Hey Dr. NerdLove, I have a question for you that I haven’t been able to find an answer to anywhere else. So, I am a 26 year old guy who has been single for about 10 years now and I solely hold the blame for this for refusing to put myself out there, a couple reasons aside but one unique that I’m sharing now.
In my last relationship, when I was about 16, I was dating my best friend, who I met through both being bullied and standing up against our said bullies together and both suffering with depression and suicidal tendencies. Our relationship was possibly one of the most toxic you could think of. She would break up with me, say she had messed with other guys then get together again within days, but as my first girlfriend, I would be hurt but accept her back again. She would self-harm, cutting herself with safety pins and boxcutters, and this had hurt me so, to the point that, (so ashamed) I started to cut as well, in an attempt to get her to stop, and she had for a few weeks. Eventually, I got addicted to it and would cut not even being depressed.
After a year of this, there came a point where she had to break things off with me indefinitely (we lost our virginity to each other and her parents found out) and I lost it, I tried to commit suicide right after, and I had used a razorblade to carve her name into my left wrist along with about 20 more scars across it. I was taken from the school, and institutionalized for 5 days and was forced to go to a therapist for about a year.
Fast forward to now: While I do still have my bouts with depression and social anxiety, I have many other ways to cope but the scars, her name included are still there, very present to see and have never went away. I have had some female interests but I always hold back emotionally and try to mind keeping my arm folded over to not have my arm seen. I’ve slipped up before and a girl would ask “What’s that” but I would just say “Oh, I had an bad accident, fell into some glass as a kid” or “Not sure what you mean” and change the subject swiftly and it usually works for that time but I know that it can’t really go away.
But my most recent dating disaster was the last straw for me as there was a girl that I have been seeing for 2 months now, and I got comfortable enough to tell her over the phone, at least that I used to self-harm and about that ex but she never physically seen it, it was the winter months and was in a hoodie or long sleeve the whole time and didn’t think about it when we seen each other next. But eventually she broke things off with me Christmas Eve but over other reasons, but I felt it was a part of those reasons but it was one of the hardest breaks I’ve had in a few years now.
I hate to throw one more layer on this, but if it matters, also being a black man, I feel even more insecure about this as mental health conversations stereotypically aren’t a thing in the community and the fact that I have gotten much shit from other black people for “doing something white people only do” (not my words, don’t mean to offend), I feel even more isolated trying to get comfortable and own up to this or get to the point I could or even would explain it to someone at all, to someone of my own race or not.
Only thing I could think of is just having to wear long sleeves now all year long or maybe get a tattoo over it, but to be honest, placing myself in any girl’s shoes, and hearing a guy had cut an ex’s name into his arm years ago, I understand perfectly why they would do an about-face and run for the hills immediately after. But, do I deserve this forever for being a shitty person in my teens?
Thank you for the help.
Scars of The Past
Right, I’m going to be blunt. Scars, there’s only one thing you need to do here. You need to make like a Disney character and just let it go.
For real: you were a shitty teenager with an anxiety condition (which sucks but is totally understandable), a girlfriend with a similar issue and an overdeveloped sense of drama (which is to say: you were a teenager). You and your girlfriend both were stuck in an ugly feedback loop. She’s self-harm, you’d self-harm to try to get her to stop self-harming, that would trigger things in her, wash, rinse, repeat.
Obviously this wasn’t healthy for either of you and you both came out of it with literal scars. But here’s the thing: that was ten years ago. You got therapy, you got a handle on your mental health, you don’t cut or self-harm any more. That’s not who you are any more.
So why in pluperfect hell are you still acting like it? My dude, you are taking an issue from when you were a teenager, deep frying it in extra drama and serving it up with a side of drama sauce for dipping. Yeah, you did stupid shit when you were a teenager. So did literally everyone else. It’s called “being a teenager”. The only difference is that most people look back on the stupid shit they did as a teenager, cringe a little and pray to whatever gods they believe in that they managed to scrub the evidence off Facebook and 4chan. You, on the other hand, keep it close to your heart like a shitty edgelord phylactery.
You need to let that shit go dude, cuz honestly, the only person who gives that much of a shit about it? Is you.
And the only person who can forgive you for this? Also you.
Yeah, you have physical scars to remind you, but it’s the mental ones that’re fucking you up right now. You keep this around like it’s The Sin That Can Never Be Forgiven instead of the depressed kid’s version of getting their girlfriend’s name as a tattoo and now they feel like they can only date girls named Meg. Seriously, as far as teenaged indiscretions go, yours is fairly common – concerning, yes, but hardly disqualifying as a potential boyfriend. You weren’t sexually abusive or physically violent. You just didn’t know how to handle some intense shit.
And that’s OK. You were a a teenager. Nobody knows what the hell they’re doing when they’re a teenager. Especially when it involves someone you care about harming themselves.
Your past is your past, my dude. It sucks that you went through all of that and I totally sympathize. But right now the past isn’t prologue; it’s not even past. And the only person who’s really making a fuss about it is you. Hell, even the last person you told about having done self-harm took it in stride. The only person who seems to think your scars were an issue is you and – no offense – you’re not the most reliable source here.
So here’s what you need to do: let the immensity of this shit go. You can forgive yourself for the things you did nearly half your lifetime ago. It’s ok. This isn’t a burden that you need to carry for the rest of your life.
Stop treating your scars like something to hide or be ashamed of and stop lying about them. Here’s what you say if anyone asks: “I had an anxiety issue when I was younger, and I didn’t handle it well.” That’s it. 99% of people will understand, and the remaining 1% who might give you shit about it will have self-selected out of your dating pool either.
