Who Controls You?

I want you to think about control for a moment. Are you the sort of person who believes in fate and destiny? Or are you the sort of person who believes in consequences?

Fate is an attractive thing to believe in; there’s a certain comfort to be found in believing that there is something that guides our existence whether it’s God, the Force, The Flying Spaghetti Monster, the Invisible Pink Unicorn or three anthropomorphic representations of Feminist Theory with a fetish for knitting and yarnwork.

Ah, Japan. Turning even classical triparte deities into moe blobs.

You are absolved of responsibility; it’s destiny that X happened instead of Y, there’s nothing you could have done. But it also means that you have no control. You are utterly powerless to direct your life; things will either happen or they won’t and there’s nothing you can do about it. You are utterly adrift in the universe, cast about by forces you can never see that affect you in ways you can’t even comprehend.

Stick with me, I’m going somewhere with this philosophical talk.

One of the issues I see in people having dating issues is one of control. You see this a lot when people talk about “getting lucky” or finding The One or the idea that chemistry is something that’s either there or isn’t. Some people will ascribe their success to intangible external factors – luck, essentially – rather than to the results of their own actions.

But the problem is that in doing so, it ultimately means that you can never take credit for your success. Even worse, it renders you powerless to improve your situation; you are who you are and there’s no doing anything about it.

It all comes down to a question: who – ultimately – is in control of your life?

Is it you?

Or are you ceding your agency to somebody else?

Where Is Your Locus of Control?

The locus of control is the idea of how much influence you have over your life. Do you believe that you are the captain of your fate or that you’re helpless before the power of outside forces? Someone with an internal locus of control is someone who believes that they and they alone are the ultimate arbiters of their lives. Someone with an external locus of control, on the other hand, is someone who has, in a very real sense, conceded their power to others. Someone who has an internal locus will attribute their success ultimately to their own effort – “I had sex last night because I am charming and delightful!” – while someone with an external locus will attribute theirs to the influence of others whether it be as nebulous as “luck” or needing to get revenge on an ex-boyfriend or simply lowered standards via the magic of booze.

“You’re much cuter when there’s three of you…”

I spent a lot of time with an external locus of control back in the bad old days; I believed that I was The One Who Was Bad With Girls and that the few relationships I did have were because due to the stars aligning just so. This belief, this external locus of control, meant that I had to stay in my relationship no matter how miserable I was – or how toxic it had become –  because I didn’t believe I could ever do any better. When I lucked into – there’s that word again – a relationship that I thought was perfect, I couldn’t relax and enjoy it then either; I was always waiting for the sword of Damocles to fall or for her to realize she could do better than me. I was always on the look-out for signs that things were about to come to an end… which, ironically enough, played a major role in several of my failed relationships.

The Curse of Neediness

When your locus of control is external, you come to rely on external validation. Because you don’t believe in yourself, you end up seeking the approval of others. In doing so, give them control over your emotional state and self-worth – and by extension, over you. You have essentially placed your identity and value in the hands of others and are forced to rely on their views rather than your own. Because you have prioritized the opinions of others over your own, you end up alternately demanding and pleading for the attention of the people in your life – after all, without their attention, their judgement, their validation, you’re nothing.

You’ve allowed yourself to become needy – the anti-sex equation. There are few things more prone to making naked-fun-time disappear faster than needy behavior. It tells others that you don’t believe that you have value or that your self-esteem is so fragile that you need constant reassurance that yes, you’re cool, a good person, worthwhile, whatever. Excessive neediness is physically and emotionally exhausting to those around you. You’ve become a psychic vampire of sorts, draining others of their energy and patience as you constantly struggle to gain their approval. This in turn drives people away; anyone with an ounce of self-worth has better things to do with their time than to constantly prop up another person’s ego… which reinforces the self-limiting belief that you have nothing of worth to offer others.

The Power of Self-Validation

A key to internalizing one’s locus of control is to be self-validating; to reach the state where you define your own sense of self-worth.

While someone who as an external locus of control looks to others for approval, Someone who has internalized their locus of control, however, is someone who may value the opinion of others… but doesn’t require it, because they believe in their own value. They don’t seek validation from others because they are capable of validating themselves. To take a lesson from Swingers: ya gotta know you’re money and be willing to let other people know you’re money.

Being self-validating means that you don’t require approval or opinions from other people because you trust that in the end, your opinion is the only one that counts. Someone you met at the bar shoots you down? It doesn’t matter; you know you’re awesome and there’ll be plenty of other people who will have the opportunity to find out just how awesome you are.

“Did someone call me?”

When you’re self-validating, you don’t fear emotional vulnerability. You aren’t so afraid of being open and honest about who you are and what you want because you have the strength to be who you are without worrying about what other people think. You are willing to let someone know that you’re interested in them because you don’t see expressing your emotions as a sign of weakness. You’re able to tell others that you’re comfortable with who you are, warts and all, because who you are is pretty damn money.

To be self-validating means that you don’t measure your self-worth by external metrics; not by the number of women that you’ve slept with, how expensive your car is, how high-status your job is or how much money you have. To do so is to allow others to define your worth – to externalize your locus of control.It means that you can look at your life and say “You know what? I’m pretty damn cool,” even when other people doubt it.

You have confidencewhich is one of the most attractive traits a man can have.

Choice and Responsibility

By internalizing your locus of control – by accepting that you have the ultimate control in your life – you are accepting ownership of your actions. This means, amongst other things, that you have no need for excuses or playing games. To be in control means that you can admit to your mistakes and take responsibility for your desires – which means that you have no need for excuses. Being able to accept that you’ve screwed up is a liberating experience. By shouldering the blame for your mistakes, you have the opportunity to learn from them. Putting the blame on others – “She’s just a bitch,” or “women like her just want the highest-status, most alpha-male guy they can find” – is another way of shielding yourself from responsibility; it takes away your part in the interaction, even if it’s in accepting that sometimes other people aren’t going to like you and there’s nothing you can do to change that.

Taking control of your fate doesn’t suddenly mean that you are in control of the universe and that random chance no longer exists; life is dangerous and shit happens so wear a hat. You are still attempting to impose order upon what’s ultimately a chaotic system and just deciding you’re the captain of your fate doesn’t mean that everything you dislike is now just an illusion.

But while you can’t control everything that happens to you, you can control how you respond to it.

“This isn’t happening! This isn’t happening! THIS ISN’T FUCKING HAPPENING!”

You can’t stop other people from rejecting you. You can, however, choose to let it break you and make you angry and bitter… or you can choose to move on from it by accepting that in being rejected, she’s done you a favor. As odd as it may sound, acknowledging this simple truth – that you can’t win them all – can be incredibly liberating. You free yourself from being defined by a failure, constantly basing your value on what you “lost” and desperately trying to avoid rejection by letting yourself be paralyzed or trying to play games rather than being emotionally straight-forward. You no longer have to fear someone not liking you and instead are able to accept it for what it is – one person’s opinion – and move on.

So How Do We Take Control?

The process of internalizing your locus of control isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s a matter of changing your mindset and destroying self-limiting beliefs; it’s a matter of consciously breaking habitual thought patterns and consciously reshaping new ones until they form a groove in your brain.

To start with: learn to focus on what you have direct control over and to accept that which you don’t. You can’t control whether someone likes you.  You can’t control whether they’re the sort of asshole who’s going to call a guy creepy as a fucked up power-play. You can’t control somebody else’s attitude, preferences, prejudices or even whether they’ve just had a shitty day or not. You can only control you – how you approach them,  how you look, how you conduct yourself, what you say and how much you let their opinion affect you.

If you can’t control it, ignore it. It’s of no use to you. Accept it and keep moving forward. This includes your physicality as much as everything else. If you’re short, then you’re short and you can’t do anything about it. If you’re an ectomorph, then you’re an ectomorph. This is the build you inherited; you can’t change it, so embrace it.

Next: be honest with yourself. This means more than focusing on your flaws; you have to acknowledge what’s great about you too. Saying “Ok, all I am is just fat, ugly and horrible” while ignoring or minimizing your sense of humor, your talent for singing and striking green eyes is as equally dishonest as trying to pretend you are practically perfect in every way.

Be willing to recognize what you don’t like in yourself and work to change it. But you need to focus your attention on what makes you awesomeembrace it and enhance it.

Adopt an attitude of positivity. This can be difficult; it’s honestly easier to be negative. But by choosing to be positive will require that you actively be more aware of your attitude towards yourself and others and in doing so, better able to consciously change it. And by choosing to change, you are taking one more step on the path of taking control of your life… and all of the benefits that come with it.

  • Cameron

    As important as I know confidence is, I really don't have any, partly because I feel like I haven't done much to warrant it, but also because I really worry about maintaining the balance required to avoid stretching confidence too far. I don't know where the line is, I don't know how to find the sweet spot of "attractive and respectable confidence" between "doormat" and "arrogant tool". Compounding it is the fact that there probably ISN'T a sweet spot – everyone will interpret a person's personality in too many different ways. It's at the point that I simply don't know which direction to go in.

    • enail

      I think the key is respect – respect yourself and be okay with who you are, but also respect others and accept who they are (except if "who they are" involves treating you or others badly, in which case it's okay to not accept that). The desireable kind of confidence is about how you feel about yourself and governs your actions, not something you have over others or that you use to try and dominate others.

