Tuesday, October 07, 2008


One of my biggest problems when relating to others is a lack of empathy. If I haven't actually had a similar experience or emotion as someone who's trying to get me to empathize with them, well, then in all likelihood I won't do it. I also have difficulty reading emotions at times, which makes me somewhat socially awkward and aloof. However, I think I've gotten around this for the most part, and I usually do a good job of relating my own experiences to others. I mean, in college most people go through the same things, and even if the specifics don't match, one can make some generalizations about where they've been and where somebody else currently is.

But then there are some issues where I just can't empathize. I want to, and I've tried, but I just don't know how because I can't think of any time I've gone through something similar. "Emotional dependency" is one of these issues. Goodness knows, after hanging around the ex-gay side of the blogosphere for over two years, I've heard about that issue a lot, but I really don't know how to empathize with brothers and sisters who are going through it.

I guess that's largely because I haven't felt it. Or if I have felt it, I looked at it in a different way. I'll admit I have a bit of a difficult time being close to people. I'm fine in very structured social situations (like a student club or campus organization), and I can get by in less formal situations (like mingling at parties, though I always feel awkward there), but when it comes to real deep, lasting relationships, I have a hard time developing them. Of course, the best of those kinds of relationships tend to develop on their own, so I don't stress about this inability of mine, and instead just try to wait for things to unfold naturally.

Obviously, this means that I don't exactly have too many friends that I would consider "close." My brother is probably the closest person to me, and there are two female friends and one male friend who I also would consider very close. There are also a few people I've met online who I've been very open and vulnerable with, but I would credit that to my comfort with both writing and relative anonymity. I have a feeling I would have been very content with the Victorian England method of friendships by correspondence, but alas, it is a different world now.

My ex, Hitch, was also very close to me for the time when we were together, and I admit the months since our breakup haven't been easy. I did rely on him for a certain type of comfort for the six months we were together, and it's taken awhile to get over that, especially since I've been trying to maintain at least a rudimentary friendship with him (the biggest impediment to which is the fact that we both seem to be consistently busy).

So, since we established the fact that I'm a bit emotionally guarded (also note my post about feelings), perhaps that's the reason I have a hard time empathizing with guys who have gone through emotional dependency. At the same time, on a logical level I have a difficult time understanding it as well. Some of the testimonies I've read concerning it seem very legitimate: a guy struggling with SSA attached himself far too tightly to a friend, got jealous of that friend's other relationships, and expected levels of commitment and duty that went beyond the normal barriers of even the closest friendships.

And yet some of the other stories I've read just seem to be overreacting. I'm sure part of the reason I write them off as such is, again, attributed to my lack of empathy, but I can't help but see them that way. There seems to be an attitude out there amongst SSA guys that if you feel like you need someone in your life, then you are emotionally dependent on them and need to start guarding yourself. I call bull on that.

What's wrong with needing someone? I mean, would you ever want your parents to say to each other that they didn't need each other to get by? Of course not! You want them to need each other. In fact, they do need each other. That's why they're your parents. Now, they shouldn't need each other more than they need God, but that doesn't mean that their faith in God should keep them from having a relationship with one another.

I personally need my brother. This isn't to say that I'm needy of him, that I call him everyday or get angry when he doesn't call me. But I do need to know that he's there, and that he loves me, and that he cares for me. I don't want him to care for me more than God or his own wife and daughters, because I recognize that he has higher priorities, but that doesn't mean that I don't rely on him as a source of strength and comfort when I'm down. He's my brother and my best friend; that's what he's there for. At the same time, I also try to be there for him. I'm a lot younger and don't have that much to offer, but if he needs me, I'm there.

I guess when I hear the words "emotional dependency" used negatively, it makes me think that the person doesn't want to be emotionally dependent on anyone. Well, that's just not possible. We're human being, and in order to have healthy emotions, we are dependent on our relationships with others. It's true. God didn't make us to be alone; we were given an entire community of other humans (both believers and non) with which to craft relationships. We don't need to focus all our energies on one person, of course, but at the same time it's fine if we do have a distinct best friend - someone that we couldn't imagine living without. That doesn't mean that we couldn't live without them, but that we value them enough to not want to.

