I got tired. After three years of writing this column, I decided to take a break last May.
Then I got anxious. One of the best outlets I know for anxiety is writing, and through that, identifying with others. If I can utilize my own experiences, however shitty, as a little floodlight for what others are going through, it kind of makes the shit less shitty.
So I’ve decided to bring back the column, and do it in the style of some of my favorite pieces from So Sad Today Column 1.0: as an advice column.
Dear So Sad Today,
I am a gay male who is new to the dating scene and I can't help but form obsessions with guys I talk to online (this also bleeds into obsessing about fictional characters). For example: I'm talking to this one guy now for about a month. He doesn't live near me but is planning to move at some point, so we've been facetiming. If he doesn't text me, I feel rejected and deeply hurt. Like, it throws me off very badly. If we don't facetime for a day, it honestly ruins my day. I check to see if he's liking things on Instagram and the whole nine. Pathetic. I want to so badly stop feeling this way. My friends are like "you guys have never met" and I GET that, but I don’t know. My therapist says it's something like "rejection sensitivity"? Whatever it is, it’s horrible. Help.
Dear Heartache 2.0,
I’m not going to tell you to stop internet dating, or to only date people who are available (or, god forbid, not fictional), because that would have a twinge of judgment and I don’t want to judge you any harder than you are already judging yourself. Also, in judging you I would also be judging myself (which, I actually feel more comfortable doing than judging you, but I digress) because we are wired the same way.
But one thing to consider when Internet dating, or fantasizing about a real person we’ve never met, is that we are comparing our insides to their outsides. Our insides are itchy, messy, labyrinthine, swampy places to live—the antithesis of what we see when we look at an image of a person online (or the image they provide us in a few conversations) and they appear to be tied up in a neat bow. Even if they project some messiness, it can seem cute compared to the feeling of living inside yourself.
Your therapist may be right about rejection sensitivity (some people can more easily shrug off a perceived slight than others). But I’d say what’s even more important is that you observe what you are getting from the interaction—and what you feel you are losing when it dissipates. We tend to repeat behaviors that cause us pain, because they also serve us, or seem to serve us, in some way. What need is this filling for you?
I know that these behaviors “serve” me by providing me with dopamine surges and adrenaline escapes. Romantic obsession is way less about the person I’m obsessed with than the pursuit of that rush inside myself, a druglike high, an ability to flee uncomfortable feelings (especially boredom). There is something about choosing unavailable people that makes this possible—a constant up and down—which an available person doesn’t provide.
If this is the case for you, maybe there are some other healthy ways to get your dopamine on, so that people can just be people and not human drug vials.
Dear So Sad Today,
To others I seem either too silent or too panicky, and I usually get remarks about both in the same outing. It is tiring. My journey towards becoming better (read: more socially adept) seems to have stopped to a halt. When I hear of people who somehow manage to mask their feelings of inadequacy/occasional disconnectedness it frustrates me even more. Like, I know some social butterflies and at least a few have come out to me about how hard it is, talking to people and putting on a smile. But I desperately desire their skills to hide that which is unsavory. I feel that, if I showed myself to the world as one who belongs to it, I would have more resources to truly fix myself. Any tips on how to fake wellness?
Messier than Most
Dear Messier than Most,
There is a common phrase, Fake it till you make it, which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I sometimes think of myself like a train, in that my actions are the conductor and my feelings are the caboose. If I move a muscle and get out of myself, maybe even help another person, my mind follows suit. The less time I spend in my mind, the better.
That being said, I also feel like there is something special about those of us who cannot tolerate small talk. It’s like when other people are talking about bullshit, we’re plugged into some completely alternate frequency that’s saying, Don’t you see that we are alive right now and it’s kind of fucking weird? What we call anxiety is, in part, a deeper sensitivity or awareness. I’d hate to see you lose that in trying to appear like everyone else. I also wonder what else you would lose? You might miss those things.
This doesn’t mean that you should have to suffer unnecessarily. It can be very painful to be so sensitive, and it’s important to cultivate practices for genuine wellness before we try to fake it. For me, this includes: medication as prescribed by a psychiatrist, therapy, sobriety, meditation, running, and writing.
But if you are taking decent care of yourself, you might want to consider that maybe your reactions to the world aren’t so strange. Maybe it is you who is sane in perceiving the strangeness of it all and the world that has lost its mind. And remember! Most people aren’t even paying that much attention to you, because they’re thinking about themselves.
Got questions for So Sad Today? Send them here.