Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

Am I A Toxic Boyfriend?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m sure that I’m not the only one that’s written in with issues regarding the Cororna-crisis going on across the world right now, but I’ve been trying to come to a conclusion with myself and I’m not entirely certain if I can. Not while the crisis is going on.

I’ve been going out with my girlfriend for almost three years now. We got along really well at first, and because of some life happenings we may have moved much faster than we originally intended. She had her living space essentially sold out from beneath her, moved in with a coworker who then kicked her out, and then I offered her a space with me. That worked out well enough, well enough that when I was offered a job in Silicon Valley I invited her to join me.

She accepted and we seemed to be doing well enough together, but there were already problems, and it feels like COVID has been enhancing those problems dramatically.

I’m 35, cis male, and she’s 28, cis female. However, I’m pretty much asexual. I still troll through Reddit and whatever because I like the… idea… of sex… I guess, the fantasy? But I can quite literally go for months completely content without having any physical interaction with another human, and not really get upset about it. My partner, however, has a normal sex drive. When we do it, she seems to enjoy it quite a bit, and I try to be an active, caring, and attentive lover, but honestly I just don’t really get much from it. Not much more than simple masturbation… possibly less.

When my partner and I first met, she had just come off a fairly major relationship and in her efforts to recover from that relationship, she lost an incredible amount of weight and had been taking serious efforts to take care of herself. It was one of the reasons why I was attracted to her at first. However, since we’ve been together, especially since she moved in with me, the things that I liked about her —  her drive, her “go for it,” attitude, her desire to change herself and bend the world around her — has… slowly died off. She has gained back almost all of the weight that she had lost, she’s disconnected from her business venture that she was heavily involved in when we first met, she’s not doing her art, she doesn’t take proper care of her dog, any number of issues and it’s been progressive. Getting worse and worse as time goes on.

The concern I have is that it may have been me that killed off that part of her. I was in a long-term relationship (almost 10 years) before I met her and we started dating and I was attracted to my now-ex for much the same reasons. She was an artist, going to school, had a strong attitude and opinion about things and had a goal in life. But as time went on through that relationship those goals just kept falling to the side or being slowly strangled away.

Is it me? Am I just… toxic to the people that I get into a relationship with because I’m just attracted to my opposites?

Thank you for all your years of advice Doc,

CoronaValley

DEAR CORONAVALLEY: On the one hand, CV, I’m a believer that when you’re running into the same issues in your relationships, you need to look for the commonalities. And sometimes the only thing all those relationships had in common is, well, you.

On the other hand, I’m also a believer that when you hear hoofbeats, you think “horses”, not “zebra”. And while it’s possible that you are somehow responsible for your past partners losing their drive and goals… it’s probably a good idea to look at other, more likely culprits first.

In the case of your current girlfriend, what you describe sounds a lot like symptoms of depression. People tend to think that depression is “the blues”, where you’re sad and mopey all the time. In reality, depression tends to feel a lot more like just being… numb, and empty. Like everything is pointless and the things that you used to enjoy simply don’t bring you pleasure any more. In fact, one of the most significant indicators of depression is a loss of energy and drive; you don’t really give much of a s--t about anything because it doesn’t matter and it’s just not worth it.

(If you ever want to see one of the best representations of what depression looks like, check out Pixar’s Inside Out. The way Riley acts and behaves when Joy and Sadness f--k off the job is possibly one of the most accurate and realistic depictions of what life with depression is like that I’ve ever seen.)

And in fairness: your girlfriend has been through a lot. Having had one home yanked out from under her, getting kicked out from another living space and the disruptions and stress that come from life under quarantine, especially in an area that’s been hit pretty goddamn hard? Yeah, that’s going to throw even the most well-adjusted person for a loop. So if she was already dealing with depression — and people who seem to be doing great and have their life together can still wrestle with depression — I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if all that kicked her legs out from under her.

At the same time, you don’t give enough information about your previous girlfriend to really say one way or another. It could well be that as time moved on, her priorities changed, she had setbacks that changed her mind or she simply wasn’t able to make those dreams come true and she let them go. Is it possible that you somehow strangled her goals and dreams? F--ked if I know. Did you? Did you discourage her from doing the things she loved, tell her that she needed a backup plan, try to keep her away from the circles of friends who might have encouraged her or helped her pursue those goals? You tell me, hoss; I’m an advice columnist, not an oracle.

One area where you might be an influence is sex. You don’t mention whether your partners know that you’re asexual, which could be an issue. While you’re willing to provide for your partner in bed, if she feels like you’re just going through the motions… that can be a little dehumanizing. Especially if she doesn’t know that your libido is much, much lower than hers. If she feels like you’ve lost attraction to her, or feels like maybe you were never into her in the first place, that can make any feelings of depression worse.

On the other hand, if she knows that you’re functionally ace, but she also knows that while you may not get much from sex, you derive pleasure from pleasing her… that’s a different situation entirely. I may not dig fennel or green peppers, but making an amazing fennel, pepper and garlic stew for my partner would make me happy because of how much she loves it and I like making it for her even if I won’t have any.

But influence isn’t the same as “cause”. It might — and I stress might — be a contributing factor, but it’s not going to be the only factor even if it is. And if it is… well, first you deal with what’s making her miserable, then you work on compromises that work for the both of you.

All that having been said: there are two things that should happen here.

First: you should examine your relationships and how you behave with your partners. If you don’t trust your own judgement, try reaching out to friends whose opinions you trust, friends who know you and your girlfriend (or your ex) and have seen you together. How do they think you behave during relationships? Do they have concerns, or does everything seem ok to them? They may not be able to say definitively — God knows what looks fine and happy to people on the outside may be a goddamn nightmare to the people involved — but they may be able to at least give you some perspective.

Second: you should really encourage your girlfriend to talk to a counselor or therapist. Those changes you describe scream “depression” to me, and that’s not something that gets better on its own. Talking to a therapist can help root out whether this is an emotional or biochemical issue, help her find a course of treatment that will work for her, or possibly even direct her to a psychiatrist if she needs medical assistance. It may take time to find the most effective treatment for her; it may even take a combination of treatments and  therapies. But if this is ongoing and progressive? Then it’s time to get a mental health professional involved, not just a loudmouth with an advice column.

Good luck.

Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, doc@doctornerdlove.com