Ask Polly: How Do I Stop Being So Obsessed With My Boyfriend?

(Mint Images/Frans Lanting/Getty Images.)
(Mint Images/Frans Lanting/Getty Images.) Photo: Mint Images/Frans Lanting/Getty Images

Hi Polly,

I really enjoy reading your letters because most often the core of your response is to love yourself, to let yourself sparkle, to be you — and for a short while after reading I feel this sense of excitement and joie de vivre where I think “YES! I am going to love myself. I will find my passion. I will be happy!” and it soon fades.

What I’m trying to figure out is how to truly want happiness and to love myself — because the way I see it now is similar to quitting smoking. I float around saying “I want to love myself, I really do, but —” and then find myself in the same sad state I’ve always been in.

A big part of it, I feel, is that instead of focusing on me, I’ve always put my focus and love on somebody else. From a very young age, I had crushes, and would focus on that person. What that person likes. What makes that person happy. What I can do for that person. How I can be attractive to that person. How I can make that person love me.

And as I grew older, that transferred into all my relationships. To the point where, right now, I am fully obsessed with my partner.

We’ve been dating for two years and I still spend nearly every moment of my day thinking about him. Wondering what he’s doing. Who is he talking to. What is he doing on social media. (I literally will check his Twitter and Instagram and Facebook almost a hundred times a day.) Wondering why he liked that girl’s post but he didn’t like my post. Wondering why he doesn’t send me heart emoji in our text conversations anymore. Wondering how the hell he has his life so put together and can focus on his career and bettering himself when all I can focus on is him.

I’ve tried a few methods of trying to take my focus off him and put it on me, including saying out loud “It doesn’t matter what he’s doing, what are YOU doing?” but it never seems to work.

It drives me mental for two reasons — (1) because I want to be a full, self-sufficient person who has a drive for life and has actual real-life passions, and (2) because I want to have a healthy relationship where I am not constantly grasping onto my partner wondering when/if he will let me go because I am holding too tight. (He doesn’t know how bad my obsession is, but I’m sure he can sense it as much as I pretend to be “cool.”)

What I’m trying to ask is — how do I actually make myself want to focus on me and love myself?


Who Am I Even?

Dear WAIE,

When someone asks you, point blank, “Who do you want to be?” it’s easy, as someone who’s a little obsessed and a little down like you are, to answer “I don’t know.” So you do what you’ve always done. You focus on some guy. He’s your muse, your blank canvas. But instead of creating art, you’re just drawing the same question mark, over and over again. Does he love me enough? Does he love her more? When will he leave me? You’re like Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining, whose relentless typing away on his novel turns out to be the same sentence over and over again: “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.”

You are a dull girl. You will get left behind.

I was, too, once upon a time. And when people told me, “You have to want something bigger than just a relationship. You have to love yourself and put yourself first and then you’ll be much happier and your relationship will be better, too,” all I could hear was that last part: Your relationship will be better. Fix yourself and he will love you more.

I wanted more love. More love, more love, more love. So all of the work I did, I did to get more love. I tried to be stronger and more independent, to get more love. I monitored his every move, because my future was dependent on his interest. Without love, I had no future.

But all along I knew I was dull. I lived for our moments together. And who was he? You could swap in one of five different boyfriends to answer that; it seriously didn’t matter. At the time, it seemed dude-specific, but looking back, I see a haze of faces.

Here’s the worst part: Every morning I woke up and felt bad. I tried to fight the feeling, but it didn’t work for long. I remember living in the Marina District in San Francisco, a beautiful, terrifying place packed full of clean young professionals in khaki pants. I was living with my college boyfriend, a clean young professional who … well, I hardly knew him. It doesn’t matter. He was there and he was supposed to be my husband eventually, because then every problem would be solved; I wouldn’t have to answer the question “Who are you?” I could hide behind him instead. He was very handsome. He seemed like a good person to hide behind.

But on weekend mornings, when I wasn’t taking the bus to my terrible job, he would sleep until noon and I would get up and clean our apartment, and then I’d put on my Rollerblades and I would skate (badly!) out to the Marina Green. (Yes, this was the ‘90s, why do you ask?) As I Rollerbladed, I’d imagine myself getting better and better at it until I was like a figure skater on Rollerblades, gorgeous and graceful and awe-inspiring. Someone who could skate that well would never get left behind. My boyfriend would wake up and walk out toward the ocean and see me, wind in my hair like a goddess, and he’d gasp and he’d say, “That’s my girl.”

But I was slow and nervous and eventually I’d get discouraged. So I’d sit on the grass and write in my journal, pages and pages about how sad I was. I still have that journal, too; I’m going to go find it now. Fuck you, this’ll be good, trust me. I haven’t read it in at least a decade.

I keep thinking about HIM and US. It’s all I think about, which is the main problem. But what else do I have? I’m afraid to find out, and I can barely even lift my head, let alone start figuring out the truth about me and what I need and where I’m going. I just need to be held closely and hugged and told I’m loved more often, I’m convinced. “At least I’m in love and someone cares about me!” my brain can shout cheerily at me every morning when I can barely scrape myself up out of bed to face my miserable job without crying.

Could this shit be more on the nose? It sounds like I just made that up. And honestly, it’s a little discouraging that I knew exactly what my problem was, but it still took me another decade to solve it.

I was depressed. I thought love would give me the boost I needed to figure everything else out. But when I had love, what did I do? As far as I can tell from this journal, I mostly pouted in the bedroom while my boyfriend got high and watched TV with his friends in the living room.

