DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have some issues not with dating, but with socializing and sexuality, so I was wondering if you could help.
I’m a high school junior who is a socially anxious loner with some mental health struggles and no dating experience (not a big problem for me tho). Socializing, for me, is rough. Recently I’ve been pretty isolated because I don’t put work into socializing because I just really, really don’t feel like it. It baffles me and being alone is just as bad. I feel sad when I’m alone, and envious when I’m with people. Out in public all I wanna do is run away, and alone I just dull myself with activities.��My coping mechanisms are good, but they only provide a temporary fix. Not to mention I’ve been really depressed recently (crying fits, anxiety flare-ups, everything is stressful). I’m really not doing good and I don’t know how to fix my problems. I don’t wanna do the work to socialize, because socializing with acquaintances just makes me feel like s--t when they turn their attention to their real friends, and my self-destructive coldness makes it hard to be close to anyone. I do have social skills and made friends in the past, but I don’t see any real point in socializing anymore. It doesn’t bring me any joy and being near anyone just hurts. I am OBSESSED with my social life, I’m just constantly thinking about how few friends I have/how hard it is/how cool everyone is/how much it sucks. It feels like no matter what I do, I’m not gonna be happy and I’m just gonna keep being some sad sack. But I’m not totally hopeless, I’m just lost.
Not gonna lie, I don’t care about people either. I know you said to be curious about people in an article, but I just don’t wanna force myself to feel anything. Someone I know said I basically just don’t give a crap about social niceties or people’s opinions, and it’s true. I don’t like giving false compliments just to puff people up, and I don’t like it when someone bulls--ts me or is a pushover. I also don’t wanna socialize with people who share my negative traits, such as shyness and friendlessness (I pick them apart aggressively in my mind whenever I am near another awkward person). Toxic, I know, but I keep it in my head. And I don’t wanna be in denial/ashamed anymore of my toxicity – ignoring it won’t help and it’s good to be honest with yourself. Speaking of honesty, I’m scared I might be a covert narcissist due to how closed-off and selfish I can be. (Okay, self-diagnosis is a bit much, but I do think that I’m pretty self-destructive and it’s hard to stop.) I’m a serial ghoster and have hurt many friends that way. I just do it on a whim, it doesn’t even make me feel good, but socializing doesn’t make me feel good these days. It used to be easier when I was doing social anxiety exposure but now that I’ve stopped I just don’t feel like it. Either I’m sad to be alone or I hate to be with people. And tbh I feel really down about myself for basically destroying my own social life out of apathy. Its simpler to ignore people in the short term but the results SUCK.
One more thing – I can’t tell if I’m aro or not. I don’t think I’ve ever had romantic feelings. I’ve had crushes but I’ve never been able to picture myself in a relationship and I don’t know if that’s because of my social woes or because I’m aro. Never really tried to date either: my crushes have all been “follow this person around and try to make them laugh”. I have some sexual attraction, but to be honest, its infrequent and I get confused when I see someone hypothetically attractive and I just feel nothing. I’m more into fictional characters than real people, so maybe I’m something close to lithoromantic? I thought I was bi but maybe I was wrong. Physical touch disgusts me deeply and I don’t think I wanna have sex with anyone. I’ve never done anything intimate with anyone or gotten close, so idk what it would be like for me if I was actually presented with an opportunity, but right now I’m just wondering if I really want or need to date.
What Do I Even Want?
DEAR WHAT DO I EVEN WANT: Alright my dude, I’m pretty sure I know exactly what’s going on here, but before I get into it, I’d like to point out the inherent issue you’re having. You’re desperately lonely… but you don’t want to socialize or do the things that’re necessary to make friends. You hurt while you’re alone, but you also don’t care about other people, being with other people makes you envious and you would rather run away from everyone and try to numb yourself rather than deal with things.
I dunno Shinji, maybe you should just get in the goddamn robot or else Rei is going to have to pilot it again.