      • Cameron

        This is a good point – although the part about "treating you or others badly" brings me back to thoughts about perception. How do you tell the difference between treating someone badly, and giving them harsh and blunt but ultimately worthwhile and constructive criticism? There's a lot of people who believe such criticism would be 'mean', and go with coddling a person and telling them what they want to hear – nice in the moment, but there are strong arguments to be made that this is disrespectful and terrible for personal growth and improvement.

        • enail

          I'd say, in most general situations, it's not your job to improve people and neither you nor they will gain much from being excessively harsh. If someone asks you for your opinion or advice, or if you're in a teaching or mentoring relationship with someone, then they're more open to that, but most of the time, I think it's overstepping your bounds, and can be arrogant.

          Even when you are giving harsh and constructive criticism, there are better and worse ways to give it – usually the most hurtful way is not the most useful way.

          • Anonymoose

            I think most people will accept you saying something harsh but constructive once. If they don't want to hear it or believe it, you've done your duty as a friend/family member/whatever you are to them, because they know how you think or feel about a problem area and will deal with it however they will deal with it. It's when you harp on it every time or offer them solutions to problems they're not even looking for is when you're crossing into arrogance or treating people badly.

          • Cameron

            I was largely thinking of criticism given when asked, rather than out of the blue – sorry, should have clarified. And I never said hurtful, I said harsh and blunt. Obviously being unnecessarily hurtful and mean is plenty wrong – but if someone asks you for your honest opinion on their skills in a certain area and the truth is that you think they're awful, then what do you say? And, to steer this back to the topic of the article, if someone is honest and harsh when asked for their thoughts, should people disregard such criticism because they find it arrogant and mean, or should they respect such people for their honesty and refusal to coddle?

          • eselle28

            It depends on the context, and it's as much about saying something useful as it is about saying something honest. If someone's asking for career advice, you can affirm their enjoyment of singing/writing/whatever but indicate they'd be better to keep it as a hobby and rely on something else to pay the bills. If the question is about a new skill they've picked up, you can point out specific areas where they can improve and ways they can do that. If the question is something like, "Do you think I'm ugly?" the person doesn't actually want honest advice, and there's not much that can be given anyway.

            As for people's response, it's a bad habit to ask for criticism and then not want to receive any at all. But some people do anyway, and others will flinch if it's too harsly delivered.

          • Delafina

            Well, we have multiple words for things for a reason, and as someone who has had to evaluate people's work academically and professionally, "awful" is not really a word you should use if you're asked for an appraisal of someone's work or behavior. It's a final word. It's a word that tells someone that this is what they *are* and what they are is wrong, rather than "Here's what you're doing wrong." It may seem like a fine distinction, but it makes all the difference because one shuts them down and the other empowers them.

            If there's nothing someone can do about something, they're usually aware of it, and what's the point of pointing it out to them?

            You tell someone "You're not where you need to be yet," or "What you've done doesn't match what you were asked to do" or "You're doing this thing that's hindering you." You give them an honest appraisal of the distance between where their work/behavior/whatever is and where it needs to be for whatever they're trying to accomplish, and what you think they need to do to get there.

            It isn't your place to define for them whether or not they should be doing it. It is your place, if asked, to give them an honest appraisal of that distance and how much work you think it will take them to get there, but the decision of whether or not they *should* — which is really a decision about whether or not it's worth it to/possible for them to put in the effort they need to — isn't yours.

            As to your last question, if someone's harsh/arrogant with you, I think it's up to you whether you want to try to parse and evaluate their criticism.

            I tend to disregard people who use terms like "awful" in evaluating others or their work, because using a word like that shows you haven't thought through the criticism and actually analyzed what exactly you're criticizing (it's final and unspecific), which you have an ethical responsibility to do before you offer it.

            Sometimes you need to use strong language to wake people up, and if someone's being an ass to be an ass, I think you're justified in telling them you're not going to engage with them and, bluntly, why, but in general if they're being honest, you need to think about whether you can be honest without being harsh.

        • Greenie

          There's a pretty wide gap between lying and 'mean' criticism. Choosing one's moment and phrasing carefully usually leads to feedback that is less hurtful AND more effective, both at once, without falling into your false dichotomy.

          • Cameron

            You misunderstand – I'm not saying that criticism actually IS mean, just that some might call it that. And I posted this after your reply, so I'm sorry for not being more clear, but I'm talking about situations where your criticism is that you think the person is genuinely awful at something, like, say, a tone deaf singer who is truly painful to listen to. How would one phrase that without either lying (partly or completely), or sounding hurtful?

          • eselle28

            I sometimes think it's worth considering why the person asked you, and what value would come from being blunt.

            If it's because you have some vocal training, you can talk about their pitch issues in whichever portions of the song were the worst. If it's because they're worried about singing in public, you can say it sounds a little rough and talk with them about further practice. If they're simply asking you how their turn at karaoke went, it's not really that big of a deal, and you can just laugh it off without meaningfully responding at all.

          • enail

            That's a tough one. I think you'd have to play it by ear depending on your relationship with them, how they asked for opinions, and how important being truthful/being kind/keeping things friendly is for you. If you don't want to crush them, I find phrasing it in terms of an improvement they could make is better than telling them they're terrible.

          • Juuuuuulia

            All the other comments at helpful. But also I'd like to point out that sometimes, even if you do take care to use careful language and constructive improvement advice, a person might STILL call it mean. And at that point, it's outside of your control.

          • SarahGryph

            Yes, this. A woman I work with asked me the other day why it seems like people have trouble working with her. I know to be damned careful with things like that in the workplace, so I started by just saying "well, you and Other Manager have different management styles and some people might still be getting used to that." Instant. "OMG why does everyone think I'm a bad manager, I'm just me, *explosion*!" In that situation I backed off completely for one thing, and also reminded myself that her reaction was not my fault. I know it's a little different in the workplace than with personal friends, it's just the most recent time I've been in a situation like that. Sometimes it helps me to remember that if the other person doesn't want to hear the advice, it probably won't help to give it anyway since they'll be blocking themselves from listening. Trying is fine and good but if they don't want to hear it or severely disagree it's rarely helpful to try to argue someone into your advice.

          • Delafina

            Well, what is the singer trying to do with his singing? And what is he asking you? And what is your relationship to both him and the subject? Are you an expert in it? If you're his voice teacher, you can honestly tell him that a career in music is very hard, that lots of people try for one and very few of them make it, and that he has a long way to go pitch-wise to be able to compete with most of the people out there, and that it's going to be a long, hard road just to get to the point where he can compete, let alone win.

            If you're his friend, you can tell him that if he really wants to make a go of it, he should get a voice teacher or ask his voice teacher and let them give him the bad news, since they're being paid for their expertise.

            If he just did a karaoke song and asks you for your opinion, you have zero need to tell him that he was bad. Pick something that isn't a lie, like "your love for that song really came through!" and leave it at that. Unless there's something at stake for him (a career, a competition, etc.) there is absolutely no need for you to give him any sort of detailed evaluation.

        • Delafina

          Personally, I use the following guidelines. Is the person doing something that's hurting them, and if so, will pointing it out to them make them happy? (Is the thing they're doing not something they're attached to, a simple mistake they're making?) If so, I tell them. Second, if I do think that it will make them unhappy if I point it out, do *I* feel bad about pointing it out? Do I want to avoid telling them because I'm worried it will hurt them? If the answer is yes, then that's actually an argument *for* me to take on the burden of telling them.

          If I'm enjoying the idea of telling them, and I think that hearing it will hurt them, then that's a good sign *not* to do it, because I don't want to tell them for the right reasons. They may be doing something that is self-limiting, but clearly my desire to tell them is coming from irritation or resentment and not just a desire to help them, which means I'm unlikely to be able to tell them in a compassionate matter. So I'm not the right person to tell them. I might point it out to a mutual friend, but I shouldn't be the one that points it out to the person in question.

          As far as how to criticize compassionately, there's tons of stuff out there on how to do that. I think the most important thing is that if you notice that they're not listening — or not *able* to listen to you — stop. Maybe you're not the right person, maybe this isn't the right time, but whatever the case, if you're not getting anywhere, back off.

    • Kylroy

      On the confidence vs. arrogance front, I used to throw around the line “It’s good if you don’t care what people think – it’s bad if you don’t care how you make people feel.” It’s too vague to be any sort of absolute standard, but I still think it’s a good starting point.

      • SarahGryph

        I like that. And yeah, any time you try to sum something up briefly it can't cover everything; I'd still call that a good baseline to go from.

      • Delafina

        This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: "When I was young, I admired clever people; now that I am old, I admire kind people." Cleverness is easy; true kindness (as opposed to "niceness") takes wisdom.

      • The Mikey

        Dude, right on the money. A buddy a mine told me to "be more conscious of how you make others feel." So, you're definitely right.

    • LeeEsq

      My opinion is that confidence is largely unspoken, its conveyed through body language. Confident people exude an aura of "I can do this" and they have an easy about them. They don't wobble or seem uncomfortable. When confidence is spoken, its kind of off-hand and modest. Arrogance is spoken, it involves boasting. Arrogant people come across as trying to dominate others, the aura of a bully or conquerer. And like you said, it varies from person to person. A person that comes across as an entitled arrogant jerk to most people can come across as positively confident to some other people.

      • Juuuuuulia

        Part of that confidence is "I can do this, but if it turns out that I can't — no big deal!"

