Why can't I have normal friendships?
July 6, 2007 4:25 PM   Subscribe

Why do I feel this way? I apologize for the length of this. This is a desperate attempt to get some understanding around a problem that has plagued me for years. What follows is a chronological account of things. The way it looks to me? I simply can't have friends.

I am in my mid-30s and male. Every few years, I am beset by an extreme range of emotions. I feel elated, happy, sad, angry, suicidal, hopeless all at once. This conflict causes me extreme stress. I feel out of control and only have the most tenuous hold on my personal and professional lives as a result during this.

Around the age of 14, I decided to stop going to school. Most days were filled with a constant teasing that I finally couldn't take anymore. There wasn't anything particularly different about me. I was overweight and a geek, but fairly normal otherwise. But unlike some kids that might play hooky, I decided to stay home. So, for the next half year or so, I rarely left my room. My parents pleaded with me every morning to go to school, but I would not do it. Eventually, the state jumped in a said that I needed to go to school or into a mental health facility. I had been seeing a social worker for a bit up until that point, but after the letter from the state, I saw a psychiatrist who put me on an anti-depressant (Pamelor) and an anti-anxietypill (Xanax). He diagnosed me with an "anxiety disorder" and developing "agoraphobia" and placed me into a metal hospital where I spent seven months.

Up until my time in the hospital, I had very few friends. I had neighborhood friends but they quickly determined that they could easily push me by announcing they would "break up friends." This meant they wouldn't see me anymore and it always devastated me. At one point, I had two friends at one end of the block and another up the same block and they would routinely ping-pong me with that phrase. I don't blame them. I allowed this to happen.

By the time I had entered the hospital, I had zero friends. The only people I knew were on BBSs and I chronicled a lot of what was happening on a BBS I ran at the time. A couple of people took pity on me and I felt connected to them. Of course, I had to shut down the board when I entered the hospital so I never really knew them and never talked to them again.

Part of my program in the hospital was forced socializing. This was good and necessary, but wasn't easy. It led me to the first encounter with the troubles I have today. One of the female staff members came into my room one evening to socialize with me a bit. She wanted to pull me out of the room for socializing. I don't really recall the content of the conversation, but I do recall that I left the room and went into the Day Room. Nothing else really ever came of that particular conversation.

But I changed. Radically. I started to feel, the best as I can describe it, a "crush" toward this person. I would feel a whole mix of emotions: anxiety, anger, love (what I thought), hatred, happiness, attractive, desired, sadness, yearning, dread, etc., etc. I wanted to be enveloped by this person. To be swallowed whole, in a sense, and be secure. I talked about it very openly at the time, but my doctor and the staff members said this was my attempting to stay away from my true work at the hospital. I accepted that as an answer, but with the emotions it was very difficult to ignore.

Eventually, the person I had fixated on would leave the unit (hopefully not because of me). On one of her last nights, she spoke to me and told me that nothing would ever happened between us. Even though I knew this on an intellectual level up until that point, I didn't accept it on an emotional level until she said that. I bawled the entire night, but in the morning I was better.

I did not understand the trauma, however, which is why I experienced it again in short order. This time it was directed toward a very nice art therapy instructor. Unlike the previous person who really tried to push the conversation in other directions, this person listened to me about it and tried to have sympathy. In retrospect, she didn't understand it and it wasn't really her job to do so anyway. She just accepted that I needed to hug her and needed to tell her that I loved her without responding in kind. She, too, eventually left the unit and the last day she gave me a very large hug. I remember that moment distinctly because it was at the beginning of a group therapy session. We hugged. I sat down and cried so heavily I hid my face and kept on until the session was nearly over.

Shortly thereafter, through a snafu, I wound up in music therapy alone with a female instructor. I can remember the horror on my doctor's face when he came to get me for a session and saw me alone with this person. He made it clear to me and the staff that my being in that type of environment was very inappropriate and it would stop. It did. I left the hospital a few weeks later.

Leaving the hospital was very tough. I didn't really learn about self-esteem or relationships inside. Oh sure, I did, but it was the type of relationship where you could say anything and express anything without awkwardness or repercussion. Certainly not what one gets on the Outside. But I did get better. I was able to keep friends for extended periods of time. I learned how to speak up for myself and did better in school. I never gained long-lasting friends, but I was more normal than I had ever been. I even dated a couple of people casually.

Still, relationships -- friendly or otherwise -- were very rocky for me. For one thing, everyone I knew before the hospital never appeared on my doorstep again. I didn't try to find them either. So, I tried new folks but was always worried that they would drop me at any moment -- "break up friends," as it were. My two forays into casual dating had me wanting to become serious hours into the relationship. In one case, the person took it on and I nearly harmed myself. She desperately wanted to be pregnant to get away from an abusive mother. In the second case, the girl simply said, "Uh, no." I remember one other attempted date situation where I thought the best way to endear myself to the person -- or engender some pity -- was to tell her about my past. This, of course, freaked her out and she never spoke to me again.

