I’m an Obsessive, Intense Weirdo and I Wouldn’t Trade It For Anything

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Today as I write this, my body is heavy with depression. My thoughts feel foggy and it’s been hard to move all day. It took enormous energy just to write to my best friend and tell them what was going on with me, and their gentle prodding from afar was the only thing capable of rousing me from bed. I slogged to a café, ordered something peppy to counteract my sluggishness, but even robust espresso can’t shake my sads off. I have bipolar II and this is how my depressive episodes are, sometimes: a deep and inexplicable sadness I feel in my mind and my body, and just have to ride out.

When I ask myself how my life would be different without mental illness, the temptation is to think: “I would be so much happier and more productive!” And while that might be true, I also wouldn’t wish my bipolar disorder away. Because the manic episodes are worth the depressive ones for me. My occasional mania is key to my personality, a perky prism through which I sometimes view the world. Most of my best ideas, my finest work, my biggest contributions to the world, originated in mania. It’s my superpower.

Back when I was in high school, and hadn’t yet been diagnosed, my emotions confused me. It always seemed that I felt things more deeply than the people around me. When I was sad, I wept for hours and journaled endlessly about my feelings. When I was happy, I giggled hysterically, distributed hugs freely and couldn’t keep a big dumb grin off my face. I noticed details more than other people seemed to, fixated on them for longer, and remembered them more clearly. When I liked someone, I really, really liked them.

This is still how I am now. Getting a diagnosis gave me some answers, but it didn’t really change anything. I still seem to experience emotions more strongly than most people I know, and that can be very isolating – especially romantically. I get addicted to and obsessed with people in a way that’s supposed to be special and rare, but is just par for the course for me. If I’ve ever been romantically or sexually interested in you, I guarantee there are pages upon pages about you in my journals, dozens of complimentary musings about you in my chat histories with friends, and elaborate fantasies about our future married life floating around in my brain.

Media narratives tell me that this kind of fixation occurs only when you’re deeply, truly in love with someone – but that’s not consistent with my experience. I obsess over potential beaux regardless of the longevity or validity of my feelings for them. It’s like I’m drowning in a sea of New Relationship Energy, except it happens with everyone I’m interested in, whether or not they’re new to me or we’re actually in a relationship.

As you might imagine, this brain problem makes it hard for me to engage in casual sex, or to approach romantic encounters with any degree of “chill.” When I had casual sex for the first time last summer, I journaled lengthy missives about the dude’s perfect dick and top-notch sense of humor, complained to friends about how he would never be my boyfriend, and then wrote a song which contains the lines, “I don’t have the strength/ to keep you at arm’s length/ I fall for all callers to my bed.” And, truth be told, I didn’t even like the dude that much. After he’d left my life and the dust had cleared, I saw that we’d never been that compatible. (He openly hates puns and musicals, and loves sports. I mean, really!) I’d seen him through rose-colored glasses, because my brain is addicted to romantic and sexual stimuli. Dick, any dick, lights up my neurons and makes me feel desperately out of control of my emotions.

Writing this is embarrassing. I am sitting in a coffee shop and cringing as I type these words, because I know someone will read them who I wish wouldn’t. At least one person reading this right now, inevitably, is someone on whom I have turned my laser-focused headlights of infatuation at some point. Maybe they are recoiling in surprise and fear, shocked to learn how deep my feelings went – but it’s more likely they’re just nodding in recognition. I am not good at hiding my feelings. Faced with a crush, I dissolve into a blushy, giggly, dorky mess. It is not subtle and it is not “cool.” Sometimes folks are okay with it, and sometimes they’re not and I scare them away. Either way, I am always profoundly embarrassed by how strongly I feel my feelings. There are times when I wish I could shut down my heart, so I could, at last, become chill and detached like everyone else.

But, deep down, I know I would never do that, even if I could. My strong feelings are what make me me. When I write corny love songs or impassioned blog posts, that art stems from my bottomless well of emotion. If I’ve ever written anything about desire or heartbreak that you found relatable, it’s only because I’ve been flooded with those feelings so completely for so long that I know them inside and out. My heart is in a constant cycle of passion, joy, desperation and despair, and though I’ve been down this road a thousand times, it hasn’t gotten any easier. But that intensity makes my life exciting, my art compelling and my world vivid as hell.