    • Delafina

      If you're looking for confidence on the spectrum between "doormat" and "arrogant tool," you're looking on the wrong spectrum. Arrogance (feeling the need to claim/demonstrate superiority over others) is a sign of low confidence, not high confidence. Confident people don't need to prove they're better than others; they are secure in who they are, and they aren't thinking in terms of "better than others"; they're just out there doing what they like to do and living their lives.

      (Granted, confidence varies even among people who are basically confident — someone who's confident and secure and cool with others taking the spotlight in 99% of their life might turn into an arrogant tool when they go to their high school reunion because they weren't confident in high school and are sensitive about it, but no one is 100% anything, and if you get to feeling secure in 80-90% of your life, I'd say you're doing a great job at it.)

      • Cameron

        This is really a reply to LeeEsq and Fred as well since they've said the same thing about arrogance being a sign of low confidence – I was curious, where exactly are you getting that definition? It's likely just a personal thing with you guys, but I looked around for several dictionary definitions and none of them define arrogance in such a way – it seems to be described mainly as 'unwarranted or overbearing pride'. The definition I use has mostly been that confidence is earned and stems from genuine accomplishments, whereas arrogance stems purely from a belief that the person is simply better than everyone else. But then you into the discussion of what qualifies as an accomplishment, what comes from chance or luck, etc. and we're back to the gray area.

        • Delafina

          It doesn’t come from the dictionary definition – it comes from psych lit about people who need to put others down/be superior. Sign of low self-esteem.

          • Fred


        • Fred

          For me it comes more from the poeple I have encountered who were really arrogant. In my experience they are really insecure and really seem to need validation from others.
          And you said it yourself, they define themselves almost exclusively by comparing themselves to others and saying that they are better than others. This comes into the idea of letting others define your worth. They usually react badly when others beat them or they find out they arent really the only ones who can do something. They can go into denial, blaming luck or whatever. They can get aggressive and try to bring others down.
          They basicly display the same behaviors that somebody with low confidence who cant really look at himself and his own failings.

          Compared to somebody who is confident, who knows his worth by what he can accomplish and is not affected negatively by the success of others.
          Lets say I am a great bass players, which I am, I am confident I can learn and play anything. But there are others out there better than, some than might be faster learner than me and I will always cheer them on, since it doesnt substract from my accomplishement, and I get to enjoy what they can do.

    • Fred

      I dont think there is a sweet spot since i dont think they are on the same axis.
      Arrogant poeple seem to really need to convince others that they are awesome while confident poeple dont really care.
      I have a saying about the difference between confidence and arrogance, "Confident poeple know they can do something. Arrogant poeple know others cant."

  • Anonymoose

    Majorly struggle with this one. It seems like the litmus test of any kind of success is based on the exact opposite of everything I am or have done up until this point. Or that the world is based on who you know or what you look like or how charming you are, all of which I don't have any of. It has been and continues to be viciously hard to change this mindset or draw any kind of confidence from anything when the outside world doesn't really see you as anything -_-

    • enail

      It is really hard. There's a dominant picture of success that everyone's supposed to aspire to and it can be pretty overwhelming. But the thing is, I think that, for a lot of people, if they stopped to think about it, that wouldn't necessarily be what they want in life. For someone I know, it was a big revelation for her to hear me say I didn't want kids, b/c it had never occured to her that you could just not want something that's part of the package of "success."

      But that package is pretty darn generic, and excludes a lot of things that a person might find awesome. I think it's worth it to spend some time really considering each item of the generic success package and figuring out which parts you actually want and how, and what other things you want in there. It's so easy to get caught up in what the world tells you you want – I spent a while last year feeling like a failure b/c my furniture wasn't fancy. That's not what I want!

      • Anonymoose

        Yeah, but it does seem like the rules nearly everyone else is playing by. That just leaves you out on your own if you're not trying to grab some of it.

        • enail

          In my opinion, though, the people not playing by those rules are the most interesting people!

        • Ainuvande

          There are whole categories of the "success" template that I tossed and replaced. And then I found friends who had done the same.

          Examples: "house in the suburbs with children" became "condo in the city with two cats" (getting there!) "marriage" became "wonderful partners through life" once I realized I didn't *have* to get married. "own a car" never managed to actually register enough to need a replacement. It never occurred to me to amass money for it's own sake, so I figured out how much I need to make to feed my travel bug (not there yet).

          I'm happier with myself because I'm reaching for things I honestly want, and that . . .centeredness (for lack of a better term) makes it much easier for me to interact with other people. No matter who they are, I know who I am, and I know that I'm looking for people who it will be enjoyable to have in my life. They're not going to be the most stereotypically "successful" either, but they sure make amazing friends and lovers.

    • Robert

      Surely, however, you know you better than the world knows you, and surely you know that you have at least one positive quality that isn't based on who you know, what you look like or how charming you are.

      Also, "any kind of success"? I'm quite positive that if I relied on who I know, what I look like and how charming I am to pass my exams, I would've failed with falling monochromes (is that the opposite of passing with flying colours?).

      • Anonymoose

        Most of the time it seems like the things I think are positives aren't, or aren't big deals either way.

        And yeah, that's true. I meant more in the social view of things.

        • enail

          There are very few things that are universal positives, a lot of positive traits people can have are either things that some people consider positive and others don't/don't care about or are subjective – everyone agrees they're positive, but will disagree on who has those traits (I mean, seriously, there's no such thing as a good sense of humor, so much as one you do or don't share with a person. Or a willingness to take things with humor, which is a little different).

          Maybe you're not meeting people who appreciate your positive traits, or maybe you're not displaying them very well, but that doesn't mean that they don't count as worthwhile positive traits.

        • Robert

          Can you give some examples of things you thought were positives but weren't?

          • Anonymoose

            One I can think of from earlier pre-teen child years is that I was obsessive about facts. People don't really care too much about facts. I think it may be because facts are absolutes and don't really give you a direction to go.

            A current one is critical thinking (for better or worse). I don't want to just think or feel a certain way about something, I want to know why, and where it could possibly end up (though I do wonder if this is just an extension of the nerd super-power to imagine everything that's going to go wrong). An online friend told me that I'm the best critical thinker he knows. but I find that at best most people have found it's too heavy stuff to go into (they don't care or don't want to think that hard about something) and at worst they think I'm trying to rain on the parade by pointing out potential negatives as well as positives.

          • Anonymoose

            I'm tall and I guess not bad looking, but the only girls who've ever openly gone a little goo-goo was the old ladies at my Gramma's old folks home and/or moms (young or old). Or girls in my age range hide it and the old ladies didn't give too many fucks because old or dementia etc and the moms don't give too many fucks because they've got a baby and some man who gave her the baby or dementia etc.

            I know there's some others, but this is probably good enough.

          • enail

            If you think you're not bad-looking, and you've had anyone go 'a little goo-goo,' even though they weren't pursuing you, given that most people don't get a lot of positive feedback on their looks at all, I'm kind of beginning to suspect you may actually be quite good-looking I don't think anyone would argue that that's a positive!

          • Anonymoose

            I'm not sure about it. It's not model looks or whatever girls throw themselves at (or whatever it is that makes girls hurl themselves at a guy). I kinda catch looks in the peripheral vision, but they'll look away quickly and not back most of the time, so I can't tell if that's a good thing or a "checkin-out-what's-up-(because-tall)-oops-don't-want-to-send-him-the-wrong-message" kind of thing or an intimidation thing (I don't smile much) or I dunno. Sometimes I think I might be, sometimes I don't.

            This makes it more external locus stuff, doesn't it?

          • enail

            At any rate, it sounds like you're definitely attractive enough that you don't need to be worrying about that. If you're looking to meet people to date, smiling would probably help, though.

          • Anonymoose

            Feels fake or unnatural doing it like that.

          • Dr_NerdLove

            1) Yes, not smiling is going to signal to women that you're either annoyed, in a bad mood or not interested – which in turn makes them not likely to play the eye-contact game. After all, you're essentially telling them you're not interested.2) Yes, it's more external locus. You're assuming their level of disinterest rather than assuming that you're worth being interested in.

          • Anonymoose

            On 2) doesn't the former play into the latter? Or I'm getting mixed up with the language here.

          • Mel

            Think of it this way. If you go around wearing a sign that says "Don't talk to me," then you don't know whether people are not talking to you because they're interested but they saw that sign, or because they're not interested.

            Not smiling, not making eye contact yourself, not doing other things to initiate a conversation (giving a friendly nod when you make eye contact, making a comment), is like wearing a sign saying you don't want to interact with people. It's fine if you're doing that because you really don't want to interact with people. But if you *do* want to interact, having an internal locus of control would mean recognizing that you are doing something to control the outcome of this situation (you're making it almost guaranteed people won't try to socialize with you by sending out signals that you don't want to socialize), and that you can behave differently. Sure, maybe if you are smiling and making eye contact and so on, people will still end up seeming disinterested. But then you will know that you put yourself out there, and you did as much as you could to get the outcome you wanted.

            (And you would look at what you're doing and see if you can change your behavior more to get a better response, and if it doesn't seem so, you'd assume you just tried to interact with the wrong people or at the wrong time or in the wrong place, not that there's something inherently unlikable about you.)

