Posted by fxckfeelings on April 5, 2009Share This Post
For our inaugural posting, we thought we’d start slow with a few 101 cases; one person who’s lonely, one who’s miserable, and one who feels responsible for someone else’s misery. You know, simple stuff.
You’ll notice that at the end of every response, we provide a simple statement, either for yourself or for problematic third parties, that we think will simply put our advice into action. It’s less “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough,” and more, “I’m in a sea of shit, but I’m swimming as hard as I can.”
We’ll have more cases coming on Thursday, and remember, if you have problems of your own, we’re here to help. That said, read on to see what our vision of help is. –Dr. Lastname
I’ve gone on my last internet date. All my friends are married at this point, and when they set me up on blind dates, the fall-out is usually so dramatic that I’ve resorted to the internet instead. Now I’m finding out that blind blind dates are even worse. Most of the responses I get are creepy, and the few dates I like suddenly drop me, or just want something short-term, which isn’t what I’m looking for. I’m lonely, I’m sick of being single, and the whole process is making me more depressed because it’s so mechanical and devoid of romance, which is supposed to be the fun part, right? I’d say I’m a normal person, good job, have all my limbs…why am I still alone? Is this the best I’m going to get? My goal is to find a partner who will make me happy, but I’m ready to give up. –desperate.com
Finding a happy partnership is always a dangerous goal because it makes you dependent on something you can’t control but still have strong feelings about. If you don’t find someone—and there’s no guarantee you will—you’ll feel like a loser, rather than just plain lonely. If your goal is to feel less lonely, or satisfy other strong feelings that drive people into relationships and ignite excitement, you’re more likely to fall for the wrong person and/or forget about the other important things in your life. Don’t make it your goal to find someone or be happy (or, God forbid, both). Your job is to conduct a good search for a partner while remaining lonely for as long as it takes to protect your heart and everything of value in the life you have as a single person/human being.
Of course, you know some lucky couple who found one another without trying hard and are very happy. In case you wondered, the reason they exist is to make every unattached person question what he or she is doing wrong. Take it from me—and I’ve been consulted by a whole lot of nice but lonely people—the answer is, usually, you’re doing nothing wrong. In fact, if it weren’t for those happy couples, being single and alone wouldn’t seem like such a terrible fate, but the lucky in love, pains in the ass that they are, don’t seem to be going away anytime soon.
If there’s something you could do better as a single person, it’s not to be more attractive or work harder to find a more eligible group of candidates, but rather to be less focused on finding someone and more determined to protect your time and feelings from unwise attachments. That’s the lesson you’ll get, in a delightful way, from reading the novels of Jane Austen: bear loneliness, focus on your independence, and screen out potential trouble so that, if and whe n you get lucky, you’ll be ready. That’s what your job is, and it may not make you happy or sweep you off your feet, but it will help you make the best of what you have. (And FYI, it should be noted that Ms. Austen never married.)
Happiness as a goal is always foolish, and looking for a partner who will make you happy is twice as futile; you’re not only looking to achieve something out of your control, but you’re looking to do it through another person, another factor that you can’t control. Looking for a partner isn’t about looking for someone who will make you feel good by being romantic, but by holding out for someone you can rely on. You wouldn’t pick a business partner based on if s/he makes you happy, so don’t pick a life partner that way.
This might sound “cold,” but what relationship will last and/or remain positive if the other person isn’t good with money, ready for commitment, constant with friendships, and used to working hard? If your partner lacks those qualities, there’s nothing you can do to rescue a relationship, including all the therapy and communication in the world. So your goal is to find someone with those qualities and avoid being deceived by people who seem to have them but don’t. It’s to prevent your search for those qualities from being blinded by love or wishful thinking, or delayed by attachments to people who don’t have them.
If your search leaves you high and dry, take credit for managing a difficult and worthwhile quest and doing it well while feeling pressured and lonely. Don’t believe for a moment that your pain is the sign of a loser. To continue on a quest because you believe is worthwhile, even while hurting and not knowing whether you’ll succeed, is always magnificent.
So don’t fall for that “Searching soul-mate who likes walking on beaches” crap. Your real personal ad should read like this: “ Looking for solid person who wants commitment and (circle as relevant) family, house in city, house in country. Must have good track record with relationships (references desirable), can work hard and work well with partner, sober at least 2 years, no credit card debt. And no cats.”
My situation isn’t complicated: I’m never happy, and after wearing my friends down with my misery, they told me I need to see a shrink. It’s not that I’m sad for no reason– I live in a shitty house, my wife is insane, my bills keep me up at night, my jobs sucks, and I’m too broke to get divorced, move, or even try to get a new job. I’m never in a good mood and feel completely trapped. My goal is to turn my life around and find happiness again. –I’m F*cked
I know it’s hard to hear this when you’re unhappy, but it’s dangerous to think too much about happiness. Sometimes, you can’t be happy. Life, being eternally unfair, is like that, and expecting to be happy will make you feel like even more of a loser. The big question here is not how to be happy, but whether you’re doing your best with the unhappiness in front of you. And, from what you’re saying, believe it or not, you’re doing lots right.
