Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Ask Polly: Help, I'm The Loneliest Person In The World!

Dear Polly,

Let's start this off originally, to match the unique snowflake that I am: I'm an extremely socially handicapped lady, 25 years of age, with just a handful (maybe 3 at best) of friends, and in a lonely place in my life.

To paint a bit of background: I have always been very shy, introverted, and fucking terrible at connecting with others. I was comfortable with my alone-ness, though. I've always been a bit (of a lot) of a closet romantic, so I can't really remember any long period of time since the fourth grade when I didn't have a crush on someone. But mostly, those were either boys I never even talked to, and just obsessed with from a distance. (When I was 18, I once waited for an hour in the evening, in the dead of winter, because I knew my crush would eventually wait for the bus at the same bus stop, so I'd get to look at him from a distance for about 6 minutes.) Or celebrities—musicians, actors, any kind of face to put to my ridiculous, constant fantasies of romantic love, and keep a safe, peaceful emotional outlet for my feelings. I was ridiculously delusional, and pathetic, but I was happy.

I seriously would give anything to be able to do that again. But my first [and only] serious boyfriend kinda had the effect of the first taste of blood for a lion cub on me. It didn't work out—and it didn't work out on a magnificent scale, with our relationship and the pressure from it leading to me developing a full-blown eating disorder in the span of a year and a half. (I was vehemently against the idea that perfect, one-and-only him had anything to do with it at the time; and really, he was a nice guy; but now, after tons of therapy and self-analysis, it's obvious that it was him—or more accurately, my extreme insecurity in relation to him—that basically drove me crazy.)

I was entered in a hospital, and after a pretty rough period of severe depression, managed to get over that—with the help of a six-month stay at a clinic for the treatment of addictions.

After I got out, I slowly got back on my feet; I'm living alone for the first time in my life, and holding down a steady job. And yes, I have very few friends, but I'm actually happy with them. I've always strongly preferred quality to quantity when it comes to friendships. But I'm also very, very lonely. For the first time in my life, just sighing dreamily and watching from afar really doesn't cut it. It's an agonizing feeling of longing to be in a loving relationship, made all the worse by the facts that:

1. I barely know anybody, literally. When I got out of the clinic, almost a year ago, I had lost contact with whatever few close acquaintances I'd had before, and managed to keep only the aforementioned 2-3 close friends, which makes it extremely hard to even have a basis to start meeting new people and find a possible romantic interest. My work colleagues are 3 elderly ladies, with which I'm on polite, but extremely distant terms. There are very few clubs / forums / etc. for people my age around, and they're all related to interests I really don't share. I suck so bad at communication and social interaction that I barely talked to 5 people when I was at my university, and that's when I was constantly surrounded by hundreds of other people my age. I'm not even sure I want that many friends; but how am I ever going to find anybody [as in, a romantic partner] if I speak to literally 7 people in my life?

2. One of those 7 people is a guy who struck up conversation with me over half a year ago online. In the beginning, I wasn't interested, especially not romantically; but he was nice and talkative, and well, he was there. Since then, oh boy, have times changed. Over time, I grew more and more interested in him. He seemed to grow less and less interested in me. I find it ridiculous that we haven't (almost… bear with me, I'll explain) even seen each other live, even though we've been chatting constantly for so long and we live in the same damn city. We even have mutual acquaintances.

Once, he invited me over to his place in the middle of the night. Yes, I know. And I went. Yes, I know. We just talked for a bit in the dark, and then cuddled, silently, for half an hour, and then I left. It was weird, and we don't mention it often, but oh God, I was so happy in that tiny moment of meaningless affection! (Or maybe it meant something to him too, he's just shy? Insecure, like me? Oh the mastery with which I make up excuses for him in my head!)

Since then, not only has he not made any attempt to see me; he's extremely ambivalent about agreeing to my invites to hang out (and I invite him rarely, and overly casually, and back up easily, because I may be obsessed, but I'm also proud, and with a damn fragile ego, I admit that).

So I know it's ridiculous, and I know it's hurting me, and I've even reached my boiling point and told him once, explicitly, that he either has to see me and hang out like a normal person sometime, or just stop writing me altogether. He didn't seem to take it too seriously. We stopped communicating for a month or so, and then mutual acquaintances, Facebook, one thing lead to another, I convinced myself it's okay cause I don't even care anymore, or maybe I was too harsh in the first place, yadda yadda, and we started talking again.

Yes, I'm an idiot.

But I'm also crazy about him, and so damn lonely. I feel like a starving rabbit with only a few pieces of horrible, rotting cabbage leaves in its cage. I keep telling myself they're fucking awful, and I'm better than that, and I deserve at least some normal, not even amazing, just regular good old cabbage. But eventually, hunger always gets the best of me and I give in. I write to him. Or I respond to him. That's just the way it goes, and I can't seem to stop it.