          • Anonymoose

            Hrm, that makes sense. I had to teach myself to even make and hold eye contact. Guess I'll have to figure out how to use the lower half of the face too.

          • Mel

            I think it's easier (and the smile will look more natural) if you're actually relaxed and content in that moment. Probably the first step would be not so much teaching your face to move in the right way, but teaching yourself to focus on the positive any given situation so that you might naturally want to smile. e.g., If you see an attractive woman, instead of thinking 'Oh crap, what should I do, she's probably going to be annoyed if I say something, ahhhh!', focus on the fact that you enjoy seeing an attractive woman and isn't it cool that you ran into one and hey, maybe if you smile at her she'll smile back. (But if not, it was still nice to have seen her.)

            It might sound silly, but you'll probably also get more comfortable faster if you practice on your own using your imagination. Picture yourself, as vividly as you can, in a situation where you might want to smile at people, and then bring up the positive thoughts and see if you can smile naturally… It can take a while to get out of negative thought patterns, and extra practice speeds the process along. 🙂

          • Anonymoose

            Hrm… my natural smile is mouth-closed, that's only a polite one instead of a predatory one, right?

          • Mel

            Closed mouth smiles are fine–they don't tend to look quite as friendly as a relaxed open mouth smile, but like I said, it's more important that you actually are relaxed. A stiff smile (open or closed) can turn people off because it can look like you're faking and not actually interested. Predatory I think is usually more a wide smile combined with intense stare, moving into the person's personal space, that sort of thing.

            Considering it, I think closed mouth smiles might actually be more "normal" in public situations with strangers… I'm generally only going to be naturally smiling widely if I'm already in an enjoyable conversation, or maybe doing something I really enjoy, not just walking around a store or sitting in a coffee shop or whatever. You don't need to go overboard with your enthusiasm.

          • Anonymoose

            If anything, showing enthusiasm is the hard part. :p

          • Juuuuuulia

            I believe this accounts for why no one wants to sit next to me on planes or trains. I'm always looking super-serious and reading something. I've been on like 5+ flights where they say there's no empty seats and I end up with an empty seat next to me.

            Also, yeah, tall non-smiley people are scarier than tall smiley people.

          • Anonymoose

            Smile more. Then tall scary people will sit beside you in flying deathcans.

          • Juuuuuulia

            I think this is payback for the time I told a nine-year-old on a plane that math stops having numbers and only has letters after a certain point. The universe was like NO MORE TALKING TO PEOPLE ON PLANES FOR YOU.

          • Anonymoose

            There's a well-traveled child out there with crippled self-esteem because they've been perpetually failing math ever since…

          • enail

            Critical thinking is one that I'd consider a definite plus in terms of being a reasonable and mature grown-up human being, and it can be a lot of fun too, when you're with people who get it, but it can be hard to learn to use it in a way that doesn't frustrate or alienate less critical thinkers.

            Also, it's easy to turn it against yourself in negativity. Because you examine everything in such detail, you land up finding all kinds of things you're not happy with in the status quo. Short-term, that's very unhappy-making, but long term, it's a tool that can help you consider the world and figure out what you REALLY want, whereas less critical thinkers just assume the norm is good enough and they'd best accept it.

            Maybe critical thinking should be considered one of those superpowers that you need to learn to master before it's a benefit rather than a source of superhero angst?

          • Anonymoose

            It's a tool I've been way mis-using over the years, especially when I didn't want to deal with emotions or what I was missing out on.

            It's a decent thing to have, but not nearly as useful as charm or friendliness or anything like that.

          • enail

            I'd say in some ways it's more useful in life…though charm would be AMAZING to have! If you're using it well, it helps you make good decisions, not get scammed, figure out how to achieve things, learn through observation etc.

            Agreed, it's not as useful for forming relationships, though. You have to know when NOT to use it. Which I guess is true of friendliness too.

            Maybe it'll take some practice to get out of misuse habits you've gotten into, but I think it can be a tool for dealing with emotions and figuring out how to achieve things you feel you're missing out on. For sure, though, it can be hard being a smart, analytical person, especially in groups that don't value that.

          • Juuuuuulia

            I'd actually argue that just as misusing critical thinking sometimes makes you negative, you can use it in the same way to trick your brain into being positive and all of those wishy-washy non-technical traits like "friendly" and "charming". Like, if you ask questions like "what would be a friendly/charming thing to do right now?" or "what would be a productive thing to think right now?" or "what is a productive thing to do with these emotions?" …

            I think a lot of people interpret the Doctor's advice as "you thought objective reality was like this, but really it's like that". So good critical thinkers feel like they have to argue and present evidence. When really, the Doctor's advice is "this way of thinking is more productive " and objective reality is not always knowable and therefore largely irrelevant — especially in matters that are outside your control.

            It's all about asking the right questions! 8)

          • DefectiveSeaLion

            You sound like my boyfriend, so take heart in that 🙂 Critical thinking (and most signs of intelligence) is very sexy to me and lots of other women.

          • Anonymoose

            I'll try. Or do.

    • Juuuuuulia

      What do YOU want to do? 🙂

      • Anonymoose

        Pie in the sky? To not be years behind my age group in emotional, social and everything else development, and to be an entertaining enough human being that some cute girl or two values me enough to want to be with me.

        Specifically? Fuck if I know.

        • Tea

          Gotta say, your "high up" goals all seem to involve other people– exactly what the good Doctor was talking about with "external locuses". Unless you're in the top of your class in everything, comparing your own development to your peers is one sure way to feeling down about yourself. I got people in my age group– people in my high school classes, even– who are now engineers making triple my annual income, going to grad school in Harvard, working in Fortune 100 companies, in long-term relationtions, some are married, etc.etc. But honestly, that's got nothing to do with me. Learning to be confident and happy with yourself and your own life also means not feeling the need to look over at other people and lament what you've missed out on if only you had been just like them. Look to them as positive examples, people to emulate instead of people ahead in the race.

          Specifically, what makes you happy? What do you spend your time doing, other than reading this blog? What do you WANT to spend your time doing, other than reading this blog and I guess hanging with some cute girl?

          • Anonymoose

            I don't disagree with most of that, but… isn't this site is all about the external locus? The goal of getting the/a girl, and changing yourself in order to better the chance of making it happen. Being "successful" is the best way of making that happen, no?

            As for the rest, I'm staying away from that. I end up antagonizing a few more regulars every time I do.

          • Fred

            The goal of getting the girl should not be an external locus, the site is about helping get the girl if YOU want to. Why do YOU want to get a girl? Is it to brag to others? Show them you can do it? Because it is expected of you?
            Then yes, it would be an external locus thing.

            But if you want to get the girl because you feel it would be a plus in your life, then no it would not be an external locus since you are doing it for yourself.

            Personally I came to realise that I do not really want a girl in my life full time and that I was trying to get one for all the wrong reason. I was putting too much into it, hoping it would fill a hole, and when I got into a relationship I realised it didnt so the relationship failed but I learned from it and started working on what I really wanted and fixed up that hole completly.

          • Anonymoose

            Because I don't know what it's like.

          • Fred

            I can understand that. Reminds me of myself a lot.
            I got my first girlfriend at 27, i'm 32 now, and I was sure that the reason I was unhappy was because i had never had one. I kept looking at everybody else, seeing them happy in their relationship and I was sure that it was what was missing for me.
            Wouldnt have believed anybody who had told me otherwise either, had to live it to see it. To realise its not magic or anything, its just two poeple living together with the same ups and downs you get in every personal relationships, be it friends or family.
            But hey, if you want to know what its like, then go for it, read the advice and good luck, just dont assume it will fix everything.
            And honestly, so far from what i read here its all good advice, it's basicly the changes I went through also when I was 26-27, I read this site now because I always enjoyed reading and learning about human behaviours and it's good nostalgia for me for my mistakes 😉

          • Juuuuuulia

            Start by trying other things that you don't know what they're like! Either you'll find something awesome to succeed at, or you'll have a story to tell a cute girl, whenever one happens by. =P

            "Oh man, so I tried to go salsa dancing this one time …"

          • Gman

            "Oh man, so I tried to go salsa dancing this one time …"

            I would have continued that sentence with "and I fell in love with it and met awesome people. You should totally come by to my salsa dance group sometime and give it a try yourself!"

            Yes. This! I second this advice – go out there and try something new!

            This is probably the biggest thing that happened to me in the last couple of months, starting salsa dancing. I also must recommend that you try to do something new in your life – salsa dancing, join a gym/swimming pool, Karate class etc. (in my opinion, anything that involves physical action is especially good – the physical action acts as a natural ice breaker between people, allowing for an easier meeting experience between strangers)

          • Juuuuuulia

            But even if you don't like it, there's still a story in there.

            " … and then I totally tripped and fell on my face! And then people stared at me and it was so awkward, but then these two people helped me up and we still hang out. And sometimes they still call me up and ask me how my face is doing, blah blah."

            It's still an experience that enriches your life. 🙂

        • Juuuuuulia

          The reason I ask is because (I've been surprised to find) no matter what crazy, esoteric thing you want to do, there's already a community of people that are interested in it. (I think this phenomenon is the non-dirty version of rule 34. Rule 33?) For example, if you really love square-dancing or pumpkin carving or making friendship bracelets, there's already people who have square-dancing workshops and blogs and competitions and communities and social events and everything!! So there's something you like that's weird, it doesn't matter what the mainstream litmus tests for success are, because you can always go forth and succeed in that community, precisely because it's your own quirky passion. Mainstream litmus test are not for everyone. ^^

          And most of these communities have some girls in them, as an added bonus. ^__^

        • enail

          Many of the most interesting people I know now were slow starters at social interaction or relationships or whatever. Sometimes they were slow specifically because the way they do things/want to do things and what they value was different from the default model, which means it took more time to figure out and make it work for them – which is also a lot of why they're interesting.

