Mysterious new relationship sadness and uncertainty
August 7, 2008 5:26 PM   Subscribe

I'm having trouble understanding and dealing with a sudden wave of sadness which came over me while leaving a new romantic partner's house. (Overly long relationshipfilter details follow.)

I have been seeing X (who is a woman, I'm a man, we're in our early 30s) on and off for a month and a half or so, and overall things have been going well. We've spent a lot of time with each other, and have talked in great detail about our lives and past relationships, and had lots of good sex. But a few days ago when I was leaving her house I was suddenly struck by an overwhelming feeling of sadness, and ever since then I've been feeling really depressed and obsessing about our relationship. I need help understanding where the feeling comes from and getting some perspective on the relationship.

I've heard of people getting sad after sex, but it's never really happened to me before. The thing that is most puzzling to me is that I can't tell what the cause of the sadness is. I definitely feel that it's about X, but I can't tell what the actual cause of it is. I almost feel as if I'm mourning the loss of her before we've actually broken up. Directly before that we'd been talking about her past sexual experiences and my previous long-term relationship.

As a little background, we've been seeing each other a lot but we haven't really had the talk about whether we're dating other people and if we want to be monogamous. I feel like we're going to need to have the talk pretty soon for my own comfort, but I've been a little put off because I'm having a hard time reading her and what her romantic feelings towards me are. I've occasionally felt that when I've made overtures to her that hinted at deeper feelings, she didn't quite reciprocate. She does seem to enjoy hanging out with me, but in moments of doubt I wonder if it's a sexual thing. And I always seem to be the one who initiates contact with her.

X is extremely independent, and that's something that really attracts me to her and also something I value highly in myself. It really bothers me that my own emotional state suddenly seems to be so affected by her in such a negative way - it makes me feel vulnerable and needy. My last relationship was kind of unhealthy that way and I hoped I had outgrown that.

So here are the things I need help with:

1. How can I get a gauge on her feelings towards me without seeming clingy or desperate? In particular, I'm worried that if I bring up the whole monogamy / relationship talk at this point, I'll be rushing things.

2. How can I disengage a little and not be so worried about (1)? I need some practical techniques to obsess over her and the whole situation less, or at least to become more at ease with things being sort of up in the air right now.

3. The sadness I was talking about is still with me several days later and I'm having trouble understanding what its source is and getting over it. Right now I can't really talk to my good friends who I'd ordinarily consult about this (logistical reasons) and I would appreciate any advice about it.

(Private advice is also welcome at omne.animal.triste.est at gmail.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
But a few days ago when I was leaving her house I was suddenly struck by an overwhelming feeling of sadness

You do need to stop worrying yourself about this. It may well have been chemical to start with, but by chewing on it obsessively you're helping it stay around. If you find yourself unable to give up the worry, fight chemistry with chemistry: go for a good hard long walk and focus on your breathing.

The time to worry about this relationship is if you have an overwhelming feeling of sadness when you're going to her house.
posted by flabdablet at 5:52 PM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree with flabdablet. I have at various points had waves of sadness (or happiness verging on giddiness) that struck for no apparent cause. It's human nature to look for a cause, but when the evidence shows that it's without a cause, the best thing to do is just accept that it happened and was a random chemical event, rather than hanging onto it and insisting on finding meaning for it. When I don't recognize the randomness early enough, frequently the sadness will bring me down for a while until I realize that it was purely chemical -- then I have to remind myself over and over again that it didn't mean anything.
posted by katemonster at 5:59 PM on August 7, 2008

Though possibly without cause, I have found, both personally and through my work as a therapist, that such feelings can be brought about by a thought that seemingly lasts just a second. The thought may be so fleeting as to leave no real memory of thinking it behind unless you really stop to consider what crossed your mind RIGHT when the feeling descends.

So, you walk out the door and a brief flash of "This is too good to last," (for example) and boom, the feeling arrives, but without you're being conscious of the originating self-talk. I dunno, worth considering?
posted by thebrokedown at 6:18 PM on August 7, 2008

3. I am not an expert but I'll guess the sadness you are feeling can be intense emotion of all kinds. Love for her, sadness if it doesn't work, vulnerability, etc. It could very well be chemical as well. Sort of like emotional tears and crying after orgasm. But that may be all sorts of things as well.