Also, what gives?! This guy won't see me, but he won't stop talking to me, either. Says he appreciates me talking to him, and that he does want to see me (just never actually makes plans). I basically asked him to put me out of my misery, i.e., let's do this or just go away forever and stop fucking with me! But he won't go either way.

Why?! Like most guys our age (seriously, it's fucking infuriating), he's commitmentphobic. But it's not like a coffee means he's agreeing to our fucking wedding. The only slight clue he's ever given me is, "I'm trying to be a nice guy and not a douche," which I interpreted thusly: "So you mean you like me, but you don't wanna lead me on?" (i.e. fuck me and disappear off the face of the earth). His answer? "Erm, no, it's not exactly that…." And that was all I got. Analyze that!

I don't get it. And being lonely and obsessed with him, I actually do care about what the fucking reason behind this lunacy might be. It's almost like I'd prefer to be the wrong side in this equation, because then I'll be able to fix it and try to make it work.

Please help me get out of that cage!

Can't Stop Eating Rotten Cabbage Leaves


The cage is open. You can walk out anytime you want. Why are you still in there?

You're a young, sensitive romantic and you need to find some new form of self-expression that builds you up instead of knocking you down. You need a consuming project that doesn't involve dumping out the best parts of yourself for someone who's using you as an emotional confidant but refuses to be in your life. Engaging in that kind of relationship isn't just a dead-end, it makes you weaker and prevents you from meeting the kinds of people who will improve your life instead of making you feel frustrated and depressed.

But please be clear about one thing: YOU are the one who wants to stay frustrated and depressed. No one is doing that TO you. You keep asking "Why is he still around?" That's not the mystery here. He doesn't want anything more from this situation. He's getting exactly what he wants: something to occupy his time and make him feel important. The mystery is: WHY ARE YOU STILL AROUND?

Even after the eating disorder, the hospital, the years of therapy, you're essentially throwing yourself into another destructive, loneliness-inducing obsession, one that leaves you feeling empty, abandoned, and out of control, but that keeps you coming back for more simply because these are the emotions that feel the most familiar to you. You're addicted to loneliness and desperation. It's the strongest emotion you've ever known, so your subconscious tells you that it's your destiny.

The short-term answer is very easy. You can choose to be a million times happier than you are right now. All you have to do is say, "I deserve to be happy." Write it down in big letters with a Sharpie and tape it to the wall. Now write, "I deserve to be deeply loved." Tape that to the wall. Write, "I will open my eyes and my heart and take in all of the beauty in the world, every day." Tape it up.

Now go to your computer and write this to him "I can't do this anymore. You're a nice guy. I wish you the best in life." Don't wait for a response. DO NOT ANSWER HIM IF HE ASKS WHAT'S GOING ON. Now block him. Do not explain anything. That's you being obsessive. He doesn't want to see you in the light of day. He doesn't care what you want. Wondering about how he feels, waiting to see what he says, second-guessing your resolve: all of these things exist on an unhealthy continuum with your tendency to seek solace in self-destructive obsessions. He doesn't like you romantically. His very existence in your life diminishes you and makes you feel weak. You are not weak. Block his fucking chat ID and his email and resolve to never, ever read a single word from him again. Send him your blessings and be done with it. Write "I am stronger than I realize." Tape those words to the wall.

Now put on your running shoes and go out into the world. Put on some music and walk for an hour. Bring a watch and, if you're not in great shape, jog for 1 minute and then walk for 3, and repeat that pattern for the full hour. As you walk, keep your eyes open, keep your heart open, and let the world in. Smell the air. Breathe deeply. You are fully alive in this moment and you never, ever have to feel like someone who's hiding in the dark, waiting for love, ever again.

Go home and write for an hour. Type out all of your thoughts, feelings, worries, regrets, and hopes for the future. Every single word is OK, because it's a part of who you are. You are not damaged. You are not socially handicapped. You are young and you are learning how to live. Write that down. I AM VERY YOUNG AND I AM LEARNING HOW TO LIVE. Tape it to the wall by your bed and read it every morning.

You are very, very young. You are learning how to live.

Someone who's sensitive like you, with your kind of emotional energy, needs to be thoughtful about how she spends her time and where she puts her focus. You naturally work very hard at things. The same trait that makes you obsessive can be harnessed to create art or to help other people or just to cook a truly unforgettable lasagna.

But you MUST break this fixation on love as the cure to all of your ills. If you found love right now, you would run it straight into the ground in seconds. You need an outward focus that has nothing to do with guys or even making new friends (which you currently view as merely a vehicle for meeting guys). Forget some of your assumptions about where your interests lie. Sign up for classes and clubs that are outside of your comfort zone, and see what happens. Observe others without worrying about what to say. Don't chide yourself for doing it wrong. Just exist, in your awkwardness, without apologizing or explaining yourself, even to yourself. Your ideas and labels about What It Means to be shy (handicapped!) are what stand in your way. The noise in your head when you're around other people stands in your way. Slowly, you need to practice being more comfortable in the company of other people. Gradually, you may get to know a few people who are different from you, who make no immediate sense and have no immediate value in your life. As you turn your focus outward and begin to create a more positive, creative, accepting spirit around you, you will naturally draw people to you.

