Help, My Partner’s Anxiety Is Ruining His Life


Dear Dr. NerdLove,

My partner is an adjunct instructor of Sociology at a local community college. He is a brilliant social scientist and a great teacher, but he is terrible at the bureaucratic side of things: he loses track of emails, has a crazy disorganized mess of files on his computer, and struggles to navigate online systems to double check his work and connect with his colleagues and supervisors. I don’t think this is a terribly unusual persuasion for a professor-type, but the early stages of his career coupled with the digital demands of the pandemic have really brought this issue to the forefront lately.

Last spring, there was a huge problem when he failed to keep track of emails about an online certification program that his school was requiring. It almost resulted in him losing his job. He has missed notifications for in-service dates (and subsequently failed to show up), missed emails from supervisors and submitted the wrong copy of forms. So far he hasn’t suffered any lasting consequences, but that’s mostly because of the patience of his supervising staff. Those same supervisors are becoming increasingly (unsurprisingly) frustrated, and I worry that this could easily derail his career.

This would all be a problem within itself, but it’s doubly stressful because of his struggles with mental health. My partner suffers from body dysmorphia (a delusional disorder that affects all-over self esteem, not just body image) and anxiety. While he takes medication and mostly manages these issues, when a “crisis” arises (usually as a result of him missing an email or important date) he flies into a downward spiral. Instead of being disappointed and frustrated like any of us would be, his self-esteem plummets off a cliff and he starts talking about what a failure he is as a human and how he should just give up and resign. Sometimes this nears suicidal-levels, or includes a generalized rage which he doesn’t direct at me, but which makes it impossible to talk to him and sometimes results in rash actions like sending unprofessional emails to supervisors or throwing his phone down and breaking it. 

I am also a disorganized person, but I’ve realized through trial and error that I can head off these kinds of crises by forcing myself into habits. I keep my work email open on my computer 24/7 to ensure I don’t miss emails, set alarms for important dates, and always place my belongings in the same spots so I don’t lose them, etc. I’ve tried to offer advice to help him avoid these issues in the future, but he mostly refuses. In the moment he thinks it’s totally hopeless and he should give up altogether, and later he seems to pretend the issues never happened. He claims he’s trying to be more on top of things, but I don’t see any evidence of that. As it is, I have to exist in a constant state of fear that his failure to keep track of his professional life will send our household into chaotic crisis mode at any minute.

How do we get to a place where he can cope with and prevent these mishaps? Is there help he can seek out for this kind of tendency to screw up the “mundane” tasks of his professional life? 

All Crisis-ed Out

This is a tough one ACO, in part because it sounds like your partner is refusing to deal with the underlying issues. If some form of disruption causes him to fly either into a deep depression or unfocused rage and he refuses to talk about things afterwards… well, that makes it really goddamn difficult to solve anything. It gets especially bad if he refuses to either admit that there’s a problem or to actually deal with it in a meaningful manner.

So with the obvious caveat that Dr. NerdLove is NOT a real doctor, I am of a mind that this needs a two-prong approach: a practical one to deal with the disorganization, and a systematic one to deal with the underlying causes. If the disorganization and consequences thereof are a major trigger for these outbursts or breakdowns, then getting that under control may make it easier for him (and for you) to work on his anxiety and dysmorphia.

I’m like you, ACO; I’m incredibly disorganized under the best of circumstances. I’ve got ADHD, which means that — amongst other things — I have a bad case of “out of sight, out of mind”. This has required a host of compensating behaviors and systems, including calendar alerts on top of alerts and automating everything I possibly can. So I get where you’re coming from with this. However, I can also tell you that things can slip through the cracks, and it’s requires being on top of things in a way that can be really difficult without outside help on occasion. Thus far, your partner hasn’t been willing to set up a system like yours, or to accept your help in setting one up. I suspect that, even if he does accept your help or sets something up, he’ll still have things fall through, resulting in more crises for him and more stress for you. That’s why my suggestion is to take the American approach and outsource the organizing to somebody else.

One of the benefits of our increasingly connected world has been the rise of virtual assistants — people whose job it is to take the scutwork you can’t deal with or that you struggle with and take care of it for you. Having someone who can, for example, help with filing paperwork, making sure bills get paid, organize your files and so on, can be a huge benefit both to your emotional and mental health and to your overall productivity. Having the metaphorical weight taken off your shoulders — along with the time and stress of dealing with all of these small but critical tasks — can free up your time and your mental bandwidth. And in the case of your partner, this can hopefully help keep his triggers at bay by helping everything run smoothly, which will give him the bandwidth and motivation to treat his condition more effectively.

The other benefit is that these services are often far more affordable than you’d realize. You can find a licensed and bonded assistant for anywhere around $15 – $30 per hour on services like Care; a few hours a week could make the difference between career-threatening lost emails and keeping everything running smoothly. That means less stress for the both of you, on top of the time saved trying to get everything accomplished and putting out the fires that crop up.