That's my take on it, at least. I admit it's a bit of a ramble because I honestly don't know much about the situation other than what I've heard, and if any guys or gals who have gone through emotional dependency have anything to say, please feel free to comment. I'd love to discuss this further.


otrolado said...

I don't really understand "emotional dependency" in the negative sense either.

While I am more open about moving forward in a relationship with a guy that is both physical and emotional than you are (not that this has happened), I am not concerned about becoming needy. I know a few needy people, but they don't seem to be emotionally dependent, they just seem to be insecure. Alas, I am no expert.

As we have talked about before, I am very fortunate to have a best friend that I have emotional intimacy with, devoid of any physical attraction. This I think is vital and I would say we are reliant on each other, but not dependent. We are both able to share our anxieties, fears, hopes, joys, and the like without feeling like either of us is needy.

My (biased) opinion is that many SSA people cannot overcome the guilt and have trouble forming close relationships due to fear. They then label these relationships as emotionally dependent. Now, I have no clue if this is true or not, it is merely a hunch.

This comment probably did no good in answering the questions you threw out, but maybe it did.

FYI, I am also a fan of friendship via correspondence.

MR said...

I am definitely one who has written before about emotional dependency. I only use that phrase in the negative sense because it says enough in 2 words so that most people know basically what I mean.

I agree that there is nothing wrong with loving a friend so much that sometimes you deeply feel the need to share in fellowship (emotionally depend on him). What I mean by unhealthy emotional dependence is when I selfishly idolize someone to an extreme. Some signs of this extreme are an obsession where I think about him constantly, a jealousy when he spends time with others, or a demand to see him often. In other words, if I treat a guy like a boyfriend, not just a friend, then I have an unhealthy emotional dependence on him.

Jay, I think I am probably more naturally emotional than you are, but it is clear that you HAVE experienced emotionally fulfilling friendships. We all need those. Ask God for more of them as you keep reaching out to others in unselfish love.

Norm! said...

Hi Jay,

I've also struggled to differentiate between emotional dependency versus a close romantic/plantonic/familial relationship. I can definitely see ED in an unhealthy relationship in which one person's well-being is completely dependent on another person. Certainly it is unhealthy for someone to have their self worth completely rely on another person.

However, I think there are grey areas as well. I don't think having a crush on or being temporarily infatuated with someone is ED. It seems some ex-gays are too quick to label any same-sex attraction as ED when similar heterosexual behavior is considered normal. Often what is described as ED in a gay relationship would be considered ideal in a heterosexual relationship (i.e. wife serving husband, husband honoring wife, etc.). And ultimately any meaningful relationship will result in some sort of dependency.

Devlin said...

Great post Jay. And thanks for your reply to my questions, that was very open of you. ED is from my experience, all about fantasy. I can look at someone and think they are a certain way, that can somehow fulfill my shortcomings in some way, which is that inner lie I then have to deal with, eventually. Some of my fantasies, like the first guy I had a crush on, can last for months. Now I stem it off at the beginning and tell myself to quit fantasizing and get to know the true person without all my filters. Then fantasy seems to dissolve and turn into authentic admiration, or the thought, 'what silliness to think someone could do or be for you what you need to do or be for yourself, ya silly nit'. Love and sex is not a day at the circus, it's more real then that.

I've not experienced a mental block with SSA, but I must say, I have learned to empathize with those who have, as there is a lot of pain and struggle that I have heard in their crys for help. It comes off as some feeling attacked and I always cringe if someone feels attacked. I think all gays are born under attack, just from being born into an unaccepting world. So at the core of all gay people, I think there is that feeling, of which I think most could access and know the feeling of being odd one out. I've never felt like I needed to change my sexuality, but if I feel attacked in any form for being born gay, it can be quite blistering. Maybe that idea, you find some empathy with? A strong note for me was when a student of 15 cried on a TV news interview because she had been accosted and beaten for being gay. Tears streamed down my face. She was so beautifully innocent. Young gay kids being hurt is probably my most difficult emotional struggle.

