Welcome to the first AMA of February! Unequivocally the best month because it delievered the leap day, my birth, and Valentine's: a trio of romanticism.
In this edition I've pulled three questions submitted via IG's Q&A box. We're exploring dating fears, couples' vibrators and how to support our friends who are suffering without compromising our own mental health. It goes without saying (but I have to caveat nonetheless) that all advice should be taken with a pinch of salt and common sense. I'm not a professional, but if a person feels they can confide in me then I will always give an honest response. Like two mates gasbagging over a wine.
If you'd like to submit a question or problem for the next edition of AMA, email email@example.com and pop 'AMA' in the subject line. x
I can’t follow through with a date! We talk, we get on, we make plans and then I bottle it before they happen. How do I bite the bullet?
I get nervous before everything. Before I see the dentist. Before I speak to Vodafone. Before I discuss my finances. Before a handyman comes round to fix a leaky pipe. A few hours prior, a switch in my mind will trigger and declare ‘god, aren’t you going to get unnecessarily nervous about this?’. And then lo and behold, I become unnecessarily nervous. My heart starts racing. My hands start sweating. I fret endlessly about how much I should be blinking and oh god does my face look weird? I feel like it looks weird. Am I staring at their eye? I should switch eyes. Shit now I’m looking at their ear. FUUUUUUUUUUUCC-
There’s one thing I’ve found can always help in these situations: playing the role of a character. A character you’ve moulded in your mind - your alter ego, if you have one (I do but she’s an aggressive drunk so I try not to bring her out in official meetings, understandably so). This character is cool, collected and confident. This character doesn’t give a shit if somebody likes them or not, whether they think they're fun or interesting or credible in what they do. They don't care if things get awkward. They don't care if they spill something or drag bog roll back from the toilets by their shoes. This is who they are, who they are built to be. Sexy. Powerful. This is the role. And your job is to play this character as convincingly as possible.
For the initial part of these interactions you aren’t fully yourself, and your reservations are pushed to the back as you strive to fulfil the proposed part.
Playing the character of confidence takes us outside of the personal vulnerability which so often swamps us with nerves. The fear of judgement is taken away from being acutely directed at us, and instead is spread wider to this badass we've decided to become. Then as time passes and we begin to feel more relaxed, we notice that the confidence we're projecting is a part of us already. We just needed a little help to dig it out. I wouldn't go changing your name or suddenly acquiring an accent, but imagining a version of yourself who isn't nervous and letting them lead the way can ease the stress.
Go on the dates! Fuck it. Gather the experiences and delight in the opportunity to either enjoy yourself and connect with someone, or collect a saucy story for your nearest and dearest the next day. Might be a good snog in it for you as well.
Opinions on couples' vibrators? They just seem like they’d be annoying and difficult to use.
The majority of how sex is represented in popular culture really pisses me off because so rarely is the awkward fumble shown. Like the moment someone is putting a condom on and you’re just kinda waiting, touching, staring, thinking about the last time you checked whether you’re getting the best deal for your internet. Or when you’re trying to fit something into a hole and the position isn’t quite right and you politely stutter ‘oops, not there!’ whilst wriggling and rearranging. Or when you go to kiss your partner but they’ve started to move their head away so you slobber onto the side of their mouth, and then you pretend that you didn’t notice all the while knowing you BOTH noticed and you’re BOTH now thinking about it.
I think couples' vibrators run along the same lines. From my own experience, they don’t always (or often) slip seamlessly into a sexual experience. There’s some stopping and starting and getting used to the sounds and how you each position to make them work. There’s some instances where they get in the way and they are annoying. There are some instances where one party is more eager to use them than the other. But there’s also some really explosive moments within which they amplify every inch of sensation. And I think they can help to take your experiences together to a new level, especially if you’ve been together for a while and that initial non-stop-fucking stage has worn off.
They take a little practice and some are better than others, so it’s a case of finding what works best for you. If you don’t orgasm through sex alone then adding a vibrator in towards the end to cum together is great. If you can orgasm without assistance, you can have one tucked half inside and half outside for heightened sensation. If you like anal play then you can try all manner of things to intensify for both of you. There are limitless options.
To summarise: yes, they can sometimes be fiddly and take time to perfect, but they’re definitely not annoying and the results can be quite… explosive.
Tips for supporting a friend who is struggling without sidelining my own mental health?
I suspect that the internet has turned this into somewhat of a buzzphrase but setting boundaries is really important. If the support your friend needs comes at the detriment of your own mental health then ultimately you’re doing nobody any favours. You’re going to suffer, you’ll be less able to offer meaningful relief to your friend, and potentially you’re going to harbour some resentment that you allowed your own wellbeing to be compromised.
Setting boundaries can be a difficult task though. You don’t want your friend to feel rejected - especially at a time when emotions are complex and self-esteem is low - but you also want to be clear about your position and what’s important for maintaining your own mental health.
Start by ascertaining where your boundaries are so you can be conscious of upholding them. If their own self-critique triggers negative thoughts about yourself, let them know that that’s something you’re actively avoiding and give positive reasons as to why (“I’m trying not entertaining crappy thoughts at the moment because I feel much better when I focus on the good bits. I know it’s easier said than done but it’s a small part of how I’m looking after myself”). If you’re struggling to connect with them because they’re always down and despondent, reiterate your support, let them know how much you care about them and how much value they bring to your life, but then take a little step back if the cheering up is detracting from your own happiness. The same goes for if they’re finding it hard to leave the safety of their home and routine; you can confirm that you’d always be on hand to make sure they felt comfortable and that at any time you could call it quits and retreat, but ultimately if exploring/socialising is something you enjoy and which makes you feel good, you can’t forfeit that solely for their benefit. You need to hold yourself up too.
Mental ill health doesn’t give someone permission to treat other people badly. There’s still a responsibility to be kind and to care about your problems as well as their own. When someone is really struggling it has the tendency to consume them but recognising the ways in which they iterate their love language is really important. Maybe they don’t turn up to dinners. Maybe they forget to text back. Maybe they’re always dwelling on their problems instead of opening up to broader conversation. But maybe they also never miss a birthday, or always hype you up under Insta pics, or thank you and tell you they love you often. Seeing and appreciating the way you’re seen and appreciated can help make supporting them a little bit easier.
I think at times you also have to assess how truly harmful it is for you. Is it just annoying or is it really bringing you down? If it’s the latter then you must must must take care of yourself, but if it’s a case of finding them a bit draining, a bit of a bore or a bit self-centered, then I think you take the L. You endure it for now because good friendship is being there when you’re really needed and expecting little in return. If it’s a dull, repetitive conversation for you but for them, it’s a moment of relief where they feel they can confide rather than bubbling over? In the grand scheme of things, it’s important.
But again, you know your own health the best and if you recognise that that’s being compromised, you must protect yourself. You can’t be there for others if you aren’t well yourself.