Try to remain positive. This is a new relationship. She is a human being that shares the same emotions as you. Try not to elevate her to a state that you are fretting over ruining things or scaring her away. Try to enjoy yourself and keep things as even-keeled as possible. You're just living for the moment, man. It ain't no big thing. I'm not suggesting you hold back your feelings for her. It's okay to express them in a fair and non-threatening way, but if things don't go your way, be willing to accept without losing your mind.

2. She is a woman you met and have feelings for. You are enjoying yourself. Try to view her as a person that has feelings as well. Her independent nature does not mean that she is unable to commit. Her independent nature does not mean she views sex as no strings attached. Life will not come crashing down if she does not share your intense feelings or hopes for the relationship. If you are enjoying one another's company and she is willing to date you that's wonderful and go with that. Don't stand in the way of your prosperity. There is no need to stress. Don't let your life go to the wayside because of this relationship or any relationship. Concentrate on your responsibilities and things you enjoy besides her, like friends, hobbies, etc. It will get your mind off things and only make you more appealing.

You sound like a good guy and I wish you luck.
posted by LoriFLA at 6:22 PM on August 7, 2008

I have a very clear memory of this happening to me around the same time when I started seeing someone in my mid-20s -- just a deep, deep wave of sadness and grief about a month into our relationship after having spent a lovely couple of days together. The only way I could explain it was a kind of sudden and wordless epiphany that we, as a couple, wouldn't last. Possibly because we weren't well-suited for each other (though I didn't realize it, at least not consciously, at that moment), but also possibly because it was an instinctive understanding that nothing lasts; everything ends, no matter how excited we are about it in the beginning, no matter how great our love and energy, no matter how earnestly we think such things won't apply to us.

Nothing lasts forever; not the good things, nor the bad. Which, 15 years after having had that epiphany (and almost immediately discarding its philosophical implications for many years, because by god, I was 24 and the exception to the rule!), I try to use as a reminder to appreciate just how precious those good things are -- because they, like everything in this life, are ultimately fleeting.

Enjoy your new relationship just the same, and share your gladness with her that she's a part of your life right now.
posted by scody at 6:25 PM on August 7, 2008 [3 favorites]

How can I get a gauge on her feelings towards me without seeming clingy or desperate? In particular, I'm worried that if I bring up the whole monogamy / relationship talk at this point, I'll be rushing things.

If you are starting to suffer because you don't know the answers to these questions, it's time to ask. Don't worry about how you "seem." You've every right to know how she feels now and if she foresees the feelings growing. This doesn't have to be a heavy conversation - but it sounds as though the unpoken question is weighing heavily on you.

You've been dating a while, you're having sex, you're in your 30s, you're independent - it's okay to ask "So, we've been hanging out a while, and I really enjoy it. I wonder how you feel about it, and where you see things heading?"
posted by Miko at 6:30 PM on August 7, 2008

You need to preoccupy yourself with other things - exercise, work, hobbies or interests - things that you can do for your personal betterment or edification on your own, or at least without her. Let her be the one to initiate contact for a few days or weeks.

She's independent. She's going to be very cautious about any relationship at first. That doesn't mean that it won't work out, but just be aware. She enjoys your company, but at her (and your age) she's not going to jump into a boyfriend-girlfriend deal unless it has a high probability of going somewhere.

Further, she may not be the one for you. You may not ever get that emotional commitment from her. She may only be capable of being your fuck buddy right now. If you're comfortable with that (doesn't sound like you are, or will be) then go for it. If not, you need to move on.

Whatever you do, be a man about it. Be smooth. Don't get bent out of shape. Don't drunk dial. Don't give her some big speech about what you're looking for or whatever... you're both adults, act like it. Write her off (if you have to) with some class, and don't burn your bridges, you never know when you may hook back up.
posted by wfrgms at 7:12 PM on August 7, 2008

IMO it sounds like you're sad because during that conversation, pre-sadness wave, you connected past hurts/nostalgia with your current romantic situation. Now they're entwined in your head, and it's prompting some fear of being open and vulnerable with your new lady, lest it end up like the past ones. It reminds me of how sometimes before the end of a great vacation, I feel really bummed out, knowing it's a limited thing and soon it will just be a memory.

