by Dan Savage
I’m a 41-year-old straight-identified woman. I’m SO LONELY and I can’t live like this anymore. I’m shy, awkward, emotionally inhibited, and extremely averse to being vulnerable. Most of my “romantic” life has consisted of one-night stands and casual dating. Until I met “Ryan.” I fell hard for this guy in a way that I didn’t expect or even know was possible. We were compatible in so many ways. I trusted him, the sex was amazing, he made me laugh, and I just felt safe and comfortable in his presence.
We dated for about a year and a half. The story of our demise is long, but basically it comes down to a) we were looking for different things; b) he was going through an ugly divorce throughout our relationship and was hurting; c) he was dealing with some mental health issues, including depression and possibly alcoholism, for which he was unwilling to seek out meaningful treatment; and d) I think I just loved him more than he loved me. The end wasn’t quick. We broke up but because I just couldn’t get over him, we kept using each other for sex for another eight months. Meaning, he would ghost me for weeks and then he would reach out and I would come running. I knew how much pain and damage this was causing me, but I let it continue because I just couldn’t let him go. Now, I haven’t heard from him for a year. I’m pretty much “over” him. I’m no longer pining for him and don’t want to be with him. When I think about him I mostly feel angry. And sad.
The thing is that I have been totally traumatized by this relationship. I can’t imagine putting myself through this again. I never—NEVER—want to feel again like I’ve felt for the past two years. I spent at least a year after our initial break-up wanting to kill myself on a daily basis because I was so heartbroken. I’ve been nearly asexual since all this went down as well. I can’t stand the idea of being touched by someone. It’s just been the past couple of months that I’ve started masturbating again. And that’s not because I’m horny, it’s because I’ve sort of “forced” myself to do it. BUT I AM SO LONELY. While I can’t bear the thought of dating or putting myself out there, I can’t stand being alone either. I don’t want to be alone for the rest of my life. I’m on some dating sites, and occasionally I’ll scroll through profiles, but I’m just not interested in any of these guys, or in going through the process of “getting to know” someone, never mind the thought of getting vulnerable again.
Plot twist: I have a huge crush on the woman who trains my dog (a year ago I impulsively adopted the dog, who’s wonderful, in an effort to keep myself from committing suicide—it’s worked). I don’t know what this is about. I’ve had minor crushes on women before, but this is a little more intense. I think about her all the time, and have sexual fantasies about her, which I’ve NEVER experienced about a woman before. But she’s the only person I’ve encountered since Ryan that has even woken this up in me. However, she’s too young for me (25ish), I have no idea if she’s into me, and I have no idea if she even likes girls. So, I have no intention of even touching that.
But what do I do? How do I get to a place where I’m willing to date and put myself out there? Or get to a place where I’m ok with being alone for the rest of my life? Am I even asking the right questions? I am in therapy, by the way (consistently since I was 19). We talk about this a bit, but not much. Please help. I would really respect your perspective.
So Lonely And Past My Endurance
It’s only been a year since your traumatic breakup with Ryan—not a year since the official breakup, but a year since Ryan last “reached out” and you last came running. A year may be a long time to grieve a two-years-and-change relationship (lumping that year and a half together with the eight months of using each other for sex), SLAPME, but it’s not inconceivable for someone to be hurting that long. Nor is it a sign you’re hopelessly broken. And if your entire adult romantic life has consisted of one-night stands and casual relationships prior to Ryan, well, it’s that much more understandable you would be wrecked after getting dumped by the first guy you ever fell for.
This is your first breakup, SLAPME, and first breakups are the worst breakups.
