Over the years in our English speaking psychotherapy practice we have come across colluding and colliding tales of pain and suffering, presenting themselves in the repeating questions and the various emotional dilemmas that surface again and again. Perhaps you will find yourself in the words and expressions collected here.
The dilemma: Am I just a young man in Berlin exploring his options or is my constant Tinder usage a sign of a deeper problem?
I am a young man who is now living in Berlin after starting a new job. Since arriving I have been quite lonely and am finding the process of making new friends difficult. To be honest it brings up painful feelings of my school days when I was bullied for being overweight. I am not overweight anymore and train regularly in the gym. The gym has become a second home and I feel terrible if I don’t go. The other more embarrassing place that I find solace is on Tinder. I am having a hard time not meeting up with women for sex and it is starting to feel like an unhealthy obsession. The last woman I had sex with sent me a distraught email after I refused to answer any of her calls. I can’t tell whether this a sign of a deeper problem or am I just a lonely young man in a new city exploring his options?
The reply: Your question to yourself is a noble endeavor, especially when one realizes that their behavior has caused others harm it seems only right that we learn how to ask ourselves about our own motivations and try to make some sort of sense out of the labyrinth of our psyches.
I don’t want to patronize you by pointing out your youth as the cause of your angst as it seems that it would undermine something very human and as far as I can see universal in your conflict. Each one of us must balance the existential need for security and familiar reliable connection with the impulses of our more primal and urgent desires. But in this regard your youth is worth mentioning, as the truth is most people say a conflicted adios to their adrenaline loving, night on the prowl selves as soon as they settle down. This is another way of saying that time is indeed on your side and part of being young is having a license to discover, indulge and experiment.
My sense however is that your question reveals a man interested in getting to know himself on a deeper level and that you suspect that there are aspects of yourself from your childhood that may be affecting how you view yourself and relationships. From what you mention about your time growing up and being overweight it seems to have left a mark that makes you worry if it has something to do with your current attitude towards sex and relationships. The trick is to explore yourself and understand the why of your behavior. It requires deep honesty. Being interested in many sexual partners is not abnormal or a sign of pathology on its own. Monogamy may be the most prescriptive way of living but it definitely isn’t the only way and many people have found ways to build community and love whilst not conforming to conventional ways of coupling up.
You may discover that you are exploring yourself sexually and learning about your body as a sexual being, free from the confines of how you once viewed yourself. In this case it may be helpful to understand how to manage this behavior better so that people don’t get hurt in the process. Can you be more upfront about what you are looking for from the start so that others can manage their expectations with you? It is not a guarantee but it might afford you some more freedom to be “where you are”.
You may however discover that you are fleeing from more meaningful connections with people, which may have more to do with a fear of intimacy rooted in deeper painful feelings originating in your childhood. In this case we tend to avoid even the possibility of a relationship with someone we care about rather than expose our shameful inner selves. Rather than being true to yourself, it means you are hiding from yourself and although this path may temporarily allow you to feel good, in the end it always leads to misery and alienation.
By even asking the question however it does show that there is a curious man here who wants to explore himself and not hurt others in the process. Take this as your starting place, be brave, and see what there is to find. Looking for a good English speaking therapist may be your first stop or perhaps learning how to use self help and self reflection to uncover and access a deeper awareness of yourself. The path to self awareness can take many forms, all it requires is a curious and open mind.