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“Doc, you don’t understand…here I am taking forever to come up for air after this COVID prison we’ve been in. I hit the wild jungle that is the dating apps and FINALLY; after one failed comedy skit of a “date” after another, I hit the relationship lottery and find a normal girl. She’s smart, beautiful, funny and we just hit it off, you know? After all that, I’m too in my head for things to get anywhere. I’m just messed up.”

My man Mike isn’t messed up, not in the slightest. And neither are you. We sometimes forget the massive impact that these past two years have had on our emotional and psychological growth and maturity. Just because things appear to be back to normal on the outside, doesn’t mean that we have magically emotionally recovered.

So what do we do?

1. Give yourself a break

The cycle of shame and isolation snowballs pretty fast for men who find themselves struggling with intimacy. The fear of going through the same experience again is so daunting that it can either become a self-fulfilling prophesy or a reason to avoid this experience at all costs.

The brain goes through great lengths to guard us from psychological injury to our ego. Few things come close to the blow received after this kind of fail.

If a friend of yours goes through a difficult day, week, month and even a year- then comes to you and feels defeated. You may find that one one the first things you’ll say to him is something to the effect of “you’ve been through a lot, man. It’s normal for you to feel this way.”

We tend to make excuses, or give other people the benefit of the doubt, but are particularly hard on ourselves.

Give yourself an initial pep talk here. It’s OK to be going through this. Exhale. Even literally right now as you read this. You are not alone.

2. Give your mind the proper tools

In life, we often think that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. While this mantra can help in some areas, it can paralyze us in others.

The beauty of the present is that we get to make choices to alter our future, despite what the past has to say about it.

So a difficult or embarrassing past experience with intimacy can be embarrassing, but it does not need to define you. It can be understood for what it is, a bump in the road that can prompt you to watch your next step and prepare differently. But if you slip when you walk, I would hope you would not be too embarrassed to ever walk again.

We can actively reject the shame and fear associated with the experience and use it to motivate us to make adjustments. Like a football player who got knocked down going one direction, so he switches up the route to find the end zone. Then works on the most epic celebration.

3. Give your body the proper tools

We sometimes forget that the body keeps its score of what we feel emotionally. It’s no wonder that when we experience chronic stress, no sleep, and eat junk; this body-machine just does not function the way it was intended to. We have less energy, less motivation and less ability to do the things we love to do. This includes intimacy.

Do you know a guy who would save up for his dream car (maybe a classic 911 Porsche) then just throw regular unleaded gas? Never get an oil change? We’d revoke his man card immediately.

Sometimes we need to take a step back and evaluate what we’re putting into this super car we call our body.

The same way that if we do those things and there’s a noise we can’t explain, a good mechanic will be able to help. Medicine has a role to play too.

We get to make choices today in our dream car that can help us just…

enjoy the ride.

Dr. Mena Mirhom

Dr. Mena Mirhom

MD, FAPA, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center

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