But that's not the central task at hand. The central challenge in your life is not finding people who will support you and love you. The central challenge in your life is you finding a way to give yourself support and love. You need to shift your concentration away from this imaginary hole in your life, and shift it towards bigger projects that will feed and sustain you over the course of a lifetime.

You're like a working breed of dog that doesn't have any sheep to herd. Do you know what happens to those dogs? They rip up rugs and chew shoes to tiny shreds, and then pace, and then grow depressed and violent. That's what you're doing to yourself with this pointless correspondence. You have so much potential, so much energy, so much sensitivity to the world, and you're wasting it, and using it to eat yourself alive, using it to tell yourself that you're worthless.

The old messages need to get thrown out once and for all. Every time you hear a voice that says, "No one will ever love me because I'm fucked up," shut it up and look at your signs on the wall.

I assume you still have a therapist you see every week. If not, you need to get one immediately. Someone with your background can't be expected to forge ahead without a sounding board for your challenges.

In the long run, you will find love. Right now, you need to commit to NOT looking for love. You need to sign up for art classes, dance classes, yoga, or cooking classes—or all of the above. You need to be active and be around people, all kinds of different people, young and old. You need to practice accepting yourself, with all of your quirks, in the company of other human beings. You need to be open to the world around you. You need to move through the world by listening to other people, without trying to prove that you're good enough for them. Just exist and be your shy self. If friendships with men and women come about, so be it. Don't get involved with anyone. Have lunch, have coffee, and continue to work hard on the things that won't dry up and blow away: Your health, your career, your little art projects or poems or essays, your odd new half-interests, the complicated folds of your sensitivity and your darkness, and your belief in a world that wants you to be happy.

But you can't do this halfway. If you choose NOT to block this guy, if you choose to continue obsessing, then you are choosing misery. You'll never meet anyone or change a thing as long as you're chatting with this guy. Just because it's familiar, that doesn't mean it's truly comforting or meaningful. Just because you're putting all of your focus into it doesn't mean you're actually in love with him. You're just not looking at anything else in the world. In searching relentlessly for safety all these years, you have made yourself more and more lonely and unsafe.

I know how tired you must feel. I know that you've been working so hard. But these things are hurting you. Everything is about to change, but you have to dare to proceed in a whole new way. You have to wake up in the morning and say, "I will not do the old things that I've always done. This is the start of my real life. This is the day I started treating myself like someone who matters." You have to believe.

When you believe in your raw potential, you are not alone. When you believe in who you are, the whole world rallies around you, and raises you up, higher than you thought you deserved to be. Fuck these dead-end crushes. They're crushing you. Rip your focus away from this empty obsession, that seems so serious but it's actually silly, and shift your focus to things that seem silly but are actually serious. Do silly little things for yourself. Write those silly little signs. It will all seem so ridiculous and pathetic, but it's not. Because slowly but surely, you'll notice that the tide is turning. You will start to accept yourself, and you'll stop trying to convince other people that you're worthy. No one will need to be convinced. You will create things that make you happy. You will give your love freely to the people who deserve it. You have so much to give.

No one out there is going to support and protect and believe in you. Not yet. You have to learn to support and protect and believe in yourself. Nothing could be more romantic than that.


Do you understand your own priorities and values or do you avoid thinking about them entirely? Write to Polly and discuss!

Heather Havrilesky (aka Polly Esther) is The Awl's existential advice columnist. She's also a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, and is the author of the memoir Disaster Preparedness (Riverhead 2011). She blogs here about scratchy pants, personality disorders, and aged cheeses. Photo of the lonely dog by Les Chatfield.

32 Comments / Post A Comment

18000449@twitter (#247,007)

I think a lot of people have been really lonely too, it's not just the letter writer! Which is a comforting thought. However, you've got to find a place for all that negative energy to go. I've been living in a completely new town for less than a year now and I am very lucky to have two extremely close friends here (from college). However I still get lonely, and when I do I have to do something to channel all that emotion or else I feel trapped, angry, wanting to lash out at people for not showering me with attention. I started making music. I started learning a new language (Hej!). I also made myself care less about doing things alone, like seeing a movie or visiting new places. Hell, last night I went to a concert by myself. I really wanted to see the bands and my few close friends aren't interested, but that's not going to hold me back. And I danced a bit like an idiot. By myself. But you learn through experiences like that that no one cares that you dance like an idiot, and I had a lot of fun. The last thing I learned is that people you meet for the first time aren't going to latch onto you immediately like you might want to. I've had friends in the past and the present who started out aloof around me, but once I had enough experiences with them socially that wall began to fall down and now we're real friends. Maybe it's an impatient thing, maybe it's a desperation thing, but I think what it really boils down to is being a bit more emotional of a person than most, and that's fine!

I'd like to put an invisible underline under this:

"It will all seem so ridiculous and pathetic, but it's not. Because slowly but surely, you'll notice that the tide is turning."