Perhaps 4 years later, I was in a marriage to someone I had dated for two years. In general, I wasn't very happy with the marriage, but I didn't feel that way at the time. I felt a bit stagnant in my career and frustrated in general, but I didn't chalk it up to marriage issues. My wife's family was very sociable and happy and I worked in a firm where my brother-in-law happened to be a partner. (Total coincidence, for whatever it's worth.) My sister-in-law (my wife's sister) started to work for the firm, a very cute, attractive mother of three. She flirted with me and another person during most of the hours she worked. Nothing racy or provacative, mind you, but it was flirting. Even in retrospect, I think so and the other target of said flirting responded in kind.

At first, it excited me. I felt attractive, something which is very foreign to me. But eventually those feelings went directly into the "crush" type feelings I had experienced so many years before. I felt all the emotions as before, except something new that still hurts me today: shame. I hestiated to tell anyone and it took several months before I would go back to therapy. Of course, keeping it all in just made it worse, but letting it out did no better either. By the end of it all, I had spoken in therapy about it and with my wife.

I tried hard to get through it, but with no success and no answers. Every day, I would go into work full of extreme distress, timidly asking my brother-in-law if his wife were coming. If she wasn't, it was a greatrelief. If she were to show, I kept one eye on my work and one on the door and every single minute was agony. My boss noticed my distracted demeanor and I nearly burst into tears in front of him.

At some point, I lost the ability to cope. I spoke with my wife about divorce, which we both agreed to. I separated from her, quit myjob, and I moved to live with friends in a very remote part of Kansas. I ran away. Truly.

In Kansas I spoke openly about it with one of the friends there and told him that I felt fundamentally broken. I felt as if I could not have normal relationships due to some physiological condition that I could not resolve. While I did not ask him so directly, I requested that he assist me in commiting suicide. He declined, which was probably a good idea.

I was only in Kansas for a few months, moving back to take a new job. This was a pretty stable moment in my life except for one incident in which I happened to see the former target of my crush while driving one day. She passed in front of my car. I was driving, my boss was the passenger. He was a really nice guy and we got to know each other well enough that he knew I was having relationship issues. When I saw this person, I immediately broke into a sweat and lost my ability to think straight. I started to pull into traffic when my boss yelled at me to stop. I regained myself but felt emotionally shaken for days afterward.

About a year after moving back home, I met someone and we married in six months. I am married to her today. The relationship, while mundane and well past any infatuation, is normal. She's a good fit for me and I for her. Sure, there are things I wish she would change and things I wish I could change for myself, but I _think_ this is normal.

About two years after our marriage, I met a woman at a place I worked who was frustrated because her boyfriend would not commit to marriage. She confided in me through many late nights working with her alone. In time, I felt the crush and confessed to my wife what was happening. She felt threatened, but ultimately did not react badly. I explained it to her as an emotional problem -- which I suppose it is -- and she accepted my resolution to get to the bottom of it. Once again in therapy, this time with a different person, I worked on it to no avail. I eventually left that job and her for another job.

I have felt this way four times again since then. In each case, the person confides in me something intimate about themselves. They like me, so I think, and I respond in kind with intimate details, though more guardedly than in the past. Eventually I start to feel scared and then the feelings start in. In therapy, the best I've been able to come up with is to try to recognize the warning signs and to stay away from those people or situations. In one situation, with a person who was heavily complaining about not being around enough "men" when her husband was away, and nearly losing her skirt once while I was there, I was able to apply avoidance successfully. This was a business relationship and I had no need to make her a friend, so it was easier to compartmentalize it, I think.Still there was another who I attempted to take care of while she was dying of cancer. I didn't go away that time, but she did.

I think it a very big strength that I feel emotions strongly and that I can foster relationships with women that are, perhaps, beyond the norm for men and women. My best friendships are with people who can be emotional. In fact, despite my past, I seem to do well socializing nowadays. I worked for several years in my own business and made a lot of very loyal friends. I seem to connect with people and I don't know why. Today I just make friends easier. I take risks socially. I joke and speak publicly often. I got to parties and mingle with ease. I have friends and family who love me and, what's very new to me, I feel love from them.

But it feels like emotions -- what seems to endear people to me -- is what's destroying me when I feel crushes.

Today I am in this very same situation and am experiencing the full range of emotions. My wife and I have talked about it. This new target is a great friend. She loves me and has told me so. I try not to respond in kind. But it's the same situation. She's confiding in me about things that are intimate. They're just normal frustrations for a married woman with two kids. Nothing out of the ordinary. A little flirting, but it's harmless to her. I can feel the emotions building up in me, causing me stress. I am caring less about my work and am feeling weepy all the time. Each time I fall into this, the stakes are a lot higher. I have more to lose. But I feel that the only way I can cope is to run away. Again. I like her a lot and just want to be normal with her.

There are some common traits among the woman: They're typically unavailable (whether I'm unavailable or they are), attractive to me physically, caring in some fashion (though they may seem distant to some people), and they consider me a real friend.

Has anyone, for the love of God, experienced anything like this. Is there a way for me to cope? Can someone suggest a style of therapy that might help me? Am I doomed to be mostly friendless?
posted by tcv to Human Relations (45 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Well, if that woman actually "loves" you she should be willing to back off a little if she understands how much it hurts you. Does she know about your past and that you're developing a "crush" on her?
posted by delmoi at 4:38 PM on July 6, 2007

E-mail me or put your e-mail in your profile.
posted by desjardins at 4:42 PM on July 6, 2007

Why do you think you tend to develop crushes on people who are unavailable to you? Do you fear intimacy? Do you fear the risk of rejection? That would seem to make sense, because if you are pursuing an unavailable woman, failure would seem inevitable and thus less frightening.