When you’re depressed and needy, love doesn’t save you; it buries you. Unless you happen upon someone who understands you and loves parsing your emotional landscape (guys like that do exist!), you’re not going to get what you need. And if you’re checking Instagram and Twitter and Facebook a hundred times a day? You’re probably not getting what you need. You might be obsessed with him because you know you two are a little mismatched, and it’s only a matter of time before he loses interest. You know you’re not ready for love. You know you have to sort yourself out first. Reading my journal, I can see how I would behave independently whenever my boyfriend made flinchy, trapped noises, and then I’d go back to being a wet rag the second he decided to stick around.

So let’s just stop it, because it’s getting old. This giant question mark you keep drawing and redrawing, this obsessive all-work-and-no-play routine of yours, this journal of mine in which every single fucking page says the same thing: It’s a repetitive, pointless way of eating ourselves alive, day after day. There is a problem with a solution we can’t face — spend some time alone! — so we just keep describing the problem.

As of now, we are erasing him from your view. You can fill up this space with anything under the sun. Fill it with anything that’s not him. ANYTHING ANYTHING ANYTHING OUTSIDE OF YOURSELF. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to dig into the deepest darkest depths of your soul to find yourself. If you’re depressed, if you’re lonely, if you’re lost, maybe digging deep isn’t the first and only thing to try. Maybe you’re already doing too much of that.

You can focus outside yourself. You can resolve to listen to the 40 best rap albums of 2014 (according to Rolling Stone, anyway), like I’m doing right now. You can paint the walls of your apartment pumpkin orange. You can train for a marathon. You can write two pages a day. You can teach yourself Italian. You can do every one of these things at once.

These are not arbitrary boudoir tricks you acquire in order to win a man. These challenges are a way through, to a different life. If you only win his love this way, you haven’t done enough. You need to set your sights on a life that’s bigger than him. That’s not “Learn to love yourself so he’ll love you too.” That’s not even “Learn to love yourself, period. Pull back from him and love yourself.” See how he’s still in the picture?

You need to identify WHAT IS BIGGER THAN HIM. You need to stop thinking like a dull girl, and think like Young Jeezy, who says, “Both my goons got goons.” Or Open Mike Eagle who says, “First step is intention, second step is a glance, then divine intervention, mixing science, religion.” Stop thinking like Oliver Twist, asking “Can I have some more?” Stop thinking like a sad girl in rags. Stop riding the same loop, the same roller coaster — the ride slows down, the ride speeds up, but the landscape never changes.

Don’t play the same record for the next decade like I did, thinking like a dull girl, no goons with their own goons, no intention, no science, no religion. Think like a beast, like a mountain, like a towering, essential, unimpeachable warrior. You are taking what you want, you are fulfilling your manifest destiny, you are at the center of the frame, you’re pulling in all of the focus, swallowing the landscape like an earthquake. Think like an entitled, clean professional in khaki pants who’s also the rapper of the year, the best, the realest and fuck you if you can’t tell the difference. It takes HARD WORK to think that way! DO THE WORK. Think like a monster, a mogul, Wonder Woman in brass knuckles, a conquistador, every day a new challenge and a new adventure.

Power down your browser and throw it away. Get a new browser, and never log into Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, ever again. That part is not optional. Let go of that poison. Those dark days are over. Think like a merciless visionary. Buy a sewing machine and learn to sew. Buy a French cookbook and learn to cook. Buy the complete Six Feet Under series and start from the beginning. Read everything by Wallace Stegner, Jennifer Egan, and Renata Adler. It will feel arbitrary. Do it anyway.

If you feel too sad to do these things, exercise first. If that doesn’t work, see a therapist. Consider less coffee. Consider how depressed you’ve been all your life, and how anxious. Consider waking up and forcing yourself to think I AM BEAUTIFUL. TODAY IS MY CHANCE TO GROW. If that doesn’t work, do something else. Look for more answers.

DO NOT SETTLE FOR SAD. DO NOT SETTLE FOR A SOGGY LIFE. Keep trying. Make adjustments. Keep doing new things. You will find who you are. Stop looking at him and stop looking in the mirror.

I have a giant bin of journals that are just like the one I quoted. All of those journals look like wasted fucking time, but they led me here. I should’ve been reading more great books. I should’ve learned another language. I should’ve formed closer friendships when I was younger, instead of drinking too much. But I was doing something all along. I kept writing, to survive, and then one day I woke up and I thought like a merciless visionary, I thought like a conquistador, I thought like Wonder Woman with brass knuckles. Not every single day, of course, and not everyone loves me, no way. But I am my own rickety-ass invention, and every day I try to find my swagger all over again. I know how to find it most days. I don’t always look inward to find myself. Sometimes I just put on Vince Staples’s “Blue Suede.” Sometimes I just drink an extra cup of tea and do a dance and think about how good it is to stand tall, to be a monster instead of a dull girl, to not have to ask or apologize just for existing anymore.

You’re hitting rock bottom now. Why does every blues singer, folk singer, rapper, novelist, poet, and everyone else under the sun rhapsodize about hitting rock bottom? Because it makes you feel grateful. You will look back on this, and you’ll laugh at that dull girl, and you’ll also feel sorry for her.

I know it’s lonely being a dull girl. Love your dull girl, but lead her out of this gently. She is hiding under the bed. Pull her out and put her on a rocket ship to a new galaxy, where she can feel how strong she is, where her goons have goons.

The first step is intention.


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Ask Polly: How Do I Stop Being So Obsessed?