Ask Dr. NerdLove: Somebody To Love

Hey Doc,

I have a couple of odd little problems that you might be able to help me out with.

I’m a college senior in a good small school in a big American city.   I’m a classic geek (D&D, Magic the Gathering, Firefly, indie games, comic books, anime, hell, even LARP– I’ve done them all) and also a pretty serious intellectual (science! art! contemporary and classic literary fiction!  poetry!  history!  social science!  I love it all!).  I’m also a closet Asperger’s sufferer (with a childhood diagnosis from a real psychologist and everything!), but I’m generally a good enough showman to hide it.

Romantically, high school was monastic for me, and freshman year was rough.  Most of college, however, has been kind.  I’ve gotten laid, developed a sense of style, pushed my interest in acting further, discovered and embraced by bisexuality, gotten over my anxieties about performance in bed, and developed a nice sense of self-confidence (although some might say I have a bit too much of that now).  I feel pretty good about approaching and talking to just about anyone at school, and I talk to strangers pretty regularly.  I’m better at picking up brush-offs than I once was, and I do get them every so often, but I just take them in stride and move on.  Now, I’ve noticed that girls and guys who I meet seem much more interested in me, and I rarely go to a party without finding some sort of hookup.  In a lot of ways, life is good.

At the same time, though, I feel like I’ve lost something.  Throughout my adolescence– and into the beginning of college– I built up huge passionate infatuations like a Goethe character or a Final Fantasy protagonist.  These big burning passionate feelings often hurt, but when they were reciprocated, I felt like I was on top of the fucking world.  I would find myself thinking about people nonstop, always eager to see them.  I never had trouble being an affectionate, demonstrative boyfriend.  My relationships really felt like they enhanced my life.  When they broke, it hurt, but that pain was proportionate to the joy that I took in them.

I haven’t felt anything like that for over a year.  I’ve had at least three relationships break apart as I found myself having trouble getting myself to want to spend time with the other person– even to have sex.  I’ve met plenty of people who I clicked with as friends, and plenty who I’ve wanted to fuck, and a few who were a little of both, but never the double-barrelled shotgun blast to the head of intense romantic love.  I felt like it might have been starting to happen over the summer, but she left me, and, two days later, I found that I didn’t really care.

In the words of a man whose voice is liquid golden sex, “Can anybody find me somebody to love?”

Is something wrong with me?  Is this just what growing up is like?  Or do I just have to be patient and go out and try to meet more and more people?

The other question is about personality and image.  I know that in less than a year, I’m going to be shoved out of the protective cocoon of undergraduate life and into the bright sunshiney daylinght of reality (or grad school).  And at that point, I’m going to get a chance to redefine myself again.  

I feel like I really am, at heart, a consumate pop-culture geek and an intense pan-disciplinary  intellectual.  At the same time, I worry that my esoteric tastes and interests will alienate many potential friends and partners if I focus too much of my attention on them.  And I really don’t want to be lonely.  I could see myself drifting towards being a high-rolling offices-and-suits guy, cheerful art-loving hipster craft beer drinker, or flamboyant gay man instead, in order to appeal to a wider crowd.  How should I negotiate this?  I’m tall, brilliant, energetic, cheerful, funny, and, I’m starting to think for the first time in my life, handsome.  How should I use that to shape myself to present to others while remaining true to what I really love?

Thanks a bunch.


Not Freddie Mercury

Congratulations, you’re a grown-up complaining that he’s not 15 any more.

When you were young(er), dumb(er) and full of cum (er…), everything seems different. You were in the throes of puberty, your hormones were going apeshit and you were in the seething cauldron of social bullshit that was high-school. You were surrounded by your fellow burbling sacks of sex-chemicals in the middle of just how one is supposed to mash those weird dangly bits together and your particular role-models were Tidus, Sora and Clound Strife.

I’m not terribly surprised that you were the emotional equivalent of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

You’ve grown. You’ve matured. You’ve got some social skills and – critically – you’ve made the leap from fantasy (imagining an EPIC LOVE THAT WILL LAST FOR EVERRRRRRR! with your high-school crushes, jerking off alone in your room, picturing that girl in your Victorian Lit class doing things you’ve only ever seen on RedTube) to reality (real dates, actually having sex with another person in the room). And now that you’re an grown-ass man… well, you’re kind of wishing you could go back to the way things were when you were dealing with fantasies.

There are couple of things going on here.

