“Why do I keep having drunken sex with someone who isn’t very nice to me?” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I am a 28-year-old woman. For six months I have been involved in a sexual relationship with a man who does not value me. He is in the same social circles, so I see him frequently, and we only ever go home together when we’re out and have been drinking until the early hours with the wider group. Before I slept with him, he was much more interested, attentive. He’d be in touch. Now we are never in touch until I see him out and then find myself in bed with him later that night. I have told him repeatedly I don’t want to do it any more. I fancy him and want there to be an opportunity for something to develop. But he has said he does not feel the same way. I want to move on from this, but why do I keep putting myself back in this situation with him and expecting a different result? To make matters worse, he’s not particularly nice to me and takes great joy in telling people that he has slept with me, which really offends me. What can I do to put an end to this? I will still see him in a social setting and don’t want to excise myself from my other friends.

 This letter appeared first in the Observer.

My Thoughts:

It sounds very much as though you are sleeping with this man precisely because he’s not very nice to you. There seems to be something addictive about the apparent chance of ‘finding yourself’ in bed with him, as though neither of you takes any responsibility for the event -it’s all part of being  young and fun. And yet…

It is interesting that you say  ‘touching’ means that you are less ‘in touch’. You say he has made himself clear, but this is not the case – he is still going to bed with you, however much he says he is not interested in you. And you have not made yourself clear to him either. You have told him ‘repeatedly’ you want to stop, yet you carry on. Your bodies are expressing your unconscious desires while you vocalise the opposite. The fact that you both have to be drunk to have sex suggests that you need to remain totally oblivious to your motivations and in denial about them.

 Then, perhaps when you are sober, you lie to each other. You would like to blame him for somehow seducing you after drinking and then being cruel to you in public, but you are not buffeted by fate in the way you suggest. You go to bed with him because you have chosen to, not because you ‘end up’ there. You are getting something out of the situation and you will find it hard to leave unless you understand what makes you stay.

The group dynamic is interesting – that you are both part of this group that goes out on the town, drinking late and, at least ostensibly, having fun. I wonder whether he is the most immediately attractive member of the group? I suspect he is and that in some way you are invoking the envy of the rest of the group by sleeping with him. Perhaps you feel less a fundamental member of the group than the others and envy them – therefore you are trying to turn the tables. This, of course, is just a guess.

If it is right, then I wonder if you are perhaps replaying something from your family life. Did you feel left out of your parents’ relationship, or your siblings’ relationship with your parents? If so, then sleeping with the alpha male (father figure) in your group, might well be something you partly want to keep secret from them and partly want them to know. It sounds as though you are shouting to the group – ‘I am desirable and important!’ But this abusive man is saying to you – ‘No, you’re not!’

There is a sadomasochistic element that can’t be ignored. You are allowing yourself to feel abused, telling him you don’t like it and then doing it over and over again. The cruelty seems to be part of the attraction, something you can’t let go of. I suspect that you ignore or accept cruelty as part of an intimate relationship because you are not familiar with relationships from which cruelty is completely absent. As I say, it is not the downside to what is going for you, it is the attraction itself. Why you invite someone to abuse you is what you need to ask yourself.

You say you want the relationship to develop but I doubt that’s really true. In fantasy, maybe, but if he were keen and committed I suspect you would be very fearful. This is a relationship without intimacy and one in which you are not ‘in touch’. That suggests that being truly in touch with someone might be very unfamiliar and therefore frightening for you.

From this point of view your age is perhaps relevant. You are perhaps thinking about fertility and a stable partner. Given the emphasis you put on the group’s party atmosphere it sounds as though you are trying to prolong your youth and ignore (denial is very key for you) the aging process. The longer you go on having casual sex with someone who doesn’t like you, the longer you put off thinking about stability and possibly children. Your behaviour, and his, of course, is a defense against annihilation (inevitably futile).

Proper Advice via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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“I am unhappy because my husband is mean. How can I change him?” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I’m 38 and have been married for 15 years. With two daughters, aged 12 and ten, we’ve generally been happy, but I feel our future is under threat.

My husband runs his own business from home and works extremely hard. Living with such a driven perfectionist, it’s very hard to measure up.