I hope you and Hitch find level ground with each other, and you can kiss the pain goodbye. It's hard to go back when one has opened up all areas of ones self, then the most intimate parts get redirected elsewhere. But then that's part of the ebb and flows, the learnings of life; what to keep and what to throw away.

Please keep writing from your emotional self, it's really good stuff.

PS I just saw this great movie called Save Me, about an exgay Christian rehab center starring Judith Light. It was riveting. If you get the chance to see it, you may really like it.
If you go, you might take a good wad of kleenex. Peace. DB

bryan said...

I thought ED was something you took Viagra for, but I guess it can stand for other things as well. Hmm.

Anyway... I'll just weigh in a little. I have no personal experience, but I still think I can say something. I think this whole emotional dependency is kind of overblown. Are they suggesting that emotional INdependence is a good thing? Doesn't Scripture clearly teach we are body of Christians that need each other? Doesn't that imply some degree of dependency?

I've heard it said neither independence or dependence is what we need - we need interdependence. We need to depend on each other, not one person depending solely on another person. And I don't for one second believe that all gay relationships are based on emotional dependency. I really don't get it either. I can see this being bad in some scenarios, but I mean... it would have to be a very extreme form of it. Otherwise, I mean, just as others have said, if it was a heterosexual relationship it would be called 'normal'. Because it's a gay couple it's 'emotional dependency'. It's a terrible double standard, I say.

Dan in Michigan said...

Looks like you've got yourself an honest to goodness crackpot lurking around your blog. Alas, alack!

I logged on and saw a slew of comments on your blog, and wondered what the conversation was about...apparently it's all about AA and zombies...who knew AA, zombies and ED had anything in common?

Looks like you'll have to start moderating the comments...when the crazies come out, you know you're on to something...

Jay said...

Michael: I do care about you, and I pray that you will get the mental help you need. I have turned on comment moderation. I'm sorry that all my other readers will have to go through moderation just so my blog isn't clogged up with semi-schizophrenic rants, but I can assure you that I won't be too strict a moderator, guys.

I'll have more to add to the discussion later tonight. Thanks for everyone who's chimed in!

P said...

I'm not a fan of the phrase "emotional dependency". I think its oversimplified. Sometimes its a crush, sometimes its a manifestation of a father figure need and sometimes its just someone lonely looking for a friend.

I think one of the reasons you have not really dealt with it is because you are still in college and most of your friends are single. I'm at an age when about half are married with kids. Thankfully, I have some close friends who will, for some reason or another, probably never get married. Another blogger friend of ours, Rik, has written about dealing with this issue and I think it is harder for him because so many of his peers and church friends are married.

In my own life, it basically shows up as a crush from time to time and tends to be more of a physical thing than emotional thing. Also, I tend to keep people at arm's length so as to avoid any kind of messy emotional dependency issues to creep up -which probably isn't to healthy.

That being said, I think its especially important for guys (and girls) like us to surround ourselves with quality people. It also helps to live in a place where there are many lifelong singles (which tend to be urban areas) so as to make us feel a little more like everyone else.

e said...


I understand your aversion to the term "emotional dependency" and I appreciate Bryan's point above about "interdependency." this second term recognizes that we all need people and we should depend on them to a certain extent. "em. dep." seems all too negative and can promote paranoia about closeness.

However, as a woman who has experienced em. dep. in 3 relationships, I can say I truly understand the negative aspect of that term. perhaps "enmeshed" is a better way of putting it. these friendships were so intense that they isolated me from a larger group of friends. they also isolated me from my self in a sense because i didn't have to worry about developing my own sense of self as long as I could depend on this friend to constantly affirm me. the 2 most enmeshed friendships featured one person with rather extensive psych. problems and the other with a nurturing personality. or, rather, we both nurtured the broken parts in each other. In these friendships there ended up being sexual feelings. In both cases there was also a lot of idealization going on: "this one person can make me feel o.k." and sometimes: "this one person is all i really care about and why not just screw it all and go be with her." After these experiences, it has been very difficult to overcome the tendency to idealize or romanticize a close friendship.

