Ask Dr. NerdLove: Right In Front of Your Face

Sometimes, dear readers, I wish I could reach through the Internet and smack some sense into people. This is one of those times…

Dear Dr. Nerdlove, 

I’m hoping you can help me out. I’m 38, a self-porfessed geek, and sadly, very single. I seem to be having a problem involving meeting women, that I can’t seem to overcome. I also seem to have another problem in relating to them, once I’m involved with them.

First issue: I was recently talking with some of my fellow geeks, bemoaning the sorry state of my love life, and how I never seem to meet anyone who’d be interested in me, when they dropped a bombshell on me.

As it turns out, according to them, I’ve actually missed several opportunities to get to know women better, simply by dint of not recognizing that they were flirting with me. 

Now, I didn’t recall any times when someone was flirting with me, but my friends insists they’ve seen this happen several times – and have also seen me be completely oblivious to it.

Now, I was willing to blow this off as my friends just messing with me – until I happened to mention the conversation to my mother – and she voiced the same concerns! Having your own mother notice something like this is uncomfortable, to say the least. 

I’ve tried reading articles about how to tell if women are interested in you, but they don’t seem to do me any good. I just don’t seem to recognize any of the cues I’m supposed to see, when I do actually talk with women, which is admittedly, not very often. I am a geek, after all. It doesn’t help that I have ADHD, but I know that can’t be the entire reason for my problem.

Second issue: this involves a kind of long story, so please bear with me.

I was involved with a woman a couple of years ago. We met, got to know each other, and things progressed into a physical relationship pretty quickly.

We agreed, at the start, that neither one of us was looking for a serious romantic relationship. I was still smarting from a break-up a while before, and she had just gotten divorced. So we both stated that we were just looking for someone to have some fun with – “friends with benefits”, as they say.

Well, for a while, that’s exactly how things were between us. We’d get together, hang out, talk, and have fun. Just as aften as not, we’d end up in bed together.

However, after about 6 months, things seemed to change. First, she unexpectedly bought me gifts. Then, she started wanting to go out with me more often.

This seemed a little strange to me, given the nature of our agreement, but I went along with it.

However, after a few months, I started losing contact with her. I stopped calling her, and she stopped calling me. Eventually, she moved away to another state. 

I recently spoke to her online, and happened to mention how odd it was that things between us seemed to just come to a halt, and that’s when she told me something I apparently didn’t see for myself – that her feelings had changed, and she wanted things to be more serious and permanent between us. 

She also stated that the reasons she left me were twofold: One, that it didn’t seem to her that I wanted things to be any more serious than when they started; and two, that she couldn’t truly tell how I felt about her.When I told her that I had genuinely cared about her, she was honestly surprised.

A few days after this online conversation, I mentioned it to a couple of friends of mine, one of whom is female, and she told me that the reason my FWB left me was the same reason my last girlfriend before her left – she just wasn’t sure how I felt.

So, my question is: for each of these problems, what would your recommendation be? I don’t seem to be having any luck improving things on my own, and thought a fresh insight could be useful.

Hopefully, I haven’t bored you to tears with this letter.

Thanks for your time.

Blind Guy

Yeah, you don’t have two problems, BG. You’ve got one. Both of the issues you wrote about are the exact same issue.

But let’s take this one step at a time.

Sometimes it can be  difficult to tell when a woman is flirting with you, especially if you’re not used to it. A lot of women are taught not to be overt in showing interest to guys, while others may not realize that what she considers to be an obvious sign of interest can be incredibly subtle to guys. It’s a classic “Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus”1 sort of miscommunication.

I’ve written before about how to tell if she likes you but I’ll reitterate the major signs of flirting:

  • Proximity – If she’s hovering around for no good reason; if the bar’s not crowded but she keeps brushing past you to get drinks or hanging around your table anyway, for example, or if she just happens to be nearby every time you turn around.
  • Touching – Casual physical contact while she’s talking to you, especially if she touches you while she laughs. Where she touches you is also an indication of how interested she is; the hand or face is more intimate than the arm, for example. If she touches you on the leg with her foot, it’s also a sign that she’s flirting.
  • Teasing – If she’s giving you shit but with a smile – especially if she touches you when she does – she’s probably flirting.

