Long-distance tolls

Dr. Daley on Sex and Relationships

Long-distance tolls

photo / Fort Drastic 

Dear Dr. Daley: I’m a 23-year-old guy who has only been in two serious relationships: The first one was five years ago and lasted for four months. She was someone I went to high school with, and after a year of flirting we finally got together the night before graduation. She left the next day for college, but we continued our relationship anyway. It wound up being a lot of phone calls and only a few random visits for a day at a time, and eventually things fell apart.

Anyway, I swore I’d never fall in love again, but I eventually did. This girl and I were together for three months and everything was incredible, and then I moved to LA to pursue acting (I’d been planning this move long before I met her). We decided to stay together while I was out there, because I promised I’d come home for summer. But the day I got back, she dumped me. It came out of nowhere and was a total shock – there were seriously no signs. I’m still not over her even though it’s been six months. I just can’t help but feel that she’s my soulmate. How am I supposed to stop these feelings?

Flying in the face of popular belief, some researchers have suggested that men fall in love much faster than women do. Were you one of the participants in that study? Once you gave your heart to Woman #2, it was gone – and you won’t have it back any time soon. I’ll get to recovery in a minute.

First you need to think about your vulnerability. Why do you fall so hard so fast? The “soulmate” thing makes me a little nervous: Does that mean there’s only one on the planet? What if she lives in Tokyo? Or do you feel like the right sweetheart makes you feel like a whole person at last? Think about your history of loss – and I don’t mean just girlfriends. It sounds like there is some old loneliness in you waiting to be mended. You spent several years practically phobic about falling in love, as if you suspected you might risk too much heartbreak. I’m not saying that we should recover from being dumped within 48 hours, but you wouldn’t be writing this letter if you were having a “normal” recuperation.

It’s worth admitting that the first six months of a love relationship are pretty much a matter of projection. Since we can’t truly know another person in such a short period of time (let’s face it: You don’t know what #2 was like during holidays, with her family, when things went bad, when you busted your leg skiing, when the two of you ran out of money – you know, real life stuff), the early months of romance are filled with all our hopes and dreams and wishes. This is the person I’ve been waiting for. Dare I say, “soulmate?” It sounds like one of the first reality-based things you learned about #2 was that she’s not up for a long-term commitment. Ouch.

If you can’t handle anything negative about Dream Girl, skip this paragraph. You say she gave no indication while you were in LA. If this is true, there are several possibilities: She is a bullshit artist, and you are well rid of her; you loved her a whole lot more than she loved you; or, you made the commitment part of the relationship up in your head. On the other hand, if she did put out some clues that this relationship wasn’t working, you were out in La La Land in more ways than one. Next time, pay attention. Okay, I’m done with the mean part. On to your recovery.

If you are of a psychoanalytic cast of mind, read Freud’s essay “Mourning and Melancholia,” which talks about why some recoveries from loss are exponentially more difficult than others. Here’s my take on it: When someone you love takes off, they leave with parts of you. The person you were when you were with them: bright, charming, funny, caring, tender, passionate, etc. You need to figure out which parts she took off with, and then reclaim them as your own. This does not happen overnight (although I bet some of those parts of yourself keep showing up in the dreams you have about her). Write a letter to #2 explaining the whole thing in bloodcurdling detail, then throw the letter away. This is not about her. Put the experience into your acting.

And while it’s not a good idea to jump from bed to bed in search of yourself, locking yourself away from relationships won’t work, either. You can recapture some of those aspects of yourself in good close friendships and casual “dating” (or whatever it’s called this month). Get out and play. And hope your next soulmate lives in your area code.

Going in too hard

Dear Dr. Daley: I tend to scare women away by trying too hard. I’m thinking that I probably come off as desperate, and that can’t be a good thing. What can I do to chill out a bit? Or will “the one” find this charming?

As you have discovered, women can smell desperation from ten miles away. Maybe this just means “the one” hasn’t hacked her way through the forest of desperate suitors yet. Maybe she decided to go to nursing school and earn money putting her caregiving skills to good use. Maybe she’s at an Al-Anon meeting. You’ll either have to be patient or get to work on a personality that’s a little less Intensive Care and a little more excellent candidate.

photo / Kevin Cease 

By now we’re all curious as to why you are desperate. Are you so messy you haven’t been able to get anyone’s real phone number? If there are aspects of your physical self that could stand improvement, improve them. If you are sure you are fine in this department, ask a trusted female for her opinions. (Not Mom. If she was the first trusted female to come to mind, you need help beyond the scope of this column.) The same goes for some of your behaviors: It will take a real friend to tell you that your jokes aren’t funny, you shouldn’t clip two-for-one dinner coupons on a first date, or your drinking habits stopped being entertaining by the middle of your sophomore year in college. Make sure no more than 10% of your sentences start with “I.” Refuse to give in to the temptation to phone a new prospect 17 times a day. Quit describing your apartment as “in need of a woman’s touch.”

If you embark on every weekend with the aim of Getting Laid because you can’t remember the last time you had sex with another person in the room, I suggest you give up sex as a goal and take up a contact sport. That way you can have lots of physical connection and be clear about “winning” and “losing.” Most women hate being treated like holes. Plus, every woman in the bar has watched you hit on female after female all night, working your way from the runway model types to the 60-year-old barfly who’s been on that same stool since lunchtime. Your desperation is showing, and it is not attractive.

While we’re on the subject, I’ve noticed that desperate people generally have a volcano of rage simmering right below that hangdog surface. All a new woman has to do is excuse herself to use the facilities and you feel here’s another one putting her needs in front of your own. BAM! It’s as if all the anger over all those rejections has been stored up for years, just waiting for the right bitch to explode on. I strongly recommend you take a look at this possibility and see a therapist to de-fuse some of the resentment in a harmless way. It hurts to be rejected, and you need to work through the scars.

Meanwhile, how to not come off like some needy adolescent hollow-legged sponge? For one thing, you need to have a life that pleases you so that a relationship would be a pleasant addition and not a means to make you a Whole Person. Make use of your desperation to fuel your body: Get on your bike, sign up for a triathlon, take a few rowing classes. Take a course in a subject that interests you. Do some volunteer work. In other words, put some of your considerable energy into something unrelated to your lonely, desperate self. At the very least, you’ll make yourself more interesting to be around.

About the author Dr. Nancy Daley is a licensed psychologist and adjunct assistant professor who teaches Human Sexuality at The University of Texas at Austin. If you would like to submit questions for her to answer in this column, please send them to drdaley at thatotherpaper dot com.

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Anonymous's picture

“Most women hate being treated like holes.”

That is hilarious! Lovely and frank writing.