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September 15

Disordered dating?

Filed under: issues,Psychology — posted by Breakup Girl @ 5:42 am

We use a lot of offhand shorthand about being “crazy” for someone or, on a not so good day, about a “psycho” ex. But figures of speech aside, what — as Jezebel (and, earlier, BG) have asked — is it like to date while you yourself are struggling with actual mental health issues? (Related: or with autism?) Sheesh. Obvious but necessary thing to say: Dating is hard enough when you don’t have (say) an eating disorder. You know? What do you do on dates when just the thought of just “grabbing a bite” is a source of unbearable stress? When (as with disability issues) do you disclose: soon enough to be honest, but not so early that you scare them off? How do you even get out there in the first place when — as one woman interviewed told Jezebel — you walk around with “this core self-belief that, basically, [you] suck”? Read the whole piece for some insight and perspective, but perhaps the key message therein is this (from Dr. Sarah Ravin):

Choose a partner who brings you joy and pleasure and fun. Try to view dating as an opportunity to grow emotionally, meet new people, practice new skills, and take healthy risks. If dating seems very stressful or boring or anxiety-provoking, you’re either not ready to date yet or you’re dating the wrong person.

“Sounds,” as Jezebel notes, “like good advice for anyone.”

August 16

Superheroes sending the wrong message?

Filed under: Psychology — posted by Chris @ 10:09 am

Over the weekend, the APA convention debuted the latest in a long line of studies about the psychological impact of superheroes on boys — a lineage one can trace back to Frederic Wertham’s infamous “Seduction of the Innocent” in 1954. These new studies are more rigorous than Wertham’s alarmist screed of course, but after 50 years of this sort of thing its hard to get worked up over it. Of course now the boogeyman is superhero movies, since they are more widespread than their print counterparts.

“There is a big difference in the movie superhero of today and the comic book superhero of yesterday,” said psychologist Sharon Lamb, PhD, distinguished professor of mental health at University of Massachusetts-Boston. “Today’s superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in non-stop violence; he’s aggressive, sarcastic and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity. When not in superhero costume, these men, like Ironman, exploit women, flaunt bling and convey their manhood with high-powered guns.”

Of course there is a big difference between today and yesterday. Since the 1980’s, comic books (and video games) have increasingly been geared toward older and older audiences (the ones with the money) — teen, then college-age, and now even post-college age men as “adultolescence” becomes more prevalent. And of course today’s movie superhero is going to be more complex, if not more violent, than his comic book counterparts (especially the Twinkie-hawking ’70s versions that researchers remember) — that’s what blockbuster-moviegoers demand. I don’t remember the achingly innocent/authentic Speed Racer movie breaking any records.

The report continues:

“In today’s media, superheroes and slackers are the only two options boys have,” said Lamb. “Boys are told, if you can’t be a superhero, you can always be a slacker. Slackers are funny, but slackers are not what boys should strive to be; slackers don’t like school and they shirk responsibility…”

They could be right about there only being two choices, superhero or slacker. Have you seen the Green Hornet trailer? In this new formulation (desecration?) of the old radio drama, Seth Rogen plays a slacker who straightens himself out after his father dies. But does he get a job? No, he becomes a superhero! I guess he grew up on these messages that Lamb has been studying.

At the convention this study was paired with another, from Researcher Carlos Santos, PhD, of Arizona State University that suggested that boys seem better adjusted in their relationships when they resist internalizing macho images.

Look, if I have learned anything about relationships from superheroes, I have learned to keep women at arms length in order to keep them safe. Also, lying about what I do at night.

June 11

Reason #2347 why BG is co-ed

Filed under: Psychology — posted by Breakup Girl @ 6:33 am

A study at Wake Forest University of more than 1000 unmarried young adults ages 18-23 has found that the emotional roller coaster of romance has an even greater effect on the mental health of men than of women. “Surprisingly, we found young men are more reactive to the quality of ongoing relationships,” said sociology prof Robin Simon, who found that men experience both greater stress when things are rocky and greater “emotional benefits” when things are rocking.

“Surprising?” Maybe, but only against strong, silent stereotype. For one thing (as Simon notes), men are more likely to rely on their galpals as their primary source of intimacy; gals, meanwhile, have their own galpals.

Simon also notes that (paraphrase) “strain in a current romantic relationship may also be associated with poor emotional well-being because it threatens young men’s identity and feelings of self-worth.” While men are more affected by the quality of an existing relationship, women are more affected by whether they’re in a relationship or not. From a summary: “So, young women are more likely to experience depression when the relationship ends or benefit more by simply being in a relationship.”

What this says to BG:
1. These results jibe with the letters we get/got.