Are you currently seeing a counselor about this? That would be my advice to you. I think the quality of recommendations you'd get from a professional would far more useful than the well-intentioned but amateur attempts you are likely to get here.

Good luck.
posted by Oso Mocoso at 4:45 PM on July 6, 2007

Response by poster: Hey guys,

As for her understanding how much it hurts me, I have not told her, nor do I think it's her problem. I wouldn't mind telling her if it did not involve her.

Counseling is great. But who? I have seen four different counselors over the years with different styles and I've not crafted a resolution for myself. The best answer thus far: Avoid the situation. Not a bad answer, but I hate it and I can't always do it.
posted by tcv at 4:53 PM on July 6, 2007

Everyone has emotions. Really. The trick is to get out of yourself. Do nice things for other people for no reason. Of course you're really just doing it because you want something from them - to be their friend. But life is full of contradictions so try not to think too much about it.
posted by Gregamell at 4:57 PM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

my two-cent guess is that you are so accustomed to rejection that when someone does invite you in, you're so starved for intimacy that you gorge yourself on it, whether it's appropriate or not.

i'm not a counselor, though, so who knows. i would definitely seek out a therapist, and i would also look into outpatient group therapy. perhaps being having a forum where you can be totally open with others -and- still maintain your day-to-day life will be helpful. also, medication might be a good idea.

good luck! you are not broken.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:05 PM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I just think that asking strangers on the internet for advice about such a complex set of emotional problems isn't going to work. You really need to talk to someone in person... someone with a degree and experience... and a prescription pad, if need be.
posted by chuckdarwin at 5:16 PM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Talk therapy will help. Don't quit when you are feeling good either.
posted by Packy_1962 at 5:28 PM on July 6, 2007

As for styles of counseling, you could try CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) to learn how to cope with this emotions as they arrive. CBT is focused on giving you a skill set that will enable you to "survive" these crushes with no lasting damage. I don't know how medication would help you, because this seems to be a situation-based issue, not an ongoing one, and lasts longer than a panic attack.

I agree that this infatuation might stem from a need to fill a desire for companionship rooted in your childhood "friendships". However, while talk therapy might reach a conclusion like this, CBT will give you solutions *now* which might be more valuable to you in the short run.
posted by nursegracer at 5:36 PM on July 6, 2007

I am not a therapist but it sounds to me that on some level you crave the adrenalin rush and intense emotions. You describe both your marraiges as boring or mundane, even though you say you love your wife and she loves you. And you don't cheat on her so it seems to me that its not really about the other women. In fact you do just the opposite and use the situation to get more attention from your wife. My otherwise steady-eddie SO feels the need to do something incredibly dangerous/dumb a couple times a year so I don't think it's all that unusual (although in his case it usually involves his best friend, whiskey and some variation of "watch this y'all!" rather than other women). Maybe you could take up skydiving?

It also sounds like you have used these situations as a catalyst for change in the past when you were dissatisfied with your life.

Just my $.02.
posted by fshgrl at 5:40 PM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm assuming you already know that you're an addict.

Question is, addicted to what? Emotion? Sex? Feeling desirable? Attention? The rush of something new?

Ain't nobody here that can answer such a complex question, but I wish you good will and good luck nonetheless.
posted by matty at 5:50 PM on July 6, 2007

It sounds like you've come a long way forward from where you started. You seem reasonably social now. Are crushes the only big problem you have left?

My suggestion is have a full fantasy life with the crushes (but keep it as fantasy only). If you add some realism, it might allow you to live out the whole infatuation cycle, by which I mean you eventually get to the part of the story where her breath smells a little bad in the morning and she prattles on when you're trying to think and she nags you about the socks on the floor. At this point in the fantasy, you can end the "relationship". You can just be friends after that.

Your wife - she sounds like a treasure - is the only one who gets to actually prattle on and on and you will still love her, even if the love is not as intense as it once used to be.
posted by mediaddict at 5:55 PM on July 6, 2007

IANAD, but you seem to be displaying some really nasty symptoms of something. Get thee to a doctor.

Whatever it is, if it's causing you extreme stress and suicidal thoughts, it's every bit as serious as, say, appendicitis, but also every bit as routine and treatable, so long as it's properly diagnosed.

Seeing your GP would be a good first step. S/he will give a recommendation for a course of treatment, which will likely include talk therapy with a counselor and medication. Before s/he writes a prescription, though, ask for a referral to a psychiatrist for a second (more educated, but you probably don't need to say that part) opinion.

And if you don't like that first psychiatrist, shop around: Psychiatrists are poking and prodding at your most intimate areas (your thoughts and feelings); you need to be comfortable with that person. Also, it sounds like maybe a male one would be best for you at this time.
posted by Reggie Digest at 6:14 PM on July 6, 2007

First off, I think that a counselor would be your best bet. Perhaps your family doctor could give you a referral to someone that could help. Even if you go to a random counselor just for the purpose of telling your story and asking for a referral to someone with more expertise, that would be fine.

