Recent Savage Love Letters of the Day: Getting back on the bottom after trauma; should this letter writer stay with her cheating husband or go; another letter writer wonders what's wrong with her partner's junk, and the classic question: Why can't my husband clean his asshole? And, as always, last week's column and Savage Lovecast.
Hi Dan, thanks for the thoughtful advice you gave the reader dating as a survivor of abuse. I’ve definitely been in that situation, and it isn’t easy, but here’s a few things I’ve found helpful. Hopefully it could be of use to someone else.
PTSD fueled sex can be very intense... if sex is a drug, this is the speedball version. Being close to a man would make me shake, convulse, and panic-like a really strong upper. Then we would be intimate, and they would give me a little bit of comfort, which felt like an opiate. Then they would leave, and I would go through withdrawals and start chasing them. It was all so much bigger than anything I could control, or any therapist could help me with.
If I’m in a sitation where I could get triggered, I might say something like “Sometimes I shake a little bit, it doesn’t bother or hurt me.” And let the other person have their own reaction, without trying to take care of them. Anymore, I just avoid triggering situations, because I’ve found they do more harm than good. Panic is a signal for me to take a step back. I’ve had to learn how to have regular, loving, vanilla sex. It’s where I am right now and it’s amazing.
Going to some women-only meetings of SLAA helped me see the addictive pattern clearly, and really took the fun out of it. I also needed to learn how to identify what I felt, and stand up for myself by not setting for less. Personally, I don’t think the length of time of dating someone before becoming intimate is as important as knowing that they want the same things I do. I say this because several times I’ve had guys chase me for years...only to become total jerks once I finally gave them sex. There definitely are people who look to take advantage of vulnerable people, or who get off on “rescuing” survivors, so I’m very careful who I share my survivor status with.
My history isn’t for anyone’s viewing pleasure. I don’t feel the need to relive the details with anyone. My partner knows the basics...how I got that injury, why my relatives aren’t in my life. That’s enough. If someone asks for details, and I feel like sharing, I usually say something like “It was pretty violent, I’m lucky to have survived it, but it wasn’t easy. I wish my relatives well.” That works. Also, anytime someone calls me a name (needy, mean, emotionally unstable, foolish, demanding, boring, needs help, unevolved, etc. etc.) it’s a really good sign that I’m heading in the right direction. You might be asking: do nice, normal people really attack survivors like this? My experience is that “nice” people especially lash out at survivors. Why? Because my vulnerability and willingness to do the work of healing forces them to look at their own stuff. Being a survivor just means we can’t avoid doing the work.
Which brings us to the last point. Nice isn’t enough. Partners of survivors generally need to be stable, caring, grown-ups for any kind relationship to work. The upside of this? I get to choose to be in relationships with stable, caring, grown-ups. I get to be the expert on my own life, not anyone else. Dating with PTSD turned me in to a self-care wizard.
Hope this helps.
More for HELP:
Going out on a limb here, but might want to add if he finds someone he's attracted to he should disclose what happened. Not on the first date of course, (unless it's a hookup), but at least before they hit the bedroom. Maybe not give the gory details, but just so the date knows what's on the table.
Your husband has depression/anxiety and a high-stress job—so why have you been trying for two years to have another child when that trying means even more stress/anxiety?
For ASSHOLE and her husband's dirty one:
After shitting: toilet paper, damp toilet paper (run a little warm water on the wad in the sink), toilet paper again, repeat as needed.
In the shower: use soap and either your hand (wash extremely well afterwards) or a designated buttcrack washcloth. It not only eliminates staining and reduces smell, but also prevents itching. Nobody wants an itchy buttcrack.
Expert opinion, as someone with a father, brothers, and a long history of dating men: Skid marks are a largely male phenomenon. Don't know if it's because they're too lazy to wipe or because they're extra hairy and need to embrace the Brazilian wax ... but yeah, it's a guy thing. That Sex & the City episode where Miranda recoils at Steve's skid marks was dead-on. Figure it out, guys. It's gross.
And regarding a recent post...
Long time reader, first time writer, with a respectful request: please be conscious of how your use of language is harmful to people with mental illness/psychiatric disability. I’ve been contemplating writing on this point for awhile; the passage below is not the only offending instance, but is the most striking I’ve seen recently:
In conclusion: don't stick your dick in crazy, don't let crazy stick its dick in you, don't go down on crazy, don't let crazy go down on you, don't move in with crazy, don't propose to crazy, don't get married to crazy, and, my God, whatever else you do, do NOT scramble your DNA together with crazy. And this particular kind of jealousy—barely contained rage for an ex—is fucking crazy.
What do you mean by crazy, Dan? Are we to take for granted that crazy is a well-defined, shared concept that isn’t about mental illness, that anyone who reads this passage will know that you mean… whatever it is you did mean, I’m not clear on that myself… and not “don’t date people with mental illness”? You might have in mind people who are violent, unpredictable, who pose some kind of manifest danger, and not, say, people with OCD, agoraphobia, schizophrenia, etc. But if so, that’s not clear to me, and I doubt it’s clear to the rest of your readers. I’d guess that your concept is of the “I know it when I see it” variety—and I’m try to put across why that lack of precision is dangerous.
