When we use the term ‘crazy,’ I don’t think we’re talking about true mental illness. Plenty of mentally ill people are saner than the rest of us, because they’ve spent more time and worked harder on figuring themselves out. They’re better at recognizing when things are going a bit pear-shaped. Everyone has times of irrationality, emotional flooding, or idiosyncratic responses to situations. Some of us are better at recognizing it and owning up to it, that’s all. When we enter the dating world, it helps to work out ahead of time which types of crazy are okay with us and which types sound like too much work.
I figured I would wind up with another divorced person, and I did. That’s a kind of crazy I know and understand. Someone who had never been married before, especially at my age, just wouldn’t get what it was like to have entered that level of commitment and then lived through its demise. I figured I might be too dark at this point to inflict my particular variety of baggage on someone untainted by divorce drama. Divorce can be a great teacher. Divorce forces us to be more specific about what we do and don’t expect in a relationship. We have to get more specific about financial income, bank accounts, retirement savings, housing, possessions, living environment, schedules, and communication boundaries, among other things. Divorce makes an amateur into a professional. It turned dating, for me, into more of an interview process, complete with application and background check.
My (current) husband had his own particular expectation about re-entering the dating market. He had shared custody of his daughter, but he didn’t want to date anyone who had kids. He knew he didn’t want to have more children, either. He’d already raised two through the bodily fluids stage, and he was done. Whoever he dated would need to be sure that she had resolved the family question. That made me perfect for him, since I couldn’t have children anyway. It made him perfect for me, because it had been a deal-breaker or non-starter for other romantic interests in my life. Some people are willing to do whatever it takes and spend whatever it takes, no matter how many years it takes, to get some babies. That’s a kind of crazy that two people really need to share on a deep level. Neither of us did, and that was good to know.
My first husband was bipolar. I didn’t really understand what that meant when I found out, and at that point, we were already married. As I said earlier, mental illness isn’t the same as ‘crazy.’ Still, that was a kind of crazy I wasn’t willing to deal with again. Maybe a different type of mental illness, like OCD? I suppose I might have considered it, if the guy was in therapy and taking care of himself, unlike my ex. Maybe if more time had passed? In the years after my divorce, though, I was definitely still not over it. I felt that I had been bamboozled, deliberately tricked, and I didn’t have the trust level. Maybe that’s why I wound up with an engineer, a very “laws of physics” kind of a person.
We’re both workaholics. We’ve both gone to bed and fallen asleep while the other was up working on something, although that is sporadic. We often spend the entire weekend working on our separate projects. We will go to Starbucks and wind up spreading out two laptops, three phones, and perhaps a tablet. We have a shared calendar, shared spreadsheets, shared Trello scrum boards, and a shared Dropbox folder with a business plan in it. We have an official marital grievance procedure. We have weekly status meetings. This is definitely a kind of crazy that is not for everyone!
Addiction is a special kind of crazy. While I’ve never had a substance abuse issue myself, and I won’t have it in my inner circle, I decided that I could handle someone in recovery if need be. That’s another kind of crazy that I understand. (I used to work at a drug rehab). I don’t mind. If I had to choose between someone with a squeaky clean, “normal” background or someone who had to fight for his sobriety, I’d take the fighter. I have dated a couple of those squeaky clean boys, and again, it felt like there was a dark part of life that I understood and they didn’t. Addiction is a rocky road without a rail, a steep path on an unmarked trail. Two people who have both come out the other side could have a lot to offer each other as friends and spiritual companions.
Two people? There are those who think of monogamy itself as a type of crazy. Whether to be monogamous or polyamorous, exclusive or swinging, is probably the most important question to answer when people are contemplating whether to get involved with one another. Unfortunately, it usually enters the conversation as a game-changer. I think people should figure out where they stand temperamentally, and then make it clear at the outset which tribe is theirs. My husband and I are both firmly in the monogamy camp. Our motto is “Jealousy sucks BDD” (not ‘body dysmorphic disorder,’ but other than that, I’ll leave the acronym mysteriously unexplained). We’re exclusive. Asked and answered. Questioning whether to get involved with other people just sounds exhausting to us, like trying to decide between 47 flavors of jam. Blackberry! Done! Next question. It’s a kind of crazy that is compelling and exciting to lots of people, but it’s not for us.
Crazy comes in a full spectrum of colors and flavors. Depending on personality, one person may see some as boring non-issues, some as fun or whimsical, some as depressing, and some as scary. A different person may categorize them differently. Some may feel like family-of-origin issues, and that may be either comfortingly familiar or terrifying. An example would be living out of a backpack and traveling the world with no official job or permanent address. Me, I’d go for it. It’s a kind of crazy I could handle. Others wouldn’t want to do it for a single day, or even watch a movie about it.
We don’t usually have all the same types of crazy as our lovers. Sure, that can happen, the way that two people who obsessively follow the same band or both grew up in a religious cult might find one another. Maybe you both always wanted a monkey, and you’ll find bliss together. (Not a crazy that would work for me, although I have a parrot). My husband goes on long business trips a lot, a kind of crazy that is too hard for many women. I’m a vegan, something that my husband regards with total indifference, but would be impossible for most men to tolerate. It helps when your particular kind of crazy doesn’t faze the other party, and vice versa. He sleeps right through my parasomnia issues (“most of the time,” she said ominously). I find his desire to take off on group motorcycle trips cute, but otherwise unremarkable. So he and his four male friends are going to Las Vegas together. Good for them. Have fun, fellas!
There are kinds of crazy that we may share, but may be better if we work on them privately and take a hiatus from dating for a while. Picking fights, shouting, throwing objects, punching walls, slamming doors. Suspicion and paranoia – are you cheating on me? ARE YOU? Acting out in its various forms, which could be anything meant as a coping strategy that tends to have negative consequences. Compulsive spending. Breaking up and getting back together over and over. Being manipulative, flirting with exes. Inability to disconnect from family drama. Insecurity and clinginess. Ambivalence, inability to commit. Hoarding or squalor (PM me, I’m here). Seeing your ex in everyone, refighting old battles that have nothing to do with this relationship or the individual right in front of you. Don’t get involved with someone unless you’re emotionally available.
Remodeling a house. Starting a business together, or a band. Adopting a child. Training service animals. Going back to grad school, one or both of you. Losing weight. Finding your birth parent. Relocating to another city or country. Finding a new political or religious passion. All of these are types of crazy that may or may not be shared, may or may not feel like work to the other party.
We have to expect each other to change over time, and the natural tendency will be toward entropy and distance unless we accept it, acknowledge it, and work on it. We have to keep leaning toward each other, keep making eye contact, in the same way we drive by steering and checking our mirrors. We have to accept each other, and ourselves, as uniquely flawed individuals, each crazy in our own way. Hopefully that’s a fun way, or at least an interesting way.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.