Out of whack

Help! My serotonin imbalance makes me horny but depressed.

Published August 29, 2003 7:00PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I don't know if you knew this, but a serotonin imbalance simultaneously causes both depression and a heightened sex drive.

So, there's my love life in a nutshell.

I spend most of my day thinking about or flirting with or necking with girls. It's a bit of a time suck, but not without its fun. In the last year I've been in delightful situations involving full nudity with eight women.

There are two problems with this. On my side, I know before I begin that every situation I get into will be transitory. In most cases, I feel little or no emotional commitment to the person, and quickly start looking for somebody else. A few times, I have felt that she was well worth devoting myself to, but then she turned out to be even more of a psycho than I am, and left me to deal with her own weighty problems. Either way, we get the same lugubrious outcome. At this point, womankind feels like a uniform, interchangeable group, and all of my relations with its members feel dulled by the knowledge that it'll all fall to pieces soon enough.

On the other side, many people are surprised that they wind up intimate with me. "I only agreed to come to your apartment because I thought you were gay," she said as she lay on top of me. This is all very fun, but eventually the (nonalcoholic) spell wears off and she feels one of two things: either regret for having submitted to the advances of some short, scrawny and perpetually sullen guy, or joyous devotion that turns into sadness three days later when she realizes that my above-mentioned emotionally distant state isn't going to change anytime soon.

I really want to be happy with one person who fulfills me emotionally, but I don't feel that it's at all forthcoming. You get bonus points if your advice doesn't include self-restraint, since I've found my flirtation addiction unshakable. And am I making the world a worse place by entering into entirely consensual but potentially regret-inducing relations with people? Or should I stop being so patriarchal and leave others to make the decisions they're going to make?

A Uniform, Interchangeable Person

Dear Uniform,

I think you're going through some statistically inevitable cluster of outwardly similar occurrences whose grouping is random and meaningless; it's just a short-term cycle of like events. They will keep occurring until they stop occurring.

The truth of it is, you're depressed and uncomfortable and you're likely to be depressed and uncomfortable fairly often until you get better. The main thing you have to do, my friend, is just stay alive, tough it out when your serotonin is low, eat your spinach, watch your meds, and hope to reach 30. The other stuff -- is it right for you to take your clothes off with people you don't know very well, is that damaging to the world (what grandiosity!), are you being patriarchal, etc. -- is just too vague for me to guess at what it means. The truth of your life is much simpler: You don't feel right, and that hurts. Living with emotional pain is a big man's job, and the sooner you start learning to live with it, the easier life will get.

I'm not trying to be flip. I'm trying to avoid falling into the trap of bullshitting you. You're doing things that you only sort of admit to yourself that you're doing, and you sort of admit that you feel bad about them, but you're presenting it as though it were a philosophical problem and it's not. You're presenting your own suffering as though it were a problem for the world and it's not. "The world" is an abstraction. Caring is not something that "the world" does. Projecting your concerns onto this abstraction, however, is a way of avoiding talking about the actual people who might actually care about you, and who might actually be hurt by your actions.

You must somehow locate yourself amid this mess of abstraction. Pinch yourself. Punch yourself in the thigh. That's you. The one that feels the blow is you. That's the entity you must learn to love.

You're going to have to just keep at it, punching your own thigh, feeling the blow, reminding yourself what you are, regularly opening the lid of the terror box, looking at the nightmares in there, seeing as much as you can bear, then shutting the lid and closing your eyes, looking in the mirror to see if you're still there, punching yourself in the thigh to make sure you can still bruise, until over the years, you begin to accept the contour of your own body, your own face, and your own pain.

I'm sorry I can't be more concrete or less cryptic. As to your more or less specific questions, yes, please do leave others to make their own decisions. There really is no choice; you couldn't make their decisions even if you wanted to. And are you making the world a worse place by doing what you're doing? That, my friend, is a meaningless question. Who taught you to talk like that?

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By Cary Tennis

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