Advice: Unconventional Wisdom

How come I get no luck?

I'm a 20-year-old straight male, although recently I've struggled with my sexuality. I've never had a girlfriend or gone out on a date. I have bipolar disorder II, and have acquired acting skills to cover it. I have also developed an optimistic outlook on life. My problem is, women don't see me as a likely romantic candidate for some reason. I've bought an assortment of colognes and some exotic hair gels, dyed my hair dirty blond and yet I can't find a date. What should I do?

Forget the colognes, hair gels and dye. You've undoubtedly seen way too many late-night TV ads. Nor should you be taking the hair-dye approach to bipolar disorder. Success comes not from superficially disguising your condition but from learning how to grapple with it realistically-recognizing your mood triggers, acquiring self-management skills and setting up your surroundings to support you. By its very nature, the condition clouds insight, so you may well be unaware of ways you are behaving that put others off. Lots of people with bipolar disorder feel they've never had a successful romantic relationship, and indeed, social events both strongly influence moods and are influenced by them. Poets and other wise souls have long argued that romantic attraction is itself a form of madness with a bipolar nature. At the very least it pitches those in its grip between highs and lows that dramatically impact brain chemistry. With or without romance, bipolar disorder can make day-to-day life more of a struggle and typically leads to confusion in one's sense of self, so maturing on all fronts will likely take longer for you than for someone without the condition. I hope you're taking prescribed medication regularly, but psychotherapy is also invaluable for improving social and romantic functioning. Look for a therapist specifically experienced in treating bipolar patients with cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy. In addition, you'll probably get a great deal both socially and informationally from a local bipolar self-help group. Check out the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (www.dbsalliance.org) to get started.

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Should we have sex now, or wait until we're married?

Help! I have been raised with the idea that you wait until you are married to have sex. I have been dating my boyfriend for almost seven months now, and we are talking about marriage. We live about two hours away from each other, and now I'm going into the military and leaving him behind. I love him and he loves me. I do want to have sex with him, but I also don't want to be shunned by my family and friends. What should I do?

If you've been raised with the idea of waiting until you are married to have sex, by all means honor your beliefs. Otherwise, you wind up feeling that you've been cheating-on yourself. Neither distance nor deployment has anything to do with your core values, so don't let circumstances compromise you. At its best, sex adds a layer of profound attachment to love. There are many ways to express love and affection without intercourse, and I hope you and your beau are enjoying them all.

Why did my E-mail flirtation go up in flames?

I am 53, and I've always been physically faithful to my spouse of 32 years. So when I started an e-mail friendship a year ago with a co-worker 2,000 miles away, I thought it was OK. He's twice divorced and lives with his fiancee. We exchanged photos, phone calls and did some naughty flirting. I even told him I loved him. Then guilt set in. We agreed to just be friends. When his youngest son moved away, he became depressed and no longer flirted back. Then he overlooked my birthday; I got emotional. He said good-bye; he wanted to be honest with his fiancee. I feel used. Yet I miss his friendship. What can I do to bring him back as a friend?

You feel used? Dahlink, you were using him for excitement as much as he was using you for diversion. Your e-mail flirtation went up in flames because: A) It's way too easy to push electrons around; and B) You confused fantasy with reality. Flirting is exciting and a fabulous mental exercise; no wonder you love it. Almost everyone does. You don't have to reach out 2,000 miles to do it with a stranger. Why not try flirting with your husband? Start by sending him dirty, flirty e-mails, or leave written messages on his pillow. If that doesn't jump-start the relationship, turn your skills to fiction and pen a romance novel.

He wants to wait until he's 40!

I am a 29-year-old single female who met a wonderful guy 10 months ago and started an amazingly romantic relationship. Since we were getting along so well, I tried to take the next step and introduce him to my family. That's when he freaked out. To me he seemed financially and mentally ready for a serious relationship, but he said he was not ready for commitment and broke up with me. I tried to tell him that we are soul mates and belong to each other, but because of negative influences from his friends and family, he didn't try to work out his problem. I ran into his best friend, who told me that he still thinks about me but is scared of marriage and might not be ready until he is 40. Why does he think that way? How can I change his mind and make him realize he is making a mistake he will regret?

Believe it or not, most guys still see themselves as the (actual or potential) Provider. The orthodox version usually comes complete with benchmarks of accomplishment before starting a family. Quaint, I know, but it's hard to obliterate eons of evolution in a few hot dates. Introducing a guy to one's family certainly conveys seriousness and could definitely scare any guy just a few months into a relationship. While you were getting on so well, why weren't you talking and sharing your views on relationships? Did you ask him whether he was ready to meet your family and get a sense of what that meant to him? It isn't only your definition of readiness that counts, it's also his. And on average, it takes couples six months of regular dating to recognize that they are getting serious. Instead of beating him over the head with your vision of soul mates, you should have been spending time listening and gently exploring his attitudes about life and love. Lick your wounds, and next time, don't be so swift to haul a guy home just because you're excited. Let an awareness of mutual attachment develop organically.

Now that he's clean, he's sexless

I've been dating a guy on and off for seven years. When we met, he was fresh out of a 17-year marriage he didn't want to leave. He was depressed, addicted to pain meds and did some really hurtful things. I stood beside him as he went in and out of treatment centers. These stresses and my life as a single parent prompted an emotional breakdown after he stopped calling. Eventually, he reappeared, clean. We're seeing each other again-only now there's no sex, no hugging, holding or kissing. He just has no interest in anything romantic. I do love him, but sometimes I want to feel like a woman, not like his pet, maid or Mom.

You're already answering your own doubts. Whatever his reasons-physical, emotional, a mixture of the two-Seven Year Man is not what you want or need. You can spend seven more years rediscovering how self-defeating it is trying to whip him into shape, with no guarantee of success, or you can honor your healthy need for a fulfilling relationship. Keep him as a friend, but devote your time to exploring other possibilities. Choose a partner wisely. Evaluate one as you would a friend-look at his character, personality, values, generosity of spirit, the relationship between his words and actions, his sensitivity to your needs, his relationships with others. Freedom from substance abuse should be high on the list; consciousness is an asset. At the very least, substance abuse suggests underlying problems that need to be addressed. Respect yourself, know your needs and speak up for them clearly. Otherwise, you will face disappointment at not getting what you want and anger at your partner for not having met your (unstated) needs.

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Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?