I Just Want a Relationship

andm123
asks:
Hello. So I'm a 15 year old boy who is a freshman in high school. I suffer from anxiety, depression, OCD, and recovering from an eating disorder. Lately, I have been finding myself wanting to pursue a romantic and sexual relationship with a girl (I'm straight). No one in particular, I just want a relationship. But I feel like I have obstacles keeping me from one. I feel like my mental disorders are preventing me from having any relationship that is personal, romantic, and sexual with any girl. I always say to my friends (friend group predominantly girls) that i don't think anyone likes me. They say they are sure that some girls liked me, and some even said I was cute. But i can't help to feel like I'm hopeless. I have never been involved in a serious relationship, none the less a sexual one (which I'm ready for). I feel like I see myself as damaged goods, and I don't see how any other girl would see me as anything but. I know that if i can't learn to stop that thought process, then other girls WILL actually start to see me as damaged goods. And I know this thought process can especially effect one's sexual encounters. How do I stop viewing myself like this? And how can i let myself to pursue a sexual and romantic relationship?
Mo Ranyart replies:

First off, I want to talk about the idea of being "damaged goods." I know this is a very common way to refer to people who have mental health struggles, or a history of trauma, but I encourage you to think about yourself, and other people who may be having similar concerns in their own lives, in a different light. I don't want to downplay or make light of mental health struggles at all; I know from personal experience that they can have a large impact on one's life. At the same time, though, you aren't a car, depression isn't a dent in your fender, and people have no obligation to make it through life in pristine condition. Mental illnesses are real and can certainly cause pain and difficulty, but having them doesn't make someone broken or damaged. Maybe that seems like a minor language nitpick, but I think even a slight reframing of how you see yourself and your mental health might make a difference. Everyone carries the weight of their past with them. Everyone is imperfect.

You're right that a persistent negative self-image or ongoing negative self-talk can make it harder to form and maintain close relationships. Many mental illnesses can also make it tougher to feel deserving of love and affection, and to project the kind of awesomeness that attracts potential partners in the first place. If you feel worthless, you might not be able to make much of an effort to show other people  your best qualities, or you may not have a lot of mental energy to spend on other people at all. None of the mental health issues you mention are a sign that you're unworthy of love or are doomed to a solitary life, though; plenty of people with mental illnesses date and have relationships with fantastic, caring people. If you are currently seeing a doctor or counselor for mental health support, talking about ways to bolster your self-esteem in general, or dating in particular, would be a good first step. If you aren't, I'd encourage you to investigate your options. If you have a doctor you see for general checkups they can make a referral, or you could see if your school has a counselor available. We have a list of some anxiety resources here which may be helpful as well.

In terms of how to stop viewing yourself as hopeless or damaged, I won't lie - it is a process, and it can be a long one. But getting help and taking those first steps can make a huge difference. One step you can take on your own is to find and take part in things you're passionate about and really enjoy. This could be sports, crafts, student government, local activism, volunteering, hiking, music...anything that speaks to you. You don't have to be good at it, but hopefully there's something you enjoy that you can put some time into. This can help in a few ways. Improving at or becoming more involved in something you love is a great way to build self-esteem. It can be easy, when you're feeling depressed or vulnerable or otherwise not great about yourself, to hold off on doing new things or keeping up with existing activities. I know depression in particular can take the joy out of a lot of things that would otherwise be enjoyable. But if you can find the physical and mental energy, keeping yourself engaged in an activity and in the community around it can help improve your mental health and self-esteem.

If your internal narrative is "I don't know why anyone would like me," that's often something other people can pick up on, and they may indeed be less likely to investigate further and find out all the reasons that already exist for someone to like you! Even when you're not feeling that positive about yourself, your involvement in a hobby or project can change your general outlook and influence how others see you. Many hobbies will put you in touch with other people who share your interests; if you're feeling nervous or awkward about talking to someone you have a romantic or platonic interest in, having that shared connection can be helpful. I do encourage you to avoid approaching every activity and social event solely as a place to meet potential dates, as folks can often tell if they're being evaluated solely on dateability and tend to find that off-putting. But if you build a rapport with someone and want to explore that or see if they're interested in a relationship, it's fine to ask.

You mention that you want a relationship, but don't have anyone in particular in mind. That's ok; there isn't always someone around who fits our tastes. But I'm wondering if this means there just isn't anyone you know or have met who has caught your eye, and you're waiting to find someone who does, or if "no one in particular" means you'd be willing to date just about anyone.

If it's the latter case, I'd encourage you to examine that a bit. There's nothing wrong with really wanting to be in a romantic or sexual relationships; plenty of people prefer to be in one over being single, and enjoy the companionship and affection such a relationship brings. Wanting that affection for yourself isn't a problem at all. A relationship is between two people, thought, and if you're more focused on the idea of being in a relationship with anyone at all than on the specific qualities that make you excited about any one person in particular, it may make someone you approach feel like you consider them to be interchangeable with other girls you know, or that you aren't really seeing them as full individuals. "I just want a girlfriend!" is a very different statement than "I would really love if [specific interesting and cool girl you know] wanted to be my girlfriend," after all. The former sounds like you're less interested in dating a person than the idea of a person, and very few people are going to be excited about being an object of desire or affection when there isn't something in particular about them that sets them apart in your mind.

It might help to spend some time thinking about what particular qualities you might like in a partner. If any names do come to mind when you think about people you might want to date, what specifically about them is appealing? If there's really no on in particular who stands out, what qualities do you think you'd look for or find important? That list might include things like specific shared interests or hobbies, skills or traits you admire, a similar sense of humor or set of values to your own. I don't say this so that you'll create a rigid mold that someone has to fit in order for you to be interested, but because it may help for you to get a better sense of what in particular you're looking for in a partner.

In a similar vein, you could think about what you're looking to get out of a relationship as well. As with individual people, I think it can happen that people have an idea of a relationship but aren't picturing what a specific relationship with a real person - who will have her own feelings about and goals for the relationship - might be like. When you imagine having a girlfriend, what does that mean to you? What does that relationship look like? In what ways are you ready to adjust aspects of your life to make space for another person? I'll leave you some links at the bottom of this reply with some information that might be a good jumping-off point to start thinking about this. Taking some time to reflect on what you want to get out of a relationship and how you might want to structure it is most likely going to serve you well in the long run. Some people fall into relationships without a lot of communication, or assume that their partner will share the same goals and expectations without really talking about them, which can cause problems over time. Putting thought into this beforehand can save you some pain down the road.

Of course, wanting to be in a relationship doesn't always mean that the right person or circumstances will come along the moment you're ready. There's no magic formula that will make the perfect partner appear, or make them want to date you when they do! But if it does take you longer than you'd like, please keep in mind that it's not a reflection of your worth as a person or of your suitability as a dating partner. If you spend some time thinking about what you have to offer a partner, what you want out of a relationship, and how you'd like to structure that relationship, it means that when you do enter one, you'll likely be ahead of the curve and well on your way to a creating relationship that's a great fit for both of you.

Here are some links for further reading: 

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