From what I've seen and heard from other women, I think that many women come into lesbianism through the route of emotional dependency. it may be less common for guys, i don't know.

Jay said...

Otrolado: My (biased) opinion is that many SSA people cannot overcome the guilt and have trouble forming close relationships due to fear.

No, I have that opinions sometimes, too. I just didn't want to say it because I didn't want to appear like I was generalizing about SSA guys. I'm sure some people who experience dependency might go into the relationships with little fear, and then latch on too strongly afterwards.

MR: Yeah, I think I tried to mention that I definitely see that kind of obsession as dependency. I just often see a lot of guys talking about dependency and not mentioning the type of obsession you speak of here.

Devlin: I can't say I've ever really felt under attack. I've felt different, but mainly because I am different. Even if I was straight, my unique background and childhood would make me a little awkward. I have been able to get around that (as have my brother and sister), but it's always been a bit of a struggle for us.

As for Hitch, we're maintaining the best boundaries that we can. He has a new boyfriend and has moved on with his life, so I have to accept my role as a secondary friend in his outer circle. But that's fine with me, because I have other friends who are close to me to fill the gap where he once was. It's a pretty common situation in college, and so goes the world.

Bryan: Excellent points, especially about "dependence" vs. "interdependence." I really don't have anything to add to that other than my agreement. :)

Dan: Yes, well, let's pray for him. The man is obviously not well.

P: You raised a good point. I think "emotional dependency" is often used to describe too many types of unhealthy relationships. It's a "catch-all" term, which by definition makes it ambiguous.

I'm certain it will get more difficult as life goes on, and I'm hoping to create lasting friendships in college to help ease the transition. I'm already experiencing some of the pain of having one's friends pair off, but that's not really limited to a Side B guy. Some straights have the same problem.

And I would love to find a small town that had lots of singles. I hate big cities. :)

E: Thank you for your lovely comment. I think you're right. Women tend to be more emotional in their friendships and relationships, and I can certainly see how a woman might become emotionally dependent on someone and then develop romantic feelings for her. I also like the term "enmeshed," because "emotional dependency" seems to imply that only one person is dependent, and usually both people are tangled up together.

Whew! Lots of comments! Thanks everyone, and I hope you have a great night!

Dan in Michigan said...

"I'm certain it will get more difficult as life goes on, and I'm hoping to create lasting friendships in college to help ease the transition. I'm already experiencing some of the pain of having one's friends pair off, but that's not really limited to a Side B guy. Some straights have the same problem."

As a single SSA guy approaching 40, what I've found is that in order to make relationships work and continue past the pairing off of friends, I need to initiate things with my friends. There were periods of time where I avoided some married friends because they were paired off, but after awhile I just said, "I want to see them--if they can't get together, then they can tell me." I have one friend who thanked me for continually pursuing getting together with her, because she acknowledged that if I didn't do that, we would have drifted apart. When I first got out of grad school, I found that I interpreted my married friends' lack of initiative to get together as a lack of desire to be with me--rather I've discovered that it's a case of them being busy with their lives.

And on a slight tangent...I don't mind traveling by myself either--that can be a drag if you let it get to you, but a few years back I decided I would travel alone, because there were things I wanted to see, and I embrace the freedom to meet new people that traveling single affords me. One of my best vacations was a trip I took by myself to Puerto Rico this past February. I wouldn't have had as much fun, or had the kind of experiences I had, if I was traveling with someone else.

As to Michael--indeed the man needs some prayer! I suppose my comments were a bit less than charitable, but I happened to hit your blog right in the middle of his shenanigans. Very strange.

RikFleming said...

I remember an episode of Seinfeld in which Kramer had a kidney stone. He is going through a rather painful ordeal which ends with him passing the stone at Yankee Stadium, screaming so loud in agony in the men’s room that everyone in the stadium can hear him. While the scene of him passing the stone was quite humorous I always thought that such depictions of having a kidney stone to be surely exaggerated.