A person of a certain age who had to learn some of the painful lessons alluded to above, I want to say that there is no quick fix for a weak or damaged self esteem. it gets better, little by little, and then one day you sort of half-remember how shitty you felt previously, and it feels like "wow, THAT sucked – everything is so much easier now".

Writing little signs and putting them up around your house seems dumb but IT REALLY WORKS.

I'd also say: stop apologizing for yourself immediately. Just never do it again.

buzzcut (#251,979)

@Subway Suicide@twitter "stop apologizing for yourself immediately"
I couldn't agree more! Also, stop saying awful things about yourself. I've had a long struggle with defaulting to making self-depricating comments, and let me tell you, it is no good! Yes you may hear those little voices in your head telling you that you aren't good enough in one way or another, but don't listen and definitely repeat them out loud! I really thinking repeating them makes it more likely that you'll believe them, and once you believe them it is really hard to overcome. Good Luck, LW!

toastncrunch (#251,985)

As someone who's experiencing a very similar situation to yours, I know it doesn't always help to hear, "You're not alone; I'm lonely, too!" But it's true. But more importantly, I want to thank you for writing this letter and for eliciting the advice that's written here because it's advice I've needed in my own life.

Lcanon (#240,865)

I think you are trying to walk before you can run. If you can't communicate with people socially at all you probably can't do a full-blown romantic relationship yet. You just don't know enough about human communication. Work on social activities and relationships…the larger stuff will eventually come, too. Also, as someone who told myself for years "there's no point in getting to know so-and-so, we obviously have nothing in common because he/she is old, young, blonde, shallow,etc." — please, don't pre-emptively reject other people as unworthy of you (or you not worthy of them.) You can make friends, firm friends, among people you have little in common with. And you will feel much much happier.

hypnosifl (#9,470)

@Lcanon She didn't say she can't communicate socially in general though, most likely she can with the "2-3 close friends" she mentioned. I'm pretty terrible at making small talk with strangers myself, but I have good relationships with a few friends and my long-term girlfriend (and we live together), and I don't think my problem with small talk is that I "don't know enough about human communication" (there's a big difference between being able to passively understand the nuances of a conversation and being able to contribute to it; think of someone who has a good appreciation for music but can't play or sing at all).

Lcanon (#240,865)

@hypnosifl I was what we would now call bullied in school, as a result friendship was always a mystery to me, and in some ways still is. And I will grant your point about romantic relationships: my main one has lasted into marriage (18 years now). Really, I think was just extremely lucky, meeting the right person. But all things are connected. If you are the type of person who can't speak easily to other people, who wonders all the time "was that an insult? What does that remark mean?" etc. (and maybe this is just my misinterpretation of the letter writer), deciphering the signals in a romantic relationship will be a nightmare.
Interestingly, I have the opposite problem from you. Small talk I learned how to do, it's the stage after small talk that mystifies me.

HereKitty (#2,713)

Letter writer, you are not an idiot. This must have been really difficult to write, and you had the courage to write it. We don't know much else about you, but we know that you are brave! Please listen to Polly — you deserve better than what you're letting yourself have now.

mmmcheese (#229,356)

I thought Polly was way to harsh on this girl. No one wants to stay frustrated and depressed, and telling depressed people that its their fault their depressed is wrong, wrong, wrong. Depression is a disease like any other, and I don't see you telling cancer patients that they want to stay filled with cancerous cells. And likewise, telling someone that they can choose happiness is also incredibly destructive. If happiness was a choice, wouldn't we all choose to be happy? Who in their right mind would choose otherwise? People who say that happiness is a choice need to check their mental health priviledge.

If it all seems like I'm taking this a little too personally, that's because I am taking it personally. I have very similar problems to this girl, though to a lesser degree, and I'm sick of being told, "you have control" like it's my fault that I'm not happy.

gimluck (#1,328)

@mmmcheese As someone who's also struggled with depression for years and spent some time in a hospital program for it, I think Polly is completely right in this case. The letter writer isn't asking for help with the chemical basis for their depression; that should be handled by a good doctor. But when the drugs work and the veil lifts, we're still left with all the bad thought patterns and self-harming habits we learned and perfected in our years of being unhappy. Depression is a disease, but it's also in our minds – our thoughts and behaviors are affected by it, but we also can work to change our thoughts and behaviors.

I think you might find neuroplasticity and how it relates to depression interesting, I know that I certainly have found it helpful to understand in what ways my thoughts and actions can change the way my brain functions.

