Smash Talks: Love Off the Mark(et)

Ashera is a Marriage and Family Therapist with an extensive background in sexual health education. You can ask her stuff anonymously and she won’t get weirded out. Seriously, try her. Send your queries through our anonymous contact form here.

Dear Smashera,

I’m writing to let you know I’m officially done with men and dating. I’ve taken myself off the market because dating makes me lose my f**king mind. All the horrible experiences I’ve endured with men have taken a toll on my self-esteem and now non-existent sex drive. I don’t feel safe with men anymore. Where do I go from here?

– Asexual?

Dear Asexual?,

People really can be awful to one another. That is not up for debate. If I’m understanding you correctly, you’ve had a string of encounters and relationships that have been sucky at best, traumatic at worst. This is leaving you feeling distrustful towards men in general and crappy about yourself. First of all, I’m glad that you’re taking a step back from pursuing relationships. There’s nothing wrong with taking some time to collect yourself, and from what it sounds like, that’s the only sane course of action for you to do!

Sexuality can be really fluid, meaning that our desires and drives can and will change over the course of life. Depending on hormones, orientation, circumstance, and attraction, the amount of sex that a person wants to have is going to fluctuate. Some people want to hit it and quit it until they pass out from loss of electrolytes. Others can take it or leave it. Still others will have days full of insatiable lust and others where they’re like, “nah, I’m alright.” I’ve talked a bit about asexuality in the past, and generally asexuals never really experience a desire to have sex, or if they do it’s under very specific circumstances (as in grey- or demisexuality). It sounds like you did at one point, but now are not due to bad experiences. From what you’ve said regarding having low self-esteem and your lack of a sex drive, I wonder if you may be having a traumatic response.

There are a lot of popular misconceptions about trauma, but the biggest is probably that a person must to go through something eXtReMe to experience it. You don’t have to live through a literal Saw movie or the horrors of war for your body to learn “HOLY CRAP THE WORLD IS SCARY.” At the core of trauma is a loss of control and having core beliefs about the world dashed to bits. Survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence are prone to having traumatic responses, as are people who discover their partner has been having an affair. While not all people who experience trauma develop full-blown PTSD, a traumatic response can happen and it is still the epitome of Not Fun. A good counselor can sit down with you and hash out whether you’re experiencing a traumatic response and can help treat both the underlying causes and any negative symptom you’re experiencing.

Now, dear writer, you did not go into detail about what your horrible experiences have been. What I do know is that a tremendous number of women are subjected to violence in many forms and I would not be doing my due diligence if I did not address this. To any survivors reading this, I want to emphasize that what you’ve endured is not your fault. There are resources out there for you. You are loved and you are worthy, so please reach out.

No matter what circumstances have led you to this place, your feelings are still valid. You’ve asked, “where do I go from here?” and the answer is really up to you. I’m most concerned with your self-described low self-esteem and feeling unsafe.

Taking yourself “off the market” is a really solid plan for right now. It sounds like it’s time to work on yourself in a major way. Instead of spending your energies swiping left or right on tinder, invest that energy into yourself. It’s okay to be a little selfish once in a while and make sure that you’re setting good boundaries. Instead of pouring your love out to people who might mistreat it, give it to you. Previously, I’ve talked a bit about loving yourself. I stand by everything I wrote then, but I have a few pointers to rebuild self-esteem.

It’s important to remind yourself what a badass you are, like, every day. I highly suggest putting visual reminders of things that make you happy or proud out where you can readily see them. Maybe it’s pictures of you and friends, or your trophies for excellence in digeridoo playing. Whatever it is, give yourself a little time to shine.

In that same vein, detoxify your life. Throw out all the crap that reminds you of bad times (unless it’s a legal document or something you will really need). Are you holding onto artifacts of previous relationships? A lot of people do. You’re allowed to throw out gifts from exes if they make you feel icky. You’re allowed to cry and scream and let it all out. Just don’t let that noise consume your life. If you need to grieve relationships of the past, allow yourself to, but set time limits. For example, you can say, “From Wednesday night until Thursday morning, I will allow myself to cry at random, rip up their old pictures, and eat more Cheetos than usual.” Let it all out, comrade. Then pick yourself up, exhale, and get back to business.

Also, are you nice to yourself? If you give yourself negative self-talk, you’re going to internalize it. Try to notice when you are being hard on yourself, and if possible, be a bit gentler. It’s far more forgiving to say, “I made a mistake” instead of “I’m unlovable and can’t do anything right.” If you start by noticing how you’re talking to yourself, it’s easier to slowly work on being kinder.

Let’s address feeling safe. I am curious as to what safety feels like for you and how you know that you’re okay. If you can isolate that feeling of being most at ease, you can expand upon it. When you start to feel not-okay, how do you regain a sense of control? Try to find little things that you can do to center yourself and to settle your limbic system down. Are there men that you feel safe around at all? Are there things that would make you feel better around men? It’s totally OKAY not to feel chill around everyone you meet—people need to earn your trust!

One last friendly reminder: if you do decide to pursue a relationship again in the future, it’s fine for you to set the pace. If you need to take things slow in any way, that’s okay. Anybody that wants to rush you into something you’re not ready for is not the right person for you. Take your time and allow yourself the opportunity to heal.