Now the second approach is going to be harder. It sounds like your partner is seeing a therapist and is getting treatment, which is great. However, the behavior you mention and his triggers make me wonder if there’s another condition that’s either co-morbid with his dysmorphia or may be masked by the conditions you already know about. Or it could be that the current course of treatment isn’t working as effectively on all aspects of his dysmorphia and anxiety. Regardless, he really needs to talk about with his doctor about how easily stress triggers a spiral and how much it’s been disrupting his life and work. There’re a lot of ways that he can learn how to manage his emotions and try not to let things rage out of control, but triggers are rarely rational and can hit a lot harder and faster than people can respond in the moment. Even if it’s just a case of running out of cope, the fact that the reactions are this extreme and this disruptive means that they run the risk of having profound consequences to his life and yours. It may be an awkward or even embarrassing thing to talk about, especially if his dysmorphia is fucking with his self-esteem, but it’s necessary.

In both cases, I suspect a lot is going to come down to how you present these options to your partner. Sometimes the difference between stubborn refusal and a willingness to listen all depends on how you pitch it.

The virtual assistant may actually be the easier lift, particularly if you frame it as “how about we find someone who can take these things off your plate and make it so that you don’t have to worry about it anymore?”  While I wouldn’t suggest hiring an assistant for your partner, it may be worth checking out some of the profiles in the link I provided in advance and interviewing some potential prospects. If you are able to present your partner with specific examples of what a VA could do for your husband, it may be easier than saying “hey, have you considered hiring somebody to take care of all of this?”

Alternately, you could hire someone to help with your organization and then be able to wax rhapsodic about how much they’ve done for you. At that point, you both win.

Getting your partner to talk to his doctor may be a little harder, especially if he’s resistant. That is a talk you may have to structure like an Awkward Conversation, where you lay out why this has been concerning you, what you think would help (talking to his doctor) and how this would make things better (less anxiety, less depression, less rage, less risk to his career).  Then he can share his side, including why he may have a hard time discussing these things or why he has a hard time bringing them up.

Now, I’m not gonna lie. It’s going to be a struggle. Men in particular tend to be resistant to dealing with issues that strike their anxiety or sense of competence and self-esteem. The shame of feeling like you can’t handle life like a grown-ass adult can be immense and paralyzing. But at the same time, having an actionable solution and one that you can lay out on a cost/benefit ratio may help him get over that particular hump and start the process of making his life (and yours) easier, happier and less stressful.

Good luck.


Dear Doctor NerdLove,

English is not my first language, so I apologize if there was somewhere I may be unclear or awkward phrasing. 

I’ve been on dating applications for many years, and I try my absolute best to be authentic in who I am for my hobbies/interests plus my political ideologies/stances.

I do have many people that are attracted to me and/or do chat on applications focused for finding other men. I have talked with many men, and non-binary folks both interested in me sexually/romantically even going on dates or exchanging numbers, but as of recent I made my Tinder again—but only swiping solely for women this time.

I honestly do not know what the issue is, but I have always had a hard time matching up with women on Tinder and other apps.  I have not matched with any women for this about a week on my new Tinder account, but I’ve struggled with meeting women on apps for years before.

I honestly do not know what I am doing wrong.

This is my bio most of the time on dating applications:

Love taking my dog to the local parks

Writer and journalist

My writing is on analyzing media/mediums such as films/television/games through a radically leftist conscious lens in regards to marginalized groups on different axis/intersections.
As you can see — I’m absolutely fun at parties.

Reading, playing games, and watching horror, plus anime stuffs are my core hobbies.

If we cannot have a conversation through text in an actual pandemic — it will not ever go further than this in any sense.

If you could help in being as objective, and pretty much tear apart what I am doing wrong in having zero success on matching with women—not even going on dates with women, but actually matching with them—it would be immensely appreciated.

I definitely do understand the intricacies why women would not match—personal safety, and etcetera. I want to know what I can do/change to be able to match with women, and chat with them to see where things go. Is it the bio and/or specific pictures? I am super lost.

Too Long To Read: I match up, and chat with men plus non-binary folk—but never with women. How can I date women? What am I doing wrong?

Thank you so much,

App-lying Myself

So I can definitely tell that you’re a writer, AM; you share the same “why use one word when five will do” affliction I do.

Unfortunately, this can occasionally make it hard to summarize yourself in a concise fashion. It’s the paradox of being a writer; it’s easy to write all about other stuff, but trying to write a bio is a goddamn nightmare.

Now the issues with your profile are fairly clear to me. The first thing that leaps out is the bio. While it has potential, it’s a little hamstrung by the Just The Facts, Ma’am approach you’ve taken. If you’re looking to match with women on this particular account, then a rote recitation of facts is going to make it that much harder to connect with them. Your goal with a dating app profile is twofold. First: make it possible for the people who are looking for what you have to offer to find you. Second: to hook their interest and inspire them to want to get to know you better.