My completely novice guess is that maybe you need to be needed. You seem to pride yourself on reaching these emotionally unavailable women...maybe after a childhood of being treated so casually, you really have the desire to be needed. Perhaps you could throw yourself into a cause you believe in to satisfy that need.

My only other piece of advice is to cap the flirting. Play your marriage card! That's what I do when someone's irritating me. A smile and a simple, "Aw, you should save that for someone who's single," lets people know that you don't like being flirted with.

Good luck!
posted by christinetheslp at 6:23 PM on July 6, 2007

You tell your story clearly and with a great deal of insight. It is not a very unusual story as such things go, but it is not normal. To me, it sounds pretty typical of a personality disorder, but that's obviously not something that can be diagnosed over the internet.

What's clear to me from your story is that you're someone who's going to need frequent psychotherapy, probably over your entire lifetime. I think you are someone who will benefit from psychotherapy while you're in it, and suffer from its absence when you're not. You could probably benefit from the old school hour-a-day Freudian analysis; you certainly should spend at least an hour a week with a professional therapist, not less than that.

Good luck.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:29 PM on July 6, 2007 [3 favorites]

I'n not a therapist, and I am not trying to pile on with the "You need to see a therapist" comments, but you do need to see a therapist.

But here is the good news: you have written a very clear and easy to follow description of the problem that you can literally print and put in the hands of a therapist. Assuming what you are telling us is true, that has to be a good thing.

My suggestion would be to print what you have posted here, (adding anything you left out) and take it to your GP, Then ask your GP for a recommendation for a therapist.

Remember, two decades have past since your story begins at age 14. Your treatment options have improved, so don't (mentally or otherwise) close any doors to professional help.

You seem like a good guy, able to hold down a job and have some friendships (in-laws, boss, etc.), and you are young. You have practiced telling your story to someone else here. You have every reason to expect that your life will dramatically improve, but you have to do the work.

See a doctor, take the meds, do the therapy, complete the exercises, don't quit, feel better, be hopeful, come back here and tell us how much better you are.

All the best to you.
posted by 4ster at 6:43 PM on July 6, 2007

I second that you should try to find a good therapist. To me, your post has such an intricate way of seeing the world, I think it'd be good for you to have someone (in addition to your wife) learn your inner language and engage in a serious exploration of it with you.

I have seen four different counselors over the years with different styles and I've not crafted a resolution for myself.

And yet, you seem to have a really good understanding of what's going on, which probably didn't come out of nowhere. In my experience therapists can't usually give you an answer now, but can help with the process of focusing your questions. And you seem to have answered a number of questions and now have a pretty developed understanding of one of your trickiest questions... Keep going! :)
posted by salvia at 6:54 PM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

You're still trying to work out something from childhood by replaying these relationships over and over. Until you recognize what was missing or unresolved from your childhood, you will continue to repeat these behaviors. Whatever the issue is, it's buried deep as you can intellectually tell what's wrong but emotionally you don't have a clue and resort to acting like a child.

You need professional help in order to at the root of all this.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:00 PM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hey guys,

Thanks a bunch for all the insight. Some of you have commented on the length and I apologize for that. The truth is that it's easier to talk about it when I'm not in it because I don't feel so desperate for a solution.

As to therapy, I have been in and out of therapy throughout my life. I don't shy away from it in the slightest, though I do feel burned a bit when it comes to this particular issue. Is it my only big issue? Yeah, probably, although I'm sure I could work on other things.

I appreciate all the comments. Thank you.
posted by tcv at 7:11 PM on July 6, 2007

Is it my only big issue?

Honey, this isn't ONE issue, it's a conflation of several.
posted by tristeza at 7:44 PM on July 6, 2007

Response by poster: Point taken. Let's just say it's the last thing I have a lot of stress about in my life. At least today...
posted by tcv at 7:58 PM on July 6, 2007

A couple of things: try being friends with MEN. It doesn't seem likely you'll get crushes on them, unless there's something you're leaving out.

also, every so often I get crushes on men, and I'm married. Being married doesn't mean you're totally dead inside, so I think crushes are fairly normal, and my husband isn't a dick about it. So I play the fantasy through to some extent, and don't feel shame about it (which it sounds like you feel), and usually wind up pretty grossed out in the end. I'm not saying you don't have a bigger problem than this, because maybe you do. I don't know. But maybe you should concentrate on the shame you feel. In some ways, Americans are primed to being addicted to shame.

lastly, I go to therapy every week, whether I need it or not, sort of as a preventative measure. Maybe if you're burnt out on traditional therapy, try some other kind of hippy dippy therapy. I'm in behavioral therapy now but had a great success with meditation therapy in the past. Something to think about.
posted by bash at 8:09 PM on July 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

(PS - I certainly didn't mean that snarkily, if it came off so. The "honey" was really an endearment - apologies if it was interpreted as rude!)
posted by tristeza at 8:15 PM on July 6, 2007

Response by poster: Oh, I have men friends. I honestly don't enjoy them as much because there is typically a lesser emotional component. I must remember, however, that I lost my best childhood friend because I was too emotional.

Truth is all of my friendships feel difficult to me, male or female.

