I suck at break ups.
I mean we all suck at break ups, but I reaaaaaaally suck at break ups. This is especially ludicrous considering that not only have I never been in love (high school love discounting: brains are different then), but of all my many break-ups I’ve only been the dumpee twice. So why do I fly off the handle each time it happens? Well, my guess is it’s mostly about control. Knowing that I have to give up any ability to control how another feels about me forever, and that in all likelihood that means the person will think about me either not at all or not positively. This sends me into a tailspin. I drop out of society for weeks, call each and every friend I have for reassurance 50 times over and become certain, absolutely positive, that I will not make it through this, that shit will NEVER get better. I run through all the reasons the relationship did not work and, instead of accepting it, I blame myself, I blame them, I yearn to crawl back into their unsatisfying arms (and sometimes I do) and then I melt into a puddle of self-loathing pathetic insecurity that is about the least attractive quality a girl could have (also a characteristic that helped drive the relationship into the ground in the first place).
This time has been no different. I allowed my hopes and dreams (in a new city no less) to be woven in with a practical stranger. Despite my desires being blatantly unachievable in our partnership, I pressed on, losing myself in the process. When I finally got the strength to pry myself loose I was already a shell and, in the vortex of this shitty Chicago winter, I flipped my fucking shit. Trying to stay above the precipice, I reached out to everyone, kept busy or intoxicated, but it was to no avail. Roommates, friends and family weren’t enough to convince me that I had made a good decision and I could survive (let alone thrive). I even briefly considered committing myself to an institution – only hating myself ever more because of how absurd I knew it all was.
What could be done?
With the abyss rapidly approaching, I had to act quickly, and in desperation. I was still in a new place and my only close friends were intimately tied up with my now-soured relationship i.e. in a community where I no longer felt welcome. Also, I was now fully bereft of health insurance, making therapy and medication (a recourse common to my past fits of depression and maniacal self-hatred) a financial and logistical nightmare.
Soon enough I got to a point where nothing, absolutely nothing, could make me not miserable (well there was this one grey market mystery pill, but that was short-lived). I hated my job (a flexible and interesting/awesome job), I hated the fact that I had lost all connection with my research; I felt empty in a meaningless city of overconsumption and waste where everyone seemed to have empty passions and farcical interpersonal relationships (a judgment you will scoff at upon finishing this post). Meanwhile I was totally incapable of ever finding excitement or self-love again, knowing full well that this also made me unloveable. I had to get out. I had to find something to validate my worth, because as much as I wanted to do it for myself, I needed help out of the quicksand to get there.
Over the last decade the online system of meeting people has become more socially acceptable than ever before. While people may not overtly turn their noses up at it anymore, I still get the sense of relief from those who have a relationship backstory not involving the internet; admittedly, I’d feel the same myself, which sucks. But what better time and odds than in a city of 2.7 million, to employ this veritable treasure trove of voluntary recruits for the salvation of my sanity and withered ego? At this point, it was either take a chance on the digital roulette or lay down a monthly $150 for Obamacare plus another $50 in copays for an appointment I wouldn’t even get for another 6 weeks, and which did not count the additional cost of a potential psychiatrist and/or medication.
So I did it. I slapped up my generic white girl photo and called out to anyone and everyone who would offer to take the rope and heave-ho. My profile was short, not sweet, and tailored to the bemused. Despite that, within two weeks I had four dates with men who knew perfectly well they were meeting up with a heart-mangled underconfident mess, and that their primary job for the evening was to talk me off the ledge. I had crowd-sourced my therapy.
I had 4 brutally honest dates with 4 exceedingly patient conversationalists, not one of whom I was attracted to (yet each of whom I believe would be considered objectively attractive). Perhaps the one great thing about spiraling depression is that it is absolutely impossible to put on a good face and lie about who you really are. What was most shocking, particularly after escaping a relationship where my emotions were drama and everything was expected to be “all chill” all the time, was how each of these intelligent human beings seemed perfectly happy listening to my bullshit, offering their insight and generally engaging with my madness. Were they crazy? Was I? Did it matter?
Here I was, at my worst with the drummer who advised me to lock up and commit to my passion. Then later that week I met with the polyamorous one who tried to convince me that relationships with things and activities are equal to those with people and that everyone has many which are variously prioritized. Next came the nihilist polyglot with whom I shared universal disillusionment with the world for hours, but whom also worked hard to assure me that I was fine/beautiful/attractive exactly as I was, which at this point was a poorly dressed, unkempt bicycle chick who had been recently told “men are visual” in reference to both her appearance and performance in bed. Lastly came the backwoods also heartsore male whose relationship woes were so similar to my own that we ended up talking to and supporting each other over the phone for weeks before we actually met for a work/coffee date where we merely sat keeping each other company before parting and continuing our therapeutic relationship via technology.
And there I had it, four considerate men who could (and wanted to) carry on a conversation with a fragile female who had no intentions of sleeping with them or necessarily even seeing them again (and I didn’t). Was it real therapy? Probably not. Did it convince me that there are men out there capable of and interested in having emotionally intelligent conversations? Yes. Did it save my mind in a moment of utter loss of self worth and listlessness? Absolutely. Did they come away with anything from it? Well, according to three of them yes, and the other I can simply hope (because I was too chicken to respond to his requests, a rude problem I’m working on).
I don’t have much to say.
I’m still wading through a swamp of confusion, melancholy and white privilege guilt that I have no right to be doing so. But I have managed to stave off backsliding, self-abuse typical of past depressive episodes and, significantly, institutionalization. I’ve been able to keep my job and inch forward on my dissertation research, and I’m approaching an appointment with a real therapist (still 2 weeks out).
So, as much as many I know (most of them in happy partnerships) would like to turn their noses up at an algorithmic approach to love, perhaps it isn’t the matchmaking that should take all the focus. Perhaps it’s the idea that in a society that gives so little attention and support to mental health, the tools of the modern era (beyond a simple google search of “how to stave off spiraling depression”, which I did) can be bent and modified to align with our various unmet needs and that that, in itself, could be a beautiful thing.