I can’t really get excited about housework, especially when it’s never good enough, and I also have a well-paid job, but it’s one that doesn’t really tick all my boxes. I have a good education, was a PA before having children and am studying for a qualification in accounting.

I wish my husband could understand that looking after children and running the home is hard work – and a job in itself.

I feel guilty if I so much as read a paper for five minutes, because he’s working in his office.

Woe betide me if I’m ‘caught out’. I’ll often hear him say: ‘It’s all right for you, I have to work’, as if what I do isn’t important.

I’m constantly being hauled up over minor things and I really hate it. I’ve tried to tell him how I feel, but he says I’m being over-sensitive.

Although he never works at weekends, all his energies are concentrated on the garden, which is of massive importance in his life.

It’s lovely, but never ‘finished’ – and we very rarely actually enjoy it. Work on it comes before everything else and is the source of endless rows because I feel he should be spending time with the children.

I’ve tried to make this point, but he says no one else will do the garden. He’s missing out on so much – but he’s not going to change after 15 years.

I really want us to stay together as I do love him, and I don’t want to deprive our girls of their father – but I feel I’m sacrificing too much of myself if things stay as they are.

You’ll suggest counselling, but the hard part is convincing him that things are that bad!

Five years ago I was diagnosed with depression, but manage fairly well. But, as with any problem, everyone thinks that when you behave a certain way, then it’s the illness talking, and not you, which causes me immense frustration.

I tried counselling via Relate a few years ago, but there was little they could do without my husband’s involvement.

I don’t want to meet anyone else; I want to sort out this marriage – but I don’t know how.

I’ve obviously tried to talk to my husband, but find it hard to control my feelings and it usually turns into a row.

He thinks I’m always criticising, so I’m at a loss as to how best to approach this whole subject. How can this be, considering I’m an intelligent woman?

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail.

My answer:
This letter has a strange beginning. You say you’ve ‘generally been happy’ but no happiness comes across. The word ‘hard’ comes up twice in the first few lines and ‘under threat’ appears almost immediately. It is clear that you are struggling, but also that you find it very hard to admit that you are struggling. It’s easier to blame someone else for the struggle…

You instantly accuse your husband of being a ‘driven perfectionist’ to whom you can’t ‘measure up.’ It seems that reader is supposed to feel that you are being bullied and dominated by a man who accuses you of failing to perform perfect housework and cannot appreciate the work you do at home.

This may well be the case (and he sounds like a classic bully – looking for errors and negating your misery with the ‘over sensitive’ label) but I think it’s a bit more complicated than that. You say yourself that your job isn’t fulfilling and you feel the need to stress that you are not only educated but that you are continuing to be educated. You finish by citing your intelligence – you wouldn’t need to stress it if you really believed it.  It sounds as though your self esteem is under attack not only from your husband, but from yourself as well. You say you can’t get ‘excited’ about housework and there is a tone of denigration there that suggests your share your husband’s views to some extent but resent him for expressing them. ‘Woe betide’ has an ironic tone that again bats away the depth of the abuse you are allowing yourself to suffer.

You say you feel guilty when you’re reading the paper, not that he tells you to put it down and this makes you angry. Your guilt is your own even if the aggression is his. If you know you work hard why do you need him to confirm this? It seems that you actually worry about not doing enough and this comes from you alone. He just backs up what is already a harsh super ego.

Obviously you resent the work your husband does on the garden and you tell him so – it is the source of ‘endless rows’. Then you say ‘he’s not going to change after 15 years.’ What about you? Might you change? You say you can’t persuade him that there’s a problem, that you went to couples counseling alone and that you do want to stay together.

Eventually we arrive at the most important part of the letter which is, of course, your depression. You cope with it, you say, not giving any detail or any sense of what the source of the depression might be or how exactly you cope with it. Medication? It sounds more as though you grit your teeth. I wonder if you have had any psychotherapy?  I rather doubt it. You feel the depression allows people to dismiss your genuine misery but, in turn, you yourself dismiss the depression and the extent of your misery.

