Like many lonely people, I’ve bought into the fantasy that being a relationship will solve all my mental health issues. When put that way, it really does sound ridiculous, but we’re humans and we believe in all kinds of irrational shit.
When you’re single and unhappy, you ask yourself what you don’t have. What’s missing from your life? The popular media that surrounds us point out the supposed answer like a flashing neon sign: You need a life partner!
What I know about myself is I’m happiest when I’m busy. I’m happiest when I’m surrounded by a community where my skills are valued and I’m respected for my talents. It sounds like what I actually need to feel satisfied with my life is a job! But finding a job these days is hard, and dating around is easy.
It’s been about three weeks since I gave up my serial tindering and slipped into a warm bath of a relationship. I was unsure if this was the right choice. I’m leaving town in a month semi-permanently, and neither of us want a long distance relationship. On top of that, there are strange dating dynamics in the small town we spend our time in, partially due to personal histories and partially due to a culture I’m not familiar with. It felt too complicated to be worth a try, but my therapist supported my attempt at monogamy, and my family commented on how happy I was when I spent time with him. And I was happy. I am happy, every moment I spend with him, even when we argue, even when I’m bored, it’s all improved by his presence. I feel safe with him. He makes me feel good about myself. We have the most enjoyable and most mutually beneficial sex life that I’ve ever had. And he likes me as much as I like him? What the fuck?
Imagine my surprise to find myself having even more frequent breakdowns and depressive episodes than I was when single.
At first it seemed the relationship itself was the problem. My partner was alarmed by how he seemed to be hurting me constantly without realizing it. “Maybe we rushed into this,” he said after one particularly bad night, when I’d picked a fight with him just to get his attention. “Maybe a monogamous relationship isn’t what you need right now.”
I felt my stomach drop. I’d heard this speech before. Men like to tell the crazy bitches in their lives what’s best for them, selflessly breaking up with them for their health when the truth is that it’s overwhelming to be with someone with mental illness. It takes work, just like any other relationship, but the work is unfamiliar and unpredictable. It’s completely understandable that someone wouldn’t be up to the task of handling my shit, but absolutely maddening when people try to back out of the relationship looking like a hero.
I braced myself for a break up, but it didn’t come. Maybe there was uncertainty, maybe a break up was inevitable later, but when he said what he said, what he meant was This is up to you, Jamie.
Recently I had a conversation with my ex boyfriend who struggles with alcoholism and only recently began attempting sobriety. He messaged me in the middle of his own depressive episode, grilling me furiously on my motivations for “keeping him around”.
“Sobriety is such a con job. Every time I talk to people now, they ask me if I’ve fallen off the wagon yet, and when I say no, they congratulate me and go back to ignoring me and I’m left as alone and miserable as I’ve ever been, except I don’t get to drink myself into a goddamn coma.”
“Being sober was never going to solve all your problems,” I answered. “Drinking just kept you from dealing with those problems. It was a distraction. That’s why you feel worse now.”
“I just don’t get it. Why do people love being sober so much.”
“Nobody likes being sober.”
“Ha! I knew it!”
My excessive tindering was my distraction. Every time I started to feel lonely or sad or uncomfortable as an adult living under the same roof as my family, a house I’ve outgrown since college, I opened up Tinder and found myself a bed buddy for the night. I wasn’t handling my problems, I was forgetting them. Pushing them deep down while I got fucked by a stranger. It wasn’t quite an addiction, but it could have turned into one easily.
Now without my unhealthy coping mechanism, I’m not less happy, but I don’t have the room to pretend everything is fine. I am forced to deal with my mental health issues or they will destroy me.
I had a conversation today with my partner. I felt it coming. Things have been so rough lately that it only made sense. I thought breaking up with this guy would hurt worse than all the others. I thought it’d send me into another crying fit like one of our conflicts last night did. But instead, it all felt okay.
“I care about you, Jamie. I love spending time with you. I love our sex life and if things were less complicated, I think our romantic relationship could be something really special. But things are complicated and I want to focus on my friendship with you right now before we try and make a relationship work.”
It didn’t feel like a break up. It felt like another warm bath I was sinking into contentedly. Everything he said I felt. We were on the same page for once and it was beautiful.
I’ve only had a similar experience once in my life. My college ex girlfriend and I started dating after I rejected her advances. In fact, I fell in love with her because I rejected her advances, and mores specifically, because of how she handled that. I told her I was afraid of dating messing up our friendship. She was my safe haven at the time, and we spent most evenings ranting about people we knew and holding each other close. I was so afraid of losing that delicate dynamic that I couldn’t handle anything changing or turning romantic. She warmly accepted this, though she secretly spent the rest of that night listening to the Dixie Chicks, something she only did when times were particularly rough. The next day felt like nothing had changed at all, as if she was working very hard to make sure our friendship wasn’t in jeopardy. I was enchanted by her loyalty and commitment to our friendship. I realized even if we broke up, things would probably be okay. (Looking back knowing how our actual break up turned out, this seems very silly to assume a rejection pre-relationship would be the same as a rejection post, but what really matters isn’t the reality, but how I felt. Insert eye roll here.)
I don’t think this guy is anything like my ex girlfriend, but I think there are some qualities shared between my partners who will stick around with me long term.
Long story short, I’m not in a monogamous relationship at this very moment, but I think I’m going to be okay. I get the chance to learn to be by myself, while still developing a friendship with someone who cares about me as much as I care about him. I don’t feel rejected. I feel embraced. I feel like someone wants me to get better for my sake, not just because it would be more convenient for them.
What have been your experiences dating as a person with mental health problems? Does it make it easier when your partner has similar issues, or worse? Let me know.
(Apologies for my sudden hiatus. Heartbreak plus depression is a messy bitch. I think it’s time I go back to updating this blog regularly.)