2. Chicken vs. egg/nature vs. nurture? These results might do away with some stereotypes, but to what degree are the findings caused by stereotypes — or at least cultural assumptions, proclivities, etc. — to begin with? That is:

(a) women are “supposed” to be the emotional CEOs of relationships; are young men not raised with the same tools to manage them?

(b) Women, arguably more than men, get the message that they’re “supposed” to be in a relationship, no matter what; this, at least as much as internal factors, could explain why the study found breakups leaving women more bereft. (This also explains a lot of this.)

All of the above speaks to BG’s emphatically co-ed mission. Even though men represent 5o% of the partners in straight relationships, romance is  — still — usually considered WomensStuff ™. That’s dumb. Men — obviously — have questions, not to mention feelings. Let’s work all this stuff out together, according to what we need, not what we’re “supposed” to want or have. K?

August 27

Girls: School sexual assault=fact of life?

Filed under: News,Psychology — posted by Breakup Girl @ 10:32 am

From CityTV.com in Toronto, via Bitch Ph.D.:

…It appears a growing number of young girls are not only being sexually assaulted [in school], but have come to think of it as a normal part of their educational experience.

Recent studies from both the Board’s Safety Panel and the Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health show some shocking stats at one school: 33 per cent say they’ve been sexually harassed in the past two years; another 29 admit to having been touched or grabbed inappropriately and seven per cent have actually been victims of a major sexual assault.

“You just hear jokes [being yelled out] all the time that have to do with girls doing sexual things,” said Madison Fitzgerald, a Toronto high school student.

“There’s a lot of groping and touching in our school.,” said another.

But Connelly believes it’s a problem that’s endemic to halls of learning across the country. “One of the concerns is the alarming rate of gender-based violence, and 21 per cent of the students that were surveyed said that they knew at least one student who was sexually assaulted at school. Now there’s sexual harassment, which is talking inappropriately and there’s sexual harassment which is being touched inappropriately. So the 21 per cent are talking about sexual assault.

“Twenty-nine per cent of Grade 9 girls … felt unsafe at school partly due to sexual comments and unwanted looks or touches; 27 per cent of the girls in Grade 11 admitted to being pressured into doing something sexual that they did not want to do; 14 per cent of the females reported being harassed over the Internet.”

She worries that’s becoming the ‘new normal’ and an accepted mode of behaviour that’s just part of going to class everyday. “They take it for granted that this is the way they should be treated,” she concludes.

Some experts believe the situation is exacerbated because most kids don’t understand exactly what “sexual assault” actually entails.

But at least the grownups are finally starting to call it that. Though they may need to move a little more quickly to educate everyone about what’s appropriate and what’s just … no. Then — holy grail — you need to get the popular kids to call out the others when it happens.

Me, I remember a bit of vaguely line-crossing stuff that happened when I was in school, shortly after the Peloponnesian War. Whether or not I told, which I probably did not, I remember that in general the adults’ response would be “Eh, he’s just doing it because he likes you.” And I remember that weird mix of feelings that I didn’t know what to do with, that uncomfortably prickly mishmash of “Eee, really?! and “Eeuw.” Not helpful.

Q: What kind of sexual harassment is — or was — considered “normal” at your school? What, if anything, was done about it?

June 19

He’s toast

Filed under: Advice — posted by Breakup Girl @ 9:40 am

No one’s laughing on February 16, 1998

Dear Breakup Girl,

I met this guy in my home town through a radio dating service. The quintessential blind date, but wait, here’s a bonus: he’s adorable, has his own business, has no children, no ex-wives, no psychological problems to speak of but … he has zero sense of humor. He is about as dry as a piece of wheat toast. I think I intimidate him because I got about an inch over him in the height department. And I have a strong personality. Okay, here comes the problem: I blew him off a couple of months ago because it was too difficult being witty all by myself. But get this: I get a call asking how I’ve been and all that — and that now he knows it’s me he wants to be with. And that he has had this soul-searching revelation, and he doesn’t want to grow old alone, blah, blah, blah. But he still hasn’t acquired any personality traits that I can see. What should I do? I mean he is terribly sweet, and a kind person, but just as dull as a board. Am I a shallow person? I mean the usual dregs that I fall for have me grabbing my side with hysterical laughter — and later clutching my heart trying to keep it from falling to pieces because they have dogged me out. Help me please — all my girlfriends think I’m crazy, and that I should lock him up and keep him to myself. What do you think? Am I crazy?

— Crazy in Camden


October 11

Getting out of my head and the house

Filed under: Advice — posted by Breakup Girl @ 9:02 am

Looking for help on November 9, 1998

Dear Breakup Girl,

First of all, I LOVE your column and read it all the time. Your advice is really sensible and that’s why I’m writing — I’m hoping you might be able to help me with this. You see, I see the problem, but the solution is far from sight.