I think this situation is a lot worse than it sounds. Underlying the domestic irritation is a great deal of despair. You feel persecuted by your husband and he apparently feels you are persecuting him when you try to raise your issues. You say ‘he always thinks I’m criticising’ and, by the sounds of it, you are indeed attacking him as he attacks you. You want him to change. You are locked into some kind of sadomasochistic exchange that neither of you feels able to get out of. I wonder if he knows how unhappy you are? I wonder if he would care? Is he hiding in the garden because he is unable to cope with your unhappiness? Are you allowing him to bully you because of your own lack of self worth?

You worry you are sacrificing too much of yourself, but I wonder why you are allowing this sacrifice to take place? This is one of these letters where someone projects all their problems into their partner and then says; ‘I don’t know how to make him/her change.’ It seems to me that you want to locate the problems in your husband because you are afraid to face the real problem which might be; ‘Why do I allow someone to treat me like this? Why do I consider myself to be of so little value?’

You feel helpless because you can’t get him into counseling, assuming you will be told by an agony aunt to have couples counseling.  I think you need to look at yourself before looking at the relationship – you could perhaps get yourself into therapy? There is real desperation here and you have positioned it all in your husband’s bullying and absence. I think your unhappiness probably predates your relationship with him though, and I suspect you chose him because of, not despite, his incapacity for real intimacy, for his perfectionism and the fact that he would collude in denigrating you. You have found someone who will be the cruel parent to your resentful but longing child. You want him to give you points on a wall chart for what you do (and you feel he’s filling his own in unjustly), but you don’t suggest that you really want to spend time with this man, get to know him or to let him know you.

Proper Advice in private via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

 

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“My parents sent me away to school and I still bear a grudge.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I was born to an expat family and sent to school in England in my early teens. I held a grudge against my parents over this, and in an act of rebellion I left school, stopped their financial support and never returned “home”.

This decision shaped my life for good and taught me values beyond those acquired through an expensive education in some stuck-up toff institution. My relationship with my mother has greatly improved, and I talk to her as a friend, but with my father it’s still that of a worried dad to an angry teenager.

 My career and lifestyle keep me on the move, hopping continents, and I’ve missed out on some prime dad-son years. When I see my family I feel like a bystander. I’m not fitted into the schedule; there is always something more important. I don’t get treated as an adult or friend.

I just want to make up for the years lost, for us to get to know each other, but he blocks all emotions, which makes us both very anxious when we are together – it feels like mutual guilt. I have a feeling that my dad disapproves of my lifestyle and career choice and the fact that I did not follow in his footsteps. I think it hurts him that I have decided to get on with life without involving him in it.

This problem first appeared in the Observer.

My thoughts:

Your teenage anger is audible in the first few lines. Feeling terribly rejected, you decided to reject them back. This is a kind of ‘didn’t want to come to your stupid party anyway.’ However, it’s a worrying beginning because you have translated hurt into anger instantly – bearing a grudge is very different from being devastated. And I think you were devastated. The inverted commas around “home” make it clear that you felt you had been cast out of home forever. In response to that feeling, you never returned.

I think the ‘stuck-up toff institution’ that you rejected is your father, not just the school he chose for you. Again you are saying you didn’t need him or what he offered anyway, you taught yourself better alone. This is a narcissistic regression in response to pain. Instead of processing and understanding the pain you felt at your father’s rejection, you have become completely, defiantly, self-sufficient and rejecting. While your father’s rejection was unconscious, yours is very conscious, though its results baffle you.

You say you speak to your mother as a friend, though not as a son, but that your father still treats you like an angry teenager. You sound like an angry teenager, presumably your defence against feeling like a lost little boy. It seems as though you were never able to let either parent see how lost and abandoned you felt and, perhaps, you never really let yourself know about it either. You don’t mention whether or not you have other siblings, but it sounds as though being cast out by a couple who remained more or less happily together was a crushing defeat and possible castration for the Oedipal child in you, one you have not been able to think about.

You have coped with your despair by constantly acting out the rejection meted out to you in moving countries a great deal. If you leave first then perhaps you won’t be left, won’t be abandoned. You don’t say so, but perhaps you have defended against your enormous feelings of envy of your parents’ relationship and their self-sufficiency in not needing you, by becoming enviable. I suspect you are wealthy and have a lifestyle you expect others to envy. This is supposed to stop you feeling needy and envious but it doesn’t work, of course, since it is removed from the real source of the problem.

