Dear Annie: I am a single mother of two teenage girls. After a series of abusive relationships, I hadn’t dated for two years until recently. A few months ago, I met a man, and we’ve been seeing each other and sharing intimate moments. But the way he acts has me very confused.
He says that marriage is something he’s simply not interested in. I’ve told him that I am interested in building a healthy, long-lasting partnership with someone who will become my husband — even though to me, after such bad prior relationships, the very possibility of such a thing seems far-fetched. I think on some level I believe that I deserve to be mistreated.
Now, even though I know our relationship can’t go anywhere, I continue to date this man. I feel guilty after every date. What do you think I should do? I’m not sure whether I really like him or I’m just lonely. I don’t have any friends.
— Lost and Lonely
Dear Lost: Finding a loving, caring relationship begins with loving and caring for yourself. End things with this noncommittal man, and turn your focus inward. You’ve yet to process the abuse you suffered in your previous relationships. For help in doing so and referrals to local resources, I urge you to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.
I’d also encourage you to try making some new friends or reconnecting with old ones. Online, www.meetup.comcan be a good tool for people looking to make friends.) Having a healthy social life will help you stay grounded and feel less dependent on a romantic partner. Once you believe with all your heart that you are worthy of love and respect, you’ll be ready to date. Until then, be patient with yourself.
Dear Annie: I enjoy and benefit from your advice, but you often recommend seeing a therapist or counselor. I have tried in my area and been turned down or unable to find the right sort of help. There was even an article in a recent issue of The New York Times about the unavailability of therapists.
What do you recommend for those of us who can’t find therapists?
Dear Searching: I’d heard, anecdotally, of friends and family having trouble finding mental health care providers this year, but I had no idea it was such a widespread issue until I read the article that you referenced.
I know contacting a therapist is in itself a big step for some people — which makes it especially frustrating that many are being turned away. But I encourage you to keep trying. Ask your physician for referrals. If you call an office and find that they’re not taking new patients, ask if they know anyone who is.
Check the database at www.psychologytoday.com/. If you strike out with all therapists in your area, widen your search to those who are based elsewhere but offering virtual appointments right now. Then there are also online-only platforms such as MDLive, Talkspace and BetterHelp.
Additionally, support groups can also be immensely helpful, depending on your situation. There are support groups for grief, addiction, codependency, toxic family relationships and more. Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Hotline at 800-662-4357 for referrals to specific groups and other resources.
Finally, put in place some basic self-care practices to promote mental health. Keep a journal. Try to meditate each day. (Smartphone apps such as Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer can help.) If you’re a person of faith, make a point of praying daily, as this can be therapeutic, too. Open up to a friend about what you’re going through. These aren’t replacements for therapy, but they can help in the immediate term.
Annie Lane, a graduate of New York Law School and New York University, writes this column for Creators Syndicate. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.