          But also, life isn't actually linear this way, there isn't one skill tree that everyone's moving up. Some people who seem ahead emotionally are lacking coping skills they're going to have to go back and pick up later, some will change their mind on what they want, some will run into disasters that mean they have to figure things out anew.

          Honestly, you sound like a pretty entertaining human being. Just work on looking after yourself and doing things you'd like to do – the part you can control. I seriously think the rest will come.

    • The Mikey

      You'll be fine. I have similar issues, but you know what, I said "FUCK IT". Just allowing yourself to to be you so that YOU can be happy is amazing. Do that, allow yourself to be you and if you're not an a-hole to every person you meet, people will tend to like you. That's something I've realized, with a big toothy/goofy smile I can win over just about anyone. Now that I think about it, I should go into dating situations like that. This girl I met, was all smiles when I talked to her recently.

      You'll be fine. Yeah, you'll have days that are absolute garbage and you'll want to slam the door on the world. But, don't worry, you'll be fine the next morning, back to your usual self, because after all, tomorrow is another day.

      I'm with you too, dude. I've never had a relationship and I'd like to see what it's like. But I don't particularly need it, why? I've made it this far without a girl. I graduated high school, I've gotten two jobs and lose them, but then I returned to college, with a Grant and so far am maintaining a 3.9 GPA. With NOBODY'S help other than the support of my parents. No girlfriend required or needed. It hasn't been until even MORE recently that my reasons for wanting a girl have changed, it's become less of a 'hole to fill' but more of a 'chance to share my life with a girl'.

      It would just be another experience where we could teach each other new things. Grow as people, etc.

  • Liz

    An intersting conflict arises from this argument. Personal responsibility cannot be encourage enough, but what (if any) problem does this pose to a person living a religious life (namely Bible-Belt Christianity)? Religion, but christianity in particular, heavily teaches submission to the will of a higher power, basic oneism, and that prayer/forgiveness fixes any and all. How should a person reconcile the necessity of an internal locus of control juxatposed against the teaching that one must always seek to "be right with God"?

    • TBelle

      That is a very interesting question. This is how I, who happens to be a Christian living in the Bible Belt, interpret it:

      {{Disclaimer: The following comment is coming from the perspective of a Christian who believes the Bible & agrees with the Nicaean Creed. I am aware other viewpoints exist, but this is mine. Let's not get off-topic with a theological debate.}}

      Many Christians with an externalized locus of control act as if God will do all the heavy-lifting for them. God will drop a job in their lap, so why go out looking? God will provide them a spouse, so why make the first move? This also allows them to play the martyr card when things don't go their way.

      The big thing is, the Lord doesn't expect us to be fools. He gave us a brain to use as more than a hat rack. One of the key tenets of Christianity is that grace/absolution/salvation is ultimately out of our hands but in God's, which coincides with the Doc's idea that we give up trying to control what we ultimately can't. In Christianity, we are giving up that control to Someone we trust & has authority over it.

      Then it becomes a process of being an active agent in God's plan, working alongside Him. God will present opportunities for us to act, & we must take part. A Christian is still in control of their own life, they've just willingly chosen the service of God to be the direction of that life.

      :: That's at least how I think The Good Lord fits into this particular article. Feel free to take it as Gospel (harhar… ouch) or not.
      Love your work, Doc. Keep it up!

    • Diana Prince

      Great question! I don't think the two are incompatible at all. If I believe we're all children of a loving God (which I do), it simply becomes a matter of a) trying to see myself the way God sees me, and b) *choosing* to live the way I- with my limited human understanding- believes God wants me to live.
      So on a)- I don't believe God thinks I suck (as I sometimes do!). I believe God loves me unconditionally, warts and all, and sees me with so much more love and compassion than I have for myself. So my challenge is to accept my human limitations and my gifts, and to ask God to give me the courage and direction to be the best version of myself I can. Without beating myself up in the process.
      On b)- I believe we all have free will, otherwise we'd just be automatons. In any situation, I still have a choice as to whether I'll react or respond, if I choose compassion or cruelty in my approach to my fellow person.
      So I still have a ton of choices about how I see myself and relate to others. Because I believe in a God of my understanding (whatever he/she/it is), I see it as: It's my job to seek God's will for me, but I'm the one with the choice to follow it through. And learn whatever the spiritual lessons are from the disappointments that come.

    • Delafina

      Well, personally speaking, this is why I have profound ethical issues with Christianity — it absolves the individual of a lot of responsibility. But generally speaking, I think you can look at your deity as part of your *internal* locus of control. Most of the problems DNL is talking about are problems about imagining that control lies in the hands of other human beings. If you're right with your god, you shouldn't need to care about getting approval/validation from other people.

      If you don't feel like you're all you want to be, your god isn't going to magically make you confident, or magically make you good with people, or skilled at your job. They may give you the strength to do the work, but at the end of the day, *you* still have to do the work of learning/changing/whatever.

      So I don't really see that it changes anything.

    • SarahGryph

      Religion is tricky because even within one faith, there are numerous understandings of how to live a religious/faith filled life. I approach faith with the knowledge that I am perfectly capable of misunderstanding or misinterpreting things. I can only speak from how I see it, not how I think everyone else should. I would agree with the above posters; it's still my own choice what I do in any given situation; I'd add that it's my own choice whose teachings I listen to, or if going by the Bible how I personally interpret what I read. I believe that while prayers do fix all, it tends to be part of the "ineffable plan"; just bc I think the "fix" should be "this way" doesn't mean that's actually the plan. So my job as a reasonable adult AND as a person of faith is to put my locus on myself and choose to do the best I can in a situation, and also be open to either logic or personal faith telling me "oops, you goofed there." Neither my own thoughts nor faith have to do with what other people say I should or should not do, it's still my interpretations, understandings, and choices to make. So still my responsibilty!

  • OldBrownSquirrel

    "What do you care what other people think?" – Arline Greenbaum Feynman

  • Paul Rivers

    As usual with the articles on this site (and in this case I'm not ripping the article) – how you perceive and interpret this advice depends largely on the perspective you come from.

    If you're already headstrong and self-absorbed (something that women seem to love), this advice is interpreted in a completely and totally different way than if you believe in yourself but are super sensitive to "not being a jerk".

    Like the phrase "being able to accept that you've screwed up". That phrase ONLY makes sense if you're ALSO NOT doing "prioritize(ing) the opinions of others over your own".

    There was a whole stereotype – which matched up with the actual real life experiences that I saw happen – where a guy would start getting a lot of flack from the girl that every time she was unhappy "he made a mistake". It was a whole theme – "oh, he screwed it up by not calling at a certain time, it's his fault and I'm off to the next guy!" or "He didn't skip his finals to comfort me – what a jerk! He needs to take responsibility for screwing things up!".

    You could predict the permanent end of the relationship when she started talking about how he needed to "take responsibility" for how things were going, or how she was feeling, and he – actually tried to do that. She would talk to her friends, and they would all agree that everything was his fault.

    At this point, he would do one of two things –
    1. Cave and try to "take responsibility" for all the things he was "supposed" to. This would almost always end in them either continuing to date but both looking unhappy, or eventually she would "not feel the same way" about him and they would break up – often leaving him with no self-respect or self-esteem whatsoever.
    2. He wouldn't cave at all. They would break up – then later they'd get back together and be dating again.

    If you want "taking responsibility" to be effective, you have to do both – not prioritizing other people's opinions over your own, *then* taking responsibility for things that you are screwed up.

    Otherwise it's a classic tale – you change yourself to match what the girl thinks she wants, then when you do she realizes she's no longer attracted to you and you're left being left attractive and dumped anyways.

    • Joy

      I am curious where all these women are who like headstrong and self-absorbed men. Neither I nor any of my female friends find these to be attractive traits in the slightest, either in a romantic context or a platonic one. I find "headstrong" to frequently be a frustrating trait and "self-absorbed" to be an actively repellant one.

      Extroversion, confidence, and/or courage might be mistaken for being headstrong and self-absorbed, if you squint. But they are not synonyms. In fact, some of the most self-absorbed people I've ever met were in fact terribly insecure.

      • Paul Rivers

        It's kind of like you didn't read my post. The only time I said self-absorbed was for guys that the advice *would* help.

        If you're already headstrong and self-absorbed (something that women seem to love), this advice is interpreted in a completely and totally different way than if you believe in yourself but are super sensitive to "not being a jerk".

        The important part of my point was –

        Like the phrase "being able to accept that you've screwed up". That phrase ONLY makes sense if you're ALSO NOT doing "prioritize(ing) the opinions of others over your own".

        Prioritizing other people's opinions over your own implies that you don't have any faith in your own opinion. It's one thing to listen or consider someone else's opinion over your own. It's even one thing to *sometimes* try out someone else's opinion to see if maybe they know something you don't.

        But when you start "taking responsibility" for things that went bad for reasons outside your control, or when you start believing that other people have implicitly have a superior opinion to your own, people start seeing that you have no faith in your own opinion or abilities and think of you as a "doormat".

        • Ainuvande

          So the answer (if you're not just looking to troll by deliberately not understanding the dynamic here) is that first you have to learn to prioritize yourself over others, and then you have to own up when you realize you've made a mistake. Others can point that mistake out to you. But they can't force you to agree that it was a mistake. To use your examples: the boys who caved to those girls who expected to come before their education and be psychic had the first problem (putting others before their own well-being) and the girls had the second second problem (not owning up to the fact that their priorities were out of whack and their boyfriends should not expected to be psychic.).

          So maybe the accepting you've screwed up wasn't your problem. But it is for some people. I have known plenty of nerds who were horribly arrogant and firmly believed that because I am a woman I could never be right. Or were otherwise self-centered enough that they thought the world revolved around their specialness. I'm no longer friends with those people. But they do exist. They need the "accept your mistakes" advice.

          On the other hand, there have been a few commenters who are so afraid of being a jerk that they don't stand up for themselves. They need the "put yourself first" advice.

          Interestingly, the people who need the "accept your mistakes" advice also have locus of control issues, because they perceive any of their failings as being the result of the cruel, cruel, unjust world.

          • Paul Rivers

            Your comment is – yes – basically what I'm saying.

            The only part where is differ is your mention that "a few commenters" were so afraid of being a jerk that they don't stand up for themselves – I think it's the majority of guys. (Though admittedly, I don't really have the perspective to say – I probably think of "guys" as "guys I'm friends with" – but I know there's a huge segment of them.)

            Like I said, it's aout "how you perceive and interpret this advice depends largely on the perspective you come from" – I think what you wrote pretty much sums it up.

          • Ainuvande

            I didn't want to over-generalize. I think being afraid of coming off as a jerk is a fear a lot nerds have. It's a logical extension of "but what if they don't like me." That said, I've met a few with the opposite problem. They may be afraid of the world at large, but they insist that they are KING of their little corner of nerd-dom.

          • Anonymoose

            And "I remember not liking being pushed around by assholes, I hope I'm not being one now."

          • Paul Rivers

            Yup, exactly. 🙂

          • Mel

            For looking at a lot of the comments along those lines in previous posts here, I get the impression a lot of the nerd guys who have that fear are still having a problem with their locus of control. Because many of the guys here who've talked about being afraid of how they'll come off don't take responsibility for that emotion but rather blame others for it ("women are so quick to judge and unreasonable–I know no matter what I do they'll be upset, so why wouldn't I be worried?"). And if you point out to them that they're making a mistake in assuming all women are judgmental and unreasonable, they refuse to accept that. There's an awful lot of "I'm not successful with women because I'm too scared to talk to them/approach them/etc.–and I'm too scared because women do things to make us scared"–thus blaming the lack of success on other people.

            I also think that blaming often happens because a lot of those guys read the things women talk about (hovering and staring without saying anything, continuing to talk and follow a woman when she's made it clear she's not interested, interrupting women who are obviously busy to try to chat them up) and realize that they *have* made mistakes like that in the past. But if they accept that they made those mistakes, they're going to feel bad about themselves. So it's easier to assume the women are overreacting and not deal with their own part in creating that dynamic.

            In the example you used, with the guy who's girlfriend blamed him for everything, that's not actually taking responsibility. Instead of him actually thinking about the "mistakes" she claimed he'd made, and noticing that certain things he couldn't have controlled, and saying, "Look, I can change X but I can't change Y", he just went along with whatever she said. He let her control the situation, said what he thought she wanted to hear, and so didn't have to think about what he'd actually done wrong and what he really hadn't, because he was letting her decide that for him. Passively avoiding taking responsibility isn't any better than actively avoiding it.

          • Paul Rivers

            Your post is the prime example why men are "scared". Head-strong and self-absorbed guys just smile, nod, and do what they want. Guys who care about being a decent human being – which in my opinion are the majority – would read your post and can't help but notice that you believe that the guy is always "responsible" – for everything, everywhere, all the time.

            No wonder guys who have a soul are scared – good lord, anyone would be.

            He's supposed to take responsibility for every interaction that goes badly? Because what – women are never in a bad mood? Because guys just magically know all the social rules every situation? Because women are never just blowing you off for reasons beyond your control, or for arbitrary and capricious reasons? Women spend more time trying to learn social protocol than guys do – but it's universally the *guys* "responsibility" to know all the rules and conventions?

            You say that he's scared, and that's true – normal decent guys who buy into that mentality are scared out of their minds because it's impossible. You're doing the thing that makes decent human beings scared – if they actually believe that the outcome of every interaction is "their responsibility".

            Your 2nd paragraph couldn't possibly be more wrong. It's the head-strong and self-absorbed that have that attitude. The majority of guys overhear those things and think "Omg, I don't want to do those things!" and they're paralyzed with fear – exactly because they've taken TO MUCH responsibility for those things happening. The kind of guy you describe is exactly the head-strong and self-absorbed kind of guy that I mentioned at the beginning.

            In the third paragraph, you actually blame the guy for "letting" the girl control the situation. What was he supposed to do – LIE that he could change X but not Y? His problem is that he didn't – and I use these words for the exaggerative effect – the problem is that he didn't take responsibility for "controlling that bitch" – which is the only way that he could be responsible – and she was not – in that situation.

            Maybe you're saying that he's responsible for not giving into her rediculous demands – but if so, then you are COMPLETELY AGREEING WITH MY FIRST POST.

            In which case you totally agree with what I said –

            If you want "taking responsibility" to be effective, you have to do both – not prioritizing other people's opinions over your own, *then* taking responsibility for things that you are screwed up.

          • Mel


            Your first sentence is funny, because your comment is a prime example of exactly the sort of thinking *I* was talking about.

            In the comment you're replying to, I explicitly said that I was talking about a specific type of guy: guys who have the fear you mentioned ("so afraid of being a jerk they don't stand up for themselves"), who also say all women are judgmental and unreasonable (which as I noted I've seen come up here many times). I was not talking about guys who have that fear but recognize that many women are open-minded and reasonable. I was not talking about guys who don't have that fear in the first place.

            So why would you, or any other guy, think I'm talking about all guys and that my comments apply to anyone other than the specific guys I was talking about?

            Also, the only thing I said they (those specific guys) were responsible for was their own decision to avoid interacting with women out of fear. I didn't say they're responsible for women being in a bad mood or being mean or anything else. Of course they're not responsible for what women are doing! But the women aren't *making* them not approach; that's a decision those guys are making for themselves, and blaming women for it is a refusal to take responsibility for that decision.

            So why would you, or any other guy, think I'm talking about those guys being responsible for anything other than that one thing, let alone "everything, everywhere, all the time"?

            I made a comment about a specific type of guy who says a specific type of thing being responsible in a specific way, and you turned around and blamed *me* for somehow making men as a general group scared that they're responsible for everything. You know what? If a guy reads what I wrote, who isn't one of the guys I talked about and isn't doing the things I talked about, and comes away scared, *that is not my fault*. It is not my fault if a guy reads my comment and is incapable of recognizing that I am not talking about him. If someone over-identifies with all men to the point that he takes any criticism of any guy doing anything personally, then he should probably see a therapist about that, because that's something going on inside his head that no one else has any control over.

            Re: the third paragraph, I'm not sure why it would be lying for a guy to say, "I can change X but not Y" unless you're saying that the guy really couldn't do anything his girlfriend was asking for. (I was thinking along the lines of, if she said he should have skipped finals to comfort her, he could say something like "If you're upset about something, I can make sure to come see you as soon as I get out of the exam, but I can't skip the exam completely or I'll screw up my education.")

            In any case, my point was that you said you have to not prioritize other people's opinions over your own before you can take DNL's advice about taking responsibility, and I think that not prioritizing other people's opinions over your own is *part* of taking responsibility (not something that happens before). Doing whatever other people tell you instead of deciding for yourself what's best for you means you aren't taking responsibility for your actions; you can always say "But I did it because s/he told me to!" But unless you're a minor doing something your parent or guardian instructed, or in the military, no one sees this as a valid excuse.

            If, for example, the guy started skipping his finals to make his girlfriend happy and then flunked out, guess what–it would be *his* fault for flunking, not hers, because *he* decided to do that. He could have instead decided to tell her he couldn't; if he didn't think he could be in the relationship without skipping finals, he could have decided to break up with her. It's *his* responsibility to decide how he's going to behave. Of course he can't control what she does or says, but he has total control over how *he* chooses to respond. No one was forcing him to keep dating her.

          • enail

            So many yeses! All the yeses!

          • Mel

            I feel I should make explicitly clear, just so there's no misinterpretation, that I think women are responsible for their actions too. If a woman commented here blaming her lack of dating success on guys making her feel too scared to even talk to them, I'd be telling her that she needs to take responsibility for that and either give guys a chance or get help getting over that fear if she wants to be able to date. I think a woman who expects guys to put all her wants above every other part of their lives can only blame herself if her boyfriends end up dumping her. And so on. (In fact, I was telling a woman commenter here that she needed to take responsibility for her choices just a week or two ago.) I believe everyone is responsible for their own decisions and behavior, in relationships and elsewhere.

    • Jess

      That girl is messed up. She’s trying to force things outside her control by making demands of her guy. She needs to work on her internal issues that are making her demand changes of others that don’t fix the real problem.