You say you have become a bystander and that your parents make no room for you in their schedule, either because of their own cruelty (perfectly possible) or because of your making very clear to them that you do not need them or want to see them. Perhaps, sadly, both. You say you would like to get the time back, that you would like to have now what you missed out on then. This is very moving and suggests that you are partly still in touch with a boy who loves and needs his parents, who regrets his counter-rejection of them and would like to make things better, to get the love and care he wanted at the time but refused to come “home” for. [I suspect you make yourself a bystander in all of life by not getting into dangerous intimacy with people or even a country - the unacknowledged fear of rejection will make that impossible.]

You talk about mutual guilt and anxiety and I think that’s right, but what you then do is to project your feelings into your father and then to perceive them as real. You say your dad disapproves of your choices, your life, the fact that you did not follow him. You say it hurts him that you have got on with life without involving him. The truth is exactly the opposite – you disapprove of the choices he made regarding you, the fact that he did not follow you to England, did not want to be with you. It hurts you that he got on with his life without involving you.

Perhaps if you were able to discuss your pain and sadness with your family instead of showing them your anger and manic independence, there might be some chance of real healing.

(There is a lot of unprocessed sexuality that I think you are trying to escape from in your travel, narcissism and rejections as well, but since you do not give much detail I won’t give reign to my fantasies.)

Proper Advice in private via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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“Am I foolish to fall for a young Greek waiter?” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

Last August I went to Greece with a bunch of friends. To my amazement, a waiter at our local taverna made it clear he fancied me. The thing is he’s 27, while I’m 51. On the last night things escalated and we ended up having amazing sex.

Ever since, we’ve been texting and he’s been begging me to come back. My friends say he just wants to fleece me for money.

I know how hackneyed my story appears, but he’s the first man  I’ve liked since my divorce and we have a connection. Am I being foolish beyond belief?

This first appeared in the Daily Mail.

My response:

This letter is full of excitement and hyperbole and the first two lines sound as though they are written by an 18 year old. So here we are on holiday with friends, having sex with a waiter. It’s not difficult to picture the scene – rowdy, approachable women keen to enjoy themselves. Then you point out the age gap and later you allude to a divorce that was apparently so painful that nobody has seemed attractive since.

It feels as though there are at least three aspects of you in this letter; a young girl having slightly manic fun, a sad older lady wondering how to deal with life after divorce and then your ego, which is struggling with the other two to force you to face reality. The fun girl says ‘bunch of friends,’ ‘fancied me’, ‘amazing sex’, ‘texting’, ‘begging’. The sadder, older lady hopes there is a ‘connection’, is ashamed of the ‘hackneyed’ story and says he’s the first man you’ve liked since you got divorced. Then there is the ego function, blazing through to point out the facts. ‘He is 27’, ‘he just wants to fleece me for money,’ ‘foolish beyond belief.’

Part of you knows very well the answer to the question you ask. Part of you desperately hopes you are wrong. The fact that he is the first man you have liked since getting divorced may have a great deal to do with the age gap and the seeming impossibility of a real relationship. As the older, and presumably richer, party you are in control. I wonder whether you and your friends were being predatory on holiday? Perhaps taking out some unconscious aggression towards men by being sexually dominant? He showed interest in you first and he is ‘begging’ you for further contact. This all serves to make you feel less vulnerable after what I imagine was a painful experience – your divorce. You have been hurt and now real intimacy with an equal feels dangerous. You felt less inhibited on holiday and very little was required of you. All of this must have seemed very liberating and rejuvenating. It may well be that you have a genuine connection with this man, though, if so, you describe him in quite a denigrating way – you mention his job, his age and one night of sex, but in a way that makes him sound almost formulaic, not like a real person.