If you learn to keep your eyes open for these, you’ll start calibrating your social Spider-Sense. It may do you some good to just assume that she’s flirting and act accordingly; you’ll inevitably hit some false positives to be sure, but better to get shot down than to keep missing out on the girls that like you.

But while we’re talking about missing the subtle signs that a woman likes you, you’re also missing the glaringly obvious signs that she likes you. Such as in the case of your friend with benefits.

Now, I realize that it’s a cliche that guys are m0re logical while women are more emotional and intuitive but Sweet Zombie Jeebus do you take this to an unnatural extreme.

The problem here, BG, is that you seem to believe that the agreement you had with your fuckbuddy was a binding contract.

It wasn’t. One of the first rules of a friends-with-benefits situation is that the arrangement between the two of you is subject to renegotiation at any time without notice. Which is exactly what your friend was trying to do.

This, my ignorant friend, is why she was suddenly bringing you unexpected gifts and wanting to hang out more often… she was trying to show you that she was thinking of you as more than a friend and occasional bouncy-fun-time companion. She wanted you to know that she wanted to spend more time with you and to show you that she thinks about you. Like many guys, she didn’t necessarily want to risk outright rejection by asking you straight-out, especially since she wasn’t entirely sure how you felt.

And judging from her complaint (and those of many others) that she could never tell how you felt, it’s not terribly surprising that she decided to pull up stakes and move on.

Here’s a hint: responding with a bemused “That was weird…” was not the response she was looking for.

As I’ve said before, most friends-with-benefits relationships end one of two ways: either you end the benefits or you quit being friends. She wanted to quit being friends… and be more than friends. Once she’d reached that point, continuing to screw around with a guy who liked her but didn’t like her like her was just going to be painful. Nobody likes to think they’re nothing but a sex toy to the one they love.

But hey, you say you cared for her deeply… but did you ever show her that you did? Did you ever tell her?

From the sounds of things: no. No you did not. For that matter, it sounds like you never told your last girlfriend either.

The answer, BG, is obvious. You need to learn to be more demonstrative of how you feel instead of assuming that women are mind-readers. You may feel that you’re showing how you feel already. Clearly you aren’t, since this is a recurring problem for you. Start learning how to be more expressive with the people you love and you’ll have fewer issues of getting dumped because they aren’t sure how you feel.

  1. Side note: I so hate that book []

  • Very nicely put. The sad thing though is when I was reading his message to you it felt like a joke. Almost like a staged email. Surly, even when writing the email he could see what he was doing wrong. Or at least one would think.

  • Dear doc, Christina, Blind Guy,

    having gone through pretty much the same, I'd like to offer some insight from my experiences.

    I'm a good 10 years younger than BG, for 6 months now, I'm in therapy. The reason, besides depression and a second burnout since 21 is that I'm "not good with people".

    I love this phrase for all the disbelief it causes in all the people I get to know. The reason is that I'm very bad at reading social situations and emotions, even worse at spontaneously or fluidly responding to them (when not drunk).

    But it gets worse: I've had severe trouble reading or understanding my own emotions.

    In a relationship of any kind you're expected to share. In order to be able to do that, you first must be aware of what you have to or can give and what you want or need. Of those things emotions have the highest of priorities in a close relationship.

    So long,


  • Celeste Webster

    Billy Joel wrote a song about telling a girl that you love her. Communication, communication, communication. Yes, I think its terribly hard for us geeks to know when people are flirting with us, especially those of us who are a tad attention deficit and grew up in some sort of social backwater. I have, apparently, missed cues that guys were interested in me- and I've been told I was flirting when I thought I was just being nice. So, I can help you with that part.

    However, once you are in a relationship, what you mean shouldnt be a guessing game. (That goes for you too, girls- dont expect guys to read your minds or your subtle cues- just tell them) If you care for someone, you need to use words and actions that say so. The words shouldnt be double entendre hints, either. Actions speak tons, though, if you choose the right ones. If you are struck suddenly by how pretty you think she is, or how smartly she handled something or how skilllful she is at something else, tell her that. It means something to her that you noticed. If she talks about something she wants, but cant afford, or for some reason cant conscience buying it for herself, buy it. Make her breakfast. Take her to dinner. Notice what she likes to do and do it with her. If you dont want to do those things,then, you really dont care about her after all. If you simply dont notice any of these things at all, please seek professional help. You may not be ADHD as much as you are Aspberger's, but I have several friends who have been able to learn social skills once they got the diagnosis.

