Dear Steve: Obsession and Identity
Mar 24, 2013
My dear friend A. recently revealed to me that she’s bisexual, or whatever you want to call it — I’m no more comfortable with that term than I am with the term “gay,” but you know what I mean. I’m pretty sure female homosexuality is a whole different beast from the male variety, but some of the stuff is just Human Stuff.
Anyway, A. said I should feel free to publish some of our exchanges here. I didn’t even ask her, she just suggested it. Ain’t that generous? Even in the middle of all the hurt and confusion she’s passing through, she wants to help everybody she can. What a lady.
(Of course, if you feel like letting me publish your exchanges with me, let me know; otherwise I consider them strictly off limits.)
Here’s a bit from a recent email, with A.’s bits as block quotes.
You said another crush ended when you became close with the person, and had to deal with jealousy more rarely. That is why I’m writing again. I have had that kind of crush on my roommate [...] since I was a freshman.
Oh, that’s really hard, and it’s a long time! I don’t mean it’s unusual that it should last that long; unfortunately, when we have these kinds of relationships where we are actually close to the person and not just wishing we were, this can last quite a long time. I dunno if I will ever not have a little bit of a crush on [...], but it does seem to lessen with every year that I know him, probably because my “crushed identity” (I like the way you put it) has been growing bit by bit during that time.
As long as it leans toward idealization, it’s miserable but not as bad as it could be—because lately I think my crushed identity is trying to grow back a little, and it wants to achieve that with anger. Anger is so unacceptable, and so hard to control. She hasn’t done a thing to deserve it, and she always notices it. So then I turn it inward, and just get angry at myself — not a good option either.
Huh. Hm. Yes, I think I understand. You want to assert yourself, to show her that you’re not just some kind of imperfect copy of her but are your own self — but all she’s done to provoke this is to be her own self. Anger is really hard. I definitely get like this sometimes around one of my friends, and I think this is a helpful insight that you have. I guess the question is what would be a healthy way to focus that anger.
Recently we almost had a fight for the first time (this girl is one of my best friends.) She had talked to me less, being depressed herself. I reacted with hurt, and then with desperation, and then smothered her with attention and increasingly desperate and clumsy attempts to make her smile, which she (probably rightly) interpreted as anger, and stayed away from me. Eventually I did the grown-up thing and told her that I idealize her, etc, and she took it very well, told me there was no reason to be insecure, etc, and we are fine again.
Oh, well, good for you! I do recognize this situation, and you handled it considerably better than I did at your age.
But I don’t want it to happen again, and every day it’s close to spiraling out of control.
Is it possible to limit your contact with her for a while? I find that, with certain friends of mine, if I am making a point to see them all the time and going out of my way to talk to them, and things like that, these flare-ups take longer to die down. I don’t mean you actually have to avoid the person — and of course, since she’s your roommate, that would be impossible — I just mean making a positive effort to focus on the other people in your life for a while. If you do that, you could consider telling [...] that that’s what you’re going to try to do, so she won’t think you’re mad at her — if you think that conversation would be okay to have. On the other hand, if that conversation sounds like a weird idea, then it probably is.
I know the feeling of not-wanting-it-to-happen-again. The truth is that it very well might happen again, but will probably be not as bad next time, because you will recognize it earlier and deal with it better. I say this because I find that thinking to myself “THIS MUST NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN” puts me under a lot of stress and can make things worse — whereas saying, “Okay, this could happen again, but I’ll keep a watch on myself if I’m in a situation where it’s likely, and it probably won’t be as bad this time” can help me keep calm.
Anyway, help! I need to learn to separate my own identity from [...]’s, I need to learn to let her alone a little bit, and not be so paranoid about her attentions, ultimately, not to care so much about what she thinks of me. It’s exhausting! And I need to keep anger out of the mix entirely.
Last part first — “keeping anger out of the mix entirely” is kind of the same thing as saying “this must never happen again”. If you think about it that way, it’ll be easier to freak out when you start to feel anger, because you’ll go “Oh no, HERE IT IS AGAIN!” So, I don’t think you can keep anger out entirely, or at least not right away. You can get better at recognizing what triggers the anger, and where it comes from, and who or what exactly you’re angry at, and that’ll help to diffuse the anger a lot.
About separating your own identity from [...]‘s — yeah, I understand what you mean. I think Other People can be the most helpful for this. In my life I have obsessions that come and go, but then I also have friends who are old standbys, who make me feel comfortable and at peace. Those friendships are easy to take for granted sometimes, because the obsessive friendships are more exciting and dramatic. But I find that when I spend time with those people, it re-centers me and reminds me, “Oh, I actually am somebody, with characteristics, and a way of speaking, and things that I like — all these things that have no reference at all to [the person I'm obsessed with].” That’s really, really helpful, and sometimes you need to make a positive effort to spend time with those people even when you aren’t really excited about doing so.
Is this the same exact problem I wrote to you about before? I forget. It seems new.
I forget too. And I forget whether I’m saying the exact same things. I don’t think it matters, either way. Occasionally I’ll have some fantabulous epiphany, and then find in my journal that I had the same exact epiphany six years ago. Oops. What most people need is to realize the same things over and over, until they really sink in.
Love and prayers,