First: you’re having a problem that lots of nerds – myself included – had; you’ve confused passion for love. It’s actually a very simple mistake to make, especially when you’re young and relatively inexperienced. Your heart races, your palms sweat, your mouth goes dry, your body shakes with nervousness and anticipation when you’re near someone you’re attracted to… these are all the symptoms of true love, right?

Nah. Not really. It’s mostly arousal and the anticipation of possibly actually getting someone else to play with your boner for a while. But when you haven’t had much experience with serious or sexual relationships, it’s pretty easy to mistake the two. And while passion is an important part of attraction and romantic love, it’s not the only part… and it’s also the part that fades fastest. In fact, the half-life of that initial rush that leaves you twitterpated and annoying all your friends by constantly talking about how adorable your crush is when she’s chewing her food is about six months to a year.

Passion is like the tide; it ebbs and flows. And it tends to roll back out at the six month mark… to be replaced by intimacy, emotional connection and companionship, the real hallmarks of loving relationships. A lot of people mistake this change in their relationship for a problem and freak the fuck out, assuming that it means that they’ve fallen out of love and their relationship is some how flawed or ruined. It’s not… and that passion will come right back too.

The other problem you’re having isn’t really a problem. You’re just going through the dating process, same as everyone else does. Not every person you meet is going to be your One True Lurrrve and you’re not necessarily going to be hit with a swirling storm of cartoon birds and singing rainbows with every girl you’re attracted to. Some you may have a great physical connection with. Some you may get in your head… but not your pants. This is how dating works; you keep looking, keep meeting new people and trying ’em out for size. Some relationships don’t work… that’s how it goes. The girl who you didn’t care about dumping you was just one more person you ultimately weren’t that into. Big fat hairy deal. Dust yourself off and meet some other folks. And keep an open mind; you may be very surprised to wake up one day and realize that somebody you thought was just a friend is, in fact the love of your life. You just didn’t know it at the time because you kept waiting for that double-barrel shotgun blast right from the jump.

As for your second question:

You’re overthinking things. First of all, have you seen the readership of my site? Folks are into all kinds of weird shit. We’ve got otaku, Bronies, comic geeks, horror nerds, Browncoats, Trekkies… being a nerd isn’t that uncommon, nor is it a handicap. No matter where you go, I’m fairly certain you’re gonna find some nerds, even if they’re on the down-low. But rather than worrying about whether being a nerd is going to alienate future friends, spend more time getting to know who you are and making sure you have an interesting, well-rounded life. Just because you’re leaving the protective ivory tower that is college doesn’t mean you’re done learning and growing. Engage your intellectual curiosity, pursue some areas that you might not have realized that you were interested in. And when you’re hanging out with your non-nerdy friends, you’ve got an opportunity to introduce them to some of the things you like already… provided you don’t roll them out like you’re explaining how you caught a communicable disease.

So, TL;DR version: you’re a grown-ass man remembering what things were like as a teenager. Calm down, meet more people without expectations of world-shattering passion and learn to roll with who you are.

You’ll be fine. Trust me.


  • Cat

    Dude, you sound like you're totally on the right track. You've got yourself together, you're expanding your intellectual and social horizons, and you're exploring different relationships. You're building your confidence, and you see your future (rightly) as being very bright.

    Don't worry about the romantic side of things. You're doing everything right, and someday you'll feel that passion again. One of the nice things about that feeling, is that when you get it, it seems to come out of nowhere and surprises you in the best possible way. It will happen to you again, more than once. And it will be wonderful. (But it won't be exactly like it was when you were a teenager, because you're not a teenager anymore. It will be different, but it will be just as good.)

    I'd wish you luck, but it sounds to me like you don't need any!


  • Thortok2000

    Honestly the biggest vibe I got from reading this letter was that he's gotten past the 'puppy love' stage.

    The teenage years (which sometimes stretch just a little too long) where of COURSE this is love and everything is AWESOME or HORRIBLE and yeah.

    Passion is great, everyone always wants more passion. I personally call it 'the honeymoon phase' or 'infatuation.'

    Past that, I can't really say anything. Dealing with a lack of passion is something I struggle with too.

    Although now that I think about it, I remember this girl recently, a couple months ago, I was so totally infatuated with her like it was high school all over again. Thought about her close to every waking moment for a couple days waiting to get to see her again. Expressed my interest, and she expressed her lack of interest.

    At that point the passion was gone. I thought we'd still make cool friends, but she assumed I was going the 'friends to get in her pants' route and shut that down too. If I had still had the passion I wouldn't've offered the friendship because of that exact reason, but oh well.