Buffybot 2000 (#234,784)

@mmmcheese Definitely agree with @gimluck on this one. I also struggle with depression, but I think there is something to be said for taking responsibility/control over our lives & thought patterns. Each time we stop ourselves as we begin to slip onto those well-worn pathways of negative thinking, it begins to create a new neural pathway in the brain that over time gets more and more well-defined. It is easy for us to feel unloveable (for example) because we have spent so much time practicing it that those are the deepest grooves in our brain, but we have the ability to change that and create NEW grooves, which is awesome! Now I've been practicing feeling certain negative things about myself for 29 years, and have only just begun in recent years to consider my personal power in this way, so those neural pathways of negativity are DEEP! I still find myself falling into old habits, but little by little, it becomes easier to shift to a more loving and hopeful perspective when I'm feeling down. It's slow going, but it works. A meditation teacher once told me that this moment of stopping yourself is enlightenment, and I think he may be right.

mmmcheese (#229,356)

@Buffybot 2000 @gimluck I get what you guys are saying and upon reflection I think that what got to me was not Polly's advice per se but rather her tone as I perceived it. It seemed like she was going for the "tough love" approach, which is not something I usually see in her advice. To me, she's normally a lot more understanding. And since "tough love" makes me want to curl up and cry because I'm so weak, I reacted strongly and negatively.

That is, of course, the problem with written advice columns. You can't tell a person's tone of voice, and you can't clarify or ask follow up questions or say "you're making me feel X."

17347167@twitter (#251,993)

To quote my new spirit animal:

"Don't fucking go crazy on me, okay? Just remember last year at this time we were in a fucking cage, okay?"

"You remember. I'd like to forget that."

"I say be happy with what you got."

"You be happy. Me, I want what's coming to me."

"What's coming to you?"

"The world, chico… and everything in it."

TATAbox (#249,918)

Holy shit did I relate to this letter, especially the 2-3 close friends but no real social life, hard time making new friends, etc. I was in a situation with a guy very similar to yours; cutting off all contact and maintaing no contact will be the hardest thing. The finality is what gets to you. The fact that it's not no contact for 6 months or a year but FOREVER. It feels so strange because you imagined this person always being in your life. I once wrapped my phone up in duct tape so I couldn't return his text. Eventually what I started doing is rewarding myself with some little thing every time I didn't return a text, which helped so so much.

After a surprisingly short period of time you start to feel like a huge weight has been lifted off of you, trust.

82442152@twitter (#252,008)

I think I know this person you speak of! But seriously, this guy is your crack and it's not doing you any good. I'm not sure when but eventually the need for your 'him' fix will wane. It might take another year or two but it will go away. I'm sorry. The only thing to speed up the process is of course to find someone you like and who likes you. How about trying the kinky life? Join FetLife and attend a local munch. Get to know the people there. The community has issues. Yes, it definitely has issues and I hesitate to call it a community but still. It might be a place for you to explore. Good luck.

Hayley (#252,004)

LetterWriter, I identify with you in many ways. We are pretty much the same age, both introverted, and we both deal with depression. Please take Polly's advice especially in regards to dealing with the guy because I have been in a similar situation and what you are currently doing will eventually drive you insane. Towards the end of August, a guy who I had been on a couple of dates with posted that he "wasn't into me" on an online profile ( to his credit, he didn't expect me to see the comment). I confronted him on it because I was upset that he wasn't honest with me about his feelings. He and I then decided to be friends. However, any conversation I tried to initiate with him over text didn't go anywhere and he made up some bogus excuse to cancel on me when we were supposed to hang out. So even though he had verbally said that he wanted to be friends, in actuality he didn't care enough about me to invest time in developing a friendship. After a few weeks of this, I sent him a text where I called him out (I may have called him an asshole). Then most importantly, I deleted him from my life. I deleted his phone number, blocked him on Facebook, and deleted his email address. This was incredibly hard, but also incredibly liberating. I don't regret it, because the uncertain nature of our "friendship" was causing me stress. Most importantly, I don't regret it because he didn't care about me so I had nothing to lose and everything to gain from dropping him.

When I initially stopped talking to him, I wondered if something was wrong with me and I became convinced I would never make new friends (I am a transplant to a new city and most of my friends are back home). It's easy to internalize it when people are shitty to you. You start to wonder if it is something about you that makes you deserve to be treated poorly. When I was falling into this destructive line of thinking, I came across an Ask Polly post and, not to be cliche, it changed my entire way of thinking. It was called "I feel bitter about all my exes and I can't get over it" and even though the situation was different, Polly's advice was incredible. She advocated falling in love with all those quirks and oddities that make you unique. That made me assess how I tended to edit myself around new people (to make myself seem less "weird"). Polly said that those who are truly meant for you would appreciate the unedited version of you.

I know that Polly's suggestion to you can seem intimidating and difficult, but ceasing contact with this guy and focusing on yourself is probably the best thing to do at this point. I don't regret doing it for myself.

82442152@twitter (#252,008)

BTW, what that guy said. It's that he's getting something out of the contact but he doesn't find you attractive and definitely not as any kind of future partner. He wants a friendship and he wants you to know that while he's interested in that he doesn't want to lead you on. He knows you really like him and want more. The bastard in him might, on a whim, do something. But that would be a whim and a weak moment. You don't measure up to what he wants in a girl but he does want you to know he's there for you as a friend but only if you get the only friend part. Hope that helps.