Of course, if you were really a superhero with special powers, what I said does not apply. If you were “Happyman,” with the power to make yourself happy by just trying extra-hard, then finding happiness would be a reasonable expectation and you would have every right to consider yourself a loser if you didn’t find it. It would also be cool if Happyman had more practical special powers, like the ability to teleport or turn sand into fine cheese, but that’s neither here nor there.
Start by looking at what you’re doing right: you’re sticking with a job that sucks, supporting a family that’s not easy to live with, doing your share and more, and getting no reward or pleasure out of it. I’m not one to emphasize positive feelings, but that’s awesome, and you should pat yourself on the back. The only thing you’re doing wrong is whining about it as if it should and would be better if you or someone hadn’t fucked up. It’s human nature to feel you should be doing better when you’re in pain, but it’s a terrible way to tear down your pride and make others feel like losers, so ignore it and stay focused. And shut up about happiness from now on.
In short, this is your mental health Miranada rights: You have the right to feel terrible, but not to whine. You’re trying to pay your bills, survive, and feed your family when there’s no luck, no support, and no understanding. That takes great strength. Take pride in what you’re doing. Express that pride.
And if your family doesn’t appreciate that, read them their own state of the union: “Dear family: Life stinks, we’re having lots of bad luck, and sometimes I feel very unhappy. But we’re doing a pretty good job of doing what’s important, regardless of how we feel. I’m trying to make a living and support this family. I see you guys are doing good things too. So fuck how bad we feel. What’s important is that we’re doing what we can and we won’t give up. And the rest is not worth talking about.” Then put some ketchup on that shit sandwich and enjoy.
I broke up with my ex after 5 years because he seemed incapable of getting his shit together; I wanted to settle down more and think about the future, he wanted to go on impulse vacations and party like we were still in college. Now that I’ve left him though, he’s gone off the deep end, and I’m not just worried, I feel guilty. my friends give me grim reports about him getting into accidents while driving drunk or getting beaten up because he keeps picking fights he can’t win, or he calls me sobbing about how I’ve ruined his life and he’d do anything to get me back, and I feel like, if I pushed him into this hole, I should at least try to get him out. So I guess my goal is helping him to get sober so I can get free. –Brokedown Break-up
Helping others can give you a wonderful high, even if you don’t know the person you help that well, so it’s easy to assume, if you’re a feeling-y kind of person, that you can never go wrong with helping others. Some preachers and novelists will tell you you’re doing a wonderful thing by giving, regardless of circumstances, and that, by doing so, you will eventually transform the world into a better place. What they don’t tell you is that helping others can also be dangerous, and that it becomes more dangerous the more reflexively you do it.
The sad reality is that the healing powers of treatment, prayer, and love, have limited powers and dangerous side effects, which, if not managed carefully, can do much more harm than good. There are many people you can’t help, and some are dangerous, just because that’s the way they are. Smart, gifted professionals are most likely to forget this truth, e.g., the Roman Catholic cardinals who think that prayer will cure a pederast priest, or the psychotherapist who believes that a more personal kind of loving will cure a patient’s abusive childhood.
Giving might be better than receiving, but give too much, and you wind up receiving a pain in the ass and losing everything else. Or you may give everything to the loudest or first in line, and have nothing left for those who deserve it more. Or you give, but it does no good, and you resent it and feel guilty. Or you give to someone nasty and envious, and now they hate you and find a way to feel you screwed them. Often, the only people worth helping are in public television, because the say thank you, claim you did some good, and give you a nice mug or tote bag.
So instead of trying to kill your ex with kindness, focus on not letting your kindness kill you. Guilty feelings can convince you that you’re responsible for helping someone when experience tells you that you can’t help him, and trying to do so could actually do harm. Knowing that you can’t help your boyfriend after 5 years of trying doesn’t mean that your love failed; it means you did your best and there’s probably something about his self-destructiveness that you and he can’t control. After all, you’re probably not the only person to try and fail at helping him out, because it’s impossible to help anyone who thinks the real problem isn’t their behavior, but the way you make them feel. So your goal isn’t to feel less guilty if, by doing so, you’ll get yourself in deeper and prolong a negative relationship.
Instead, your goal is to learn how to manage your kindness so it won’t harm the two of you, which means building up your tolerance to guilt and developing procedures for protecting yourself from guilt-inducing situations. Establish your moral position regarding his demands for help, and it’s good to prepare it so you’ll be able to speak your peace and end the conversation without negotiation. You can use it to counter your own guilt and, if you think it will help, rebut his destructive expectations about prolonging your relationship. The statement below is a good start.
“I value our relationship and would like nothing more than for you to be happy and in control of your drinking and other destructive behaviors. I know you think I should be helping you by offering you support rather than by ending our relationship. I’ve given lots of thought to what would help you and I’m convinced that my support can’t do it and that our relationship makes you worse, not better. To get better, you need to accept the pain of losing me, and lots of other pain, and nevertheless try to behave positively to yourself and others. If that’s what you want, there’s treatment that can help you become stronger. I wish you well, but continuing our relationship should stop. I do not mean this disrespectfully or to hurt you, but I believe it’s necessary and that we should have no more words about it. Good-bye.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname