Hi Doc. First, I started reading your stuff about a year ago, and it’s been a big help to me. I do have some issues that I’d like to ask about though, but I should probably start with some backstory.
I’m a 23 year old man, whom has suffered chronic general and social anxiety, three bouts of major depression, and years of constant bullying (middle and high school). I also have some (okay, lots) of issues with perfectionism and negative self talk, though I’m actively working on those. But for all that, I made good grades, earned scholarships, and just graduated with my bachelor’s degree.
The last eight months have been some of the happiest of my life, even during what was the most stressful year of my college career. Why? After years of rejection, bitterness, more rejection, self loathing, and finally despair, I found a girl. Rather, she found me, on a site I had given up on. We started talking, and we had (have) so much in common. We understand each other’s humor, and also each other’s baggage (she has social anxiety issues as well). It’s even been worth going long distance, though we really only get to see each other about every two weeks, since she still has several years of higher ed ahead of her. But we also talk extensively every single day.
Our relationship, has, admittedly, moved at a frankly glacial pace compared to everyone else; I’m not complaining, just saying how it is. We didn’t have our first kiss until… I don’t know, our ninth date? Anyway, literally every single thing, every step that we take, is a first for both of us. I had never gotten a second date with anyone before her, much less kissed a girl. I really like her, maybe even am starting to love her, but I’m feeling dissatisfied with our level of intimacy, and also feeling ashamed for feeling dissatisfied. We’ve had a grand total of six kisses, and I’m always really conscious of her feelings and ask first, and always accept no as an answer, even if it smarts. Though not nearly as much as it does when she seems to hesitate before answering, which is really confusing as well as painful. It makes me worry she’s only agreeing because she thinks it will keep me happy (Though she was the one who instigated the first kiss, after I had backed off for about a month after I asked and she said she wasn’t ready yet). I feel dirty, greedy, selfish, because I really want to spend more time kissing her (and hopefully other things someday), even though I really love our conversations. But if something doesn’t change… I don’t know. I feel unwanted, undesirable, and… yeah.
The worst part is, when I try to voice the subject, I literally croak (seriously, it feels like my whole throat closes up), and I can’t get out a single word. Because I’m terrified that this amazing girl will think I’m only after one thing and she, the (frankly) happiest thing in my life (for all of this, that is) will leave. And numbers or no numbers, I don’t like my odds of meeting someone else (who likes me back) before I’m in my 30s.
I have zero expectations of her, but my desires keep getting louder in my head. And I’m trying very hard not to be disgruntled that just last week, she asked me down for the weekend to help housesit for her parents, and that in two whole days, we didn’t kiss until I was getting in the car to leave. That bugs me WAY more than sleeping in completely separate rooms. I’m not trying to suggest, ask, much less push for too high a degree of intimacy (I don’t think). And of course, I still feel guilty that this bugs me in the first place. The only (half) comfort is that she admits (by text, I think because of her anxiety) that she “really, really, really” likes me, and that she’s sorry “if it doesn’t always seem like that” because she “sucks at showing emotion and super fucking awkward at expressing affection”.
I guess what I’m asking is, how do I keep from clamming up long enough to talk about these things (if I should talk about them in the first place)?
So, yeah, this is all one tangled up mess of emotions on my part, that I have zero baseline for. I’m in the Pacific without a paddle, and any advice you have to offer on any of this would be great, because I’m f*cking clueless.
Molasses In January
Let’s roll this one from the top, MIJ: there is absolutely, positively nothing wrong with wanting physical intimacy. That desire is 100% valid and legitimate. You’re not being greedy or perverted or selfish or disgusting because you want to make out with someone you’re attracted to. You’re a human with a sex drive and you want your romantic relationship to have a sexual component as well. And honestly, sexual satisfaction is an important part of any romantic relationship. If one partner’s needs aren’t being met – or if their needs are being overridden by their partner’s, for that matter – then that relationship is going to fall apart pretty damn quickly.
So the fact that you’re frustrated and wanting more is completely understandable and completely legit.
But unless your girlfriend is secretly Jean Grey or Betsy Braddock, she has literally no way of knowing that you feel this way. And since you aren’t David Haller or Charles Xavier, you don’t really know how she’s feeling either. For all you know, you’re both sitting there wishing that the other would freaking say something about the physical side of your relationship.
Since neither of you are telepaths, the only way this is going to change is if one of you actually opens your mouth and make the words fall out. And since somebody’s gotta be the first person to start the conversation, it may as well be you.
Now I get it: trying to express a need, especially when you’re worried that you don’t have the right to feel this way, can be intimidating. You’re understandably worried that if you draw attention to the problem, then your entire relationship is going to explode. But by the same token, nothing is going to change, either.