I’m 22, a virgin, had a total of 2 boyfriends (one Internet one I never met) and have a real problem getting boyfriends. OK — or anyone (I believe myself to be Bi — but since I’ve never been with anyone — I’m not sure if you can count that). I finished college, have my BA in English, am not completely unattractive, have terrible self-esteem and about 20 years of mental and emotional abuse from my father, whose house I am still living in until I save enough to get my own place. No — I have not gotten therapy for this yet — I can’t afford it and I OBVIOUSLY can’t get my father to pay for it. My mom won’t pay for it either — and she’s perfectly aware of why I need it too. (I do have a job that pays well, but I still can’t afford an apartment, much less anything big like therapy.)

I know I need to get out of my house and meet friends and people off the net, but the opportunities never seem to come up. It’s only recently that my brother taught me to recognize when other men are really flirting at me, and only recently that I realized that I am possibly attractive to other people. I used to believe that I just needed a boyfriend so bad just to have some love in my life. I still kind of half believe it. My sense tells me that I have to give that kind of love to myself before I can expect anyone else to give it. It’s harder than it sounds and I am trying to work on it. It’s hard when I’ve spent so many years hating myself for being lazy, slow, fat, unmotivated and all the other things my father spent years telling me that I am.


September 24

This is your relationship on drugs

Filed under: Advice — posted by Breakup Girl @ 9:51 am

This Is Your Relationship on DrugsAsk anyone single, and they will tell you that the number of, well, couples is on the rise. Ask anyone at the Department of Health and Human Services, and they will tell you that while overall drug use is down, use of cocaine and heroin is creeping up, especially among people under 26. Merge these trends and you’ve got the strung-out boyfriends and girlfriends of tomorrow. And right now, boyfriends and girlfriends of today’s drug users are writing to Breakup Girl to ask (among other things): When drugs are a crowd … do I just say Go?

Remember, Breakup Girl is only a superhero, not a trained substance abuse counselor. But it doesn’t take a trained counselor to notice how many letters arrive in my e-mailbox in which the bad guy’s name is Jack Daniels — or, the bad girl’s, St. Pauli; in which chemicals kill chemistry; in which certain substances are not so controlled; in which the writer doesn’t know whether to be furious or terrified. Or to know how it feels to get dumped at the 1980-something eighth grade Beach Dance because you didn’t have much — that is, much interest in smoking pot — in common.

There are plenty of resources out there for family members and parents of substance abusers but, according to BG’s supercomputer, not as much help is obviously available for Others who, once drugs enter the picture, feel a whole lot less Significant. And who, as such, have their own set of concerns about guilt, partnership, trust, “enabling,” gauging the toughness of love.

So where do you start?

Here’s the would-that-it-were-that-simple bottom line (with a little help from BG.com’s Actual Credentialed Expert, Belleruth):

If it’s to the point where the bad mojo is really interfering with your honey’s — and/or your — ability to work and play and love and feel; or if a large portion of your energy is going into responding to the substance abuse, thinking about it, planning around it… the deal is: get help or get out.

This if…then either/or might sound like a big Breakup Girl DUH, but it’s not. Because:

1. Substance abuse problems are often more subtle: no needles in the den, no dates with dealers … but how about “social” drinking that gets anti- every time? Pot before class? Pain dulled with dope instead of dealt with?

2. At the other end of the caveat spectrum, most partners — user and Other — kid themselves about how bad things are getting. Especially because the abuse — like domestic violence — often escalates incrementally. So things can get out of control before you’re even clued in.

And even if you already know that either getting (a) help or (b) out are your only real options: how do you decide?

The answer is: ask. Someone with particular expertise in the peculiar dynamics of drugs-plus-love.

Still, it’s totally fine to start the asking with Breakup Girl. To use a cliched-but-true recoveryism: the first step is admitting there’s a problem. This is true for the People Who Do Drugs, and — for the reasons in points 1 and 2 above — it’s an equally tricky and trippy step (though in different ways) for the People Who Love Them. So Bravisimi to those of you who’ve already written.

For the third step, you may wish to check out: The hotline at the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information (1-800-662-HELP), general information about substance abuseorganizations that deal with it, various support groups, plus alternative ways of dealing and healing.

A version of this column originally appeared on November 9, 1998.

April 13

My boyfriend’s secret

Filed under: Advice — posted by Breakup Girl @ 7:41 am

Tied in knots on October 5, 1998

Dear Breakup Girl,

Please help with a delicate situation. I can’t speak to any of my friends about it, so I turn to you hoping for guidance.

I have been with my boyfriend for about 5 months. We are both professionals, I’m 32, he’s 28. We fell in love pretty quickly, but it feels right. I have been in three long-term relationships before, he in two.

