“I saw a picture of a random guy and automatically thought, ‘wow, he’s cute!'”
“And how did you feel about having that thought?” – Therapist, eagerly positioning her pen over her notepad, a note of excitement in her voice – probably because I’m even voicing this and she’s expecting me to call myself a “whore” as usually happens.
“Fine. I mean, I didn’t beat myself up over it or feel the need to punish myself, so…fine. And it was just a passing thought. It was mostly just weird to have that thought at all, and to feel like a regular girl.”
So this small non-event was meaningful for two reasons:
- I thought someone was attractive.
- I did not have automatic negative thoughts toward myself for finding someone attractive.
Both of those things are significant and also happen so rarely. Of course, I’m able to be like, “so and so is conventionally good looking and aesthetically pleasing”, but I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve personally found someone “attractive”.
Also, I’ve realized that the more “myself” I am, and the less palatable I try to force myself to be, the more I seem to be “hit on”. It’s kind of funny. My whole life, this has been an uncomfortable challenge: noticed, looked at, hit on, asked out, complimented (especially on appearance). Mostly I think, “what is wrong with you, dude?” when a guy wants to date me. And a lot of the time I feel physically ill at being put in the position of knowing someone is interested in me, and not knowing what to do or how to best respond in a way that won’t provoke their rejection shame-turned-to-anger reactions if it may be dangerous to me.
It has always felt immensely threatening to receive male attention, especially of a flirtatious or romantic manner. It makes me feel trapped, scared, vulnerable, dirty, and angry.
Jade used to take great pride in her appearance, and while she enjoyed male attention (for sometimes the wrong reasons) she never felt anything emotionally for anyone. Stacy used to be the one to get typical intense “crushes” on boys throughout our life. If the crush even began to get anywhere or the boy reciprocated interest (or vice versa), Holly would shut it down. During any dating, Holly would feel the need to let the boy know that she was not to be messed with and in fact was the one in control and he’d better watch his step. (She wouldn’t convey this “as Holly” – meaning she wouldn’t announce herself and her self-protective agenda – she would just seem like a confusing cold shoulder or sudden bad mood or mixed signal.)
Therapist likes to talk about this whole, “how do you feel about thoughts/feeling about men and/or relationships and/or sexuality” thing. And I don’t have an answer. Maybe neutrality about the thought or feeling, as in the example at the beginning, is enough. That in itself is leaps and bounds from where I used to be.
(Please note that I do not think romantic and/or sexual relationships are a requirement to live a happy, fulfilling life.)
I’m generally uncomfortable with male attention in almost any capacity, and I’m realizing just how much, because I’m not fully switching as much since the three merges, so I’m becoming more self-aware and learning things about myself and my reactions to things. Jade is not separate anymore to be a male-attention-escape-hatch. Holly is not separate anymore to scare them off like she could. Megan is not separate anymore to remain frozen in indecision until she thinks she’d rather be dead than have someone express interest and put her in that horrible position or make her feel exposed. So I’m fully and painfully aware of interactions without losing time.
It’s interesting to observe myself interact with men and categorize them and try to discern where I stand with them, the nature of my relationship to/with them, and how I feel about them or how they make me feel, even in a friendship.
- Has this man ever made me feel uncomfortable before?
- Have I ever witnessed this man behaving in an angry or volatile manner?
- Does this man respect my “no” in regards to any aspect of interaction?
- Does this man appear to respect my “no” but then keep returning and phrasing things a different way, which I find to be a manipulation red flag guised as being oblivious?
- Does this man treat me and other women in general with respect? Without apparent underlying intentions?
- Do I have any concrete reason based on past behavior to believe this man I know will harm me or cross my boundaries/make me uncomfortable?
- Do I feel uncomfortable being alone with or making eye contact with this man?
- Do I feel any internal alarm bells ringing? Any gut feelings to stay away?
- Do I feel anxiety, annoyance, or dread when I see this man in person or when I see he has contacted me in any other way?
- Do my interactions with this man leave me feeling wrong, worried, anxious, with gnawing dread and a sinking stomach? Do I dread the next time I will see them and have to acknowledge them? (Objectively and not based on my automatic fear response to even innocent male attention?)
