Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I’ve been dating a woman for about a month and a half, and things are great between us. She’s wonderful and kind and hilarious and the sex is amazing. Here’s my eternal struggle, though: I totally jump all in with new relationships way too fast. She and I have had many conversations about how to slow things down and be responsible about this, but no matter what we say, we end up spending tons of time together and are both falling hard. We’re both concerned that it’s all happening too fast but we also don’t want to limit our relationship when we’re both feeling this way. I mean, if this is just where our relationship is going, does it make sense to add artificial barriers? It’s to the point that we spend almost every night together and talk constantly all day via text. I’m starting to freak out a little, though, about just how much I like and need her. It’s all pretty intense.
Should we slow down? And if we should, how do you slow down when all you want to do is spend time with someone?
2 Fast 2 Curious
Love is a drug, 2F2C. I mean that in the almost literal sense. During that initial infatuation/limerence stage of a relationship, your brain is more or less mainlining phenylethylamine, dopamine, and norepinephrine, leaving you in an almost constant adrenaline rush. Your brain loves the sensation of that drug, so it wants as many hits as it can take. This is no small part of why we want to spend every waking minute with the people we’re crushing on; we’re quite literally getting high off their presence. That’s also why the initial honeymoon phase fades; you start getting less and less of that dopamine hit from being around your partner.
We feel crazy good around them by design. Our brains are encouraging us to stick around each other as much as possible so that the oxytocin production can kick in and solidify that pair-bonding effect as we get down and dirty to raise some kids.
But that crazy good feeling is also a problem. Getting metaphorically high in their presence is kinda like getting actually high in their presence; everything’s heightened and exciting and new and it’s very, very easy to mistake that rush for the relationship. You get caught up in those feelings and make a lot of decisions you might not otherwise make in the cold light of (metaphorical) sobriety. Everyone’s judgement at this stage gets hazy because our amygdala kinda shuts down and we end up eliding over a whole bunch of things that might be red flags (or at least caution signals). It feels totally rational and sensible, but – like a frat boy deciding that four beers in is the perfect time to do “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” at karaoke – what seems like a good idea at the time doesn’t necessarily pan out later.
So on a strictly biological level, when we first start dating someone, we’re not operating at peak efficiency. And then there’s the fact that you have already recognized that you have a tendency to go too fast too soon in your relationships. So… you know already that this is a thing you do and what the likely outcome is. Sure, there’s always the chance that the first few times have been bad luck and maybe things’ll be different this time. But just between you, me and the wall… I kind of doubt it.
Which brings us to the question of “so what do you do about all of this?” And my answer is “well, that depends.” I’m not suggesting that you don’t spend time with your girlfriend or that you put up artificial limits on how often you talk to one another. What I would suggest is that you recognize that you’re in this love haze and you’re not thinking as clearly as you will be slightly later on… and so you don’t want to make any decisions that have longer-term implications than “where’d you like to go eat on Saturday?” It’s one thing to decide you’re a couple and perhaps decide that this is now a closed or monogamous relationship… but I’d suggest leaving it there for a while. Don’t talk about long-term plans, don’t talk about moving in… just soak in the brain drugs and enjoy the high for what it is now. As things simmer down and you get to know each other better – not the dopamine-flavored, polished-to-a-mirror-sheen versions of yourselves that you’re showing right now but the real “warts-and-all” (and not the “ok, these are my flaws that aren’t really flaws, they just make me quirky” warts) selves… then you can start talking about longer-term.
Until then: enjoy the buzz. Just don’t love and drive. Or… something.
I had recently read an article you done called “Ask Dr. NerdLove: Am I Too Fat To Date?” and despite the encouragement you gave this guy I’m still struggling.
This is going to sound rather tragic and I’ve managed to address some of my issues but here’s my background. I’ve suffered with suicidal depression for the past 10 years, I’m 24, a virgin hugger let alone kisser (yeah I’ve never been hugged). I have no friends and I’ve had weight issues all my life at my heaviest I was 305lbs which was just over a year ago.