A Snood Mood (#1,737)

@82442152@twitter Yes, that was my read on it, too. He said he didn't want to be a douche, meaning he doesn't want to come out and say "I'm not that into you" but he doesn't realize that by not being direct he IS being a douche. He likes your brain, he gets something out of the contact, but he's really not into you romantically.

Someone else will be! Let this one go.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

"Like most guys our age (seriously, it's fucking infuriating), he's commitmentphobic"

For what it's worth let me just point out that "commitment" is worthless. You want the guy to be with you because he loves you, not because he "committed to you". I think this "commitment" thing is all the rage among people who've somehow concluded they can't be loved and thus they demand some sort of a contract that would guarantee them the satisfactions of a relationship where those satisfactions wouldn't be granted to them spontaneously and naturally – out of love. That "commitment" thing is hard to get because it's total bullshit and doesn't exist (and no, marriage isn't it, people get divorced just as resolutely as they get married). So don't be upset about not being able to get it, you are only making yourself less ready for real love.

sunnybay (#252,020)

Human beings need a more varied and nutritious diet than cabbage leaves.

I think shy/introverted people underestimate how much practicing, and "fake it til you make it" are effective strategies to building relationships with other people. Also, I think lack of human interaction can make it more difficult, and sometimes make it seem insurmountable, to building relationships. And Polly is right on that you need to work on yourself first, then on making friends, before you can really focus on having a serious romantic relationship.

So, start by chatting up the elderly ladies in your office… be friendly, and interested in their lives, and think about them when you are talking to them, not yourself.

Also, the guy doesn't sound at all commitment phobic to me. In fact, I sort of got the vibe that he was either in a relationship with someone else, or otherwise just totally uninterested in a romantic relationship with you. Which sucks, yes, but has nothing to do with him being a "nice guy" or not.

Be patient with yourself. You are young and shouldn't expect yourself to have it all figured out. Polly's advice is excellent. But one other thing: see if you can find a drama group to be in. Many wonderful actors and actresses also deal with shyness. An improv group or community theater would help you meet people and also give that romantic, interior-lit side of you a chance to come out and play. You might need to cast aside the Hollywoodization of your inner critic "But I'm not pretty enough or talented enough." Some of my best times were spent in acting classes, and that might be the case for you too.

@mmmcheese: yet if a doctor told you you had cancer, wouldn't you investigate mitigation techniques, like drugs/surgery/chemo/nutrition, etc? I doubt you would merely resign yourself to cancer, despite it being "not your fault".

Depression sucks. And it's noone's fault! But we can all do things that either mitigate or exacerbate the symptoms of depression, and I believe that's what Polly is suggesting here.

TATAbox (#249,918)

To the people suggesting she join a drama group or kink community (??!), kind of bizarre advice to give someone who has trouble interacting with people in low pressure situations, let alone a situation your average person would be extremely nervous about.

Hayley (#252,004)

@TATAbox I totally agree. I was taken aback when I saw that "advice" and I wasn't sure if it was meant to be some sort of unfunny joke,

misspiggy (#250,319)

I have spent time as a cooped-up sheepdog. What helped was throwing myself into travel and work, putting passion into something which made an impact on the world. For me, successful relationships have been based on wanting but not needing. If you start feeling you need them more than they need you, the sheepdog will come out again and start tearing the furniture to shreds.

I miss yearning after someone though. Although it's painful, it's such a beautiful feeling that it's addictive. But I've been there and done my rehab.

On making friends; just keep asking people something that shows interest in them, and try to listen to what they say. Prepare a couple of questions well in advance of seeing them if it helps. Try another question, ideally following on from their previous answer. Keep doing that over and over, until eventually it comes naturally. It's taken me about 30 years.

rosyfive (#252,114)

I totally identify with the writer in so many ways – the shyness, the loneliness, and the internet relationship that's a draining dead-end. It gets better with age and experience, honestly. You start to learn more about yourself, see people in different ways, and grow comfortable in your own skin. Things carry less weight and seem less horrifying. That doesn't mean it doesn't suck while you're figuring it out, though. For me, getting really good at my job and taking a creative class has helped – even when my love life has been either non-existent or straight up shitty. I agree with Polly – it can be hard to be us sensitive, obsessive types, but I think we have gifts and we just need to channel ourselves properly. Once you do that you'll feel less crazy and trapped.

