Hey Doc, at some point next year, I plan on moving to a new city to start a graduate degree program. I’m cautiously optimistic about this, as it’ll give me a chance to create a new social network and meet more new people; however, as it stands right now, I’m lacking a social life.
I’m 27 years old and have never had a girlfriend, and I’ve also never really had a close, tightly-knit group of platonic friends; mostly acquaintances. Once I move and attempt to make closer friendships, I’ll inevitably have to admit to these people about how I’ve never really had any close friends. I know that you’ve explained that when admitting something about yourself that people may not like, such as being a virgin (which I also am), you don’t try to show that you’re embarrassed or shameful, but it’s easier said than done. Plus, people talk about their friends constantly, whether they’re old friends or current ones, and if don’t, it’ll stick out like a sore thumb. If I ever have to explain that I’ve never had much of a social life, how do I rationalize or explain it in the best possible way?
Furthermore, when attempting to build a new social circle, I’m uncertain about what ages of people (and gender, as well) to focus on meeting. I’ll be studying speech-language pathology, which is mostly girls. I know this’ll give me a great chance to practice talking to women, but I’m not certain as to how well I could relate to most of them, because I’ll be 28 when I start the program, meaning most of the girls will be much younger than me, and it won’t be as easy to relate to them, seeing as we’re in different stages in life. For the record, I want to mainly focus on building my social circle, and if a relationship develops from it, that’s great. Still, I want other friends as well outside of college. I know there are plenty of other ways to build my social circle, but it’s generally been hard for me to relate to many of my fellow millennials throughout my life. At the same time, though I always found it a little odd trying to make friends with those who are 10 or more years older than me, even though some of our interests may be more compatible. (I like a lot of older TV shows and movies, and particularly love 60s rock music that isn’t just The Beatles.) I’m sure you’ll say something like how I shouldn’t care if there winds up being a significant age difference or a significant amount of girls in my social circle, as long as there’s mutual compatibility, but how do I just stop questioning this, just go for it, and get out and meet new people without any of these thoughts creeping up in my mind?
One more thing: I’ll be where I am right now for about five or six more months before I move. I want to practice my social skills now so it’ll be easier to meet new people after I move, but since I won’t be here much longer, it’ll be hard to develop close friendships. With all of this in mind, what would be the best way to improve socially in my current locale?
Movin’ On Up
Hey, congratulations on a new start and your graduate program, MOU! It sounds like you’ve got an exciting time ahead of you. Of course, at the same time it can be kind of intimidating to start over in a new place, so it’s understandable that you’re a little apprehensive. But I think your bigger problem here is that you are seriously overthinking things.
No, for real, You are SERIOUSLY overthinking things.
Let’s start with the fact that you haven’t had any close friends. This isn’t the deal-breaker or oddity that you seem to think it is. Lots of folks grow up in circumstances where they simply weren’t in a position to make strong connections with people. Sometimes it was a case of moving constantly, as with children of military families. Sometimes it was due to illnesses or mental health. Still other times it was due to social (or literal) isolation. And other times… well, some folks are just shy and never quite gel’d with people. And that’s fine. It’s not something that you need to apologize for, but it’s also not something that most people are going to notice or even care that much about.
If anyone notices and comments that you don’t talk much about childhood friends or whatnot – and odds are, they won’t – then all you have to say is “Yeah, I didn’t have many close friends growing up” and give a shrug. You can elaborate as necessary, but “I wasn’t a really social kid” will satisfy most people’s curiosity. Lots of people went through that and if they didn’t, they knew folks who did. So you can relax on that score; you’re not going to stand out nearly as much as you think you will.
Next, there’s the question of who to meet – what ages, what genders, etc. And the answer there is simple: “yes”. Should you meet men? Yes. Women? Yes. Non-binary folks? Yes. Folks your age? Yes. Older than you? Also yes. Younger than you? Still yes. You’re going for your post-graduate degree, MOU; you’re going to be surrounded by people of varying ages. Most grad programs tend to be a mix of people in their late 20s, early 30s and even folks in their 40s or 50s. Meeting a wide range of people over all is a good thing; it broadens your horizons, introduces you to people whose lived experiences will differ from yours and teach you a little about yourself in the process.
The fact that most of the people in your program will be women doesn’t mean you’re going to have a hard time relating to them because hey, women aren’t some alien species. Their experiences aren’t so foreign that you won’t be able to understand or relate to them. They put on their pants the same way you do: tying them to the bedposts and being dumped into them by a Rube-Goldberg device when the alarm goes off in the morning. The odds are that you’ll be able to talk about movies (hey, go see Into The Spider-Verse) or what you saw on Netflix just as easily as you would with guys. A lot of making new friends – or even just getting people to like you – is listening and relating.
But honestly, it sounds like you know how to meet folks and make new friends… you are just having a hard time bringing yourself to do it. In fact, it’s that “not being able to relate” issue that seems to be your biggest hang-up. And honestly… I think the problem is that you’re artificially limiting yourself in a lot of ways. It’s fine if you’re making friends who’re older than you – like I said, meeting a wide range of people is generally a good thing – but I wonder if you’re being too rigid in what you’re into. I mean, you say that you have a hard time relating to your fellow millennials, but are you willing to meet them half-way? You may not necessarily like some of the same shows or same music, but have you been willing to say “hey, I’ve usually been into older shows/music/movies/whatever – what would you recommend I check out?” Trust me: there’re many folks who live for introducing new people to their favorites.
