Dating for the relatively grounded?
June 18, 2008 6:42 PM   Subscribe

I know a great deal about how romantic relationships develop with insecure people, but very little about what happens when the participants are already comfortable in their own shoes.

About a year ago, I discovered that my severe depression and anxiety was due to a medical condition. The condition was easy to address, and I experienced improvements almost overnight. As I started feeling better, it became apparent that much of my identity had been built around feeling perpetually lousy. Without the feeling-lousy, it's as if the slate has been wiped clean and I have to re-experience everything. The changes are significant enough that I can't trust memories & experiences from those earlier times. The adjustment has been a wonderful experience, even when it leads to unfortunate things like severing ties with people I now realize do me more harm than good.

What I could use some help with, is hearing about how people who are comfortable in their own shoes approach romantic relationships. Back when I felt like crap, romantic attraction = the delusion that this person would somehow fill my gaping emotional void. I was needy, and was exhilarated by the mere possibility that someone could meet those needs. I could only grasp relationships that consisted of me "saving" my partner or vice versa. I realize now that's a very unhealthy way to approach things, but it was certainly easy to identify! Now that I'm more grounded, I feel like there's little chance of being swept off my feet, but I really have no idea. How does one identify attraction when it isn't aided by the exaggeration that comes from vulnerability?

For the first time in my life, I feel like I could be part of a legitimately healthy relationship, but I'm not entirely sure how those occur.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Hey, you're cool. I'm cool. Let's be cool together.
posted by phrontist at 6:49 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

There are a lot of things a relationship can be. For me, I like how a partner is also a Best Friend - eg you both like doing stuff together because you have fun together, enjoy each other's company, resonate with each other, and so on. But (also like a best friend) you're both complete and capable people, not dependent, and so can happily also enjoy things alone, or with other friends.

As to how to have that occur... I don't think I can call myself an expert in that department. Obviously if you get along tremendously well with someone... that's a good sign, but doesn't necessarily mean much other than that you get along. This is one of the many things that makes dating hard - dating requires that the two of you click immediately, or there are unlikely to be more dates. Sometimes it takes a while to click.
Sometimes, there is someone you see in some capacity (non-work-related, (unless you like either playing fire or being boorish)) that you interact with regularly over a long period, and over a longer period of time, you become aware that you really like them. If they feel the same way, then that's a relationship with a high chance of working well. Turning it from someone you know into someone you're in a romantic relationship with... well that's the trick. Can't help you there.

But given your situation, I suggest just not worrying too much and being open to whatever happens and don't beat yourself up when things don't work out - it's unlikely you'll win the lottery right off the bat.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:01 PM on June 18, 2008

Have you ever filled out a crossword puzzle?

Have you ever filled out a crossword puzzle with a friend?

Where it's sometimes competitive, but only when both of you want it to be competitive? But mostly it's both of you helping each other out, having fun together, trying out guesses and seeing how one person's guess might be wrong but it sparks a hint in the other person's mind that solves the problem. Where one of you teases the other for an obviously wrong guess, but the tease is only because you find the mistake an example of how your partner's kind of endearing?

It's not, "dude, help me solve this puzzle, because it's totally hard and beyond the capacity of my brainmeats" and more "you know, I can solve this puzzle just fine on my own, but it's more fun to solve it together."

Can you imagine that kind of equal collaboration that's all "wow, our brains might come from different directions but they interect in fascinating and totally h0tt patterns?"

it's sort of like that.
posted by bl1nk at 7:02 PM on June 18, 2008 [29 favorites]

Healthy relationships are just, better.

They happen. You'll know, because you feeling bad, or the other person feeling bad, will not be a fundamental mode of the relationship. You'll feel good most of the time with that person and they will feel good most of the time with you.

it took me a long while to realize that. When you find a relationship like that, seize it and do not let go.
posted by unSane at 7:06 PM on June 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

For the first time in my life, I feel like I could be part of a legitimately healthy relationship, but I'm not entirely sure how those occur.

I think we can safely say that they occur slowly. That appears to be one thing that many good relationships that I've seen have in common. There's no hurry. "I'm okay. You're okay. The world is okay, or maybe it isn't. Do you want to see a movie?" Or some such.
posted by dancestoblue at 7:11 PM on June 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

I've recommended it a thousand times: How to Be an Adult in Relationships. It made all the difference in the world when I found myself in your same place a few years ago.