As for that guy: I was in a similar situation, except the dude invited me on vacation with him and I went, like a dumbass. We had been room mates before and friends for 5 years so we had a closer relationship than the LW and her guy, but we mainly stayed in contact online because we lived on opposite coasts. ANYWAYS, we slept together on vacation after he confessed long-harbored love for me, and then he kind of dropped off the face of the planet and started dating someone else – without telling me, of course. I basically chased him down to tell him I forgave him for being a massive asshole/ignoring me, and then he went about the motions of our "friendship" (and put in super minimal effort) so that he wouldn't have to feel gross and guilty about the situation. Eventually I realized that being his "Friend" was depleting me and depressing me, and I cut him out. IT WAS LIBERATING. I cried over him and our friendship for over 6 months, but it got better. And in the end, the most rewarding part, was knowing that I was strong enough to walk away and do right by me. You'll respect yourself a lot more and feel more in control, empowered and happy if you do it. It will truly be the first step in changing yourself around. TRUST IN THAT even when you want to cave and miss him.

biggestfan (#252,353)

I identify with Polly right down to "agonizing feeling of wanting to be in a loving relationship" and being "crazy" about someone that enjoyed the attention for a while, is "nice", but just isn't interested. It is the worst feeling on earth to care deeply about someone that isn't really consistent enough in their descriptions to even be a friend.

Polly,you've been through so much, through life experiences that would wear down most reasonable people and make them feel withdrawn. I recommend even talking up the ladies in your office, as someone said. Hell, tell them you're trying to "meet people"; they may have suggestions. Try to fill up your life with other things that make you happy, and less alone–museum tours, classes, book clubs. (That includes blogs that have meet ups around books/music you like, e-book clubs, whatever.) Don't let him suck up your energy. Don't answer him–if he asks to talk, remind him "Either you want to treat me like a human being, or you don't, but you need to stop jerking me around."

There isn't a day that goes by that I know myself if I had someone to love–someone I "clicked" with or felt as much affection as I do this person (and being comfortable with someone makes you keep coming back, doesn't it?)–it'd count for a lot. I imagine you keep up contact with this guy because you still hold out hope he'll get his stuff together and return your feelings, or else, it's unbearable to think of him out of your life.(It is for me. I'm worse off than you, in one way–everything in my own life has dissolved and my anxiety is barely manageable; he is the only thing that really makes me feel full happiness, even as I try to focus on work, new books, new shows, anything–having that one person in your life when you've never had success getting that close to the objects of your affection counts for SO MUCH, and when it's the one thing you want more than anything, even the crappy, hollow mimics of a relationships feel better than nothing at all.)

Even online dating might help–I know other 20 something introverts that have had success with it.

Try to get back to a point where you don't talk to the guy; your reasoning? "He's emotionally manipulative". Set a manageable goal ("I will ignore him for a month"); in that time, try to find things/people to use your energy on. With time, it will become easier and easier to forget him, to get out of the cycle of waiting for this jerk to respond to you or see you.

One other thing I did, that I'm both anxious/grateful for–tell your actual friends you're lonely. Maybe I'm lucky–I hadn't seen my high school friends (the only ones I really have) in a year or longer when I went to dinner, and I tell them regularly on Facebook to keep me posted if they hang out, with the explicit request to "see people". I've met people through blogs. I'm trying to manage the depression/anxiety, and I keep a journal.

Do what you can to find other emotional outlets.

lemmycaution (#243,936)

@biggestfan online dating might be a good idea. Women tend to get a decent number of responses

cynicalsunshine (#239,749)

Letter writer, to me your letter reeks of self-loathing–even the way you begin it, with the "special snowflake" reference, suggests that you believe your loneliness and emotional suffering aren't worthy of someone else's attention. In a way, you're right. Your emotional health and happiness are largely your responsibilities, and you cannot depend on other people to make you feel complete. But in another way, you're wrong–so many people have had, are having, and will have the same kinds of experiences with painful loneliness that you are having right now.

When I was a bit younger than you, I was hopelessly crushing on a guy I was friends with, with whom nothing ever happened. Even after I moved away, I still wrote him emails periodically, fantasizing that if I could just make him see how good we could be together, we'd live happily ever after. I had the opportunity a few years after I moved away to just straight up tell him, "I used to like you so much." His response? "I know." DAMN. He told me, "I knew you liked me a lot, more than I liked you, and I feel badly for having led you on." That was the last time I ever spoke to him, not because I was angry (although it hurt to hear him say that he wasn't into me), but because I was finally free from my own brain. I didn't have to wonder anymore how he felt and give myself a whole bunch of excuses for why we weren't together. Your crush doesn't want to be with you. It's not that he's too shy. It's not that he's a commitment-phobe (which, really, not all 25-year-olds are). It's just that you don't do it for him. For whatever reason, he's unable to tell you that and put you out of your misery, but that's what is going on. It would be a million times easier for you to hear it from him, but it doesn't sound like you will, so it's up to you to extricate yourself from his wishy-washiness, as Polly advised you to do.

In a way, I think being in your early and mid-twenties is more difficult than being a teenager or being in your late twenties. You're a full-fledged adult but often, you don't really know what's right and what's wrong for you. At least, I didn't. I'm in my early thirties now, and I can tell you for a fact that there is NOT A CHANCE IN HELL that I would allow myself to go through those mental gymnastics–playing out all of the possibilities of relationships and sex and what have you–for someone who so clearly is Just Not That Into Me. And if I wasn't sure how into me he was? I'd find out in about 5 seconds, because I will not allow my time to be wasted by people who aren't really that interested in me.

