Hello all, you concupiscent lemmings of joy. Welcome to Ask Dr NerdLove, the only dating advice column that helps you grind your charisma stat way past the level cap.
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Most weeks, we focus on readers' own problems, but what if their problems are external? How do you handle a situation where you're a bystander to someone else's drama? How can you be a supportive partner when your snuggle-bunny's chronic condition is starting to affect you, too?
It's time to be the GM for someone else's relationship campaign. Let's do this.
Good day Doc,
I have been following your column on Kotaku for a while now and though I find it very interesting and informative, I really never thought I would need to write for advice.
Now, however, I've found myself in a weird situation that I really don't know how to tackle. And, to be honest, I don't know either who to talk with because of the implications of how it may sound. So, I think I need your assistance with this.
I work on a small office and I've been there for a little while now (4+ years). The group of people in there has been mostly the same during those years, except the usual ins and outs every once in a while. Since it's a small office and there's not a lot of variation on the people in there, you basically get to know each other quite a lot with your daily interactions with them... or at least you would think that what they show is who they are.
Anyway, the thing is that a co-worker and I noticed the odd behaviour of one of our colleagues, a 30-year-old man that recently got married (two years) and had a child (eight months). He always likes to be the centre of attention of the office, he talks loud so that everybody can hear him, inserts himself into conversations, and laughs and makes jokes about almost everything to try to connect with everyone. It doesn't help either that he is known to be the "go to guy" for the boss, so he has this "superiority" complex over the other people in the office, especially over the new ones.
We recently realised that every time a new girl arrived to our office, he would start working on getting her attention. This would range from simple favours or just sitting on her desk and talking to them about whatever topic until he finds something in common. Obviously, that doesn't work with some girls, but a couple of months ago it worked with one of them. He started talking to her several times a day, they would go out to buy something from the store, and then finally started to go out to lunch together.
This wasn't so bad, but we realised that they would start arriving to the office together and then leaving together. They would disappear for a couple of hours without saying anything. Based on several awkward encounters that my friend and I had with them, it got very clear that he was having a sexual relationship with her, even though he is married with a recent child and she was 21.
That situation started to bother me, not because jealousy or something (I have my partner and am very happy with her) but because of the indecency of him, cheating on his wife when they recently had a child. It's even stranger how he never talks about them at work. Anyway, my friend told me that I shouldn't care, that the girl knew what was going on and if she didn't do anything to end things, it's because she was OK with it.
I somehow accepted that, but the problem raised again now because that girl left the office a month ago and now, a new girl arrived. She sits near me and we talk somewhat regularly. She's a nice girl, very kind but a little innocent because she is 22 and this is her first formal job.
The guy in question has started now to make clear moves toward this new girl and I cannot help to feel anger and frustration because I don't know what to do or how to act. I understand that even on this letter I may sound paranoid because I don't have hard/tangible proof of what I'm saying, but I know for sure what's going on and I don't want it to keep happening.
I also know that if I just tell her about him, she may think I'm being crazy, and may even get her closer to him. So that's the very question, what should I do? Or maybe, should I do/say something in the first place?
Sorry for any errors, English isn't my first language.
Office Drama Bomb
Can I ask you something, ODB? What's bothering you more: The fact that this guy's having affairs, or the fact that he's so very visible, so very social, and gets so much attention? Because, I'm not gonna lie here: You sound a little jealous.
I mean, his biggest sins here seem to be that he's a bit of a loudmouth and the boss likes him. Which, hey, that Vince-Vaughn-in-Swingers sort of personality is going to grate on people, and sometimes the reason why is because we kinda wish we could be more like that. And that weird combination of envy and personality mismatch can colour our perceptions of people and make us more likely to assume more ill intent than actually exists.
But hey, I could be entirely wrong. You're the guy who's been working with him, not me. So let's focus on the facts.
And one of those facts is: You don't know what this guy's story is. You don't know what his relationship is like with his wife. He could be a cheating piece of shit, or he could be in an open relationship. You simply don't know.