Here’s what you need to do MIJ. You need to have The Awkward Conversation, in all it’s glory. This means that you need to go into it knowing that this is going to be awkward, acknowledging the awkward and pushing through the awkward. Here’s how it works:
First, you need to schedule the talk with your girlfriend. This is important because you need to block out time to actually hash this out when you won’t be interrupted or have to rush things. Start with saying “hey, I really want to talk about our relationship and where it’s going. Nothing’s wrong, I just want to check in with you about things. Can we get together on $DATE at $TIME and talk?”
Next, you want to lay things out in order:
- Acknowledge that this is going to be a little awkward for you because you’re nervous to bring this up and you may need a little time to get through it.
- Tell her why you’re nervous – you are feeling awkward about bringing this up because you’re worried that she’s going to judge you, be upset, think that you only want sex… whatever the exact fear is that’s keeping you from just saying whatever it is you need to say.
- Explain how you feel; in this case, that you love this relationship with her but you feel like there’s a physical component that’s missing. You want to be respectful of her boundaries and limits, but you also want more than you’re currently doing. Make sure that you explain it in terms of why this is important to you and how you’re feeling. Be sure to frame it as how you feel, not how she makes you feel. This is your issue, not hers.
- Explain what you’d like to be different – in this case, being more physically intimate.
- Explain how you feel this would improve things.
- Say “… and how about you?”
Now step back and listen to what she has to say. Give her the same space and courtesy that she’s just given you and let her share her side of things. This will likely be as awkward for her as it was for you, so be patient and let her wrestle through it without judgement.
Once you both have your cards on the table, now you’re able to find a way to move forward. This may involve some compromise or patience, or it may be that she feels exactly the same way you do and didn’t know how to express it. You may work out a way to express your affection with one another more easily, you may find yourselves having to have a couple more conversations… or you may just end up leaping on each other.
But nothing can change until you communicate with one another. So sit down, grit your teeth and use your words. The Awkward Conversation may be uncomfortable, but if you can muscle your way through to the other side, your relationship will be stronger and better for it.
Dear Dr. NerdLove,
I would first like to thank you for creating a blog which helps men navigate the dating world in such a non-toxic and positive way. Your advice regarding nutrition, dress, and internal validation has helped transform me from a 22 year old virgin into someone with a stable sex life.
However, lately I’ve been “falling off the wagon” in regards to my self esteem: my most recent causal encounter started off ok but on the way back home and during pillow talk she kept asking me about 20 questions regarding what I thought of her. These ranged from “Why would a white guy find a black woman attractive?” (which she said she was just seeing if I had a weird fetish) to “What made you think you had a chance?” (She was talking to a very drunk burly guy and thin scrawny me happened to peak her interest). She was legit grilling me so I flipped it on her asking “Hey wait, don’t you believe you deserve a guy like me?” and she flat it answered “not really.”
Under normal circumstances a guy would be infatuated by that, but to me, I thought to myself “So wait, you would’ve just went home with anyone simply because they acknowledged you?! Not for personal fun, but status?!”
My only previous partner was a Russian girl whom I’ve spent a wonderful 3 months with before she decided to call it quits. She believed she was “asexual unless she’d had a beer” due to nervousness (which I believe given her previous statements about how she was feeling) and we’re still friends.
But sometimes, I get second thoughts like “Oh woohoo, I only bring home desperate women,” “Girl #1 was only having a confused identity crisis” or “Self esteem? More like self-delusion!” I find that these thoughts are an absolute anathema to everything I’ve worked to achieve lately, yet, they’re here and are giving me a hard time.
My wingwoman reassures me that this isn’t the case, and 90% of the time I stay positive, but I believe that the disgusting humans-can-be-ranked ideology that my most recent partner had expressed somehow managed to rub off on me and is making me second guess my self-worth, even after I went through so much to accomplish unconditional self-love.
With this in mind, how would a newbie cope with such a situation?
If it’s relevant, I was also diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, which makes it difficult to read certain social cues.
First of all, PZ, I want to say congratulations! You’ve made some serious progress and you should absolutely be proud of how far you’ve come. You’ve developed some skills and confidence and that’s awesome… which is why it’s a shame that you’re letting your own doubt bring you down.
Here’s what’s going on, PZ: she’s trying to reassure herself that you actually like her. Her low self-esteem has convinced her that she’s undesirable and that the only reason why a guy would go for her is because either he has a race fetish or because he thought she was beneath him and an easy score. Then this cool guy rolls in, apparently not even intimidated by the drunk burly dude talking to her and makes his interest known? She’s got that voice in the back of her head saying “It’s a trap!”
She’s not saying that she’d’ve gone home with anyone, she’s trying to figure out why a guy as together and awesome as you was into her. That’s not someone desperate, that’s someone who thinks you’re awesome and has a hard time believing you’d think she was awesome too.
Sometimes you just have to accept that hey, maybe you’ve got it going on, even if your own jerk-brain is telling you otherwise. Stop letting other people’s self-doubt throw you, PZ; it’s not that they’re desperate, it’s that they recognize your value but can’t find their own. That’s all.