Dear Doctor NerdLove,
First of all, thank you for your good work! I’m a long time reader of your blog, and I like the content you put up, your sense of humor, and the hope you give to people who struggle at dating.
The problem I want to talk you about is that I have a clearly irrational (but socially crippling) fear of romantic rejection and I want to know what to do about it.
Just to start, here’s some background information about me: I’m a 34 years old man, single. I have dealt with OCD and depression for years and I’m still in therapy. I have a job I really like as an assistant teacher for special education children, and even though I don’t earn a lot my job perspectives are getting better. I have my own car, but for a series of reasons (including the recent pandemic) I still live with my mother. So, overall, I could do better, but I could do worse, too.
I have never had a lot of success in terms of romantic relationships – I’ve had a semi-serious sexual relationship years ago that didn’t last long, and I’ve been on a few dates during the years – although only very rarely and never to the point of things getting beyond early dates.
My biggest dating problem is, indeed, the one I mentioned before: I’m irrationally afraid of being rejected, so I rarely if ever approach women romantically and I actually often prefer not to. I used to have issues making friends as well (again, mostly due to fear of rejection) but that’s getting better in the last years – I’ve made several friends who like me and respect me, and I like and respect them.
I can have light, funny, flirty conversation – and occasionally, if everything seems to go well, that seems to be enough to casually agree to meet each other again, usually without this explicitly being called “a date”. And on one occasion a woman I met pulled basically all the stops: she sat on my lap, we kissed me and she brought me to her room – we ended up dating for a short period of time.
That happens only very rarely, though, and I realize I can’t rely on the women I meet to do all the work – it’s quite a thing to expect!
However whenever I try to psych myself up to ask out a woman I’m having a fun, breezy conversation with my brain always comes up with fears upon fears and worries upon worries, so I end up either a) folding back to a less flirty and more friendly behavior or b) freezing and making things slightly awkward, then moving on.
The worries always center about the rejection itself – especially around the idea that I’ve somehow deluded myself that the person I was talking to was actually interested in me romantically or sexually, and they’re actually not, so I’m putting them in a difficult situation and they don’t know how to react to break it down gently to me. Somehow I find this thought incredibly scary and painful – I’d really hate to end up in a situation like this, so I prefer bailing out, even though rationally I know that it wouldn’t be such a big deal.
The funny thing is that I don’t have a problem with the concept of rejection per se on a rational basis- I realize I can’t appeal to everyone I meet and that people have their own priorities and preferences.
I’ve also been soft-rejected by phone, social media or email several times after a first or second date and it’s always been no big deal – and when I’m ghosted I’m not happy but I can move on. It’s just the possibility of immediate rejection in presence that for some irrational reason I can’t fully understand fills me with dread.
Things use to be worse in the past – I used to pretend to be in a relationship to give myself the chance to interact with people without having to worry about romantic rejection – which I understand is something that doesn’t make a lick of sense, and isn’t healthy, so I’ve stopped doing that.
(It’s also counterproductive – there have been a couple of occasions when I was having a fun conversation with a woman and things seemed to go well but I lied about seeing someone as a way to avoid having to ask out the woman I was talking to even if they seemed interested – talk about being illogical!)
I’m discussing my problem with my therapist and so far I’m not making any sense of it – so I said to myself that I could try to ask out someone who has specific experience and knowledge about dating issues.
Irrationally Afraid of Rejection