Which brings me to the other thing I wanted to say–you might be shy, you might not have tons of friends, but that doesn't mean that you're better off dead, or unworthy of other people's attention. It just probably means that you'll never be the type of person to have 17 "best" friends. And that's totally cool! I really, really think you need to get a hobby. Something that, as Polly and other commenters have suggested, you can pour all of that energy that you're currently expending on being sad and pining for this guy into. It doesn't have to be age-appropriate, even! There are other 25-year-olds who don't go clubbing or bar hopping or whatever it is that you think everyone is doing that you're not. I don't know what you're into–maybe you don't even know–but whatever it is, dive in. Instead of being "that girl who's super into this guy who's really not very responsive," be "that girl who's learning to play the clarinet" or "that girl who's writing a play" or whatever it is. It seriously doesn't even matter what your "thing" is. But you do need to have one. It'll get you outside of your own head, and into the world; it'll distract you from that guy; it'll give you things to talk about with other people. You can totally do it! You got this one.

xNONOx (#253,049)

Speaking as someone who was in a similar situation when I was 21, this is excellent advice. I'm 31 now, and doing okay, but it was years of struggle to reach some of these insights. Many of them I still need to remind myself of. I can't overemphasize the importance of meeting and talking to different people. It can so easily realign your perspective; make whatever current worry that seems overwhelming and intractable (a guy, an awkward interaction, work or school or whatever) shrink to its actual and mundane size. The other thing – Polly alludes to this – and it may seem silly, but exercise can work wonders. Running, taking a walk, yoga, just moving around helps to loosen up those mental ties, shake you out of the rut.

Cm (#254,113)

I just wanted to share my own ongoing experience with loneliness. I am also 25, and it feels as if I will never find someone to share my life with. I changed how I was living around 5 years ago, because before that I was completely content with living life traveling around and doing small jobs here and there to get by. Until one day, I noticed all of my friends growing together and I was left out to watch those relationships bud into something rather beautiful. I deduced that the life I was living would never be able to support something that magnificent, so I changed it all as quickly as I could.

I started to happily work a job that paid decently, and got an apartment. I worked and lived in hopes of finding that special woman that would make my life feel complete once again, but after 2 years of the same mundane job, and dealing with a co-workers harassment, I ended up at my wits end. I was then fired shortly after reporting the harassing employee to the HR department. I lost my lease at the apartment complex, because of the loss of my job, but felt a bit of relief from not having to deal with the harassment any longer.

I decide to move back to my hometown in hopes of rekindling some of my old friendships, only to find that most of those friends were now married and or had children. I started to receive unemployment shortly after I had moved back to my hometown. So I decided that if I were to find a happy median with working again then I would need to go to college.

I enjoyed going back to school, it put my mind to the test that I had always relished in the past. I am proud to say that I received fairly good grades for the time that I went there. Up until I had an unpleasant acquaintance with the clinical organizer. She managed to ruin my experience at the school at her whims. I stayed at the school until my unemployment went dry, and went into a pretty deep depression.

I felt like I had been set back even further than where I had started. I had grown miserable. All of my efforts thwarted, because of some small hiccup here or there. I forced myself to rethink and relive the experiences that caused everything to set me back as far as it had. I was no where near close to being able to find something as wonderful as what I had set forth to find. It took me over 6 months to even want to do anything for myself again, and it was very painful.

I started to work a job as a bouncer at a local night club. It was fun, it allotted the time I needed for peer interaction, plus was helping me get back into shape for a real job. I worked there for a couple of months before I had a car accident and totaled out my car. I spent a week in the hospital, and had no way to get to and from my job after I got out.

At this point, I had grown to determined to at least get a fresh start going. My aunt and uncle got a pretty big job in, so I moved in with them to help out. I meet a neighbor of theirs, and we hit it off really quickly. She is sweet, and silly. She has 3 kids that don't concern me much, but she also has a boyfriend that she is unhappy with. I was willing to see where things might go with her, regardless of the circumstances, but my aunt had decided to announced how uncomfortable it made her, so in that retrospect she grew to become uncomfortable with my aunts discomfort. Which begins to cause myself to become frustrated, because I had grown to feel hopeless within my loneliness.

She stops coming down a month later, because her boyfriend had started to grow suspicious of her coming out this way. I rarely go there to see her, because I do not wish to cause problems in her relationship if that is what she chooses to stick with. I find myself becoming frustrated at the predicament, because it felt like I was finally curing my own loneliness, and she continuously stated that she was not happy there, and that she would be leaving him when she was ready to. But now it seems like we aren't progressing any more than what we had over a month ago.

I feel myself jumping between being hopelessly lonely, and obsessively thinking about how to reconnect with her. I have just been focusing on helping out with my aunt and uncles job, and working on preparing for the kind of work I plan on doing after this job is done. I just really don't know what else to do.

I guess that I just wanted you to know that even though you feel alone right now, you are not. There are others out there just wishing, waiting, and hoping for something worth while to come their way too.

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