Thing is-- if things go well with your present lady, there's no reason for it to ever be over, or be something to be nostalgic about. It may sound obvious, but talking things out tends to make things better. Let her know that you are feeling a little worried about getting hurt, and that you really like her, and she'll give you the reassurance I think on some level you're craving. I don't think it'll make you come off as desperate (as long as you're not "OMG promise me you'll never leave me!") but rather sensitive, and caring. It'll probably touch her, that you're feeling vulnerable due to the intensity of your emotion for her. Feeling vulnerable is okay as long as it doesn't make you act in a way that is contradictory to what you really feel (i.e., acting like a jerk so she won't know how much you care, etc.)

All in all, don't be clingy, make an effort to not appear needy and clingy, but you should communicate to her why you might be acting differently towards her. (I'm assuming she's picking up on it, and it's better than her thinking you're acting distant/sad due to not liking her.)
posted by np312 at 7:12 PM on August 7, 2008

I'm familiar with a sadness that has come in relationships not unlike the one you describe (I've had several -- call me a glutton for punishment).

I've never ruminated much on the source of the sadness, but I believe I brought it on by indulging in a heart vs. mind debate even though I knew the heart had already lost. In other words, the sadness came from wanting to have an option to take a relationship further when that option didn't exist, or at least I didn't have any say over whether the relationship went further.

If that diagnosis seems apt in your case, I'm afraid I've never figured out a cure, but a dose of patience and a simple change of perspective could be helpful. I think your points 1 and 2 are dealt with in the same way -- they are opposite ends of the same pushmepullyou:

- I'm a fan of not always talking things out, particularly when there are no pressing issues to solve. To abuse a favorite Rumpole quote, the world is full of men leaping about in open fields, trying to clear obstructions that aren't really there. Wanting to talk things out is often a sign of impatience and selfishness -- you're trying to put yourself at ease, but what benefits are there for her, especially if she seems fine with things as they currently are? You're only six weeks into this relationship, after all.

- Being worried that she never calls you is speculating too much. Ok, she's independent. If she didn't like you, she wouldn't spend time with you. I'm sure you also know plenty of women who would tell you that they rather prefer being invited than doing the inviting. Regardless, you should focus your energies on being happy that she says yes rather than despairing about the direction in which the calls are going.

- The only "practical technique" I would dare suggest is to ask her more questions about herself and her interests. These are to be non-targeted, non-strategic questions and you are not to steer the discussion in the direction your pining and forlorn heart wants it to go. It's human nature to enjoy talking about oneself, and the more she tells you herself, off-topic as the subjects may be from your perspective, the more you will understand her thinking generally. You will also be subtlely communicating the extent of your interest without ever having to bludgeon a good conversation, and maybe an entire relationship, with weighty and needy-sounding gushtalk.

You're not two months into a relationship where you ask her out, she says yes, the conversation is great, and there's lots of good sex. Lovely problem to have.

Geez, I think my response is longer than your question. Sorry.
posted by Bixby23 at 7:15 PM on August 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

There will always be a reason to feel sad, scared, or amused.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:20 PM on August 7, 2008

Hmm, I wouldn't worry about it quite so much. This seems like a really common human emotion; I don't think it means you're clingy or needy.

At the end of every summer, as fall begins to arrive, I get this sad, wistful feeling and want to know for certain where my home will be. I remember once hearing some guy say, "man, the weather's getting cold. I hope I'm not alone this winter." That's the feeling I get. Another time, and I hate to mention this because people assume men and women's emotions are so different, but when I was on progestin birth control (Depo), I'd get a shot once every three months, and I'd feel that way for a full day every time. Very much like what you describe: sad, really wanting to know everything is secure, and as a result, really vulnerable. It all seems very much part of the cyclical human condition to me. And then there's the fact that new love is like a very addictive chemical, so you might've just been coming down.

