Seven-month itch

I'm a good catch on paper, but I've never really learned to socialize and I need to know how to find a long-term lover and mate.

By Cary Tennis
June 4, 2003 11:16PM (UTC)
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Dear Cary,

I'm a 31-year-old male, tall, considered handsome, educated and so forth. On paper a good catch. Yet I've only had one relationship (my first one, no less) that lasted longer than one year. Most others fell victim to a seven-month itch. I should mention that I grew up strictly Christian and didn't date until my parents and I left the church and became happy heathens.


I'd never really learned to socialize with girls. I had my first real girlfriend when I was 20. It was very passionate but also very tempestuous, mutual bouts of jealousy, arguing, etc. I had met her in a club and we clicked instantly. I never met anyone in such a circumstance again. In the following years I had short-lived relationships, mostly with women seven to 13 years older than myself. For the last seven years I've met women solely through online dating.

As a result of religious indoctrination I developed obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD (according to my shrink), which was highly detrimental to my dating life, as you can well imagine. I got over it about two years ago and have been feeling at ease with myself, especially when single.

Looking back, I chose women mainly because they went for me, not really because I was enthralled by them. In the not-so-long run, that always led to disaster. I always ended up with commitment-phobic women, where I pushed too much (despite not really wanting them, mind you) and drove them away. Frustrated by all those failures I took a yearlong sabbatical from dating and analyzed myself. Now I wonder how I can get back the youthful enthusiasm I had for my first girlfriend (I called her up about a year ago, it was nice). I think I've got the obsessive and jealous thing under control now; it seems ridiculous in retrospect. I have tons of intellectual interests and have a bit of a problem with small talk; women usually say they feel intimidated by my "intellect."


I often end up with women interested in me either just sexually or as a conversation partner, but not as a lover and mate. How can I find a woman who's interested in me as a mate?

Between Plato and Booty Call

Dear Between,

I have a feeling your bedroom door doesn't open all the way. Sometime in your Christian childhood, you blocked it with a chunk of wood so nobody could get in there and see your rumpled sheets, your copies of Playboy, your diaries, your Gnostic Gospels.


At least when the ancients trudged up Mount Olympus bearing lambs to burn on the altar, the oracle could see how they dressed and guess where they came from. But all I've got to go on is your words, and something seems to be missing. So I'm making up incantations as fast as I can, hoping something I say haunts you like the truth.

And that's what I think in my gut: That you have a secret and you've learned to guard it and when it starts to come out you go stale as last week's bread, you go pale as the moon, you go quiet like the devil, you start washing your hands and counting your socks. Maybe your secret is sin. Maybe you've stained your Christian home with the blood of a virgin. Perhaps the devil has a hold of you; that could be your secret, a secret you cannot tell the girls. Or perhaps you do not like the girls at all and that indeed is your secret. Maybe their blood terrifies you like the blood of Christ. Maybe your thoughts condemn you from the pulpit like a preacher. Maybe it's all tangled up in your head and you really don't know what you think. But somewhere in there, I think, is the Christian soul that's more Jerry Lee Lewis than Jerry Falwell, and I think you've got to find that rock 'n' roll piano music and follow it out of your rabbit hole.


Why did your family leave the church, I wonder. Was it for more heathen rock 'n' roll? Or, more to the point, why was your family so involved in the church in the first place? Who was the ayatollah? Probably your father, fearsome and accusing, full of sin himself but accountable to no one, not even God. And when finally he decided that he was not accountable to God, did he announce to the family, We're leaving the church? Were you happy to leave the church, or did you feel cast to the four winds, bereft, missing the balm of ritual, the high, white, quiet spaces? Well, whatever, now you need another pew to bow your head in, some other rail for your bended knee, some other hymn to cover your woundedness.

Perhaps your OCD has been a kind of replacement hymn. I am curious about your therapist's opinion because you say, "As a result of religious indoctrination I developed obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD (according to my shrink)." Do you mean your psychotherapist said religion caused your OCD? The National Institutes of Mental Health fact site on OCD says, "OCD is not caused by family problems or attitudes learned in childhood, such as an inordinate emphasis on cleanliness, or a belief that certain thoughts are dangerous or unacceptable."

Intuitively, though, I see the connection between fundamentalist Christianity and OCD -- because, again quoting the NIMH site, "People with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) suffer intensely from recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) or rituals (compulsions), which they feel they cannot control. Rituals such as hand-washing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away." The thing is, also, as you probably know, it's recurring; it's chronic; it comes back. So do not assume that you are cured for good. Whatever medicine you took, keep taking it.


Aside from dealing with the OCD, I think you might benefit from the company of other ex-fundamentalists. Your behavior will make a lot more sense to others who grew up in strict Christian households, and it might be a great relief to have a laugh or two with people who know where you're coming from. See psychologist Marlene Winell's Web site. I haven't read her book, "Leaving the Fold," but I would recommend reading it anyway; also take a look at the other resources her site can direct you to.

I am, as I said, a little in the dark. I'm always looking for that one piece of the puzzle that makes everything else clear. You know how you look at a very good painting and you can see infinite permutations and patterns? But if you cut a piece out, all those well-arranged harmonies are destroyed? I feel like there is a piece missing. Something doesn't make sense. Maybe the Christian dogma stopped the unfolding of your being.

That might explain why these relationships keep foundering. In a love relationship, the complete being unfolds over time. You have to resume the unfolding. To unfold used to mean to let the sheep out. Heathens would know all about that. The fold was the earth or the pen; the enclosure. To fold also came to mean to crease, to crumple; so when you unfold you uncrumple, you uncrease (or increase); you bloom, and you let the animals out.


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Cary Tennis

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