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David Baxter

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Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle: For Some People, Intimacy Is Toxic
November 21, 2006
By RICHARD A. FRIEDMAN, M.D., New York Times

It is practically an article of faith among psychotherapists that an intimate human relationship is good for you. None other than Freud himself once famously said that health requires success in work and in love.

I?m not so sure. It seems that for some people, love and intimacy might not just be undesirable but downright toxic.

Not long ago, a man consulted me about his 35-year-old son, who had made a suicide attempt.

?I was shocked, because he never seemed depressed or unhappy in his life,? the man said of his son. ?He always preferred his own company, so we were relieved when he started to date.?

He went on to tell me that he and his wife had strongly encouraged their son to become engaged to a woman he was dating. ?She was perfect for him,? he recalled. ?Warm, intelligent and affectionate.?

Everything seemed to be going well until, one day, the father got a call from his son?s girlfriend. She had not heard from the son for several days, so she went to his apartment and found him semiconscious [following a suicide attempt].

After a brief hospitalization, where he was treated for depression with medication, he returned home and broke off the relationship. Soon after, he moved to Europe to work but remained in frequent e-mail contact with his family. His messages were always pleasant, though businesslike, full of the day-to-day details of his life. The only thing missing, his father recalled, was any sense of feeling.

I got a taste of this void firsthand when his son came home for a family visit during the holidays. Sitting in my office, he made little direct eye contact but was pleasant and clearly very intelligent. He had lots of interests: computers, politics and biking. But after an hour of speaking with him, I suddenly realized that he had not mentioned a single personal relationship in his life.

?Who is important to you in your life?? I asked.

?Well, I have my family here in the States and some friends from work,? he said.

?Do you ever feel lonely??

?Why would I?? he replied.

And then I suddenly understood. He wasn?t depressed or unhappy at all. He enjoyed his work as a software engineer immensely, and he was obviously successful at it. It was just that human relationships were not that important to him; in fact, he found them stressful.

Just before he made his suicide attempt, he remembered, he had been feeling very uncomfortable with his girlfriend and the pressure from his parents. ?I wanted everyone to go away,? he recalled.

Typical of schizoid patients, this man had a lifelong pattern of detachment from people, few friends and limited emotional expressiveness. His well-meaning parents always encouraged him to make friends and, later on, to date, even though he was basically uninterested in social activities.

?We thought he was just shy but had lots of feeling inside,? his father told me.

That?s what his son?s therapist believed too. When I telephoned her, she explained that she had been pushing him over the four years of treatment to be more social, make friends and finally date. She attributed his failure to do this in any significant way to his underlying anxiety and low self-esteem. ?With time,? she said confidently, ?I expect he?ll make progress.?

When I got off the phone, I wondered if we had been talking about the same patient. I found him calm, detached and self-confident about his abilities and work.

His therapist apparently believed that no one could genuinely prefer solitude and that there must be a psychological block preventing this patient from seeking intimacy.

But after four years of weekly therapy the patient had basically failed to reach any of these goals. You would think that for this reason a therapist would question whether the treatment was really the right type for the patient. After all, if your doctor gives you an antibiotic that doesn?t kill an infection, he or she should question the diagnosis, the treatment or both.

Granted, psychiatric illnesses are generally more difficult to treat than simple bacterial infections, but why should psychotherapy be any less self-critical and self-correcting than the rest of medicine?

I had a hard time explaining all this to the patient?s father. Finally, I came up with an analogy that I had some hesitation about, but since I discovered that both of us were dog lovers, I gave it a try. I explained that some breeds, like Labradors, are extremely affiliative; other breeds are more aloof and will squirm if you try to hold them.

?You mean my son is detached by nature,? he said. ?I guess we all pushed him too hard to do something he couldn?t do and didn?t want.?

Emotional intimacy, it seems, is not for everyone.
 

solitary man

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Wow, I completely relate to this article.

I'm starting to realize that the times when my depression is at it's worst is when I start buying into the belief of everyone around me, that I will never be happy unless I have someone in my life.

I lose sight of my accomplishments and beat myself up for not having someone in my life.

I've always been alone, preferring my own company, and many people can't seem to wrap them mind around that.

There's a line in one Jann Arden's song "The Sound Of" that fits me to a t.
"I can sit in a room
I can hear myself breathing and be quite amused
life is simple like the wrinkles on my skin"

Sure, there have been times when companionship would be great, but I've learned to live life by own standards and by myself.

People have asked me if I feel sad for not having someone in my life, to which I answer "why should I feel sad for what I've never had?"
 

ThatLady

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Everyone isn't the same, thankfully. There's no need to try to make all people the same. Some people enjoy the company of others. Some people absolutely must have the company of others. Some can take it or leave it, and some are quite happy on their own. Seems to me like there's room for everyone. :)
 
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i think that happiness includes being able to be alone and still be content, to be able to enjoy your own company. i think too many people buy in to the idea that without a partner you cannot be happy. you can still have a fulfilling life on your own (although, for me personally, i would still need a select few close friends. i cannot imagine a life void of any sort of closeness)
 

HelpingHand

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People have asked me if I feel sad for not having someone in my life, to which I answer "why should I feel sad for what I've never had?"

I'd like to make an educated comparison.
I've never had anyone in my life (except my family and a few close friends, but not ever a partner).
I'd like to try it at least once and then make a decision...a comparison.