(Unless their favorite is The Big Bang Theory. Those people are wrong and should be shunned.)
But more than anything else, you need to develop a case of “fuck-its”. That’s where you stop trying to second-guess yourself or making basing your life about what you think people are going to say or do and just say “fuck it”. Are you friends with too many women? Enh, fuck it. Is it weird that you’re more into the swinging sounds of the 60s than top-40 radio? Enh, fuck it. The ethos of “fuck it” is to quit trying to control everything, to quit trying to min-max your social stats and to quit trying to conform to some arbitrary idea of what your social life should be. It’s to just live in the moment and take each opportunity as it comes, without analyzing it to death or trying to critical-path your way to some imaginary Best Ending. Sometimes you need to just look at the various worries and anxieties and say “you know what? Fuck it, I’m doing this” and dive in.
And if you want to be ready to hit the ground running when you get to your new city? Then by all means, start now. Start cultivating a curiosity about people. Make small-talk with folks when you have the chance. You’re sitting at the counter at a restaurant? Ask your server how their day is going. You’re standing in line at Starbucks? Make an observation about the situation and see about getting a conversation started. Go to Meet Up events for things that interest you and talk with the people there. Get in the habit of talking to people and being interested in what they have to say. The more you make this part of your life now, the easier it will be to adapt it to your new life in your new home.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
Internet dating is a world of many many fish in the sea. Very quickly I find myself dating lots of women at once (I know, no sympathy for me!). What I’m not sure about is how to go from there forwards. Because the thing about those first few months of romance is that physical attraction makes our brains crazy. All the red flags just look like flags, as Bojack says. Do I date several women for several months each until the thrill wears off and then evaluate, or do I try to be pickier at the beginning? Or am I discovering I’m just naturally someone who likes lots of relationships, and might be non-monogamous?
Too Many Choices
It sounds like you’ve only just started dating, TMC, because that honeymoon phase of the relationship doesn’t make you stupid. It just means that you’re caught up in the thrill of the new. The fact that something’s new and exciting doesn’t mean that all of your blood has pooled in your pants and didn’t leave enough for your brain. It just means that things are bathed in the warm light of “I just got laid a LOT” and sometimes you’re willing to overlook things that don’t reach a certain threshold.
Now that doesn’t mean people haven’t made stupid decisions because of what the non-monogamists call New Relationship Energy. But it certainly doesn’t mean that your picker is broken for the first six months.
But before you get to that, one thing you may need to do is sort out your dating patterns.
See, everyone’s got their patterns when it comes to dating. Some are serial monogamists, who tend to zero in on one person at a time. Some people like to play the field, casually dating a few people without expectation of seriousness or commitment. Some people will go on a couple of dates with different people as they look for compatibility and relationship potential while others just want some no-strings-attached hook-ups. And yeah, there’re folks who are non-monogamous or who have lots of love to give and can handle multiple emotional commitments at once.
And – this is something folks often don’t realize – many times, folks will bounce through several different patterns. Sometimes it’s a case of being the kid in a candy store; you’re overwhelmed by the options so you want to try them all, before you realize that maybe you’re more of a one-at-a-time guy. Other times it could be that you just got out of a relationship and the idea of committing to anyone gives you the screaming ab-dabs. Or you may have only just realized that you have options and you want to explore that side of yourself for a while.
Here’s the other thing that happens: some folks get overwhelmed and won’t settle down because they have a bad case of FOMO. Yeah, the person they’re dating is great… but what if there’s someone even better? They get worried that they haven’t made the PERFECT choice and so they’re always on the look-out for the possibility that there may be another, better option on the horizon.
Now based on what you’ve said… you sound a little like right now, you like being the guy who has the chance to date lots of women. And hey, as long as everyone involved understands that’s what this is, then more power to you! But one thing you’ll discover pretty quickly is that while you may be down for dating many people at once, a lot of folks are cool only cool with that at first. As you get to know one another and the relationship progresses, they’re going to want to know if this is a relationship with a future, or if you’re still in your “try everything once” phase. And so the question of “Wait and see who I’m most suited for” may get answered for you by women who aren’t willing to wait while you compare them against other choices.
So here’s what I think: I think you need to figure out what you want. This may mean having a series of short-term relationships. And you know what? There’s a lot of value in STRs. We tend to treat relationships as failures if they aren’t multi-decade epics that end when someone dies, but short term relationships definitely have their place too. Not every love story is meant to be an epic poem. Some are just short stories.
Some are just dirty limericks.
So take some time and figure out what you want, not what you think you’re supposed to want. And trust me: what you’re “supposed” to want can be “BANG ALL THE THINGS” just as easily as “find a nice girl, settle down, get married, have 2.5 kids and a house in the suburbs”. The more you get to know yourself and what you want, the more you’ll figure out the dating pattern that works best for you.