Leaving aside that you’re presenting a classic example of the Hedgehog’s Dilemma – you crave intimacy and connection but at the core, you’re also afraid of being hurt and the effort of making those connections hurts – what you’re describing is depression. You hole up by yourself, your coping mechanisms – which are not actually helping – are failing, you’re sad or numb and exhausted all the time, you have no interest in things that would make you happy… these are classic symptoms of chronic depression.
This one of those times when you shouldn’t be talking to a loudmouth with a blog, you should be talking to a therapist. This is the sort of thing that requires effort and outside help; it’s really not something you’re going to fix on your own, nor is it going to go away if you just push at it hard enough. You’re almost certainly going to want to look into antidepressants and possibly combining those with talk therapy to dig into why you’re feeling this weird stew of “go away a little closer”.
And honestly, the sooner you make the appointment, the sooner you’ll start being able to actually work on all of this. I know I talk about how high-school isn’t the most important time of your life so much as the antechamber to growing up, but right now your behavior is causing you actual harm. You’re digging yourself into a hole that is hard to pull out of, turning avoidance from a comping mechanism to a habit… and habits can be hard to break. And in your case, when you’re functionally in a closed system, the more you push people away, the harder it will be to turn around afterwards and say “hey, can we try again?” After all, there’re only so many times you can slap the outstretched hand before people quit offering it to you.
Now it’s important to keep in mind that treating depression is more art than science. Part of the problem is that we don’t fully understand how depression works or why people develop it. Nor do we fully understand how antidepressant medication works, just that it does. But it can take time to find the right medication and the right dosage, and that interim period can be frustrating. How long do you give it before you say “ok, this is the wrong dose/ wrong medication”, and how do you hold on while you try to see if it’s just a matter of letting it build up in your system.
This is part of why the combination of therapies is crucial; one helps with the biological and chemical aspects of depression while the other helps you both manage and mitigate it, giving you the tools to push through the fog. But this requires actual, active effort on your part… and it is going to demand that you do things that right now seem distasteful or repulsive.
Trust me, I know of which I speak. As the saying goes: I’ve been in the hole before and I know the way out. And the way out is going to require that you white-knuckle your way through “I don’t like other people/ making small talk/ social niceties” and to recognize how much of that is your depression talking. Because here’s the thing: depression lies. Depression drips poison in your ear, tells you things that aren’t true and tells them to you in your own voice, so it’s hard to differentiate the two.
All those reasons you come up with to avoid interacting with people? It’s your depression talking. It’s isolating you by telling you that the things you want are out of reach because you don’t want to do the necessary things to achieve them. It’s the voice in your head that says “you don’t want to put up with this, this is all fake bulls--t and who cares?” You have to learn to differentiate between the real you and your depression, and then to ignore when your depression whispers to you in the dark.
Which means that right now, as paradoxical as it sounds, that pain you feel is your saving grace. That pain is real. That pain is your motivation, because you want the pain to stop. But it won’t stop until you take real action.
So do yourself a favor now. Talk to your parents, talk to your school’s guidance counselor, talk to anyone who can help you navigate getting the assistance you need. The sooner you start, the sooner you can start learning to manage things and take your life back.
Everything else – the questions about being asexual or aromantic, about even trying to date – all of those can be put aside for now. Getting a handle on your depression should be your focus; the rest will keep. You just don’t have the energy and emotional bandwidth to actually address those questions.
And here’s the thing: once your depression is managed? A lot of those questions are going to fall away. Depression isn’t just “the blues”, it’s a numbing gray fog that confuses and obscures everything. Once you can lift the fog, the light can shine in and you can see much more clearly. So I suspect that once you’re in a better place, the questions about love, intimacy and connection are going to seem far less daunting and much clearer than they are now.
TL;DR: you’re dealing with serious depression and you need to talk to a mental health professional. Make taking care of this your priority for now; the rest will be waiting for you when you’re ready.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org