Dear Steve: Obsession and Identity

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,

12 Comments on “Dear Steve: Obsession and Identity”

  1. Christie says:

    Every situation is different, so forgive if this sounds like blah-blah-blah, and your’e thinking “I didn’t ask for advice,” . . . bad way to start off. What I should say is: some of this conversation sounds very familiar. I didn’t want to not put this out there, in case it could be helpful.

    A lot of times obsession like that, regardless of whether it is gay or straight, is a sort of codependency, and even people in a loving marriage may lose their identity to the other person’s, and that’s just not healthy. I’ve been married for four years, a very difficult relationship (we are actually separated), and I’ve had to learn how to be able to separate my needs and wants and expectations from the ideal husband I (think I) want and who he really is. Like you two mentioned idealizing A.’s roommate. I’m learning that slowly but surely, the more I am able process that no one can fill that neediness in me except for God, and put it into practice, the healthier my relationships are.

    Have you or A. considered group therapy or Al-Anon, to learn about how to interact in healthy ways with other people? I attend group therapy, which basically puts into practice The Imitation of Christ, though there are people of all walks of faith that attends. It is a safe place to learn about healthy interacting, from people who will be honest with you without being hurtful. And of course, what happens in group stays in group.

    May God and His Mother comfort you both and bring you healing.

  2. Tamara says:

    Is it possible that the many feelings and difficulties that arise in A’s life are not sexual problems at all, but only sexually complicated? I am not bisexual, but I have had to grow out of or continue to struggle with the same feelings. For me it was a desire for more connectedness, trust and friendship. Our world tends to sexualize everything, and I believe that this masks the true issues so they become unsolvable. Could an absolute avoidance of sexualizing relationships for a period of time not give life a chance to work itself out?
    I like the Al-Anon idea. Also Fr. Emmerich Vought has a 12 step program that is amazing.

    1. A. says:

      Tamara, you are dead on about it being sexually complicated. Steve tells me the obsession problem is not uniquely homosexual, but certainly exacerbated by that particular problem. It flared up at the same time that my bisexuality did, though– but certainly part of that is all the insecurities and identity problems that that poses for me.

      1. Tamara says:

        I really can’t stress enough the healing effect that Fr. Emmerich Voght’s cds and 12 steps have had on people I know, including myself. They are not miracles or magic, but they are very helpful tools. The 12 Step Review deals with all kinds of addictions and life complications, and the wounds that they cause. Also there is the healing and deliverance prayers. They are awesome! They focus on personal healing through Christ to be able to deal charitably with others in life. Life is hard but God is good; He has destined us each for greatness, despite our struggles and failures and confusion. That is a testament to His goodness and power!

  3. lilacs says:

    Yes, I was going to mention the same thing as Christie (above)–that this can happen in marriage too! My husband and I got married young and didn’t yet have strong, mature separate identities, and spent all our time together, and then had a very hard time later on developing our own interests and learning how to create a good balance of time together and time alone, without being too dependent on eachother. I’m not sure if this is the same thing as you’re talking about, but it did help me a lot to realize that my problems were (partly) stemming from not knowing myself well enough and not developing my own independent identity well enough.

  4. RS says:

    Why is everybody always trying to re-invent the wheel/ These questions were answered in Plato’s Phaedrus 2400 years ago. A search of your site for that term came back as: “I’m not even sure such a word exists”. Sigh….

    Plato describes the feelings stirred by eros, and all of their accompanying deleriums, as the most beautiful tokens of our divinity we shall ever experience. Gratitude, not grousing, is the appropriate response:-)

    1. Oh dude seriously? Try experiencing persistent eros for your roommate for months on end and see how grateful you are about it. Damn.

  5. MV says:

    I really want to thank you two, Steve and A., for sharing your discussion.
    **As this comment ended up being a lot longer than originally intended, I will also submit it as its own independent Q+A**
    I can really relate to A., as I have lately been struggling with a crush on (and obsession with) a male friend of mine. I’ll call him P.
    We are both freshmen in college and live on the same floor. This is how we came to be friends. Throughout the course of this year I have developed feelings for him, which were fostered by his (apparently unintentional) flirtatious behavior.
    Less than a month ago, he became the first person I ever came out to, on the same day that he came out to me. I proceeded to tell him about my feelings for him, but they are not mutual. In fact, he recently started seeing someone else.
    Because of this situation, I also have been wrestling lately with anger, as well as jealousy and depression. Like A.’s roommate, P. hasn’t done anything to deserve my anger. As A. did, I have been turning my anger inwards, resulting into bouts of self-hatred and depression. I’m relatively good at not showings emotions, so either he hasn’t noticed a change or he just chooses to ignore it. He acts exactly as before all this surfaced: perfectly friendly and always cheery. I don’t know how to feel about this. Part of me is bothered by it, that he is ignoring the reality of the situation. Yet at the same time I am appreciative that he is still willing to try at least to be my friend.
    Though I haven’t been outwardly angry, all of my communication and interaction with him has certainly changed to a reserved and somber nature, a minimalist approach if you will; a natural response to save myself from pain. Is this the correct thing to do?
    I suppose if I have a question it is this: how should I proceed? Should I try to act as if nothing is different, and fake happiness, when his presence in reality brings me pain? Is a friendship with him still possible, or even healthy?
    I fear that I won’t ever be able to get over P. and move on unless I distance myself and cut all ties to him.

    1. Thank you for writing, Michael! Answering via email some time within the next week or so. Peace and a happy Holy Week to you. Hang in there.

  6. MV says:

    Oh! And I forgot one of the most important parts: I am also Catholic, and struggling to reconcile SSA and my faith.

  7. marie hoge says:

    It doesn’t matter who you are as you are what you love, and love is the one truth that is constant. I am 68 woman, married to a 73 year old man, have a 39 year old daughter who has moved to Brazil to share a life with a Brazilian woman, both so in love and I am so happy she has found her true love. My daughter has become a Catholic and would love to marry, she says the church doesn’t allow it. I just don’t understand why the church won’t bless their union. I just want to say thank you for your blog. One question, what is SSA. Oldies don’t know all these shortcuts. Marie

  8. Shay says:


    SSA stands for same sex attraction. I’m glad you support your daughter and I’m happy to hear she found love. The Catholic Church is very set in this subject, although recently it has proven to be a divisive subject even within the Vatican. Lets pray that some day the Church learns to love all it’s members equally and fully, not merely just provide a facsimile to gay people.

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