- Do I feel the need to keep this man at an emotional and/or physical distance?
- Do I feel nervous around this man and feel the need to be a people-pleaser peacekeeper?
- Can I not get a “read” on this man, leaving me feel like I’m guessing what they are thinking and feeling?
- Does a man claim they “forgot” important things about me, my life, my reality when it suits them and/or they’ve made me uncomfortable?
Also of note is that I can now better recognize the difference between someone expressing attraction or a desire to date, and someone who makes me uncomfortable. I don’t automatically assume that a man expressing interest in me means they’re awful and I should stay away from them and never speak to them again. I remind myself that, most likely, these men don’t understand the kind of self-hatred, panic, and nausea that romantic or sexual interest can trigger in me, as if I’m in danger and/or I’ve done something wrong for a man being interested in me. However, once they understand and are aware of that, if their behavior persists if I’ve declined their interest, that’s a warning sign to stay away from them or limit interaction as much as I can.
Learning to be okay with expressing my disinterest in dating, having a relationship, or having sexual interaction is another thing – I still do sometimes feel bad and guilty, or as if I’ve done something wrong even though the relief floods me for removing myself or them from the situation. Even if I ever did want to go on a date again, I’m exhausted at the thought of being on guard the whole time, also dreading if they want to make any physical contact, and also not knowing how up front to be about the fact of DID and maybe not ever wanting them to touch me. How soon is too much too soon, and how soon is fair enough to warn them (even though they may still think they can change my mind)?
Of course, online my real name is connected to me talking about my experiences, so if they so desired, they could find out a lot about me before even asking me out or once they ask me out, etc. I don’t care if they find out that way – that’s their choice to look me up online and read my content. How they react to it is not my responsibility, nor is it my problem.
Sometimes I think it’s better to find out who won’t be a waste of time from either perspective, so far as dating goes. For me, it’s easier to be up front and practical. I wouldn’t be (and haven’t been) happy when a boyfriend “forgot” to tell me some major things that impact their daily life and also interpersonal interactions, when they had an opportune time to do so, especially when I’d been up front about my own life so they could decide whether they were still interested in dating me or not with a fair playing ground. It felt instead like they omitted things to get me into a relationship and then suddenly “remembered” to tell me things but not letting me decide from the get-go. Things which actually ended up causing problems due to their behavior. I don’t want to be like that.
I mean…DID and a history of trauma are going to impact relationships, romantic or otherwise, so to me I prefer to just lay it on the line rather than waste time only to to be consumed with worry about disclosure and when to do so and how much while dating. DID and the trauma are big parts of my reality and life. They impact everything to a certain extent – especially interpersonal relationships, or relationships involving trust, vulnerability, and the potential of being touched. To pretend otherwise and to pretend I can date with those things having no bearing on the situation is ridiculous to me. Especially with the norms in society: a kiss by a certain date, sex after a certain amount of dates. That doesn’t apply for me and I feel it’s better to let them know that.
If a man can’t handle the fact that I may not ever want to sleep with him at all, or even so much as hold hands or kiss, then let’s just get that out of the way. And while the person may change their mind about physical contact eventually and on their own time if at all, let’s not expect the person to change their stance and continue to see each other based on that “maybe”.
In therapy, learning how to live, behave, as well as relate to and interact with people as a more “whole”, “cohesive” person is a challenge. Like adjusting to new perspectives and thought patterns and how to react or behave. It almost feels like fine-tuning how to be more of a “real person” to me.
I’m starting to feel like I missed out on age-related relationship or romantic milestones, and now in my adult life post-fusing the three main fronters, I’m starting to feel like I’m currently missing out by not allowing myself human connection, but at the same time feeling like it’s too late to start learning how to allow that, and that it would go nowhere because of the psychological baggage.
In a way, I almost feel betrayed by these new thoughts and feelings, especially since I worked so hard for so many years on keeping people at a distance, eschewing male interest, and preparing to spend the rest of my life alone. Then, suddenly, mergings! Fusions! Integration! Lowered dissociative barriers! More emotional maturity and ability to self-reflect! More understanding of what I actually want and need versus what trauma taught me!