Here is the problem: I discovered something by accident on his computer one night — addresses to some racy Internet sites about bondage, etc. Now normally, I wouldn’t worry. Just guy stuff, right? Well, the issue is that about 4 out of 5 times when we have sex, he doesn’t come. I do, but he doesn’t.

We talked about it and he said he is happy with our sex life. I didn’t ask him about the Internet sites. The stuff he is into seems like it doesn’t hurt anyone. He is into submission, I think. I went to one of the sites and found a matchmaker section with an ad he placed. I don’t think he had done anything with anyone since we have been together. We are together 24/7.

What should I do?

1. Let him know that I know…and explore this with him.

2. Blow it off and hope the sex gets better on its own.

Please help.

— Lisa Ann

Dear Lisa Ann,

First of all, brava! You’re so nice and non-judgmental about something that often wigs the heck out of people; this is promising, ’cause chances are your boyfriend isn’t going to bring this up.

Now we’re gonna go talk to our official expert, Mistress Belleruth, okay? She says, basically, that Option 2 is out. “She definitely shouldn’t ignore it, ’cause their sex life will only get worse… and worse… and he could end up depressed or outta there or cheating. Besides, now they both have secrets, and they’ll just loom larger and larger. But before you bring it up, you should try to get clear in your own mind how you’d feel about pleasing him on his own terms — if in fact, he would like you to tie him up, say, or administer the occasional spanking… how would you feel about that?? If you don’t mind, great. But if you’re really freaked, you’ll need to be clear on that to him. And then it’s a dilemma that you can at least share and puzzle over together, out in the open.”

And we can infer from your tone that you’ll bring this up sensitively and non-blamingly, right? ‘Cause otherwise, well, that’s not the kind of punishment he’s into.

Breakup Girl

October 5

My sweet boyfriend is a sex addict

Filed under: Advice — posted by Breakup Girl @ 8:56 am

Things take a nasty turn on August 17, 1998

Dear Breakup Girl,

I’ve recently discovered your website — though it’s too bad I’ve had to consult it in the first place, if you know what I mean…. I could write an epic saga here, because that’s me, but I must keep it short due to the fact I’m at work. The situation: I’ve been in a relationship with KT for a little over a year now, and I love him immensely. He’s bright, adorable, talented, incredibly fun, hysterically funny, “gets” me, and we truly have a wonderful time together. (BTW, I’m 26, he’s 24). In fact, our relationship — aside from the “normal” issues every relationship tends to face & tackle as it progresses — felt like a truly blissful union of minds & hearts, UNTIL. Until I found out that he’s what some call a “sex addict.” HELLO? Believe me, I didn’t see it coming either. We had certainly gone over our sexual histories together many times (who we’d been with, exes, flings, etc.) AND were both tested for HIV when we decided to commit to each other, but KT rather CONVENIENTLY (for himself) left out the details of his fondness for pornographic magazines, movies, phone sex, chat rooms, etc (to be fair, I DID know about this stuff, but not the EXTENT to which he partook), not to MENTION the fact that, in the years before he met me, he went through a phase where he called escorts and visited booths in Times Square, etc. How did I find all this out? One or two little suspicions ended up becoming a full on Spanish Inquisition one night — and I honestly don’t know…sometimes I wish I’d never even probed. You know the deal about how “don’t ask the question if you don’t want to hear the answer” (more…)

April 4

Dating with OCD

Filed under: Advice — posted by Breakup Girl @ 8:19 am

A non-romantic obsession from June 15, 1998

Dear Breakup Girl,

I am lucky enough to have a wonderful, sweet, and generous man in my life. We have been together for two years and, being in our early 30s, a potential for marriage is on both our minds. The problem is that he has obsessive-compulsive disorder, a condition that dictates most of his actions. When we first met, he was doing all right. He told me about it and I was fine with it, mostly because I hadn’t seen the effects of his condition on his life. In the past six months, he has been spiraling down into the depths of this disorder, and for a time, would not come near me. I can’t begin to tell you how painful it was to be so thoroughly rejected by such a loving person. It got so bad that we did not see each other for a month. When I told him that I wanted to break up, he finally started in a therapy program (including medication). Maybe this is selfish of me, but I am not sure if I can handle this condition in my life. I promised that I would not leave him until he was stable again and we could talk about it. The reality is that his “minor” mental illness is a very difficult thing to deal with and I am not sure that I would want to commit myself to it for the rest of my life. It might help him deal with the condition, but I don’t think that his anxiety will ever go away. I feel so guilty about wanting to leave him and there is a part of me that believes that I’ll never meet anyone as wonderful as he can be again. Is this stupid? Am I wrong?

— Miki

BG’s response after the jump

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Breakup Girl
is the superhero whose domain is LOVE or the lack thereof! Her blog combines new comics, observations and dating news with classic advice letters--now blogified for reader feedback!
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