In doing this, I am not trying to impose an arbitrary dictum of linguistic sensitivity. People with MI/PD struggle to maintain interpersonal connections in no small part because of the discrimination they face if they are open about their conditions, and few factors have a larger impact on someone’s long-term outcome with MI/PD that their social connectivity. And, of course, feeling like something that shapes your experience of the world is also something you have to conceal, to be ashamed of, takes a toll. The heartrending term—sometimes paired with “fundamentally”—that I so often hear my MI/PD peers using to describe themselves, is "broken." That feeling of brokenness does not inhere in the symptoms of their conditions, but in how they are perceived, and in turn perceive themselves.
I have bipolar disorder; let me point to two articles from the past two days specifically about this condition, to help make the point that a MI/PD diagnosis negatively affects how people are perceived and expect to be perceived:
1) The fact that Mariah Carey felt she had to conceal her condition for 17 years, and the toll it took on her psyche, you can read about here.
Today on twitter, you can find remarks that validate that fear: “So Mariah Carey has bipolar disorder???? No wonder why she can’t find love!” (And while the majority of the remarks are supportive, she’s Mariah Carey and most people can’t expect that level of admiration and deference. You can search for 'bipolar' on any other day on twitter to find more representative, nastier comments.)
2) A VICE writer was open about her mental illness in her Tinder profile and wrote about why she thought that was important to do and the responses she received. Read her article here.
I think some of the responses make clear that prejudices against people with MI/PD very much exist, and I hope it is also clear that vituperations against “crazy” people contribute to them, regardless of intent. People can and do decide that MI/PD is disqualifying for friendships and relationships. People can and do use someone's MI/PD diagnosis as evidence that their friend/partner was "crazy" (and therefore, that their own bad behavior was justified). I've left aside the occupational discrimination and institutional violence that we also face, but I will point out the special indignity of being tacitly compared to Trump when, e.g., he is depicted in a straitjacket on a magazine cover.
When I met my partner of five years, I disclosed that I have bipolar I (and that my episode the previous year had included psychotic features). He responded that, well, hey, he was diabetic, and asked if there was anything he could read to better understand the condition. His presence in my life has had a powerful impact on my well-being (and I think I’m good for him, too), but I can imagine how that initial reveal might have been received very differently if “don’t stick your dick in crazy” was his personal maxim. I mean, what’s crazier than someone who experiences psychosis?
If the concept "queer" conflated LGBT folks and pedophiles (I say "if" to make the comparison sharper but I know this was very nearly the historical reality), and people went around saying that queers were dangerous to children, you should stay away from queers, by all means don't hire a queer, etc., it wouldn't be any consolation that people were thinking of pedophiles and not LGBT folks when they made those remarks, or that they just had some fuzzy notion of sexual deviancy operating and didn't mean you, of course. The slander and stigma and shame and social isolation would flow downward to LGBT folks all the same. Responsible people would call pedophiles pedophiles, and LGBT folks by their chosen terms.
Instead of talking about “crazy” in a way that is harmful to people with MI/PD, could you point to the specific behaviors that you think people should consider disqualifying in potential partners instead? E.g., "That kind of barely contained rage for an ex is major red flag that this person is unsafe." If it seems that would make the point you are trying to get across less effective, then what kind of work is that term doing for your writing? Is it helping people navigate to functional relationships? Or is it serving to elide the more difficult work of parsing behavioral red flags? Or, perhaps, is it just there to provide emotional force without content—in the manner of a slur? In any of these cases, I bet you can do without it.
Thank you for writing—of course in the example you cite I meant "crazy" in the "obsessed, irrational, and unpleasant" sense of the term, not in the MI/PD sense. (It was in reference to a woman who wrote an essay attacking her fiancé's high school girlfriend.) I would never describe a person with MI/PD as "crazy," I wasn't suggesting the author of that essay had a diagnosable mental illness, and I don't think the average reader would understand it that way. But I see your point—the world is a hard enough place for people with MI/PD already—and I'll try to avoid "crazy" in the future.
But we clearly need a term or terms other than "crazy" or "nuts" that allow us to describe—in casual, colloquial English—selfish, toxic, self-defeating behaviors that don't make sense to anyone but the person engaged in them; the kind of maddening behaviors that make one-night stands unpleasant and relationships impossible; the kind of behaviors that reveal someone to be a deeply shitty person or partner—not mentally ill, but wholly lacking in judgement, interpersonal skills, and empathy.
I'm fond of "assholery" myself. But that's a lot of syllables and people have such a strong preference for punchy, one-or-two syllable words that "assholery," which I frequently use (perhaps more than "crazy"), is unlikely to be widely adopted.
So, hey, I'm open to suggestions.