Maybe one day I’ll get tired of it. But for now, after 24 years of living inside this crazy roller-coaster brain, I’m still pretty at peace with it. At least, as much as you can be “at peace” with anything while riding a roller coaster.

Why – and How – to Show Someone You Like Them

A good percentage of my posts emerge from revelations I have while journaling. I’ll blather on about a problem for pages at a time, and suddenly, the answer becomes crystal clear and spills out of my pen, almost of its own volition.

I had one of those recently, and it was the dumbest, most obvious thing: when you like someone, it is okay to act like you like them. Fuck what John Lennon says: you don’t have to hide that shit away.

See, when I was in high school, I got rejected by someone I really, really liked. This is a totally common, normal experience – especially for men, who are socialized to be romantic and sexual initiators – but something about this particular rebuff really messed up my flirt-o-meter. I see now that after that letdown, I deeply internalized the idea that if you show romantic or sexual interest for someone, and they don’t return those feelings, they will be grossed out by your advances. They will lose their esteem for you and want to avoid you as much as possible. In short, you will have fucked up whatever scrap of a relationship you had with them previously.

Of course, there are cases where this is true… like if you’re being genuinely inappropriate, or if the person in question has been burned by a creepy suitor before. But for the most part, everyone likes to feel liked and wanted and so you’re not going to horrify anyone by acting slightly-more-than-friendly in their direction. (With the caveat, obviously, that you put an immediate stop to that shit if they tell you to.)

Pre-epic-rejection, I was a lot better at this. I frequently told people they were cute, purely because I thought so and thought it’d make them happy to know that. I didn’t get anxiety about whether or not it was “too much” to favorite people’s Instagram selfies and clever tweets. I didn’t phrase my texts in the most benign, noncommittal way possible.

The other day, I got waaaay overanalytical while composing a message to someone I like, and it hit me: why am I trying to act like I don’t like this person? If anything, I want him to know I like him – not only because that will help move things forward more quickly but also because I know it will make him smile. Who doesn’t want to feel desirable and desired?

It will probably take some more practice before I fully get this idea through my head, and get back to being flirt-happy the way I was in high school. For my benefit as much as yours, here are some low-risk, high-reward ways to fawn over your crush without weirding them out…

 

Give them a really good compliment.

Like, the kind that is slightly above and beyond what you’d say to a friend or a random acquaintance you happen to admire. Compliment something that is integral to who they are, like their sense of humor, confidence, or charm. Or keep it classic and compliment a (non-sexual) part of their body, like their sparkling eyes, shiny hair or strong arms.

This kind of compliment pushes the boundaries of casual friendliness ever-so-gently. If they scrunch up their eyebrows and say, “…Thaaaanks?” then you’ll know to maybe dial it back a bit – but if they light up, blush, or giggle, that’s your green light, baby.

 

Make an effort.

When I want to figure out how someone feels about me, I pay attention to what they do, not what they say. People can spout all kinds of platitudes and excuses, but if they like you, they will make a consistent effort to reach out to you, make plans with you, and make you smile.

…Or at least, that’s how most non-shy folks operate. If you’re like me, your anxiety sometimes tricks you into thinking that the most innocuous of “What’s up?” texts or “Let’s get together!” DMs could be construed as overbearing. Unless you’re pestering the person with message after message, don’t fret – there’s no way they’re as annoyed as your anxiety-brain tells you they are. Drop ’em a line, ask them to hang out, keep in touch. Nothing can happen if you don’t keep those channels open.

 

Remember things they tell you.

“Hey, how did that late-night shift go? Was it as horrible as you thought it was gonna be?”

“I saw a trailer for a movie I thought you might like, because I know you’re a big Anchorman fan…”

“Did you end up buying that skirt you were thinking about getting?”

These are such mundane examples but I’m honestly getting a little swoony just contemplating them. It is so flattering when someone cares enough about you to remember the dull details you mention in passing. This tells them three things: 1) you are a good listener, 2) you find them interesting, and 3) you were thinking about them in the interim between your last meeting and your current one. You might as well be wearing an “I Like You!” sign on your chest… but this strategy is much more subtle than that. Win!

 

Touch them.

Okay, you gotta be able to read your audience on this one. Have some common social sense. I am not telling you to get touchy-feely with people who aren’t into it, or to cling onto someone the whole time you’re with them. But let’s be real… Those “flirting tips” you read in magazines for teen girls (no? just me?) are spot-on when they say that light, casual, occasional touch can act as a strong I-like-you signal without seeming strong.