Then one day I felt a terrible pain in what I thought was my lower back. I assumed it was the result of working out in the gym but as the day went on the pain grew steadily worse. Later that night I was tossing and turning in my bed, trying to get comfortable so I could sleep. I took an over-the-counter pain reliever but it was to no avail. I then tried sleeping sitting up on the couch but there was no relief. Then the pain became so intense that I began throwing up. I knew then that this was no simple muscle strain and that I needed to get to the hospital. I was so delirious from the pain that I actually drove 20 miles past it and found myself lost driving in circles at 1:30 a.m.

Eventually I was able to discern where I was and made it to the emergency room of hospital where I proceeded to continue my vomiting. A doctor then felt my lower abdomen and then informed me that I was probably passing a kidney stone. So they put me on pain killers that were 10 times more powerful than morphine and then proceeded to put me through a catscan.

This was the most painful experience I have ever suffered.

I was later informed by women in my church who had passed kidney stones that for them it was more painful than giving childbirth.

I now know that Kramer’s experience was no exaggeration and I have a greater empathy for women who endure great pain to bring another child into this world.

Psychologically, having Emotional Dependency is not a simple balanced and healthy need for other people. Rather, it is like having a kidney stone in your heart and in your brain.

Jay, might I kindly suggest that you re-examine your own experiences and consider that your nonsexual boyfriend relationship with “Hitch” may have been a form of Emotional Dependency? If there is no biblical warrant for having such a relationship with another man, might not such an emotional exclusiveness been a form of Emotional Dependency?

I pray that you never have a kidney stone.... they’re a bitch!

Jay said...

Dan: Well, I guess those are things I'll have to learn. I'm not very good at picking up the phone and calling people. I'd rather have people contact me. I understand I'll have to get over this because, like you said, once my friends start having families they may still want to hang out, but they'll probably be too busy to remember to call.

As for traveling by myself... Well, we'll see. I'm not really keen on the idea right now because I really don't know how to travel period. I hate airplanes and driving, and I'm not good with directions. So I think I'll need someone to help me in my first few adventures!

Rik: The funny thing is now you have me deathly afraid of kidney stones (which I know is silly, because according to research they are rarely fatal, or even threatening). I guess I'll just be drinking more water from now on and avoiding food with high sodium content. :)

I certainly have wondered if my relationship with Hitch was dependent or not. I think it all really boils down to the meaning of emotional dependency. If we're talking about it in the way MR or E spoke of their experiences (obsession and enmeshing, respectively), then no. I wasn't obsessed with Hitch and our relationship didn't isolate either of us from our larger groups of friends.

I doubt if we even had emotional exclusiveness. I certainly didn't mind if he had deep, meaningful friendships with other people. The only "exclusive" stuff we did was traditional couple's fare: dating, cuddling, etc.

There was no Biblical warrant for such a relationship; that's certainly true. I'll also readily admit that it proved to cause many stumbles in my walk with Christ (though it also provided me a chance to learn many important lessons).

At the same time, there isn't really Biblical warrant for the "committed dating relationships" (an oxymoron of a term, I know) that my straight friends get involved in. It certainly hurt when we broke up, but we also both realized it was for the best and went about it maturely. I don't think that would have happened if I had been very emotionally dependent on him.

e said...


i enjoyed your excruciatingly humorous :) analogy for emotional dependency. I certainly can appreciate the pain you're trying to express.

love seinfeld. hate kidney stones.


David said...

Having had (and continue to have) many close relationships with (straight) men that are completely devoid of attraction, I find it hard to commiserate with or even understand 'emotional dependency', but will admit it may be a problem for some. Though overall I feel we particularly in the US do a poor job of fostering non-sexual intimacy.

And I too am afraid of kidney stones. It's God's punishment to men for not having to go through giving birth, perhaps.

MR said...


I have several friends who are schizophrenic. BTW, that is not just my opinion, they are actually medically diagnosed.

I agree that you should not let this guy Michael use your blog as a platform to spread his ideas. As Christians we should care for and listen to schizophrenics, just NOT in a public forum. If we listen in private and help them see which of their ideas are based on reality and which are just delusions, that will help. Later, a schizophrenic may actually be glad you kept him from the embarrassment of voicing his delusions in public.

Rachael Starke said...