Oh, boy. Back to therapy. :-)
posted by tcv at 8:32 PM on July 6, 2007

I feel for you. It sounds as though you are a very loving person. Nothing wrong with that. However, it also sounds as though you sometimes leap to expectations which are not always founded on clear-cut social cues.

I'm really not qualified to offer advice, so I'll just throw this out as a talking (thinking) point: has the notion of Asperger Syndrome ever come up?

I am not trying to be reductive about your question. I really hope you can sort this out.
posted by YamwotIam at 8:35 PM on July 6, 2007

As several have written above, you told your story clearly and well. My suggestion would be to take this further. Write more. Explore all these feelings and fantasies in creative writing. Maybe just for yourself. Maybe as a book for others. The key thing is an expressive outlet.
posted by extrabox at 8:36 PM on July 6, 2007

Response by poster: tristeza - didn't take it as snarky. :-)
posted by tcv at 8:44 PM on July 6, 2007

I don't have any other suggestions beyond the above, but I find it fascinating you were able to relate the story in such a remarkable way.

What's funny is you accuse yourself of being too emotional and yet your account is very straightforward and honest, and certainly not sappy or emotionally wrought.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Ynoxas at 8:46 PM on July 6, 2007

Your ability to stand aside from yourself and see yourself, and describe what you see without censoring your feelings is truly amazing.

I would feel a whole mix of emotions: anxiety, anger, love (what I thought), hatred, happiness, attractive, desired, sadness, yearning, dread, etc., etc. I wanted to be enveloped by this person. To be swallowed whole, in a sense, and be secure.

This description of your first of these 'crushes' is exactly what I would expect to hear from a one year old at the breast who had the capacity for language of a very intelligent adult, and who was trying to convey to me how he felt about his mother-- and I can't help thinking it has its source somewhere in that vicinity.

I don't think there is anything unhealthy about these emotions in a baby toward its mother, quite the contrary, in fact, and I don't think you have necessarily been frozen in time by being "ripped untimely" or any such trauma, although you could look in that direction if you so desired, despite the apparent fact that such exploration can fix problems more deeply into the fabric of personality rather than dissolve them away, in some cases.
And we do, after all, ultimately have to leave our mother's breast and get on with our lives.

I have a feeling (nothing more solid than that, certainly) that you may have hit upon it when you characterized the difficulty as possibly physiological. Emotional maturation depends at least in part on changes in the brain such as myelination of tracts of fibers and programmed cell death (apoptosis), as well as experience and increasing understanding. Some people, including some very intelligent people, interestingly, seem to have brains and personalties which have not grown up as much as we think of as normal. Aldous Huxley's brilliant short story, the Genius and the Goddess describes a person like this and his relationship to his wife, I believe; you might find it interesting.

What you've written here, including your writing style, comes across to me as child-like. If you are such a person, and this is at the root of your problem, the pattern of circumstances you have distilled from your experience of these crushes-- She's confiding in me about things that are intimate. They're just normal frustrations for a married woman with two kids. Nothing out of the ordinary. A little flirting, but it's harmless to her.-- may always have tremendous power over you. It sounds as if you've already made much progress in seeing it coming and getting out of the way. I would say you should work on recognizing it at at even greater distances and not allowing situations in which that initial intimacy could rear its head to have even a chance of taking place.
posted by jamjam at 9:24 PM on July 6, 2007

Response by poster: I would say you should work on recognizing it at at even greater distances and not allowing situations in which that initial intimacy could rear its head to have even a chance of taking place.

This may be the best answer, but :-(. I mean what is life without those rare moments of relating? I realize you aren't saying I must stop relating, but imagine having to intentionally cut oneself off from a portion of the population for no other reason than your own neuroses. That makes me feel broken.

And yet sometimes the best answers are the hardest...
posted by tcv at 9:57 PM on July 6, 2007

I'm not a therapist, but I'll toss out one thought that occurs to me... It was hurtful to you as a child when kids that you thought were your friends not only broke off their "friendship" with you, they also rubbed it in your face by announcing it.

Flash forward many years, and now when a woman confides an intimate secret to you, or discusses her problems, you get an adrenaline rush because you feel "included." You missed out on the sharing of secrets among friends as a child (a normal part childhood bonding), and these little confessions make you feel included, a member of an exclusive "club." Attractive women tell you their secrets, not the other men in the office, so they must like you best. It's a major ego boost for anyone, but for someone who spent much of his youth in an emotional vacuum, it can be positively intoxicating. The desire to "run away" is a holdover from childhood - you feel yourself getting close to a woman, and you're this close to confessing your feelings, and you don't want to be around when they "break up friends" with you.

A good therapist will be able to help you to better channel your extreme emotions. It is possible to be friends with a female coworker without falling head over heels. You just need to learn how. Best of luck.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:51 PM on July 6, 2007 [3 favorites]

Aw, you're not broken. There are a ton of AskMes about married people trying to deal with crushes. A lot of the advice is "prevent it" or "you have to just cut it off." That's actually fairly normal. Check some of the other threads about crushes for perspective and ideas (1, 2, 3, 4: a sad one, 5).