Those magazines often say stuff like, “Lightly push his shoulder playfully when he makes a joke,” or “Reach out and touch his arm when you’re making a point.” I always used to read those tips and wonder how I could possibly make that kind of overture seem natural and non-weird. But now I’ve spent time around some terrific flirts and have discovered that this kind of touch can be played off in a natural way, and it also works a treat.

Touching someone gets their attention, gives them a little boost of happy neurotransmitters, and makes it that much easier to transition to other kinds of touching later (hugging, kissing, and on and on…) – so you should give it a shot, even if it feels awkward at first. (But, again, I need to stress: read the other person’s cues. Don’t get all up in the grill of someone who is clearly not into it. When in doubt, ask.)

 

Is this incredibly basic-level flirting advice? Probably. But I’m still a flirtation novice, even at age 23. I’m out of practice because I let myself learn a fear of being flirty. That’s gotta stop. People should know when I think they’re cute – if just because it might make their day a little happier.

What are your favorite ways to show someone you like them? Have you ever struggled with feeling it’s “not okay” to flirt?

 

Ask These 3 Questions & You Might Fall In Love

Earlier this year, the New York Times wrote about 36 questions that strangers can supposedly ask each other, which will make them fall in love real quick. You alternate asking each other the questions until you’ve gone through all 36, and then you stare into each other’s eyes silently for four whole minutes. By the end of this process, you’re sure to feel more connected to the other person, if not full-on in love.

I was reminded of this article when I last went to Body Pride, because, in the midst of sharing all these intimate emotional details with one another, I started to feel like I was… kinda falling in love.

Those feelings haven’t particularly persevered, but then again, those aren’t people that I see very regularly. I think that if you developed a crush because of the deep and sudden intimacy fostered in environments like Body Pride, and then you kept spending time with the person on a semi-regular basis, those initial crush-y feelings would inevitably develop into something deeper.

My questions are different from the ones suggested in the NYT article, but they have the same aim. I think if you asked someone these questions, and really listened to their answers, some kind of magic would happen.

1. What are you passionate about?

I can’t imagine a sexier quality than enthusiasm. Everyone reaches their peak cuteness when they’re talking about something they find fascinating and exciting. It doesn’t matter if it’s fashion, photography, blogging, bowling, triathlons, trigonometry, web design or witchcraft: if it turns their crank, then watching them talk about it will be a delight.

True, a relationship might not have long-term legs if the other person’s passion bores you. But if you can’t get excited about the topic of their tirade, you can at least get excited about the way their eyes light up and a smile blooms across their face while they ramble at you about fancy stationery or rock operas or whatever.

2. What are you insecure about?

As a culture, we’re obsessed with the notion that confidence is attractive. And it’s true, it is. But that doesn’t mean insecurity is always a turn-off.

In fact, talking frankly about your insecurities requires confidence, or at least bravery. Whining about your least favorite body parts isn’t hot; projecting your own shit onto other people isn’t hot; refusing to take any risks in life because you hate yourself isn’t hot – but owning up to your issues? That’s hot. Especially if owning up to them makes you decide to actually do something about them.

In my life, I’ve only had maybe two or three really open, honest conversations with people about our mutual insecurities. And far from whiny or boring, it was revelatory. There is something incredibly powerful, for your own self-image and for your relationship, about discovering that other people have the same bullshit negative self-talk that you do. Like the NYT article says: “mutual vulnerability fosters closeness.”

3. What was the last thing that made you laugh really, really hard?

Occasionally someone will try to tell you a story or a joke, but they’ll start laughing so hard that they can’t even finish a sentence. Their face goes red, their voice gets hoarse, maybe some tears stream down their cheeks. They keep going back to the beginning of the sentence to try and get through it, but they just can’t, and it’s hilarious.

It’s also fucking adorable.

We all spend most of our time fairly stoic, moving through the world in a calm and orderly way, even if we’re total freaks and weirdos underneath. When you meet a new beau, it might take several dates – or even several months – before you really break through that crust of composure and get to the kooky good stuff underneath.

But if you ask them about the last time they laughed so hard they couldn’t breathe, and then they tell you that story… you’ll get a little preview of their zaniness. A glimpse of how it looks when they let loose, lose control, lose their shit. And that’s cute as fuck.

Bonus reading: Alexandra Franzen has some good lists of 100 questions to spark conversation and connection + 10 of the best first date questions ever.