The learning curve

Joey Garcia

I’m a 27-year-old woman with learning disabilities that cause me to be a moderately slow learner. In the last year, I have had three relationships that have ended badly. These guys all complained that I called them too much and that I’m too clingy and needy. I admit that I am only happy when I am with someone; I feel lonely and miserable without a boyfriend. I feel that my learning disabilities limit my social life, but I don’t know what to do. How can I meet people that will accept me for who I am? Also, how can I work on my neediness so I don’t drive them away? I am very unhappy and lonely.

Oh, sweetie! Aren’t we all a little learning-disabled when it comes to romantic relationships? I know that I can be an extremely slow learner about things that I think I should have figured out by now. So, I’ve accepted the importance of being patient with myself. Awareness and acceptance of imperfection inspire humility. They also remind me that I’m on God’s time, not my own.

I prescribe patience for you, too. Here’s the dosage: When you feel the urge to call the man you’re dating, stop. Ask yourself what you want from him. If the answer is that you just want to say hi, probe deeper. You may discover something like: I want to call because I had a lousy day at work and want to tell him about it. Notice whether you’re choosing to be completely honest. In other words, do you just want to unload, or do you also want to be comforted? Let your motivation be transparent. Then give yourself what you want him to give you.

Write about your day and then talk with a different friend about it. Ask him or her to listen and give support, but not to problem-solve for you. Practice giving yourself support first and then reaching out to a friend. As you learn to handle your own emotional needs and deepen your relationship with others, you’ll feel more content. Gradually, you will shift the habit of requiring your romantic relationships to be responsible for fulfilling all of your emotional needs. You’ll need to practice this for at least six months before deciding whether it works or not. If not, the next step is therapy. A skilled therapist can help you face and change your issues of co-dependency. If private sessions seem insurmountable financially, try group therapy or the 12-step group Co-dependents Anonymous. As you get to know yourself better, you will make better decisions about the men you choose to be in relationships with.

Where do you go to find men with values similar to your own? I’m in my late 40s, and I don’t want to have children. I can’t find a nice guy who feels the same way.

Consider this: In the past, financial advisers said that people should have enough savings to cover three to six months of living expenses, because it normally took between three and six months to find a new job. Now, it often takes much longer, so financial advisers suggest banking enough to cover nine months to one year of living expenses. Culturally, such changes seem to reverberate, affecting other major symbols—including partnership. Although there are always tales to the contrary, it simply takes longer to meet a mate these days. This is especially true if your requirements vary from the norm. Short of hanging around vasectomy clinics and posting personal-ad headlines like “Proud to be child-free,” all you can do is stay open to the search.

Meditation of the week
Max Ehrmann’s poem “Desiderata” was a hit when I was a teenager. Here’s one stanza: “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” What keeps you from living as if this were true?

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