      That’s on her. It’s not always on the guy.

      • Paul Rivers

        That's what I mean, my point was that it won't stop her from insisting that it's you that needs to "take responsibility" for that stuff.

        It gets complicated, you have to take responsibility for *not* taking responsibility for somethings, or for not giving into the "this is your fault" stuff. It's weird and complex. But it's never as simple as taking responsibility for everything – even if that was possible for you to do (which it really isn't).

        • enail

          If you mean that everyone has to make their own decisions on how to act and when to change based on what others are saying, then yes. At least, I can't imagine another way things could work. But I feel like maybe you're saying something else here that I'm not getting.

          Some people are assholes and expect people to change more than is reasonable, but I can't see why you'd want to date someone who demands that you change in ways that make you unhappy anyway, so I don't quite get why this is such a worry. Unless maybe you mean that Dr. Nerdlove should do some articles on having self-esteem, not dating people who treat you badly, what a good & reciprocal relationship looks like? I could see that.

          • Mel

            Except DNL already does have articles on all those topics… So I'm not sure what there is to complain about.

          • enail

            Good point.

            I think some of the guys here are frustrated b/c they hear a "…and the women you're approaching don't have to take responsibility for anything" after the "take responsibility." But I think Dr. Nerdlove is saying "take responsibility for those things you can control b/c you're the one here reading this and looking for advice," with nothing about what the woman you're approaching should have to do b/c SHE'S NOT THE ONE READING THIS ADVICE!

            I'm beginning to think this is a (probably willful) gap in understanding that can't be bridged. But for anxious readers without much confidence, maybe it's fair to say that even more discussion on self respect and what a person shouldn't put up with is necessary to make the 'responsibility' advice less threatening/more useable. Many of the articles assume lack of confidence, some difficulty with social skills, but still a basic minimum level of self-esteem.

            Of course, they also assume that the reader doesn't actually hate women, but I don't think there's anything Dr. Nerdlove can do about the ones that do…

          • Mel

            I agree with all of the above. 🙂

  • LeeEsq

    The answer is that you control yourself. The problem is that you really can't control other people. A lot of posters are feeling frustrated, including myself at times, find dating frustrating because we are doing everything in our power to self-imrpove, build chemistry, or whatever and are not still not getting the reactions we want from the people we want. So we end up thinking what are we doing wrong? This leads to wanting validation or as I like to call it evidence because people want something to show that they are doing something right. The idea that you can be doing all the correct things in dating but not get the response you want or any response at all is not acceptable to most people. It all ends up being a vicious cycle.

    • Juuuuuulia

      Yeah! I think the trick is learning to give yourself a pat on the back when you know you've done everything in your power. And if you haven't, then jot down what you can do for next time, and then pat yourself on the back for learning. Pats all around! ^_^

      I think this is positive thinking and taking responsibility.

  • You seem to have an incredibly low opinion of women. Perhaps your first step should be seeing and treating us as fully realized individual human beings and not as stereotypes. There are people with unreasonable expectations. There are people who refuse to take responsibility for their actions when it comes to even reasonable expectations. Part of dating is finding something who meshes well with what you believe to be reasonable expectations.

    Where does DNL say to change for another person? As far as I can tell he's saying the opposite. How is taking responsibility for your own actions even remotely equate to changing yourself to match what someone wants?

    Taking responsibility of your actions means just that. It means you own up to your behaviour. It means accepting the consequences of that behaviour. It's admitting that your actions negatively affected the other person. It's not making excuses and blaming someone/something else. It's not gaslighting by calling them oversensitive or unreasonable.

    There is a huge difference between that and being a doormat.

  • marcopura99

    Personally, a magic eight ball controls my life. I consult it on all matters. Sometimes though it breaks and I have to get another one from Walmart, and make do with Chinese fortune cookies in the meantime.

  • Oops that was supposed to be in response to Paul Rivers!

    • Paul Rivers

      (rolls eyes) Is there just like a dictionary of generic insults that someone pics "incredibly low opinion of women" out of? My comments only address the topic I was discussing, by no means did they say "this is what all women do" or anything close to that. I said something more like "this is what I've seen where it went bad, and what happened".

      The rest of that paragraph is oddly enough agreeing with what I said – some people have unrealistic expectations, some refuse to take responsibility…etc etc. Which is why – if you're actually capable of completely being not selfish – you need to be somewhat selfish. The other person doesn't have a magic ball either. You're going to want some stuff that in retrospect was kind of stupid, and so are they – no one has a magic lock on seeing the future.

      I didn't say anything like your second paragraph, I said that it depends on the context you come from and went from there.

      For the third and fourth paragraph's, like I said, it depends on your perspective, but frankly, doing things like calling them oversensitive or unreasonable is not *always* gaslighting – sometimes it's just being realistic. The girl who believes that you don't care about her at all because you didn't skip your final to comfort her made-up emotional need *is* being unrealistic. And these are "examples off the internet" – these are things that have actually happened to me, personally. I had to retake a whole class because I went along with it. (Though I certainly learned my lesson and never did that again).

      Girls have also had a lot of great ideas, and done a lot of great things in my life – the culture at the second company that I worked at – that was mainly driven by the mostly female management – was a really positive experience and an eye opener that one could both enjoy themselves at their job and get stuff done at the same time, something that woman often seemed to have a better grasp on than guys. But because we're often talking about negative topics, the examples are usually negative.

      • Paul Rivers

        P.S. Oops, I meant these "aren't" examples off the internet. It's probably clear from the rest of the sentence anyways, but wanted to mention it…

  • I think it's a little more complicated than one or the other. I believe somewhere in the middle. Nothing is going to happen for me in my life if I don't go out and try for it. True. But I don't have complete control over the outcome. What works for one person isn't going to work for another due to circumstances far out of our control. Luck, to me, isn't a driving force and will like fate is. To me, luck is in my favor when a string of circumstances fall together in such a way that it favors me. I can do this and that to try and put it into my favor, but I can't control how things go. There are too many people in play for that. that being said, sitting on your duff and hoping the stars align just so isn't going to get you anywhere.

  • The Mikey

    Fuck yes. Doc, you're absolutely right and you know what I feel fucking awesome. When you said "You are willing to let someone know that you’re interested in them because you don’t see expressing your emotions as a sign of weakness"…. THAT right there is when it clicked. Fuck it, go for it, so long as your calm and collected, it's fine. That idea as you eloquently put it, is liberating. Because you're right, I'm NOT afraid to show emotion, not at all. Right now, tears of joy, excitement and nervousness flow, but god almighty I'll never go hungry again.

    A swift kick in ass is something I needed. I'll tell you real quick what I did that has me so elated. On Halloween, I talked to this girl I remember from high school at my college. I graduated from high school two years ago and I never saw her again until now by sheer and utter chance. I never spoke to her in high school, I was too much of a pussy then, but on Halloween, I saw her at my college and I talked to her. Felt good, and all it took was a "Hey, you look familiar."

    No, I didn't get a phone number or date, but that was not the objective, the objective was to get myself to say something, get her name, and I sucked it up and I did. Guess what happened? Nothing.

    World didn't explode, my pants were still intact and I wasn't wearing her coffee on my shirt. Instead, we had a short conversation, exchanged names, smiles and shook hands. What I got out of it was a short and sweet conversation with a cute girl. Next time I see her (hopefully) I'll ask if she wants to grab a coffee or something (if not a date).

    Even if I get rejected by her, it won't matter, I got other ladies I know in the back burner too. With this new found confidence, I do feel like I can take on the world, sure, it's silly to think that. But goddamn it, the Doc is right. Find the stuff you're actually awesome at. Everybody is awesome at something, I'm awesome at a lot of things and I just didn't know it. I have the brain capacity to do a lot of things, and dating WILL be one of them.

    No, I don't expect to be a pimp tomorrow, or in a week, or a month, or a year, but over time, I'll get better at it. I set a small goal for myself, get one phone number by the end of the semester. I've done it before and I can do it again. FDR said it the best, "There is nothing to fear but fear itself."

    To my fellow geeks, loosen up. Keep calm and figure yourself out. Yeah it's difficult, but it can be done. Thanks Doc.

  • GernBlanston

    I agree that this appears to be what DNL is attempting to communicate. The message is undermined when he gives direction like, "accepting that you have the ultimate control in your life." That's just as woo-woo as believing you have no control. Was DNL using this hyperbole for effect, somehow?

    For that matter, you can't control your life any more than you can control the universe. You're part of the universe. You have some control over your perspective and actions (and more control than some people feel they have).

    • Robert

      You can control the things you do.

      • SarahGryph

        And you can control the way you respond to things. No, that's not always easy but it's something we do anyway as we get older. Think of a young kid who sees a toy they want and are told no, they can't have it. The kid may cry or throw a temper tantrum or announce nothing is fair EVER! Hopefully, as this same child gets older, they learn to think through "oh, we can't afford that," "oh we don't have space for that," etc. so it's no longer an end of the world scenario. It's disappointing, but a small disappointment that can moved onwards from easily. I'd apply that to dating, when you start out maybe it's OMG the end of the world when someone doesn't like you. But as you mature and learn, you can stop and realize any number of things that change how you react, both in how you physically/verbally react and emotionally.