And while it's admirable that you're feeling protective of these women… they're grown-arse adults, my dude. Twenty-one and 22 year old women aren't babes in the woods, lost lambs who're being preyed on by the big bad wolf. These women have agency and are quite capable of making their own decisions, up to and including banging a smooth-talking married co-worker. Your coworker may ooze charm when he wants, but he's hardly Svengali, and they aren't being mind-controlled or coerced.
And to be clear: You don't know the circumstances of their relationship with him either. For all you know, they're perfectly fine being the piece on the side because all they want is some no-strings, naughty fun with a guy they know isn't going to be angling for a relationship.
Everyone makes choices. We may not like the choices other people make… but that's their prerogative.
To be perfectly blunt, ODB, there isn't really much here. I mean, yeah, it's obnoxious that they're running off for nooners and not working… but if their behaviour isn't disrupting your workflow, that's between them and their manager. And unless they're coming to you to tell you that this guy's harassing them or making them uncomfortable, then really, the nature of their relationship is their business, not yours.
So sure, if you feel the need, let your new co-worker know that this guy's a player. But otherwise, just let it go. They're all consenting adults. Unless and until this is directly affecting you and your work, let them run their lives as they see fit. This really isn't your drama to deal with.
I have been dating my girlfriend for a year and a half. We've lived together that entire time.
A few months ago, her clinical depression made a resounding comeback. She has had several bouts with it, it comes and goes, as it were. This time she decided to go to the doctor for it instead of self-treating (exercise, healthy diet), which was no longer working. In that time, she's switched medications twice, to varying degrees of success. But, I'd say she's losing the fight right now.
Now, I'll say that one of the biggest reasons I initially became attracted to her was because she was this light. She was an ambitious artist and an independent woman with her own life, her own goals, which was in contrast to my previous relationship. But now, because of this depression, it takes everything she has just to get up and go to work. She has no ambition, she isn't happy, and she's become co-dependent on me for her own happiness. We both work early mornings, and after her shift she's pretty much in lazy pants watching The Office until bedtime. And I find myself staying late at work to avoid that until as late as possible. I have ambitions, I have goals, and if I go home I know I'll be relegated to couch-duty for the rest of the night. If I go into the office to try and get some work done, I get a guilt trip that I don't spend enough time with her, or if I "arrange" productivity time in our schedule, I get the pseudo-guilt trip where she's clearly just waiting for me to be finished.
I hate it. She used to have her own life and depression has taken it from her.
The other side of it, is the medication has completely zapped her sex drive. Our sex life has never been stellar, except maybe in the beginning, but now it's non-existent. We haven't had sex in three months, and not just no sex, no anything. No messing around, no make out sessions, we barely touch at all any more. I drop hints, try to get her in the mood, but its fruitless. The hormones simply are not there any more. I'm not at the point yet of giving an ultimatum - I'm trying my best to be understanding - and it seems wrong to demand "me or the medication", but here we are. Masturbation is also a sore subject in our house, so I have to do that in secret too. I. Am. Thirsty. We've talked about it some but I know it isn't easy for her so I'm not pushing it.
Basically, I'm doing everything I know to do to make her life better. I sacrifice some of my happiness for her but it doesn't seem to make a difference. I love her and I want to help her, but lately I feel like I can't, and she's starting to drag me down with her. I don't know what to do.
Didn't Ask For This
I'm glad you brought this up to me, DAFT, because I've been there. More specifically: I've been in your girlfriend's shoes. I suffer from chronic depression. It's more or less under control now, but when I was in university, shit was especially bad. Life was just… there. I had no motivation, no energy, and frankly, most of my attention was focused around the fact that I hated myself because of it. There's nothing quite like knowing that you're depressed, despite having no real "reason" for it. So instead, I spent my time focused on all my flaws and the reasons why I was a piece of shit for existing. I was kind of miserable to be around and I wore through the patience of my friends very quickly.
