you and the hypothetical partner. It won't fix anything, and it would just provide new ammunition for the anxiety and depression that you're already feeling. You need to address those things and really get a handle on them. Obviously there's no way to TELL you to stop feeling your feelings, but that's why this is a job for your friendly neighborhood licensed professional.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:28 PM on May 1, 2017 [23 favorites]

In addition, I generally think it's a bad idea for anyone to try to date while they're in the throes of an Emotionally Trying Time, e.g. unemployed and looking for a new job, going through a divorce, grieving a loved one, and so forth. One emotional rollercoaster is more than enough to deal with, and it's very difficult to do justice to establishing rapport with another person, and to be objective about how you would fit in each other's lives, when you already have something taking up all your head space.
posted by Autumnheart at 2:37 PM on May 1, 2017 [14 favorites]

I'd start looking for connection in other places to tide you over. Can I suggest you see if you have an Authentic Relating meetup in your city? I experience it as equal parts satisfying connection and therapeutic catharsis, implemented within a safe container. It's certainly helped me! I receive a lot of affection, and it satisfies the need to be cared-for, listened-to, and empathized-with; I've also made many friends there, which help me to feel a sense of community, and stave off feelings of loneliness a little.

I do recognize you're implementing a fair bit of treatment and care plans already, and I still suggest it: it has helped me to find peers that are or have been in similar situations as mine, which I find orients you with the most clarity for self-development.
posted by a good beginning at 3:45 PM on May 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Hey, anon. I was you back in July 2016.
I felt scared and anxious about still being single at the age of 35 when so many of her friends have found love, while sloughing through classes and a challenging job which left me in no position and with no time whatsoever to find someone... all while suspecting that I may have untreated anxiety or depression, but never sought therapy because I thought I didn't have the time. At my lowest point, I thought of some media cases where women around my age killed themselves because they couldn't find a boyfriend... and, sad to say, started to develop similar thoughts myself.

After I finished my studies in September, I decided that I was in no emotional shape to look for love and decided to try out some self care, watching monster movies, and staying in bed. Then the US election happened, I had a meltdown... which was the long-overdue wakeup call for me to get an anti-anxiety diagnosis, along with visits to a psychologist practicing Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy and Distress Tolerance skills. It took a little more than half a year of medication, a (semi-involuntary) job change, more bed days, and a friend's wedding/another friend's pregnancy... and while I'm still single, I find myself in much better shape now than I was in July. Not sure if this resonates with you, but here are some things that I've done to cope:

1) My biggest Achilles' heel is comparing myself to other people. Whenever I see a phalanx of wedding and baby photos and I'm in a particularly challenging situation where I feel I really want a significant other, and especially before I took medication and got psychologist visits--I feel especially upset, discouraged and that I have very little time left before being single forever. If this describes you, maybe taking a social media break can be a part of your self-care if it isn't already part of it. Reducing your commitments may also relieve your sense of being stressed out.

2) I noticed that your post header is "Learning to wait". That was what I had thought myself too during last July when I was juggling classes and work while everyone else is getting paired up. I now realize that I'm not so much waiting as it is taking steps to get ready for a life that fulfills me and perhaps finding a partner who will fulfill me. You've taking a very significant step towards getting better; the rest of your journey would be continuing to go forward and see what you value for yourself and where you want to be in the future. With that knowledge, you will find a much better life and much more opportunities to find a partner.

The key here is that it is a journey, and it is your journey--not anyone else's--and sometimes there will be roadblocks. Be gentle with yourself because you've come a long way.

I hope I have given you some encouragement in finding your way through your challenges, and I wish you all the best in your treatment and life.
posted by Tsukushi at 6:10 PM on May 1, 2017 [12 favorites]

Can you look at it like, the more time you devote to really working on yourself and in therapy now, the better your next relationship will be. You are actually saving yourself wasted time and pain by waiting until you are in a better place emotionally to date in a healthy way. And your next relationship will be so much better then if you don't give yourself that time. Also, you're not wasting someone else's time, or even potentially hurting someone, by trying to date them when you're not ready. This kind of thinking has helped me, anyway, to be patient, and to not take emotional hostages.
posted by soakimbo at 8:25 PM on May 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

Things can move very quickly once you're in the right head space -- you can more easily find and click with a good person, and things can move very quickly from there. What wastes time are the mistakes, the lessons learned the long way around. As my phone navigator program always tells me "you are on the fastest route."
posted by salvia at 8:38 PM on May 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

I'm going to go a bit against the grain here and say that you should feel free to go ahead and date if that's what you want. Lots of people meet and fall in love while still suffering from depression and anxiety.

I mean, if you know that you, personally, can't work on your depression and anxiety while "also trying to find a partner in the middle of it" then by all means, be patient and wait. As others have said, you have plenty of time. But you should also give yourself permission to seek love while being a work in progress. Many of people suffer from depression and anxiety, and lots of them date and find love. Guess how I know.