In the short term, since this one friend is just turning into a crush, seems like the time is right for some experimentation. You said you can feel the emotions building up -- is there anything you could do that would make the situation easier on yourself, without having to quit your job or run away to Kansas? Could you just tell her the truth, and that you have to not hang out anymore? (You didn't say if she knows.) Hang out in work groups so her "intimate" disclosures feel less targeted toward you? Invite her husband and kids over to BBQ with you and your wife so the emotional intimacy develops into a community?

In the long run, could you work on making your relationships with men more meaningful and fulfilling, if not outright "emotional"? Do you ever have those real moments of relating with them? And I'm curious why you call yourself outright "friendless" when it sounds like you do have guy friends. Do the relationships not meet your definition of a "real friend," or, what am I missing here?

In the "emotional" category, what else have you tried? What else starts to fill that need? (For example, at various times, writing letters or reading books have worked for me.)

I guess what's underlying a lot of my comment here is that this does seem to have parallels to addiction. In my own life, the most painless way to deal with addiction has been to slowly phase in healthier substitutes. E.g., I quit coffee by brewing both coffee and black tea until I realized the tea made me feel better. It doesn't work in all situations of course, like that crack I keep buying... ;)
posted by salvia at 12:02 AM on July 7, 2007

A lot of what you've said above I can relate to, tcv, but your ability to write it out and rationalize it is much more superior to mine. Kudos.
I had/have the same problem with keeping friends (the only permanent ones I have are the the friendships that I seem to make on the internet), and as someone suggested above, maybe that's because I fear intimacy, but that's not entirely true, as I know is the same case with you. I love the buzz I get when I'm with someone who I can truly connect with, but the only problem is that these people live miles and miles away from me, and they're of both genders, so you know its not only the womanly contact that I crave, but the companionship that's utterly missing from my life.
I know what you mean about the Therapy, and how frustratingly slow it can be, but I think the only one who can help you out of this situation is you. You _have_ to tell yourself that what you have now with your current wife, however mundane it may be, is what you should concentrate on. Don't think about the other women in any romantic sense, and try and bring some of those exciting new feelings that you feel into the relationship with your wife. Be friendly to other women, and do as much as you can for them, but know that there is a line that you can not cross this time and stick to it. And then just do it.
posted by hadjiboy at 3:28 AM on July 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

TCV, there's some excellent advice here, and I really feel for you. You feel things with an intensity that can be disabling and which can be triggered by certain very specific circumstances. A lot of advice about avoiding those circumstances here but as you say, it is probably when you feel most alive. We all crave that feeling of intimacy. Is there a way you can get in more online, through the medium of the internet? Just a thought. The therapy will help, as indeed may some of the SSRIs out there. But you funadamentally need help with dealing with your emotions in a way that suits you. All we can say as your co-mefites is: you have amazing insight into the problem and you have come so far. Try to keep recalling where you were, compare with now and give yourself some credit. Find the kind of therapy that suits you, don't just dismiss it because the types so far don't. If you were in Holland you would probably be prescribed a sex-therapist where you could explore the issues of intimacy, being invited into someone's world, in a safe and professional way.

Find therapy that suits.
posted by Wilder at 4:14 AM on July 7, 2007

TCV, you remind me of me. I had a difficult childhood in terms of being relentlessly teased and bullied and it affected me in similar ways. Like you, I'm very emotional (I don't seem to have developed the stiff-upper-lip mask that most of the other straight males I know use as armor). I'm also very articulate, both in print and in speech, and can often self-diagnose with great (seeming) accuracy.

Which -- strangely -- makes me a tough patient in therapy. Intelligence, well-chosen words and even emotion can be walls that prevent you from really dealing with a problem. It's weird, because you can pin-point a problem to a T and even cry about it, but that doesn't mean you're dealing with it.

Without consciously trying to do so, I out-foxed a couple of therapists who also thought I was dealing with an issue because I was talking about it very honestly. And for some people -- people who are less articulate (at least about their emotional problems) and emotional -- sometimes being honest and talking about it is enough. But I bet it won't be with you.

What you and I need -- if I'm right and you are like me -- is a tough-love sort of therapist. (Forgive me for bringing him up, because in many ways I find him loathsome, but...) a Dr. Phil sort of therapist. Someone who won't coddle us or or be impressed by a sea of words (or tears). Probably, this will be some sort of behavior-based therapist ("I know what you're feeling and saying, but what are you DOING?"), but I suspect the school of therapy is less important than the attitude of the therapist.

According to your post, you had the type of parents who would beg and plead. I did too. I'm not a fan of strict parenting, but I wonder if what you and I needed (and still need) is less cradle and more boot camp.

Pretty much everyone has strong feelings that will hurt them if they give into them. Who knows whether they feel things less strongly than you do? We'd need a feel-o-meter to find out. But they certainly do feel things strongly: crushes, cravings, etc. The difference is that you put your feelings on a pedestal. You FEEL something, therefor it must be important.

"I think it a very big strength that I feel emotions strongly..."

I'm not going to claim that feeling emotions is a BAD thing or that you purposefully worship the Weeping Virgin. But doing so is obviously causing you some problems.

Entering "boot camp" with Dr. Phil is going to be REALLY HARD for you, because you'll be forced to confront all sorts of stuff that you've spent years covering really well -- even giving the illusion to yourself (and others) that you're not covering. Boot camp will hurt and you'll want to quit. And no one can force you not to quit. So be aware of that.

