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Obsessing Over Men

As a psychologist and as a woman, it is a point of dissatisfaction to me that women think about relationships practically all the time. This is not to say that men don’t think about relationships a lot — they do. But women, especially depressed women, think about their relationships in a way that resembles obsession, and this is very much to their detriment.      

A woman that I know, not a patient, came to me and told me her story, and said I could pass it on in my blog. She said that she has to stop seeing this man she has taken up with again, because she can never again let happen to her what happened to her last week. Never.       

Okay, I told her, so you walk away from this man and you never see him again. In a few months you can think about him without trembling, you can remember the good times, and gradually you get over him. Forget all the endless deciding how to say “it’s over” and waiting for the right moment. Forget too about all the things he may say or do as a reaction to your goodbye. Tell the police if you are scared. Get a restraining order. Protect yourself. But flush and move on.      

Not so fast.      

She said she had no problem with saying (or texting, or emailing) goodbye to this man, but it was the possibility of going back to him again in a few weeks or months that really bothered her. She was afraid that she would recover only tenuously from this breakup, just to find herself back in his manipulative, seductive arms once again. And if that happened, she might as well not end it in the first place because he would take advantage of her, perceiving her as weak.      

What had happened to her last week that she could never allow herself to experience again? She had sensed the “energy of the other woman” when she had sex with him. She shook for hours afterward, she said. She told me, “I didn’t want to be in this body, I felt that sick.” This man is a flagrant cheater, and he still has a wife and two girlfriends. When he travels out of town, “he is on the prowl,” according to my visitor. I believe her.       

He has told her that he doesn’t think the rules apply to him, and moreover he doesn’t care about the consequences of behavior that most people would call immoral, reprehensible or at least insensitive. As a specialist in personality disorders, I’m smelling narcissistic and antisocial personality disorder features here.      

So what should she do? She’s horribly depressed. She’s lost a lot of weight since I saw her last. She actually looks pretty good, except for the now-permanent downturn of her eyebrows and the pinched roll of skin between her eyes. When I complimented her upon first seeing her again, she said, “No, I was so much better. Now, yuck.”       

The French writer/actress Julie Delpy said as her character Marion in the film 2 Days in Paris (2007),“There’s a moment in life where you can’t recover anymore from another break-up.” My visitor may fear that this point of no return has come for her too; she may fear that she won’t bounce back –– she’ll “have” to be with him because of her weakness. My hope for her was that she would in no way feel forced to choose a sad, tortured relationship because she fears there is no resurrection after one too many breakups.      

She herself is in another relationship as well, and to hear her tell it, this man is disconnected, oblivious, completely checked out. She doesn’t worry about him at all. But the other guy, the one who travels all over the world, has a prestigious teaching position and a good practice, not to mention the amazing ability to woo women several decades younger than he is-- she worries about him. During sex, he jabs her crookedly with his member, and when she complains he says he is aware of her pain but because he likes it he is still going to sometimes do it. This guy she worries about.      

Not that I’m knocking it, but her belief in karma forms part of her reason for not going for blood when she breaks up with him this round. She does not want her next incarnation to be hurt as reprisal for hurting this man today. So instead of lashing out at her oppressor she bides her time, roiling inside, thinking and rethinking in a Frootless Loop the same “what if” thoughts. She continues to fantasize that he will realize his wrongdoing, change utterly and devote himself to her, will stop seeing the other woman, will somehow not be married anymore while at the same time not ruining the life of his wife of 30-something years, won’t fool around anymore when he travels, and will not get strung up by his heels by the governing body of his profession. At the same time, she pictures in her head, he will be punished, he will be shamed, he will get in all kinds of legal trouble, he will get caught, he will get fired and his business will fold. It just won’t be because of her. All of this she rolls over and over again in her mind.      

Instead of thinking of her next life (the karmic interest on trouble borrowed today), I recommended to her that she hire Dr. Payne’s Breakup Service. I would call this clown and give him the dressing down he deserves, but in a very calm voice and with polite pauses for his responses, if he could muster any. If she attempted this, she fears, he would manipulate her and twist her words and make her take it all back with a booger on top. That’s what he does to her any time she expresses displeasure with him.       

He’s made her afraid to express not only displeasure, but anything other than approval and appreciation for him. Certainly she has not been allowed to express anger. This is the key reason she is so depressed. She’s angry inside for the way he makes her feel about her core self.      

But she rejected the Breakup Service in favor of trying to determine through her psychic how he would react to her three possible kindly worded breakup speeches. Until her psychic comes through with an answer she is going to ignore his calls and texts. Simultaneously she is going to attempt to avoid all stimuli related to him; in other words, block him from her mind. The idea behind this is that by avoiding all stimuli related to someone, the oxytocin (our bonding hormone) drains out of our system, and we can forget them. This part I completely endorse.      

The plan is unfortunately not going to work. It’s like trying to ignore the elephant in the living room. You can’t think of someone and not think of them at the same time. Even when we try to not think of someone, we are in a sense thinking of them. If we know how many days we have been ignoring someone, we are not ignoring them.      

Instead I would suggest that it doesn’t matter what breakup speech she uses. It’s not her karma she need be concerned about, but getting this over and done, with as much speed and finality as possible. “Hurting him” can’t be done and wouldn’t be important even if it could. He will be narcissistically offended, but won’t be hurt, sad, lonely, or mope around in his pajamas for a whole week. He will feel precisely nothing of a romantic nature. He will be spitting mad, ornery, frustrated and probably even horny for someone, anyone, to jab his angry ego into the first chance he gets. And, in his mind, all of this will be her fault. But at no time will he reflect on his bad behavior and decide to change. If by some miracle he ever feels remorse, he won’t credit her, and she shouldn’t care. (Though in fact she’s done him a favor by being the catalyst of a compassionate human response to another person’s pain.)      

My own therapist said to me the other day, “You help people? Stop helping!” I’ve had to think long and hard about that. I now can see where my role as a psychologist is not to help. It’s to show people how to help themselves, and maybe work together to figure out why they act against their own interests and then need “help” dealing with the consequences. As this woman is not my patient, I let her walk out of my office fully comfortable with not having helped her like I usually try to help my patients.       

A few days ago, I might have tried to help her deal with her depression, and the probable low self-esteem that is the box spring of her psyche. But as of today, I want her to help herself to stop being a tool and to stick up for her rights. (It would help him, too, by giving him the opportunity to suffer and grow.)      

I also wish in a way she would hire my Breakup Service so I could give him hell. But all that really needs to be done is for her to call him and say something like “This is the last time you will hear my voice. This relationship is over and nothing you have to say will change my mind. Do not contact me. If you do, I will call the police. Bye.”      

Just think of all she will be able to do with her mind once she’s made that 30-second call. Sooner rather than later, no more obsession. Fairly immediately, an easing of her depression. Finally, no more Frootless Loops. 

This story has a new chapter!  Tune in next week for an update!

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