The key to the former is to practice good dating app SEO — making sure that your copy is clean, you make sure to give concrete examples rather than generalities and that you refine and update your profile to help keep it engaged in the algorithm. The key to the latter is to engage people emotionally… and with a dating app, the easiest way to engage them in a positive way is through curiosity. Providing hooks that lead someone to say “I would like to know more” is a great way to get the right people to match and makes it much easier to start a conversation. Women feel just as self-conscious about not knowing what to say to someone on a dating app as men do; the more you can make it easier for both of you to carry on a conversation, the better it is for everyone.

So with that in mind: your bio needs a polish. The way you have it is dry, a little abrupt in parts and a little too challenging in others. It doesn’t flow terribly well — which, admittedly, can be a challenge when you’re writing in a second language. To start with, it needs a slight reorder. I would lead with being a writer and journalist, rather than with your dog. But when you do, I’d suggest using more emotive and playful language, rather than listing your stats. Something along the lines of “Journalist by day, author by night” or “Writer by passion, journalism by calling” — something that touches a little more on why you’re a writer and journalist.

The next line — what you write about — is a little jumbled and uses a lot of technical language. Now this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, “As you can see, I’m absolutely fun at parties” is actually a great follow up. It just needs a little massaging. I would phrase it this way: “I analyze films, TV and games through a radically leftist conscious lens with an eye towards intersectionality with marginalized groups… so as you can see, I’m an absolute BLAST at parties.” While this not only establishes the tone and context of your writing — and hints at your politics and world-view — the juxtaposition of the more in-group language with a nod towards both how it comes off and a bit of self-effacing humor let’s people know that you’re self-aware and not a stereotype of a leftist killjoy. Plus, it gets an easy laugh, which is always a plus.

Next, I’d be more specific in terms of interests; you want to show, rather than tell here. Instead of just saying “reading, games, horror movies”, give examples. “I’ve been playing Disco Elysium/ enjoying zombie movies/ binging Wonder Egg Priority when I’m not playing with my dog in the park” tells people far more about you. By giving specifics — which books, what subgenre of horror, which games and anime — you’re giving insight into who you are as a person and making it easier for the people who like the same or similar books, games and so on. It also gives a hook for people who are into them: what do you like about them, what do you think about X author or Y director?  Bringing your dog in here, rather than right at the beginning also flows more smoothly.

Finally, the part about “if we can’t have a conversation through text” is a little too confrontational. This is almost certainly going to be a turn-off to anyone reading your profile. One of the worst things you can do on a dating app is to preemptively tell someone to go away. You — the general you, not you specifically, AM —  may think that you’re weeding out incompatible people. In practice though, people who do this are chasing off potential matches because it comes off as presumptive and rude at best… even if they might otherwise agree. “If you are X swipe left” or “If you do Y, we’re not a match” doesn’t really filter out incompatible people the way folks hope. Polite and considerate people will be turned off by it and assholes will just ignore it.

A better way of phrasing this would be “Doing my best to stay safe during the pandemic. Let’s text and see if we’ve got chemistry!” This way, you’re again demonstrating who you are — someone who takes COVID safety seriously — but in a way that feels less hostile. By saying “let’s text and see if we’ve got chemistry”, you’re inviting them to do something and encouraging them to show interest and test the waters with you instead of telling people to go away. It’s collaborative, rather than confrontational. People who don’t take COVID seriously or who are a little more loose with their personal precautions will move on, while the people who appreciate someone who masks up and doesn’t take unreasonable risks will be encouraged.

Now let’s talk briefly about your photos. I haven’t included them here for privacy reasons, but the truth is that they’re a tad stale. You have two sets of three that are functionally the same image — mirror selfies and sitting at a table with your hands clasped — and hey don’t really work. The others include a picture of you and your dog and a couple of simple, straight on headshots.

I’ve written fairly extensively on how to take a good photo for dating apps, including giving some best practices for taking dating app photos during a pandemic. I’d suggest you give those a quick read. The TL;DR is that you want photos that show who you are, what’s important to you, and to give ideas of what dating you would be like. The picture of you and your dog is a great start, but it could use a little bit of work; it’s a touch unfocused. Posing and framing it like a cheesy mall portrait studio photo will get some definite points; even folks who will think it’s silly will be much more likely to respond if only to call out the cheese factor. You also want to make sure your photos are well lit — indirect sunlight is best — and show you off to your best angle. Having some subtle depth of field by using the portrait mode on your smartphone will make your photos pop and give it a professional quality that attracts positive attention. And while I’m not ENTIRELY opposed to mirror selfies, in this day and age, it’s almost absurdly easy to take selfies that don’t LOOK like selfies. A tripod and a bluetooth trigger are all you need to help fill out your profile without looking like every other person taking pictures in their bathroom.

I’d also strongly suggest at least one or two pics that either show you in the park playing with your dog, or other that demonstrate other things that’re important to you. Again: this is about showing, not telling. Give people hints about your life and your interests and things that they can latch onto and ask questions about. A blank wall or backlighting gives very little to work with.

Overall, make it easy for people to get a feel for who you are and invite them to find out more. A little confidence, a little humor and self-awareness for punctuation and you’ll have much more success meeting some awesome women.

Good luck.

This post was previously published on


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