    But the passion of several days literally disappeared in under a minute. Does that make it any less real? No, not really.

    You're just more grown up now and your body realizes passion isn't everything, even if you don't. You're not a teenager any more, you don't have such a huge supply of hormones, so it doesn't send them out quite so often anymore, it waits until they're more appropriate to the situation.

  • An Engineer

    … damn it.

    I wonder how long I have left. I didn't know that relationships earlier on in life had this kind of benefit. My priorities have changed.

    • Thortok2000

      I'm 30 and I still can get pretty caught up in passion. The difference is I've learned to roll with the punches a lot better and it's not 'end of the world' when the passion doesn't work out.

      Teenager = Super awesome highs, sometimes bad decisions are made beacuse of them. Intimacy either doesn't exist or is hidden in the 'urgency' of passion.
      Older = Super awesome highs that aren't quite as 'manic' (still able to make smart decisions.) Highs tend to level out after awhile and turn into 'intimacy.'

      Teenager = Super horrible lows and 'my life is over' drama when passion breaks or doesn't work out.
      Older = Meh. Oh well. Move on. Might get in a bit of a funk for awhile but you get over it.

      Yeah, passion's great and all, and you'll still have it when you're older, it just works differently, and for the better, I think. It's just a change people don't expect and like the Doc said, can make people think there's something 'wrong.'

  • Nana

    Goddammit. Please give me your email and facebook liek NAO. You're way too perfect to be real.

    But yeah… everything Doc said. It's quite hard to deal with the end of multiple sugarsrushes you have when you're younger. I myself am surprised it's been over a year and a half since I last "fell" for someone. And as I can only mantain my sexual desire up for 10 minutes at the most when I'm not emotionally involved, it's not like I've got a very crowded hook-up life. And I'm surprinsingly fine with *that*; I, too, want to find me somebody to love.

    Guess it's all trial and error.

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  • Ok, I'm no expert, but I feel I can provide another view to this problem (and I might be completely wrong, but no pain, no gain). Though not explicitly mentioned in the letter, something about this tells me we're dealing with a introvert in an extrovert's clothing.

    So first, a little introduction (it's going somewhere, bear with me). I love the Dr.NL blog. There are some texts that hit home (like the one about of introverts – coffee house dates are the best!), but most times it's "Dr.NerdLove presents: Extroverts". So basically: I'm introverted, small circle of good friends, interested in relationships only when a good prospect comes along (casual sex? haha no.), hard to develop emotional attachment, somewhat self-centred. But I also LOVE to laugh and try to be funny whenever I can, making people enjoy my presence despite my weirdness.

    I am now going to be presumptuous and try to guess how our friend's life might have played out:
    A lot of introverts start off with the "I don't want to conform" mentality, but we all want some form of social contact, and we don't want to feel ostracised. So we swallow our pride and venture into the great (extroverted) beyond.

    And it's not that bad. We learn how to interact to people, how to be more considerate of people feelings, where to find new friends. And people like us and enjoy our company. We be become better human beings. We grow. But there is a point where we have to say "Goodbye, and thanks for all the fish!". The fact we get so much approval from others, that we finally manage to fit what society expects us to be, makes us feel that we're on the right track, when in fact we're completely derailing. And I fear this is happened to our dear friend: he was so good at being what OTHERS want to be, that he forgot what HE wanted to be.

    It seems to me he's not looking for crazy immature passion, but fulfilment. Introverts have very deep emotions, but since they have them in limited reserve, the more they give them out, the more they become watered down. I'm talking as someone who's realised this in time. I love meeting new people, but I can't invest myself emotionally with ALL of them. I can't have 10 very close friends. I can't constantly go on dates hoping to find somebody I like. I can't just sleep with somebody because "hey, why not?". I cannot GIVE myself to that many people. And yet when I finally meet somebody I "click" with, it's a wonderful mix of passion and content – a feeling of fulfilment. It's a relationship you want to work on, instead of being a passive participant. (And just to mention, I had no romantic feelings in high school, and didn't care about relationships at all. I'm now in my mid-20s.)

    So my friend, somewhere along the way to becoming totally awesome you shed all that you were in the miserable days of high schools. Unfortunately, not all of it was bad, and you left a big, good piece of you behind. Now go back and find it and you should be fine 😉

    [I'm new to the good doctor's blog, so please forgive me for commenting on such an old post. ;)]