Hi Jay,

I'm late to this discussion but thought I'd weigh in anyway - I had read your post but struggled to understand the term. Some of the comments were really helpful, and so maybe now I can define emotional dependency based on your discussion, and you tell me if I'm off base.

Based on what I read here, emotional dependency is the state of looking to another person to provide one's emotional well-being-love, affection, affirmation, confidence, etc. Defining it negatively, it is an inordinate need for love, time, attention, affection, etc. from a particular person. Would that be correct?

If so, I wonder if it might be helpful to consider the two aspects or words independently, and from God's perspective? What does God say about our emotions - what they are, what they're for, how sin affects them, etc., and what does He say about dependence or needs? Are all needs equal, or are some subordinate to others?

I recently listened to a very interesting sermon by John Piper on womanhood - what its significance is, and why. He argued that, as all aspects of God's creation say something about His nature, it's not less true for women. God wanted to communicate specific, wonderful things about Himself that could only be done by creating women and calling them to live uniquely from and with men. It spoke to me because, while I don't struggle today with SSA, I do struggle greatly with my role as a woman, and this is the first sermon I'd heard in a long time that made me go "Okay, I get that. I am designed to reflect the image of God in a way that no man can. Some of the ways He wants me to do that I don't always like, but He can fix that."

I just wonder if it would be helpful to apply the same line of thinking or questioning to your idea. If God created us in His image, and part of that creative work is giving us emotions and a desire for relationships, what was He communicating about Himself? How did the Fall/sin corrupt that work? How did Jesus (God in perfect humanity) handle His relationships with His disciples? Was He ever emtionally dependent? If so, on whom, and how did that manifest itsself? If Jesus' Spirit is inside us, to transform us into an increasingly clear reflection of Him, how do our emotions play a role in that?

Hopefully some food for thought that's helpful.

Jay said...

Hey Rachael!

Not too late at all. I'm actually feeling pretty bad for not updating this blog lately. I've been really busy. Anyway, the whole reason I wrote this post was because I really didn't understand what "emotional dependency" was either.

It's a term that a lot of SSA men throw around when talking about their relationships, and since I don't think I've ever experienced it I'm not always sure what they mean. I think your definition is a pretty common one, though, and it's probably the one I would accept as well (even though I don't think I've ever gone through it).

The line of questioning at the end is very helpful as a starting point. I'll be very honest here: I'm not very good at this kind of self-evaluation. I can raise questions but answering them seems to always elude me. I think that's why I can border on legalism in my daily living, because I'd rather hear someone tell me what to do or not do rather than figure out these tricky emotional issues for myself.

And I guess if I want God to change anything about me, starting with that aspect of my personality is as good of a place as any. Thank you so much for your comments! They really are helpful. :)

Devlin said...

Hey Jay,

Check out National Coming Out Day at XGW. Bettah late than nevah. Have an awesome Sunday. :)


Jay said...

Hey Devlin,

Check out the comment I already made on that post, like, back on the day it was written. I came out to my parents a year ago, and all my friends a year before that. I don't think I was ever really late at all. :)


Devlin said...

Hi Jay - - - I actually was responding to your post on XGW with my current post posted today over there. My "late" comment was about me posting a week or so after the article went up and everyone including you had posted mostly the same day. I figured the postings may have gone stale, hence a note to you here on your web blog.
My God, 20 is early to come out seeing as some people wait till way later or never do.

I have also found that coming out happens in layers. It's pretty amazing what can get stacked up for years and years before coming out. Just feeling as comfortable as a straight person in this world can be a real challenge to ever even know. Things they take for granted can be very ellusive to ones who are not on auto accept when we land here. But then this world is an E-Ticket ride so it's probably not all palm trees and roses for anyone. Could you imagine a roller coaster ride at a fair that had only level track and no ups and downs? hmmmmmmm

I hope this clears up any confusion. You and I seem to have our interesting kinda communication glitches to stumble through sometimes, most likely me more than you. But I think it's worth it.
Wow, it's after midnight already. The internet at times; a total time vampire.

Nite Jay :)

Jay said...

My mistake, Devlin. I commented about your comment in that thread. Check XGW. In summary, though, yes... My parents are awesome. :)