By the way, you're an excellent writer and -- though "enjoyed" is maybe not the best word here -- I really enjoyed reading your post. If you have a blog or a book, sign me up!
posted by grumblebee at 8:25 AM on July 7, 2007

Always unavailable, always intense emotions for a woman you can't have. I'd like to suggest that when you go into "crush" mode, something else you don't want to deal with is bothering you. That's why you dive headlong into these other feelings.

When you start to have these feelings, ask yourself what that other thing might be, preferably with a very competent therapist.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:35 AM on July 7, 2007

This is slightly tangential -- I heartily endorse everyone else's advice that you need to see a therapist to deal with the major issues you're talking about -- but the way you describe your early friendships reminded me a lot of the descriptions coming out now about relational bullying (as opposed to physical bullying). Since you seem to feel a connection between how your friends treated you when you were young and your problems with friendships now, you might find it interesting to look at how people describe similar interactions and their effects.

The genders would be reversed (I'm female), but I certainly feel like the nastiness shown by a lot of my female classmates in middle school led me to feel like guys were the only ones who "got" me, the only ones who were "safe" to have as friends because they wouldn't talk behind my back or mock me like those girls had done to me in middle school. I think the problems you're talking about run deeper than that, but it may be helpful to look into that a bit anyway. (And Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye is one of the most amazingly insightful novels I've ever read about the subject.)
posted by occhiblu at 10:05 AM on July 7, 2007

Perhaps one thing to think about when you return to therapy is not talking about this one problem all the time. I realize that you said it's a huge point of stress for you right now, but perhaps if you can talk "around" it a little bit, you'll see a side of it... a cause, or a piece that you *haven't* uncovered. You describe it so thoroughly and with such articulation, you've clearly spent a lot of time with it. A different perspective might be refreshing.
posted by juliplease at 10:29 AM on July 7, 2007

I do feel burned a bit when it comes to this particular issue [therapy]

One of the things about therapy is that, if it's working, you're going to come up with a lot of negative emotions directed at your therapist. It helps to recall that the therapist herself is just a neutral target for these emotions - that almost by definition the feelings are irrational, if the therapist has been competent enough to remain neutral for you - and that the important work of therapy is going to be dealing with these feelings to discover their origins.

A lot of times these emotions are frightening and drive people away from therapy. To that I can only say, you need courage to get through that process.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:34 AM on July 7, 2007

Response by poster: I wanted to post an update here. Hopefully some of you are following the question and will see this.

Last night, I refreshed the page pretty often, as you might imagine. I wanted to see what people thought. Yes, I realized that this place wasn't a good substitute for therapy, but I never intended it to be. Each one of us has our perspectives and since MeFi seems to have an awfully good ratio of thoughtful users, I threw caution into the wind. "Why not?"

Thanks to everyone for the replies. One of the more interesting and entertaining things about this question on askmefi is that each answer -- even those one could call "snarky" -- can be taken and combined to form a larger complex answer. Each answer has some truth to it, which is very exciting to me. At the very least, it showed me just how much farther along I am today than when I was 14.

My wife and I had a very long conversation about my recurring situation last night. In that conversation, we discovered some insights, some hard truths, and some acceptance of things that matter to me despite my ability to deny them.

Here's one: I need to feel attractive sometimes. That's not exactly a masculine thing to admit and I don't suspect many men need this. I realized last night that I do need it primarily because I generally don't feel this way. Who am I kidding? I never feel that way except for these rare moments. One therapist, when I explained my reaction to my very first crush, described the emotions as "mana from heaven," or like being offered a stale cracker after several days of hunger in a desert. (With apologies to Eddie Murphy.) The rest of the time? I am ugly.

At this moment, I feel that, perhaps (possibly), this new woman to which I feel a crush finds me attractive. Indeed it matters not the reasons -- emotional, physical, situational -- or whether it's even truth from her point-of-view. What matters is I feel attractive. And it makes me feel good. At the very moment I realized this last night, I felt like I had accepted a very old need. It also, perhaps, helps me to accept that I am attractive. That is much harder to admit than the need, interestingly. Yet, the heavy, heavy weight has lessened considerably.

On the subject of denials, I had to admit to myself how much the relationship with my wife has grown strained over our 11 years. We are committed to each other. We are a good fit for one another. We love each other, in the way that, I think, most people understand love to be. But our intimacy has suffered greatly in the last few years. There are several reasons. First, I have built up an awkwardness around sex with her and she has with me. We talked about it off-and-on, but always agreed that we just didn't need that component. We were wrong. I was wrong. And we both agreed there was a problem there. Secondly, our we have both changed physically to the extent that it has contributed to feelings of awkwardness and decreased compatibility. Lastly, our lives have become busier with each year and we are very rigid in our routines, though me moreso than her. This is probably adefence against that awkwardness, but, nevertheless, it is a factor.