It seems to me that you felt youthful and powerful with this man who, as you are aware, is young enough to be your son. You don’t mention whether or not you do, in fact, have children. I suspect that you are at a difficult stage in your life, no longer married and having to come to terms with ageing and building a new kind of life as an older woman who has been through a lot. Of course there is a fantasy of returning to youth and having another go and it is tempting to believe in the romance of a new life far away from your domestic problems with someone who cannot judge you within known cultural perameters. I imagine (my own fantasy) that you felt annihilated by your divorce, as though death was just around the corner now. This terrified you and your affair is a pretty classic defence against annihilation (fun though it may well have been). This boy is part of your crisis.

But you have asked the question and you have answered it yourself. You do not sound deluded – there is enough understanding in your letter to show that a large part of you is grounded in reality. You are not foolish – you are wistful, nostalgic for youth, hopeful for change and frightened both of death and of the real future. A future without a very dependent young man whose allure lies in the very fact of his being a fantasy figure for you.

Proper Advice in private via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

 

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“My abusive husband says he’ll kill himself if I leave.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Viewpoint

At 22, I married a dreadful man and got out after four years. Then I fell in love with a good man for two years and had a nervous breakdown when we split. Then (off work), I met the elder brother of a girl I knew in a pub. Andrew told me he loved me as soon as he saw me. He’d been married before but his wife had an affair and left him. Andrew was devastated, moved to Nigeria and ended up living with a prostitute.

The night we met he told me he’d got over his wife but didn’t mention the girl. He told me he loved me on the Friday and when we went for a meal the following Tuesday he asked me to marry him. I didn’t say yes that time and he went back to Nigeria. He paid the girl off (I found out later) and asked me to follow him out. When I got to Nigeria, he was awful to me. Imagine a flat, nobody around to support me, no phone, no radio, no television and Andrew playing golf all day, avoiding me.

He was also (I discovered) phoning his ex-wife and writing to her. On Boxing Day, he left me all alone with no friends (and bad flu) to play golf all day. Shortly after that I suffered a miscarriage and when we phoned home to tell people I had lost the baby he said to his mate’s wife, ‘How f***ing careless is she?’ He told me our wedding would be on a budget which was fine until I discovered he was not only paying his ex-wife’s bills but also her divorce costs.

Cut to our wedding — great day! He told me three years later he didn’t know if he wanted to be there and he was hoping I’d get the message and not turn up. Married, we moved to Saudi, and he continued writing to his ex, though he denied it. He said: ‘You’ve no right to ask me’ and ‘You’re so ugly when you’re angry’.

We had two boys. Jeff was fine but Ian needed special care. Andrew told me I was being neglectful of him and Jeff by spending so much time at the hospital. When the boys were young we moved to Abu Dhabi but because of Ian’s problems I took the boys back to the UK on my own to get a proper diagnosis.

Andrew actually called me a ‘lying whore’ saying ‘all I wanted to do was to leave him’. We came to Qatar because Andrew found a special school for Ian’s autism. If I’d not come with the boys he said he’d kill himself. We’re still there. Whenever Andrew gets drunk he comes out with awful verbal abuse, telling me I am an ugly, uncaring cow who doesn’t give him enough sex.

I don’t love him any more. I don’t want my boys to be victims of a broken home and try to keep the abuse from them, but I do want out. What would you do?

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail.

My response:

This is a shocking, confusing and chaotic letter full of loss, misery and violence, leaping about in time and rushing around the world. The scrambled and fragmented state of your mind is instantly obvious and deeply concerning. You say you need help and you are right, but once you manage to extricate yourself from your abusive relationship, you need to address your mental health.

Yours is a chaotic first paragraph in which you seem to describe your whole adult life in terms of men. Two of them sound quite frightening (‘dreadful’ and ‘devastated – living with a prostitute’) in terms of their state of mind and the third in terms of his effect on your state of mind. It is immediately clear that your self-esteem is entirely wrapped up in men in a way that damages you but sounds very addictive – three in one paragraph and none of it good news – the need to ‘get out’, a nervous breakdown and an instant declaration of love from someone ‘devastated’. There is also an immediate sense of how you view the world – in a very binary way. Good man, dreadful man. It’s a frightening introduction and I am almost loathe to read on, which gives me a taste of your own feelings of fear and dread.

Then we have this strange courtship involving one dinner and, shortly afterwards, your move to Nigeria. You make no mention of your own feelings, as if you simply cease to exist when relating to men, as if you fall into them and loose your ego functioning completely. It seems you simply and joylessly obeyed this unstable man as though you had little choice.