  • Blind Guy


    First off, thanks to the good doctor for answering, and featuring, my letter. I wasn't sure he'd even give it the time of day.

    Second, sad to say, my letter wasn't a joke. I was absolutely serious. And, yes, after reading my own words, and the Dr's response, I can see where my problems seem to stem from.

    The question now is, how to fix my problem? That's where I seem to come up short.

    As for my mention of ADHD, that is an actual official diagnosis. I don't actually fit the profile for Asperger's, but thanks for the concern, Celeste.

    • Might I suggest that, at the very moment you feel like a FWB/GF is acting funny.. Giving you gifts.. Wanting to hang out more etc., you tell that girl that you think you guys should have a talk?

      That seems like the best time to have an active discussion in regards to the (hard to notice) negotiations going on in front of your face, but "on the down low."

      I just want to point out the strange way I got my husband to go out with me. We are both nerds.

      But he is one of those "cool" nerds, in that he was a drum & bass DJ when we met at a party that I went to with my older brother. He thought I had a crush on one of his friends and he cornered me (trying to me Mr. Good Friend) to tell me to back off because that guy had a girlfriend. Uh, I knew the guy's girlfriend. We were friends, thanks.

      I had to come outright and say "Wow, guy. I have been hitting on YOU this whole time. Hello? Did you not notice that I was in the room every time you were spinning.. But left the room whenever someone else was? That I was standing near you all the time? That I verbally threatened the girl who kept taking pictures with you with DEATH if she did not GTFO?"

      It is easy to not see things that are going on in front of your face.

      My only advice would be to "trust your gut" and have that talk the very moment you feel that "something is off."

    • M.D.

      Actually lots of people get ADHD diagnoses when Aspergers, Non-Verbal Learning Disability or other diagnoses are more appropriate. The questions to ask yourself about a diagnoses that doesn't see to fit are:

      1) was I diagnosed during a "fad" (right now Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities are "in" – which is to say that it's a relatively new diagnosis that is being actively talked about to garner more attention for an under-diagnosed population. When this happens people often over-diagnose a particular disorder because they are looking for it or because they are new at diagnosing it. After people become comfortable with the diagnosis it generally reaches the point where there are few over diagnoses.)

      2) Was I diagnosed by a new practitioner / someone not a psychologist or psychiatrist? Did I not get a second opinion?

      3) Was the medication I was prescribed fail to "fix" the problem? Or did I not need medication?

      4) Was I diagnosed before or during puberty? (The brain rapidly changes during puberty and hormones can have a huge effect on behavior which can mask accurate diagnoses.)

      5) Did my diagnosis have any secondary concerns? (For example: ADD – Inattentive is often the diagnosis for "dreamy" type ADD. But that means that something in the diagnosis did not quite match the standard diagnosis.)

      If you answered yes to these, you may not have what you think you have. People who have mental health diagnoses should not always second guess their health practitioners, but this seems to be an extreme and pervasive pattern in your life that is negatively impacting you. Checking to see if the initial diagnosis was wrong, has changed or needs amending is perfectly valid.

      Good luck!

  • David

    Sorry, but I’m a little confused about this sentence. “If she touches you on the leg with her foot, it’s also a sign that she’s flirting.” How exactly does that work? Is that only if you’re both sitting and her foot brushes your leg, or is it possible standing up?

    • Dr. NerdLove

      While she's sitting.

      If she's rubbing her foot up and down your leg, not only is she interested, but she has excellent balance and possibly ballet or martial arts training.

  • E

    Is it just me, or do the newest comments now appear at the top instead of the bottom? I think this is pretty confusing, because the replies to those comments are still in top-to-bottom order. So now when I read the comment sections, I have to constantly scroll up & down to read them in chronological order. Ick.

    • Dr. NerdLove

      I'll give the settings a look-see. Something may have gotten switched that wasn't supposed to.