Give yourself permission to grieve this relationship, SLAPME, both retroactively and going forward. Feel the fuck out of your feelings because what other choice do you have? But you can feel the fuck out of your feelings without wallowing in them—meaning, you can feel, feel, feel and still get the fuck out of the house, go places, do shit, hang out with friends, and just generally distract yourself. Basically, SLAPME, don’t be so laser-focused on your grief that you miss out on life—or miss signs you may be turning a corner. Reading your letter I detected three signs, all good ones, that you’ve either overlooked or discounted: a) You recently resumed masturbating; b) you’re scrolling through profiles on dating sites again; c) you’ve developed a crush on on someone else.
Yeah, yeah: You had to force yourself to masturbate. So what? Some cases of heartbreak are so severe people have to force themselves to bathe, SLAPME, and that doesn’t mean they’re not really bathing. And just as some heartbroken people have to force themselves to get out of the house and think about something else for ten minutes before it stops feeling forced, you may have to force yourself to masturbate a few dozen times before it stops feeling forced. But keep at it and one day soon you’ll have a wank and only afterwards realize that you didn’t have to force yourself and that you didn’t think about him before, during, or immediately after either.
And looking at dating sites? Again, a good sign. You may not be ready to click on anyone’s profile just yet, SLAPME, but you can’t predict when you’ll spot someone who intrigues you enough to send a message. It could be a week from now, it could be a year from now. However long it takes, SLAPME, you’ll be in the right place—on that dating site—when you do run across that first post-Ryan profile that moves you to respond.
And your crush? Instead of feeling frustrated by the hopelessness of it—you’re usually not into women, you don’t know if she’s gay or bi, there’s a big age difference—why not appreciate the favor your libido is doing you? Your libido—your desire for sex and your capacity to find other people attractive—is reminding you that, hey, it exists. And maybe by focusing on someone you probably can’t have, SLAPME, your libido is doing you the added favor of keeping the stakes low. It’s like your libido is giving you something specific to masturbate about without rushing you into anything you may not be ready for.
As for loneliness generally, well, what I told “Sad Londoner Avoiding Pain” here applies to you…
I’m not going to lie to you, SLAP: Some people wind up alone and you could be one of those people. The trick, as I’ve long said, is to build a life for yourself that’s rich and rewarding whether or not you have a partner—and it’s not like having a partner is the everlasting key to happiness, SLAP, as you know…. [And even] if you were to meet someone tomorrow and fall in love and get married, SLAP, you could still wind up alone. [Because] people have this bad habit of dropping dead. People get cancer, people get hit by cars, people get dead in all sorts of creative and alarming ways. If we don’t gives ourselves permission to discover and then do the things that give us joy regardless of our relationship statuses, SLAP, we’re setting ourselves up for misery—and making it easier for shitty people to exploit or abuse us.
We should all try to get to a place where we’re “ok with being alone” because we could all wind up alone—even those of us who are currently partnered could wind up alone again. You weren’t alone two years ago and and you are now, SLAPME. If you made an effort to build a life that was less isolating, partner or no partner, you wouldn’t feel so lonely now that you’re between partners. And it’s not too late to build that kind of life for yourself. As for putting ourselves back out there after getting our hearts stomped, well, it’s pretty simple: We just have to be willing to risk the pain. Pain is a part of life, SLAPME, partnered or solo; pain is a part of all relationships, however long or short they may be. We just have to be willing to endure our share.
Finally, SLAPME, at the start of your letter you say Ryan’s refusal to seek meaningful treatment for his depression and alcoholism was one of of the reasons your relationship ended. (Didn’t fail, SLAS, ended.) Then at the end of your letter you mention being in therapy yourself but that you’ve only “[talked with your therapist] about this a bit.” And by “this” you mean the most painful experience of your life, something that seems to have derailed you emotionally, a series of events that left you contemplating suicide on a daily basis. How meaningful is the treatment you’re receiving—or how seriously are you taking your treatment—if you aren’t talking about this with your therapist at length?
Impeach the motherfucker already! Get your ITMFA buttons, t-shirts, hats and lapel pins and coffee mugs at www.ITMFA.org!
Tickets to HUMP 2019 are on sale now! Get them here!