And what I’m left with is a confusing soup that feels incredibly overwhelming, to the point where it’s easier to shut it all down and go, “Nope. Stick to the original plan, because this is all too much to (re)learn at this point, and it wouldn’t be fair to subject some man to this, even if I’m well into the recovery journey already.”
It’s important for me to notice the feelings I have while thinking about this topic and writing it out:
- “Get over yourself, this isn’t a big deal/important and not many guys like you anyway.”
- “Nobody will believe men want to date (or more) someone like me.”
- “I don’t deserve a relationship and everybody else thinks so, too.”
- “I’m getting what I always wanted by being left alone/emotionally shut down/ not allowing men to get close, so get over it and accept the consequences of keeping men away. It’s my own doing, so get over it, self.”
The amount of second-guessing that goes into reactions is astounding. “Is this man expressing interest in me, or just being awkwardly friendly?” “Is this man asking me out indirectly, and if I say I don’t want to date, will they then tell me how full of myself and presumptuous I am and that they were just being friendly, even if what they were doing was indeed asking me out but they feel embarrassed by the rejection?” “Is this man making me uncomfortable in a legitimate way or is this just my generic fear of men acting up? Am I over-reacting?” “This man makes me uncomfortable and fails to respect my boundaries. Would it be over-reacting to ask them to stop? And again? Would it be a horrible thing to do to block them from any contact, because maybe they’re not so bad and it’s just me and I need to get over it?”
A lot of people think that I hate all men because of my experiences. In general, I am more wary and fearful of men, though there are some men I hate, yes. I don’t know how to trust men or let my guard down around them, even if it comes across as humor and being witty and maybe a tad bit aggressive/assertive – emotional distance. I also never want to be “accused” of flirting with a man simply for smiling or being nice or engaging in conversation, so I try to treat everyone the same so no one can think I’m looking for male attention by misreading being pleasant as wanting male advances.
This feels like a “silly” topic to struggle with as I approach my thirties, but this is a profound shift into “normal life problems” for me. But it doesn’t feel “normal” for me to be thinking about these things…it feels like people must think I’m horrible or disgusting for even thinking of things like dating, etc. Even though they probably couldn’t care less one way or the other in reality. It’s just me projecting how I feel about myself onto how I think others must feel about me if they know me and my past.
Just…how to approach these normal life problems as someone with a history of trauma and DID. And later than teenage years or in my twenties. I missed those experiences, or only had partial awareness of some experiences. I can’t relate when I overhear teenagers talk about crushes, boys, dating. I see friends moving in with significant others, getting engaged and married, having kids, etc. And here I am at 29, trying to learn what to do with these new thoughts and feelings and wants I’ve never really had to deal with or think about before, because they’d never been forefront in my life, and were mostly walled-off with different alters. And which are so small compared to things like marriage, etc., but which are a big deal to me. And I feel profound grief even though I’m so very genuinely happy for my friends who are going through these enormous life events. It’s really difficult to not wonder what would have been different, or wonder if that could have been you. It’s hard to swallow the fact that you’ll never know, and that you can’t reclaim the years stolen or what you might have missed out on.
What I do know is that my life currently feels stagnant, walled-in, and suffocating. And I’m watching other peoples’ lives go on, but I feel like I’ve been frozen in place or am in the world’s slowest quicksand. I do know that I feel like I’m missing out on things. I do know this is new to me for obvious reasons. I do know it’s a complex thing for me to recognize, acknowledge, and struggle with. Even admitting I might someday want to date or be okay with a man so much as holding my hand is a big deal, and feels embarrassing and shameful and wrong. And I do feel like my time is running out to deal with this and to decide things that could impact my future. I never envisioned or planned for a future, and I never expected any fusions/merging of alters, and I never expected walled-off stuff to suddenly threaten to veer me off-course from my straight line to becoming a shut-in hermit. Is there time to reverse course, if I even decide I want to?
These are strange times for my brain.
(Please note that questions posed here are me thinking out loud and do not require an answer or advice.)