Fortunately, I went on Zoloft, which helped deal with a lot of the issues… but it introduced new ones. I spent a couple of years walking around in a fog, to the point that I literally don't remember major chunks of my first year in university. And, notably, it killed my sex-drive deader than disco. You could've dipped Laetitia Casta in caramel sauce and dropped her in front of me and I wouldn't have cared. On the incredibly rare occasions I was interested in sex at all… well, I couldn't have finished for love, nor money, nor bottles of Pappy Van Winkle 24.
All of this is to say: This isn't about you or how your girlfriend feels about you. It's literally the disease she's dealing with and the side effects of the medication she's on. If her depression manifests anything like mine did, she may also be externalising her self-hate in her actions. It's a frustrating paradox; you want reassurance and the comfort of your friends and loved ones, but you also feel unworthy of it, so you lash out at the people you care for. You try to push them away because you don't deserve to be happy and have friends or a partner.
Now, this doesn't preclude her from being an arsehole to you. The fact that she's depressed doesn't mean that she has the right to treat you like shit or expect you to be dancing in attendance on her. It may give some understanding as to why she acts like this… but that isn't a pass or an excuse.
Keep in mind though, you avoiding her isn't helping either. I suspect that she's feeling a lot of fear that you're drifting away; God knows I was more than convinced that all my friends were about to abandon me when I was at my worst.
Unfortunately, there aren't any easy answers here. Depression is an insidious disease. It saps your life away and drips poison in your ear and tells you lies. And those lies are very believable because they're in your voice.
But it's also a chronic condition. Depression can't really be cured. It can be managed, it fades for a while… but it's always lingering. And frankly, it can take forever to find treatments that work for you. One of the weird things nobody talks about is that nobody knows why antidepressants work, which means prescribing them is more dark art than science. Finding the right drug and dosage is a game of trial and error, made all the more frustrating because it can take months for them to kick in - if they do at all.
Now, that doesn't mean that everything is hopeless. One of the things you may want to do is talk to your girlfriend about the side effects that the drugs are having on her. While most SSRIs are libido killers, there are other antidepressants that don't tank your sex drive. It may be worth your time and hers for her to talk to her psychiatrist about finding a different medication with side effects you both can live with. Sometimes you have to be your own advocate for your quality of life, even when your doctor disagrees.
(And yes, "Doc, give me different drugs because I want to actually fuck," is a perfectly legitimate reason to request a change in medication.)
Meanwhile: Do the things you need to do to stay sane. Yeah, your girlfriend may not be cool with masturbation, but you two can make an arrangement. You can pretend that you don't, and she can pretend to believe you. Meanwhile, you be as discreet as you can be about it. And if old-fashioned masturbation isn't cutting it, consider a penetration sleeve. Tenga has a line of toys that don't look like masturbation aids and (critically) also don't look like a serial killer's souvenir collection when you uncap them.
And it may be worth finding a counselor of your own. Living with a partner who has a mental illness can be difficult. Having someone to talk to, who can give you the tools to cope and help you communicate with your partner during this, can be invaluable. The fact that your girlfriend has depression doesn't mean that your needs or problems go away. You don't want to end up neglecting yourself in the name of taking care of her.
You're in a tough spot, DAFT, and I feel for you. I wish I could give you something more concrete, but depression is a motherfucker. The good news is, with the right combination of help and medication, it does get better. But hanging in until that happens is hard.
Take care of yourself during all of this, DAFT.
Have you dealt with office relationship drama? Have you lived with depression or had a partner who did? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments, and we'll be back with more of your questions in two weeks.
Ask Dr Nerdlove is Kotaku's fortnightly advice column for matters of the heart, hosted by the one and only Harris O'Malley, AKA Dr Nerdlove.
Harris O'Malley is a writer and dating coach who provides geek dating advice at his blog Paging Dr NerdLove and the Dr NerdLove podcast. He is also a regular guest at One Of Us. He can be found dispensing snark and advice on Facebook and on Twitter at @DrNerdLove. Dr Nerdlove is not really a doctor.