It is interesting that you ask the reader to imagine the empty flat, an ‘awful’ Andrew, but not you, as though there is nothing of you, just the flat and the neglect. There is a very regressed child-like atmosphere here, an abandoned little girl with nobody to turn to, not a grown woman who could have gone out, got a job, made friends. You seem to have sought out a situation I suspect is familiar – loneliness and neglect, awaiting miraculous rescure. Your sense of self is barely there and I wonder if you felt ‘avoided’ and not worthy of half decent treatment when you actually were the little girl you still feel yourself to be.

You say you ‘discovered’ Andrew was in touch with his ex-wife, and above you say you ‘discovered’ that he paid off a prostitute. It is not clear how you found these things out but it is clear that he did not tell you – you resorted to subterfuge. His secrets permeate your letter and I wonder what unspoken horrors were the fabric of your early life, since they seem so seminal to your story.

Now we have flu, golf, loneliness, a miscarriage (again no feelings from you, though the whole letter is saturated with loss and brutality), verbal abuse and another ‘discovery’ about money going to Andrew’s ex-wife. The ‘great day!’ moment, the only real expression of your feelings, reads extremely oddly, worryingly (again, perhaps, a little girl in a dress enjoying the rare attention). Or is it sarcastic? The abusive theme is continued with more verbal violence, more accusations from you and more retrospective discovery of secrets (about sex and money/love). You skip about from past to present a great deal and I think your confusion about what is going on, what time it is, who is doing what to whom is deep seated and fundamental to your state of mind. You describe a lot of disturbance around you, but I think you are also terribly disturbed yourself.

You have two children and describe struggling with Ian, who needs ‘special care’, and with multiple country moves and a great deal of verbal abuse and murderous threats (‘I’ll kill myself if you leave,’ the classic abuser’s weapon, a pretence that you are cruel and he vulnerable when, in fact, the threat is murderous).

The words ‘special care’ leap out from your story as your letter suggests from the very beginning that you yourself might be in need of some special care. There is an emptiness to your words and no mention of a mother or father who might support you in the terrible situation you floated into as though by no fault of your own. The fact that you did not leave at the first signs of abuse suggests that you expect this kind of treatment from men and perhaps even seek it out unconsciously in an attempt to master it or simply because it feels familiar from childhood.

You say you try to keep the abuse from your sons so as not to damage them and I wonder if this too is a habit. I suspect that you suffered abuse in childhood and were surrounded by sexual secrets you did not understand and that you felt you had to conceal, either from your mother or siblings or from the outside world. You seem used to circumstances in which home is not a happy place. You don’t expect safety and you have made yourself heavily dependent on somebody cruel for the second time in your life.

There is a shock factor to your using your husband’s words – ‘lying whore’ and ‘ugly, uncaring cow’. You want the reader to be shocked, perhaps so that you have a witness, someone else to feel appalled on your behalf because you seem to feel that you have no right to be upset or to reject language like this. You want to communicate the horror. Yet there is a kernel of hope because you did write – even through your own sense of worthlessness you know that this is a terrible situation and there is enough fight in you to ask for help.

There is no question that you must remove yourself and your children from this man and that you have made the first courageous move in that direction by sending out a cry for help. However, you will also need, once you are free, to have a good look at why you define yourself as an appendage to men and what the attraction to these people might be. It sounds as though your father was someone who hid a frightening dark side with rushes of affection or a charismatic façade. You believed in Andrew’s instant infatuation, abdicated your personality completely and then accepted what went with the relationship – severe neglect and terrible abuse. Your sense of yourself as a separate person is frighteningly flimsy.

Proper Advice in private via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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“I want to be a wife but nobody wants to marry me.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Viewpoint

I’m 28. I’m a nice person. All I have ever dreamed of is being married. I know I would make the perfect wife. I’m not jealous, I’m not a pushover, yet I would devote myself to making sure my husband is happy. Deep down, I want to feel needed. I want to be the person who fusses over my husband’s dinner, who keeps a perfect running household and still manages to look elegant and beautiful at dinnertime. I want to be taken care of, to be looked after, but more importantly to feel safe.  All my friends are getting married, some of them to guys who are really, really below their league, and yet I cannot find anyone who wants to marry me. I’m constantly searching for that one person who will be my saviour. My greatest fear is that I will end up alone. I can see myself at 40, still single and living in a little flat that I bought at 28, which seemed super independent and grown-up but at 40 seems like the biggest humiliation.