Speaking of rigidity, I am reminded again as I have been over the last few years that my intense desire to form and complete routines does not help me to feel more in control. I remembered a conversation I had with my father some years ago during my first serious relationship. (Indeed, the first male/female relationship I ever had.) I complained to my father how upset I was with myself that I still felt attracted to other women. I was truly beside myself with anxiety about this. My thinking was that, on the one hand, if she was my One True Love, I'd never had to look at another woman, but, on the other hand, I better look out for myself as best as I can because I Am Ugly and it would likely be the only chance for me. (Yes, my father helped me and, no, he didn't tell me to deny my feelings.)

Today, my life is very rigid. To paraphrase a line I heard in a TV show, I've got myself wound up so tight there's no joy in anything. I get up, I read Google Reader, I go to work into a stressful and emotional environment, I go to the gym, I read Google Reader, I go to bed. Clockwork. Nearly every day. And if I diverge? I feel guilty, shameful. I'm going to gain weight. I'm going to miss out on an item I needed to read. I won't get enough sleep. I won't be prepared for the next day. People will find me ugly. They won't like me. And on-and-on.

My wife and I took a trip recently and stayed in a new location for a week. My routine interrupted. I met old friends, solidified relationships with existing friends, visited some places I had been before. I felt love and loved and welcomed. I felt competent and confident. I felt different, out of my own skin. Freer.

And then, up pops a crush.

My tightening grip on myself and my routine, I see now, is a defense. Like so many of you said, I use it to deny the problems in my life. My loneliness, my fatalist self-esteem, indeed my self-hatred. And when it all becomes too much to bear? Up pops a crush, a common thing thatbrings with it chaotic emotions, emotions I can't contain. A crush! The destroyer of worlds tortuously put into order.

And so much of it because I won't accept myself, accept my needs.

Many of you said that I needed therapy. That's clear and was a foregone conclusion many, many hours ago. It's clear I don't know how to resolve all of this on my own. And, indeed, it looks like both my wife and myself could benefit.

So, the next step is a call to the mental-health line at the insurance company. And once again into that fray.

It may sound as if I am no better off than twelve hours ago. But my eyes don't well up so much. My head feels lighter. And the world seems to me much brighter than it did.

Thanks, everyone.
posted by tcv at 1:14 PM on July 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I need to feel attractive sometimes. That's not exactly a masculine thing to admit and I don't suspect many men need this.

Are you serious? EVERYONE needs to feel attractive! (Okay, maybe there's one person out there somewhere who doesn't, but that person is NOT the norm.) You're right that many men don't like to admit to weaknesses, but that doesn't mean they don't have them.

Also, almost everyone -- including male and female models -- has self-esteem issues about their looks. Some people are plagued by these feelings more than others, but I doubt you'd find many people who (secretly or not) wouldn't relate.

My thinking was that, on the one hand, if she was my One True Love, I'd never had to look at another woman

Very romantic, but it's crap. You get attracted to women because you're a creature formed by evolution, and evolution "wants" you to reproduce. Evolution doesn't care that you're married. I've been happily married for 11 years and I still get attracted to other women. And my wife gets attracted to other men. Sometimes we walk down the street together and point out all the hot chicks and dudes. If we ever lose our ability to be attracted to other people, we'll probably lose our ability to be attracted by each other. Getting attracted is part of being human.

It's really possible to get to a place were attractions -- even crushes -- are fun and not threatening or guilt fodder. Part one is learning impulse control (therapy can help) and part two is learning that fantasies are healthy (and fun and normal).

I know all too well that insatiable need for self-esteem boosts. But going after women all the time so that you'll better about yourself is like getting drunk to cure your depression. It's not a cure. It's avoidance. A flirtation will make you feel better for a short time. Then you'll need another; then another; then another. It won't stop until you deal with the deep stuff.

I don't know if you're ugly, but there are a lot of plain and ugly people in the world who are way happier than you. So it's possible to be happy without being Brad Pitt. And it's possible to be Brad Pitt and be miserable. It's not about how you look no matter how much it feels that way. What IS it about?
posted by grumblebee at 1:42 PM on July 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure it's helpful to play Guess Your Mental Disorder. That's probably best left to a doctor. But if you want to speculate, take a look at Histrionic Personality Disorder, "a personality disorder characterized by a pattern of excessive emotionality and attention-seeking, including an excessive need for approval and inappropriate seductiveness, usually beginning in early adulthood."

See also: Borderline Personality Disorder.
posted by grumblebee at 2:14 PM on July 7, 2007

Response by poster: I don't mean to say that my accepting that need to feel attractive is a solution, but it certianly helped to lighten the emotions I felt to-day.

As for the listed personality disorders, I probably fit BPD more than HPD, but, as you said, that's probably best left to a doctor.
posted by tcv at 2:34 PM on July 7, 2007

I'm glad you're feeling better tcv:)
posted by hadjiboy at 7:16 AM on July 8, 2007

So pleased to see your follow up tcv and I echo grumblebee. Everyone needs to feel attractive, I think it is fundamental and I completely see how important it can be to you.
And the same about long-term relationships. There really is no such thing as the ONE. There are people with whom you can form a solid relationship, but that does not cut you off from being attracted to others. It is what you do with that attraction that counts.
If what you are doing is playing with it to boost your self esteem and your partner is understanding (and the third person is not being led up the garden path by you) then this is not necessarily a bad thing
posted by Wilder at 9:34 AM on July 20, 2007

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