Sunday, October 28, 2012

Depress-A-Date! Or: How I learned to stop worrying and become a manic pixie dreamgirl

Image courtesy of Wacky Packages
I have a date tonight.

Or maybe not. I don't know. Maybe I shouldn't be thinking of this as a "date," but I've had so few of them in my life that I'm tempted to chalk this up in the "win" column. In any event, I've decided to use this blog, at least for the time being, to discuss what's going on in my life. And this, readers, is what's going on in my life.

First, some background. As a person whose life has been ruled to this point by fear and depression and whose default mode is seclusion, I have had very few interactions of a romantic nature in my waking life. I've had a string of crushes and hopeless infatuations since I was probably 11, but nothing meaningful or beneficial has ever occurred because of them. My one date in high school was escorting a young lady to our school's Sadie Hawkins dance. Yeah, that's the one where the girls ask the guys out, and this particular young lady was pretty insistent. Our evening was a mini-masterpiece of tragicomedy which might make for a good short story someday. Needless to say, it did not lead to a sequel.

Ain't it the truth?
After high school, I lived alone with my father and felt a strong obligation to stay home and keep him company as much as possible. My college years were strictly about studying and getting good grades. There was not even a hint of "fun" involved and certainly no dating. Not that my father would have discouraged it (he's never brought up the subject), but I would have felt like I was betraying him somehow. Particularly since my mother died, I've tried not to change much from the person I was at 17. It's a routine that has grown sadder and sadder with each passing year as my body has aged while my lifestyle has not kept pace. A couple of times over the years (two to be exact), I have mustered all my courage to ask out coworkers, since those are generally the only women with whom I ever interact. In return for my efforts, I've received the expected polite, gentle, slightly condescending rejections, which actually sting quite a bit more than women may realize. I would so much rather have been slapped across the face or cussed out than to be treated as a slightly slow-witted child. (Of course, I would have preferred acceptance to any of these options.) These experiences crushed me so badly that I swore to myself that I would never again pursue romantic relationships. Who needs 'em, right? Shouldn't I just be happy to be myself? Why do I need another person to validate that? Trust me, I've had this argument with myself countless times over the years. The trouble is, it gets a little stale after 37 years.

Group meetings: an unlikely spot for "meet cutes."
All this brings us up to today. Even though I have theoretically given up on finding "the right girl" or "any girl who will tolerate me for more than five minutes," I cannot help but fantasize and, if I am feeling especially brave, flirt. The very first day I was in the behavioral health center -- scared out of my wits but outwardly projecting calm -- I attended my initial group meeting, a session about anger management, and was struck by the comments made by a fellow patient, a young woman I'll refer to as Helen (not her name). I'd seen this young woman earlier when I was being admitted, but I didn't approach her because (1) I was shy, and (2) she had a black eye and seemed to be in a state of subtle distress. Anyway, during the session, she explained to the counselor that she couldn't believe that she was really there and that the whole situation felt like a dream or a nightmare. She also expressed a strong desire to get back to her life. Other patients tried to reason with her and rationalize with her, but I just listened in amazement because she had just vocalized my exact thoughts. After the meeting dispersed, I approached Helen in the hall and told her how relieved I was that she'd said what she said, and we ended up going off to a more secluded spot in the ward to talk for a while. I learned that her black eye was self-inflicted as part of a suicide attempt and that she was very nervous about being away from work for so long. From that point on, Helen and I were close companions. We ate our meals together, attended groups together, and had nice long conversations during the frequent "down times" between scheduled events. She was always on the verge of lapsing into pessimism and despair, so I took it as a personal mission to give her frequent pep talks during the day. "You're the most positive person in the world," she'd tell me, which was definitely news to me. During my stay, Helen's parents visited twice, and both times she made a point of introducing me to them. On her penultimate night in the ward, Helen and her family gathered in a semi-circle in one of the day rooms, and they invited me (unique among the other patients) to be a part of their discussion.

Helen and I were discharged within a few hours of each other last Friday, and before she left, she gave me her phone number and told me to call her. I have not yet mentioned that we live in the same town just minutes from each other, but that's a huge part of the story. As with my childhood friendships, geographical convenience might play a major role in my adult relationships. Anyway, the Saturday after I got out, I hemmed and hawed a bit but finally wound up calling her number. Since then, we have talked over the phone a few times, and she suggested that we meet up at a downtown Starbucks tonight.

Somehow, I've become Zooey Deschanel
I know, I know. No sane, rational person would call this a "date." There is nothing remotely "romantic" about any of this. This is not a Hollywood romcom. If this were a romcom, though, I would be the "manic pixie dream girl" in this script. So far in this relationship, I've been the quirky, kooky, fun-loving one trying to pull the other person out of the doldrums. But let's be serious here. This is just plain, old, ordinary, disappointing real life. Two people who have been through a common experience are meeting at a Starbucks. That's it. In all likelihood, it will lead to nothing. Maybe all we have in common is this terrible thing, and once we stop talking about that, there will be nothing left to say.

But, still, this story shows that I'm trying. At least I'm getting "out there," whatever that means.

Wish me luck.


  1. Good luck!! I'll be rooting for ya brother :-)

  2. Curious Wayne, have you ever tried online dating? I was pretty against it for a long time, but when I finally gave it a go, I found it to be a hugely positive experience (i.e., eventually meeting the fan I just moved in with via okcupid). So long as you're honest in setting up your profile, it's simply a great venue to branch out. Sure, you risk a lot of awkwardness, but there's a lot of possibility there (and not JUST in writing). I'm a social person, but I always had trouble 'meeting' people for various reasons, and really, in this day and age, where do you go to do that? Just a thought for you.

  3. The advantage to relationships is that they can make us strive to be a better person, if only to help another person carry their burdens and see a smile in reward for those efforts. Even if this date doesn't go anywhere, you've clearly illustrated your ability to touch and help another soul - which is more than most of the rabble out there would be willing to do (and that's what most chicks totally dig, btw).

    I say this as a man who, in his youth attended that one fateful Sadie Hawkins dance (of SHAME), and then was chaste as driven snow until 8 years later when a drunken woman fell on my penis and I married her (Spoiler alert - It was a screaming descent into hell, but I'm all better now).

  4. Thanks for the words of encouragement, Damocles!

  5. You should seriously think about building up this blog into a serious voice in this field.natural depression treatment