You are not in a race against time, but you also don't have to be perfect to be loved.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 3:25 AM on May 2, 2017 [6 favorites]

One doesn't have to be perfect, but it also really sucks to be in a relationship with someone who is in an extended emotional crisis. It sucks your energy and your time, leaves you no room for your own issues, and leaves you wondering from day to day whether this is your lot, or if you're ever going to get a real partner and helpmeet out of the deal. It's hard enough for people with established relationships who have that foundation between them, let alone for new couples where the relationship dynamic is still forming. So no, you don't have to be perfect, but you do have to be in a place where there's room for another person in your life, and not just to serve as emotional hired labor.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:29 AM on May 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

I've witnessed lots of emotionally unhealthy people (full disclosure, I used to be one of them) bounce from one romantic relationship to another looking for someone to fill that void of loneliness and "make them happy", just to eventually crash through the relationship and be left as dysfunctionally needy as they were before. Instead of having that moment of clarity where they realize that their happiness depends on working through their own emotional dreck, they wash, rinse and repeat. And it just ends up being damaging to everybody involved. It's kind of like "self medicating" by chasing limerence, or at a minimum looking for a distraction from the hard, painful work we need to do on ourselves.

So IME, learning to wait involves recognizing that whatever I think is so awful about being alone is really something that I need to look inward to fix. There's no fixing it by getting into a relationship. I need to learn to love myself, develop compassion and patience for myself, work on healthy self esteem, and basically get comfortable being in my own skin. A friendly neighborhood licensed professional can be really helpful with that.
posted by jazzbaby at 6:27 AM on May 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

Not sure where I first heard it, but it always resonated with me: It's better to be lonely because you're alone than lonely because you're with the wrong person.

I know that sounds a little trite, and maybe even a little callous in light of your situation. But, data point of one, I was INFINITELY happier being single and only having to worry about myself than I was when I was stuck in the slow death throes of a crummy relationship. And I never felt more lonely than when I was misunderstood or misinterpreted by a person who was supposed to know me better than anyone.

This is all, of course, cold comfort in light of your situation. It sucks to be in that catch-22 where you feel as if you could tackle your depression more easily if you weren't so lonely, but your depression itself is serving as an obstacle to the kind of healthy partnership you'd want to seek. (Not IMPOSSIBLE, mind, and you've certainly got plenty of time, but I can see where you are feeling stuck.)

You're already doing the hard work of seeking help and making tough changes to try to manage your depression in the long term, and you're a goddamn champ for doing it. But since change takes time and you're in pain RIGHT NOW, I can see why you'd be looking for a quick fix and feel like finding someone to take the edge off the loneliness would be such an attractive prospect.

I see two major options: turning inward or turning outward. Either way, keeping busy is a good way to turn your mind towards something other than loneliness. I know it's tougher to do with depression, but it can be a good stopgap between the longer term measures you're already working on starting to take effect. Turning inward might mean meditation, yoga, reading a lot of books, journaling, working out, etc. and turning outward might mean taking some classes, going to some meet ups, attending events, meeting up with friends, workout classes, etc.

It's not a perfect fix, and at some point you're probably going to have to reckon with exactly what is driving your feelings of loneliness in the first place. But hopefully you can find some comfort in either stillness or motion in the meantime while you figure out your next steps. Good luck. You can do it!
posted by helloimjennsco at 8:30 AM on May 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

Life is a disordered affair. Don't try to sort it out. When opportunity knocks, open the door.
posted by SemiSalt at 9:44 AM on May 2, 2017

You're allowed to date with chronic/mental/any illness. The idea that you're not or you should wait to be well or whatever is just going to make you more miserable. If you, personally, don't want to, that's a valid choice! But if you really want to find a partner or date and you feel like you shouldn't or you'll hurt the person you're dating or need to be 100% healthy in order to etc etc.....it's fine. I agree with the above commenters who are saying you have permission to do what you want.
posted by colorblock sock at 9:34 PM on May 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

The times when I felt the most lonely and wanting companionship are when I was the most vulnerable to people that would and did not make good partners. I just ended a terrible, terrible relationship. Now I'm dealing with the aftermath on top of my grief, anxiety, depression and the rest of my emotional baggage. It is so much more painful and difficult than if I politely declined and took the time to step back and realize that person was not good for me. At all.

Yes, if you find the opportunity presents itself, take your time. Yet, there is something to be said about protecting yourself and the progress you've made. I took many steps back in my journey and lost that emotional resilience I had painstakingly built for myself when I believed a relationship would comfort me. It did not. That person was in a worse way off than I was and I was used as an emotional, mental, physical and financial crutch for them.

I was looking for friendship and companionship and my mental state left me susceptible to the wrong partner for me that I attracted. Had I focused on my self and listened to my inner voice, not the depressed and lonely feelings, I would've had the clarity to discern that in the long run I was doing myself more harm than good. Be wary of such missteps on your path.
posted by lunastellasol at 3:29 AM on May 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

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