For me, being in a healthy relationship has been an eye-opener. I'm not plagued by some nameless, nagging insecurity that I expect someone else to console, or an emptiness that I expect someone else to fill. I find that I feel both more independent and strong in my own life, yet infinitely more capable of real intimacy. I no longer have to hide my most essential self. I enjoy being one half of a team -- I know fundamentally that I have my partner's back, and he has mine. Our most common currency of communication is laughter -- even, believe it or not, in the middle of arguments (which I no longer see as something scary to be avoided or battles to be won or lost).

A few weeks ago, we had our third anniversary. And I realized that it was the first time I’d ever hit the three-year mark with anyone where I wasn’t either trying to end the relationship, or frantically hold on to it while it was slipping away. It doesn’t mean that it’s not been hard work at times. But it’s also been the easiest hard work I’ve ever done. It sounds paradoxical till you’re in the midst of it, and then it’s like… of course.
posted by scody at 7:17 PM on June 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

My journey has been similar to yours, Anon, except that it was a combination of antidepressants and addressing some childhood hurts (through therapy) that led to the feeling that there was a big hole in my heart that someone else needed to fill. Strangely, soon after the therapy gave the desired result (teaching me to address my childhood hurts and self-soothe), I fell in love and got married.

How did it happen? Well, one of my guy friends who didn't look so hot to my needy self started to look much more interesting. My tastes changed, in other words, because I wasn't looking to "win someone over" to fill the void. And it was a lot like Phrontist said, actually -- we eventually started dating each other, and I saw things in him that I really liked that had never appealed to me before. Like his sensibility, his sensitivity, his sheer cuddliness, and the fact that he really liked me as well. We clicked where we hadn't before.
posted by lleachie at 7:36 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

For me it's the feeling that you're a team, that whatever the world brings you can face it together. It's what a business wants when they say 'we have a great team', but what they very rarely get: people who are genuinely invested in the collective benefit, who aren't just working with each other to serve their own long term goals.

For me it's the moment when I realised I honestly did just want her to be happy, regardless of how it affected me.
posted by twirlypen at 11:13 PM on June 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

similar to what scody posted above: i recommend how to be an adult [not the same book] by david richo.

other than that: stay strong and persevere! analysing our choices helps to keep from falling into old patterns we've truly outgrown. <3
posted by tamarack at 11:15 PM on June 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't go too far in the other direction. People do fulfill emotional needs their partners can't provide for on their own and do do practical things for their partners (and for others to whom their partners are obliged) that their partners can't do, or do as easily or as well, themselves.

However (and perhaps somewhat contra twirlypen) some of these needs aren't going to be obviously mutual or collective, and certainly you can't have an accounting that requires that needs be agreed upon as mutual, or that individual needs and need-fulfillment somehow net out (at least in the short run). Dependence upon a partner isn't necessarily weakness and willingness to be of service to a partner isn't necessarily oppression, and there are plenty of very happy couples where there can be a pretty big imbalance of self-sufficiency.
posted by MattD at 7:53 AM on June 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've said this in earlier posts, but I think the key to a good relationship is liking the person you get to be around your new partner. Everybody draws out different parts of each other...Ex. around some people I'm funny, others I'm serious, some bring out my sporty side, some my sexy. Going out and seeing what you bring out in others and what they bring out in you—and then deciding whether or not you like what you see and what you are—is all part of the new game.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:37 AM on June 19, 2008 [5 favorites]

About a year ago, I discovered that my severe depression and anxiety was due to a medical condition. The condition was easy to address, and I experienced improvements almost overnight.

I'm actually really interested in what this condition might be.
posted by Brian James at 9:13 AM on June 19, 2008

How does one identify attraction when it isn't aided by the exaggeration that comes from vulnerability?

For me, it's that I'm especially happy around my fiance, and then the sexual attraction. Also the feeling that he does make me a better person, even though it's not in a "fill my gaping emotional void" way.

Along the lines of what some others have said, there's a difference between being emotionally dependent on someone versus recognizing that human beings have a need for companionship. There are some things that only another person can fulfill. One should be stable enough to not need those things for basic happiness, to not be miserable if he doesn't have them. However, there is nothing wrong with feeling like a relationship with another person is emotionally fulfilling, though. It should be. I get emotional fulfillment from my fiance that I can't get anywhere else. (However, if he were to leave me I would find other things to keep me happy.)
posted by Nattie at 1:12 PM on June 19, 2008 [1 favorite]

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