I’ve managed to lose 88 pounds in that 12 months, I’m 6’1″ and naturally broad, I’m a big guy but I look at least another 14lbs lighter that my actual weight. My only friends were “toxic” they used to always ridicule me about my weight and my personality, especially in front of girls to make themselves look better, after years of being around them you realize it’s not just banter. I’ve managed to address the depression without meds but I still feel down sometimes which is brought on by the fact that I’ve lost the weight and I still don’t even get looks off women…
I know it’s down to me and my lack of confidence because I still have the same mentality as I did before I started exercising but I am still overwhelmed by fear and rejection due to my great lack of experience in social interactions let alone sexual. I will say my biggest positive is my sense of humor though, I’m very witty because I can make my fitness trainer laugh very easily and she’s incredibly hot but then I unintentionally play the clown (which we know is unattractive). I work night shifts in security so I don’t get many opportunities to meet women or to make new friends.
Sorry for this long half-assed diatribe against myself but I was hoping you could help me out with a few suggestions.
Here’s the thing FF: the problem isn’t and wasn’t in your gut, it’s in your brain. Losing 88 lbs in and of itself is a remarkable achievement, but it’s not magic. Like many people who’ve made radical changes in their lives, you’ve discovered that you’re still the same person you were before, only now (in your case) you’re several sizes smaller. You’ve still got the same brain and personality you did before, and you’re seeing yourself in the exact same way. Part of it is, no doubt your asshole friends and I hope to fuckery that you’ve kicked them to the curb. Having people you trust who supposedly care for you give you nothing but shit is an immense betrayal and you’re well rid of them. But part of it is that while you’ve changed your eating habits and exercising habits, I don’t think you’ve changed your emotional habits.
One thing that a lot of folks who’re embarking on a self-improvement regimen do is that they basically go into seclusion until they’re done. They assume that their dreams or interests have to be put on hold until they’ve reached their goal, whatever it is. In your case – which is really common among guys who want to lose a lot of weight – you put all your focus on the physical changes but didn’t go out and talk to people too. As a result: you’ve made one change, and now the rest of you needs to catch up.
Now here’s the thing you need to keep in mind: the fact that you aren’t seeing people notice you doesn’t mean that they aren’t. Hell, there were people who were probably checking you out when you were heftier; there’re plenty of women who love themselves a big hunk o man. But your perceptions are controlled by your expectations. When you think that people can’t possibly find you attractive, you’ll miss the folks giving you the “yummy” eyes. Not only will you not be actively looking for them, but when you do see them, you’ll have any number of reasons that explain why you’re clearly wrong. So the first thing you need to do is start being nicer to yourself. You need to start treating yourself as though you believed you were attractive. There’re a number of ways to jump-start this. One of them is very simple: start dressing better. Enclothed cognition is a thing and the way we dress affects not just how we look but how we perceive ourselves. Just as wearing a lab coat makes people feel (and act) smarter, dressing more attractively will make you feel more attractive.
You also need to be willing to see yourself as being attractive and break the mental habits of thinking that you’re ugly and disgusting. Some of it involves forcibly changing your thoughts when you get down on yourself and some of it is simply being kind to yourself and giving yourself permission to feel like you look good. As cheesy as it may sound, even just parking your naked ass in front of the mirror and sincerely complimenting yourself does a lot for your self-esteem and willingness to believe your own attractiveness. You can decide you’re hot as fuck, regardless of your shape, and carrying that mindset around will affect the rest of you. You’ll walk differently, you’ll stand differently and you’ll interact with people differently… and people will respond to that. Even if you have to fake it at first, it will sink in and become natural; going through the motions over and over again will carve that groove in your brain.
The other thing you need to do is simply make a point of going out and meeting people. Yeah, your job limits your organic opportunities, so you’re going to have to go out and make them as best you can. It may mean devoting your days off to finding Meet-Ups and other groups that match your interests. It may mean taking classes at your gym and just practicing conversations with people before and after the sessions. Hell, it may just mean going on OKCupid and Tinder and just burning through a bunch of low-investment dates until the stage-fight wears off. But you’re going to have to put in the effort, just as you did to lose all that weight.
Now, the good thing is: you know you’re witty and fun to talk to. You may need to dial back on the dancing clown aspect – which I’m more than willing to bet came from being overweight – but that all plays to your advantage; people like folks who make them laugh. You also know that you’ve got a lot of determination and drive. So take that drive and apply it to making an emotional change in yourself.
(Also: don’t make a play for your trainer. Not that it’s not theoretically possible that you could hook up with her but good trainers are worth their weight in protein powder. Like your hair stylist, doctor and barista, there are people who’re exceptionally hard to replace and it’s a bad idea to cross that line with ’em.)