Since you are still getting to know one another, your best resource for feeling better is yourself. Eventually someone else can help, but they might not be good at it (or ready to help) at first. So, take care of your own sense of feeling vulnerable and sad. When I feel like this, I usually take a long hot shower, rent an old favorite movie, and go to bed early. Exercise will also help reset your emotions.

I think the way not to be "clingy" is to recognize you have two somewhat separate things going on here -- a vulnerable and sad feeling inside you, and an ambiguous situation outside you. If you address them separately and have already somewhat met your own need for security and caring, you'll be able to talk to her without feeling like quite so much is at stake.

The one sign that there might be more to the story is this clue: "My last relationship was kind of unhealthy that way." Tell us more...
posted by salvia at 10:42 PM on August 7, 2008

During my last relationship, while things were still fairly new, I had a similar emotional response each time I left my boyfriend's house. I'd feel a vague emptiness that would linger for hours and sometimes days. In retrospect, I'd liken it to unsated hunger. I think what I was feeling was a response to my unfulfilled emotional needs. I was really into him, but was unsure of how he felt about me. Part of the problem was that he wasn't particularly good at showing affection nor expressing his feelings. What I've learned since that time is that he was crazy about me and that my insecurities were unfounded.

I don't think it's unreasonable at a month and a half to have a conversation about your desire to be exclusive, particularly if you're being intimate with each other. Unless it was clear early on that this is just a fling/casual relationship, I know I wouldn't want to be intimate with someone if I thought they were sleeping around. Any reasonable person would not perceive you as being "clingy or desperate" for wanting to address this subject.
posted by dudiggy at 12:31 AM on August 8, 2008

My intuition says that it's probably totally chemical, and you might do well to talk to a therapist about it. I can't say whether or not you'd need to take a pill to rebalance, or if you're able to shake it off over time. You need a professional to help you answer that kind of question.
posted by Citrus at 7:06 AM on August 8, 2008

Sounds to me that you probably perceived something unconsciously, something in her body language or manner that communicated something to you that made you sad. Maybe you perceived that she is not as into you as you are into her, but without being consciously aware of it.
posted by beccyjoe at 8:53 PM on August 8, 2008

I agree with thebrokedown.

Something crossed your mind. Could have been extremely fleeting. It only takes the shortest negative thought to cause a burst of sadness sometimes, and it can be gone before you know it. It happens to me all the time and I'm sure it happens to everyone else.

And I also echo the sentiments of many others in recommending not to dwell on it.

In regards to you wanting to make it more serious, at least in my opinion, it doesn't sound overly "clingy or desperate" to simply bring the subject up. Feeling comfortable enough to bring up your wants and desires sounds like confidence to me. Guess it all depends on how you speak about it with her.

However, if deep down you want to be more serious because you feel clingy and desperate, that may be a different issue altogether.
posted by Defenestrator at 3:00 AM on August 9, 2008

Follow-up from the OP
I wanted to thank everyone for their advice here and also to follow up in case anyone was still curious about the outcome of the matter. After having dated through most of the month, X and I have broken things off as a result of X telling me that she didn't feel a sense of chemistry between her and myself. This has been a terribly bitter pill to swallow and I'm devastated in its wake, but I also feel as though X and I have both been very clear and direct about what we wanted from one another, and although I wish what X wanted was me, I don't begrudge her for not feeling about me the way that I feel about her.

In hindsight I can also narrow the moment of sadness down a little more as well. I'd just been on my way from leaving her house after an afternoon of tarrying and she'd put on a song whose lyrics had to do with loving one another and saying we loved one another; in the moment the song came on I was looking into her eyes and I think that was when the feeling overtook me. (Basically, what beccyjoe said was correct, in hindsight.)

I'm a lot sadder than I expected to be at the end of things and am having a difficult time not taking it personally, but I'm trying to keep myself busy and focus on the positive things that came out of our relationship. Thanks to everyone for the comments.
posted by jessamyn at 2:38 PM on August 27, 2008

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