This first appeared in the Observer.

This letter is so surprising in 2014 that is seems fake, but we must take you at your word. If we do that, then this is heartbreaking. The fact that you need to state ‘I’m a nice person’ right at the top, suggests that on some level you suspect, or have been told, that you are not. There is also a great deal of meekness going into the description ‘nice’, a bland word that one could apply to almost anything and that screams lack of self-worth. Interestingly, though not necessarily significantly, you degender yourself for the ‘nice person’ description, slightly surprising in a letter that is laden with gender stereotyping.

You say you have always been obsessed with being married and that you would be good at it, as if it is an occupation in itself. If you have been preparing yourself for this fantasy marriage for 28 years then one would think you would be perfect at it by now, at least in your imagination. And yet, of course, it is just that – a fantasy. The fact that you depersonalise the putative husband by focusing on the perfection of your own role as regards him very much suggests that you are not, in fact, ready for intimacy and a relationship with a real person.

You say you are not ‘a pushover’, but, in saying that you would not be jealous (of what – affairs?) and would be devoted to this fantasy man’s happiness, you strongly suggest that you would put up with anything in return for…the position of wife? The doll’s house of an imaginary marriage? You are ready for an old-fashioned little girl’s idea of marriage, but certainly not for an adult relationship with an equal. It is not quite clear what your fantasy is defending you against, but, if you cannot remember a time before your obsession began, then it sounds as if this idealised vision of the future served to protect you from some great unhappiness at home in a non-ideal reality. Unfortunately, you got stuck in that little girl’s thought process and have not allowed yourself to develop as separate from your defensive fantasy.

We do then glimpse the core of your escapist fantasy when you say you want to be feel needed. You are willing to offer up some strange behaviours (fussing over food preparation, looking elegant at dinner) in return for being taken care of, looked after and made to feel safe. This is ever so sad and gives us a real picture of a little girl who does not feel protected or loved. So, whilst you are planning to infantalise this Ladybird book husband, you also want him to infantalise you, to care for you in a paternal way and help you to feel less lost. Of course, you must realise, since you are writing to a newspaper with your problem, that there is something wrong with your thinking, that no real person could provide these things. You are already consciously aware that no real person wants what you are offering – an empty charade that infantalises and dehumanises both parties.

It is devastating that you are hoping for ‘a saviour’ who will not be ‘really, really below your league’ but that you are not being chosen. Your role is purely passive, nebulous. You might recognise that your wording is very child-like here as it is again with the idea that buying a flat at 28 is ‘super independent and grown-up’. I’m very pleased to hear that you have friends and, therefore, some support, but in real life there are no relationship league tables and 28 is an ordinary age for an adult woman to have a flat. I think you are very trapped at an early age with little girl fantasies of life. Perhaps that little girl found that real life was messy, smelly, complicated and scary and retreated into the world of saviours, elegant dinners and a pristine home.

You say your biggest fear is to be left alone and that being alone would be the greatest humiliation. And yet, you are alone. Is it terrifying or humiliating? Perhaps you find that it is, or perhaps the fears lurk in the unknown future,  something so terrifying that it must be given the structure of a containing fantasy. In this case then the fantasy is actually a defence against fear of ultimate annihilation and little to do with marriage, less to do with a real, human man (who will only disappoint you unless you get some help before you begin meet one).

It is clear that you need a big cuddle and a lot of psychotherapy before you are ready for relationships with men. I can only offer some form of the latter, but you must get some proper help before you find you actually are 40 and have wasted time on a strange fantasy instead of getting out there, working, reading, riding horses (or whatever) and doing stuff that people do, including finding partners who are fun to be with, fun to sleep with and rewarding company. There are no saviours.