But some things aren't meant to be, I guess.
That's what it seems like in my case.
*sigh*
 

David Baxter

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I don't think the question is have you ever had it... I think the question is do you want it? And I think the answer to that in your case is "yes".
 

justhere

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This thread resonates with me too. I am thankful that things are changing in that being single into our 30s and 40s is not as taboo as it once was. I was never married but did have some long term relationships that were not exactly healthy. Sometimes I think I would rather be alone than feel dreadfully lonely or suffocated in a bad toxic relationship. I got tired, too, of feeling defensive about being alone and having to have a ready answer when asked about it. I would love to acquire a good friend. I have a question: Is it possible that for some of us, our path is to be solitary in our whole lives? All of my life, i am 43, i have been hurt, betrayed, by friends, so called friends, and boyfriends--bad choices by me. But still, I have never experienced a best friend relationship, let alone a so called soulmate. Am I just designed to always be alone, after all, I am 43 and it has been this way thus far, ie: too late???
 
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Daniel

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Am I just designed to always be alone, after all, I am 43 and it has been this way thus far, ie: too late???
Only 43 :) My 87-year-old grandfather dates more than I do, so I definitely don't think it's too late, even with his somewhat-bitter personality.

BTW:

Also, some women aren't good at making friends, Schwartz says. "People have different talents, and surrounding themselves with friends is one that not all have. A friend to go on a trip with, to movie festivals with, to drop in when you're feeling sick -- all those people can substitute for a mate."

Those single women must realize that they are "the architects of their own expansion," Schwartz tells WebMD. "Develop a broad number of interests -- classes, volunteer work, travel plans, political involvement. What you're fighting is that home-alone syndrome. You're making sure people will take you out of everyday life maintenance. When you have a partner, their interests help extend your life. When you're single, you have to build that in."

...But on their worst days, single women worry about old age and dying alone -- or with only their cats at their side. "Do you think marrying cures that?" asks DePaulo. "You and your husband would have to die at the same instant for that not to happen to you! If you get sick, don't assume your mate will be the one nursing you. Maybe he just can't deal with your illness. Or he could be the one with the big physical issues, and that will tie you down. There are certainly cases of younger women marrying older men. Then he gets sick, and she ends up taking care of him."

Women are more unlikely to be alone in old age because they have nurtured friendships. They are more likely to have people in their lives. That's why a sense of community is so important, she says.

...Ethan Watters was single, in his 30s, and living alone in San Francisco when he coined the concept of "urban tribes." Most single people belong to at least one such tribe even though they don't realize it. A vegetarian dining group, a hiking club, or a running group could qualify as an urban tribe if they meet frequently enough, says Watters, author of the book Urban Tribes.

Women: Single and Loving It
 
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Atlantean

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I can really relate. Following multiple traumatic relationships and episodes, I wanted nothing to do with anyone. I couldnt even stand to be touched by my two lovd ones, and would cringe and feel nauseous if they so much as put a hand on my shoulder while I was sitting at the computer.

It takes a lot of hard work to overcome that, I lived that way for probably 5 years, and I have always said you learn to lave again when you find a love thats stronger than your last hurt, and I believe that is something that holds true (at least for me), to this very day.

I dont think that in and of itself having a reclusive lifestyle is bad, but I think that it is a characteristic that can have a negative expression, as well.

Edit:
While still remain reclusing and and a loner, I have finally learned how to be in a relationship again, and while I still feel a need to pursue my interts, I am also able to share myself with someone, and have made quite an improvement. Best of luck to everyone out there whos facing this issue
 
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justhere

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While I still remain reclusive and and a loner, I have finally learned how to be in a relationship again, and while I still feel a need to pursue my interts, I am also able to share myself with someone, and have made quite an improvement. Best of luck to everyone out there whos facing this issue

That's a very insightful and valid clarification and point that you make! I think it is very possible to find someone who is not scared of "our" need for alone time and space. And I often wonder if it would be a good thing to be with someone like myself, with some hurts and scars. I used to joke that I could never be with a person like me, but maybe thats wrong thinking.
 

Grace

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I married someone like this. We were hopelessly incompatible. What shocked me was that he was more relaxed & intimate with other people than with me ... There were other issues but I realise, now, the fundamental problem was our differing levels of intimacy. I felt shunned by him; he felt crowded by me.
I used to joke that I could never be with a person like me,
I've made the same joke! And reached the same conclusion ... :p
 

Grace

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I should have added: I now believe he had undiagnosed Asperger's. Everything fits.

We both believed he could become more open; it didn't happen and we made each other very unhappy. I realise he loved me enough to try, bless him ... but isolated words or gestures, however carefully observed, do not make a supportive marriage.

Had I known about Asperger's at the time, it would have changed things - I wouldn't have married a person who was congenitally incapable of sustaining the kind of relationship I prefer. Lots of people can handle it, however, and I probably could do it with a less-affected (and more aware!) AS partner.

With this in mind, I'd encourage anyone who can't see the need for emotional closeness - but wants a partner - to investigate Asperger's Syndrome. If your research indicates AS, that little bit of self-knowledge might be all you need to support your future relationships.

Grace.
 

justhere

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From what i know of aspergers, they find it difficult, if not impossible, to feel close to anyone. It would be very hard to take! Now you know , right? I hope you feel some relief, even if you do miss him. I dont have this affliction, I am a very sensitive person and that has a whole other list of issues! My friend is the same. I get overwhelmed, need some alone time at times. I believe that with most things discussed at this site, we may have issues from many columns along the scale.
 

Grace

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Thank you for understanding, justthere - yes, the insight does give me some relief.

I'm sorry to hear that so many things overwhelm you. I hope you can gather understanding people around you, who will allow you the space to recuperate when you need to.

Grace x
 

justhere

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Last night I read a post, I believed to be on this thread, that was quite harsh and now LOL I cannot locate it. Perhaps the writer deleted it, wisely, because it was unwarranted towards me reflecting her anger towards someone in her life personally. I am glad for that, since I am not here to debate anything.
 

David Baxter

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I don't think so, justhere, unless I missed it somehow, not in this thread anyway...
 

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