        • SarahGryph

          I suppose to finish that thought, it is arguable that having control over how you react does equate to control of your life. I'd argue that a person who (for example) is plunged into the depths of self hate by being rejected, leads a very different life from the one who can learn how to accept it and move on. So no, you haven't affected the reality of being rejected, but you certainly have changed how your *own* life will progress from that point.

          • GernBlanston

            How you react may contribute to increased control over your life, but it doesn't equate to control. Your example, though, is an excellent one.

      • GernBlanston

        We don't have conscious control over all of our actions. We have more control than some believe and less than others believe.

        • Robert

          You have conscious control over the actions that matter.

        • SarahGryph

          I'm curious if you could think of some examples for uncontrollable actions? And not to argue, but because I think I see what you mean but I'm not quite sure if I do or not. The best I can think of have to do with situations like my mom's MS – she can't control when she's having a bad MS day and is out of energy; she can control her health in general by taking care and in specific by how she reacts to those bad days…but the fact of no energy today isn't something she can control. Are you thinking situations like that, more how we emotionally respond to things, or something else?

          • DefectiveSeaLion

            I would suggest that the uncontrollable actions are ones that are closely associated with feelings and emotions. You can't control (for long) whether or not you cry, laugh, are depressed, are introverted and need to recharge your batteries. People are not Vulcan. They have emotions and to not show them is one of the most difficult skills to learn.

          • Anonymoose

            I found it supremely easy to suppress, hide and and otherwise figure out how to numb most emotions over the years. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

          • enail

            But you can control whether you DO recharge your batteries or not, and how you plan it so that you won't be held back by having drained your social meter for the day, you can control what you do to help deal with depression, you can control whether or not you apologize sincerely to someone after involuntarily laughing at something they didn't want to be laughed at for, etc.

        • Camelopardalis

          You have conscious control over every single one of your actions. You may be confusing actions with feelings and beliefs about feelings that precede action. Very few people have control over their feelings, and only slightly more have conscious control over their beliefs about their feelings. However, you always have a choice about how and whether to act on those feelings and beliefs. Always.

          • DefectiveSeaLion

            I don't really know about that. Big actions, sure. You have to make a decision if you're going to do something. But the "feelings and beliefs about feelings" that you admit people don't control often have certain behaviors and actions associated with them that you really can't control. If you are out somewhere and suddenly become overwhelmed with sadness, you're not going to be able to control whether or not you show that for long. And showing sadness, especially crying, is an action that is next to impossible to control because it is really a symptom of a feeling. Similarly, have you ever tried to not laugh? Emotions we don't control often cause us to behave a certain way.

          • Juuuuuulia

            Crying, by itself is not a big action — it's just stuff dripping out of your face. The social implications of crying are the important thing. When you start crying, you have a choice in how you respond and how you instruct the world to respond. You can say "I appreciate your tissues and attention, I'm just having a bad day." Or you can say "You're a huge jerk, you made me cry!! It's your fault! I hope you feel terrible!" Or you can say "I'm really sad about this specific thing you did. I'm gonna cry for a while, then compose myself and then we'll talk about how to fix it."

            Similarly, if you laugh at someone who tripped and fell, you can say "I'm so sorry I laughed! Can I help you up?" Or you can say "HA-HA, sucks for you!! Should have known better not to walk there, you noobcake!"

            So yeah. Sure, some emotions burst out. But people know this! So the aftermath is on you.

          • DefectiveSeaLion

            But it is in and of itself an action that you can't control. Which was what my point was. And even if you do pull it off well with what you do control you have impacted other people. I agree with you that how you handle it is more important, but the original point still stands that there are uncontrollable actions.

          • Robert

            It's like I said earlier. You have conscious control over the actions that matter.

  • GernBlanston

    There's a fundamental inconsistency throughout the article. On the one hand, DNL tells us to accept that we have ultimate control over our lives. Later he gives examples of things over which we can have no control. Disappointing lack of intellectual rigour, there.

    • The Mikey

      What the Doc means is YOU can control how you see things (including yourself) and you're responsible for your failure of action. BUT once you do act the ball is in the other persons court and when you do get rejected theres nothing you can do but move on.

      So, yes you can control YOUR life but you can't control the universe. Do the best you can to solve your own problems.

  • GernBlanston

    Whoops! Meant to reply, not post a new thread. Sorry.

  • SarahGryph

    Excellent article, and I'm also loving the conversations in the comments. It seems like the older I get, the more cautious I am around people who seem to have a predominately external locus of control. I spent a lot of time dating guys with "evil exes" or that "girls never like me bc girls are just like that" (among other similar statements) and I've finally realized it's better to look for people who can say "yeah, Ex and I broke up but it was both our faults, or it just didn't work, or it was painful but I think we're probably both better off now." When guys have the ex talk and all they can do is blame the ex (or all women), that tends to make me wonder what's going to happen if we date and something goes wrong. Will we be able to talk it out like adults or will it be everyone else's fault? I should mention I don't automatically blame the guy, I can and do own up when I'm the one who made a mistake; this is about two different loci of control NOT to bash men or anything.

    • Paul Rivers

      To be fair, from your specific example it's exactly the same with the other gender. Warning signs for guys are things like the girl saying that –
      – Every one of her exboyfriends is a super big jerk (she's either attracted to jerks, or wants someone else to blame every time something goes wrong)
      – She insists she's NOT looking for a player (aka she always dates players)…

      However, it's an extremely case-by-case basis.

      However, I will say that I've known a ton of guys who say stuff like "girls never like me bc girls are just like that" who have simply internalized truly horrible advice about how to treat women – I know a ton of guys (including myself) who have far to much internalized stuff like this – http://xkcd.com/642/

      Did he go on a date and things and at the end of the date things weren't going perfectly? "Clearly" calling her and inviting her out again would be being a stalker….self-fulfilling prophecy that comes from a place of genuinely not wanting to be a jackass.

      See…it's funny, I *see* men that do the "blame all women" – and if I get to know them, they are indeed jackasses. BUT…the guys I'm *friends* with who believe that kind of stuff always seem to have it happen because of a genuine desire (that is consistent with their personality) to be a decent human being, and a flawed perception (often from source like the feminist issues articles on this site) about women actually being "damaged" or horribly hurt by social faux paux's.

      So…I'm super torn, lol, because blaming women in general is something that I do see both actual jackasses do, but also guys who really are trying to treat them like human beings – and just don't realize that a lot of the time particular pieces of advice don't actually apply to them.

      • SarahGryph

        Yep, I've seen that before as well. "All guys are just big jerks, of course I'm not doing anything that might not be healthy in the relationship." It IS very case-by-case!

        My problem in dating people with a mostly external locus is on the more extreme side. As in, I date a guy and I think he's awesome but somehow no matter what I say, I've never "proved" to him "enough" that I really mean it. That gets exhausting and depressing as you keep trying to give the validation they seem to need; but in the end it's never enough. If it helps at all, stereotypes and assumptions hurt both genders; I can't count the number of times in my past that I was scared to bring up issues bc I didn't want to be "a bitch" or "whiny" or "emotional." I think girls and guys can both benefit from learning to treat each other as people instead of a big scary Board of Approval of Who I Am!

  • Tosca

    I think geeks give up too fast. These things take time. They take effort. Friends and lovers are not going to materialize by just sitting all introverted in your house, believe me, I know!
    And it may take many social outings. People need time to get to know you. Be a cool, low-pressure person, and your face will get known after a while.
    For example, I'm not single, but to make more friends, I joined a local gaming group through Meetup.com. I've actually met some really great people. I keep going, try to maintain ties when I can. Recently, I was invited to a new friend's birthday party that ended up being a really good time.
    Did they all see how awesome I was the very first day and swear to be my BFF forever? No! It took time. And I think I've been successful, because my goal was "expand your friend circle with cool people". And I did. But if I judged my success upon the very first time I gamed with them, I'd go home disappointed. Not that it wasn't a good time, but I hadn't make any *friends* yet.

    • Juuuuuulia

      This "meetup.com" thing you mention is really spiffy! Ahh, why didn't I know about this earlier?!

      • Tosca

        It is really great! And I live in a pretty sleepy area and there's still lots of meetups. If you live anywhere near a major city there are so many that it might be overwhelming.
        I had to take the plunge and actually meet, though. The great thing about most groups is there will be lots of Noobs at any given time so you won't be branded with the Scarlet N.

  • Camelopardalis

    Oh dear. It doesn't matter where you put your locus of control – there will always be large portions of your life that are beyond your control and that happen due to luck. You know you are money, do you? You still can't MAKE that cute person you are attracted to like you. He/she will decide that on hizzer own, outside of your control. If he/she does think you are the bees knees, it was still basically luck (or events outside your making, if you prefer) that caused your path to cross with that person at that time in your lives in the first place. Taking responsibility for your actions and feelings is good. Believing that you are in control of your life is delusional.

    • FormerlyShyGuy

      Maybe that is a good delusion to have.

    • Gentleman Johnny

      There's a difference between "in control" and "at the controls".

  • DefectiveSeaLion

    Actually, I would suggest doing this article as the first half of a pair about control. The first one being "You have control" and the second one being "You can't control everything". Both are important lessons.

  • Jess

    Thanks Dr. I needed to read this tonight. I was traveling so I didn’t see it until today when I happen to need it most.

    It’s good advice for my chosen profession, and I feel much better now.

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