[PS. My own fantasy about you is that you are not quite sure about your own gender, your own role as regards being female. Perhaps you don’t feel very female, are not allowing the almost conscious truth that you are attracted to women, etc. However, there is scant evidence for this in your letter.]

Proper Advice in private by Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

 

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“I only fancy unobtainable men – my friends’ boyfriends.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I find myself locked in self-destructive patterns of behaviour; I only ever fancy men who are unobtainable. I hate to admit this, but I often find my friends’ partners attractive, although I would never dream of acting on that attraction. I simply don’t fancy the men who like me. I’m in a situation that is depressingly familiar; pursued by a very nice, kind man who wants to date me; meanwhile the boyfriend of a close friend is sending me flirty texts and occupies my every waking thought.

This problem first appeared in the Daily Mail.

My response:

You immediately use the words ‘locked’ and ‘self-destructive’, showing that, although in some ways you make light of what you describe, you are aware that you are trapped and that you are seriously harming yourself. You then say you only fancy men who are unobtainable. Again you seem to know, or almost know, that it is their unobtainability that constitutes the attraction. You make clear that the attraction is not to do with genuine intimacy, a real connection – you use the word ‘fancy’. This word denigrates both you and the men, trivialising the issue and increasing your feelings of loneliness.

You then appear to be making a big confession when you say you ‘hate to admit this’, though you are admitting it fairly freely, so I wonder if there is some element of triumph over your envied friends in this admission. You then say you wouldn’t act on your attraction to the partners of others, but I’m no so sure. You perhaps wouldn’t become physically involved with these men but you are certainly acting something out. You have allowed them to see your attraction to them, invited them to be attracted to you and to discern your potential availability. You have, in fact, seduced them, albeit not physically.

You say you ‘simply don’t fancy’ the men who like you but there is nothing simple about it. You say there are men who actually like you (rather than just fancy, ie. find you only physically attractive) and this is perhaps what puts you off. If you did return the attraction you would have to be intimate with them, have to involve yourself in a real relationship that was not an acting out of betrayal and triumph. A relationship with someone who honestly likes you would not work to banish your deep feelings of envy of women in ordinary relationships.

This seems to be related to the Oedipal scenario. Though this is pure speculation since you don’t refer to your family, I would imagine that you were closer to your father than to your mother. Perhaps your father allowed you to feel special to him, made you believe sometimes (at least in your imagination if not in reality) that he preferred you to your mother. And yet she possessed him so you envied her. When you were angry with your mother or perhaps when you were in the pre-Oedipal stages of early life, his attention made you feel you had triumphed over her and won. However, this triumph came with a lot of guilt. You are attracted to your friends’ partners but you don’t want anything to happen as that might be genuinely terrifying – a real overstepping of boundaries (if these men stand in for your father) that would be accompanied by tremendous guilt (‘I wouldn’t dream of acting on this’) and real fear of retribution from the friends (standing in for your mother).

You say you are now in a ‘depressingly familiar’ situation and, though you throw the comment away, I think you really are depressed and it really is familiar – you have spent your life in this situation. You say a close friend’s boyfriend is sending you flirty texts but I imagine you are replying and that you allowed this to happen – indeed you are consumed by this imaginary relationship. Meanwhile, a real relationship is on offer but it doesn’t have the thrill of overstepping boundaries, of triumphing over an adversary (your mother) and of being taboo, illicit.

There seem to be two things going on. One is the exciting Oedipal scenario I’ve referred to, bound up with feeling like the secretly special one competing with the denigrated spouse. In this set up the idea of being the chosen spouse is unattractive – surely if someone wants to date you then he will soon be texting a far more exciting other? You need to be the ‘other’ in order to have any kind of sexual frisson. However, there is also a sadder and more hidden element to what you say. There is part of you that feels unworthy of stepping into mother’s place and really being the chosen one – the person who really wants you must be without merit because on some level you feel unworthy yourself. Sexual tension, secrets, texting and overstepping boundaries are what you feed on, but you seem to get no real nourishment from genuine intimacy with someone who values you and whom you value (aside from fleeting physical thrills). I suggest that your guilt makes you feel valueless apart from as a sexual object on the side. You are trapped in this role that denigrates both you and your potential partners.

Proper Advice in private via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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