OK sure, you have someone’s name carved into your arm. Fortunately, that’s easily taken care of; go find a tattoo artist whose work you admire and get that sucker covered up. See if you can come up with a symbol or design that represents who you are now – or who you want to be – and get that sucker slapped right over that name. You’re not pretending it never happened; you’re just acknowledging that it doesn’t define you. It’s part of what made you who you are today, not the Mark of Cain.
You’ve put in a lot of work to get your mental health in order, Scars. That took guts. That took effort and strength and perseverance. Stop undoing all the hard work you put in by treating the things you did as a teenager who didn’t know better as the mark of eternal damnation. You’ve grown past being that person. Forgive yourself for being imperfect, forgive yourself for the things that you did and accept that it’s in the past. Let the past go and be who you are now.
Hi Dr. NerdLove,
Love your blog; you give awesome advice so I had to ask you about this. I’m a young single woman with a dilemma. I hate when people use numbers to assign attractiveness to people, but I’m going to here just to make the divide clear.
There’s a bar in my city that my friends and/or my family go to once a week, almost every week. The bartenders and security team know us well and we always have a great time. One of the security guys is really fun to hang out with; he’s super sweet and hilarious, and he’s extremely hot. He and I really get along well and I’ve always thought that it had a lot to do with the fact that since he’s a ten and I’m a three, that I feel totally comfortable around him as a friend. That’s not a slam to my self-esteem by the way, I know I’m a three and I’m happy dating other threes. Recently, however, this guy has been messaging me a lot more frequently than usual. It’s always playful like, “missed you this week, love ya!” Or “been thinking about you….kisses” and the last time I saw him, right before I left, he made sure to give me a hug and a kiss on the cheek – not normal for us.
He seems really great so I’d totally be down, even if it’s just casual, but my hesitation stems from not knowing his motivation. He could probably have any girl he wanted, so why the heck is he pursuing me!? I’ve never been pursued by someone that is as attractive as him and it makes me nervous. Am I right to be cautious or should I just start returning the flirting and see where it goes?
It’s A Trap?
You know, IaT, I’m reminded of the story of Brienne of Tarth.
(Spoilers if you’re not necessarily upon your Game of Thrones)
Part of her backstory is that Brienne was not traditionally good looking or femme-presenting. She’s taller than fashionable, more muscular than most women, slimmer hipped and flat-chested and a face that seems more mannish and out of proportion than was desirable. But as the young daughter of nobility, there were those who actively courted her, including a young man who she thought loved her.
Turns out, he was part of a group of shitty courtiers who thought it’d be funny to compete to lead her on and see who’d be the first to bang her because sometimes people are shitty that way. Needless to say: she was shattered by this revelation, which seemed to only confirm that nobody could possibly love someone as ugly as she.
It’s not unreasonable to be worried about people acting like this. There’re a number of real-world parallels to be found; frat boys who “go hogging”, for example, or shitty edgelords who catfish autistic “lolcows” and lead them to think that they’re in a relationship with someone who doesn’t actually exist.
But the fact that shitty people exist doesn’t mean that everybody’s shitty. Nor, for that matter, does the fact that you think that you’re a three mean that everyone thinks you’re a three. Attraction is an incredibly personal issue. While we may agree on a lot of people who are conventionally attractive, the fact that they’re attractive doesn’t mean that everyone’s attracted to them. Kim Kardashian is a good-looking woman, but there’re people who will never see the appeal. Michael B. Jordan may make a girl so horny she bit through her own retainer, but there’re women who wouldn’t bang him with someone else’s junk.
Which is to say: you may have a view of your own attractiveness, but that doesn’t mean that this dude agrees with you. He may well dig your personality or your sense of humor, or he just may think you’re hot, even if you don’t.
Or he could be horny and figures you might be up for something without too much work.
Or he just may be naturally flirty and feels as though the two of you have reached a point in your friendship that he feels comfortable flirting with you. Some people will flirt because it’s harmless fun, not because they want anything to happen.
The point is: you don’t know what it could be because hey, you’re not Jean Grey or Professor X. What you are is intelligent, however. Based on what you know about the guy, how likely do you think it is that he’s just fucking with your head? In the time that you’ve known him, has he ever revealed himself to be callous or cruel? Or has he been a good guy, even when he thinks nobody’s looking?
And while it’s not unreasonable to be cautious, I’d also say that the question to ask is: how do you feel about things?Are you enjoying the flirting for the sake of flirting? Are you cool with a little mutual bantering, or does it make you uncomfortable if it’s just flirting? If it turns out that he just wants what he thinks might be a low-investment, low-effort hook-up, are you ok with taking advantage of that to bang a seriously hot dude? If he’s using you, are you cool with using him in return?
I’m of the opinion of balancing what you know of him vs. what you’d like to see happen. If you think you’ve got enough of a grasp on what this dude is about and you’re willing to roll the dice, I say flirt back a little and see what happens. If he starts to up the ante, then go ahead and call the question and ask just where he’s going with this.
And to go back to Brienne: not only did she grow up to be one of the greatest knights of her generation, but she’s got at least one dude more than half in love with her1. Which is to say: don’t discount the possibility that he may genuinely like you. The fact that you may not be conventionally hot doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there who won’t dig what you have to offer. As I’ve said before: it’s better to be someone’s shot of whiskey than everyone’s cup of tea.
I’d say tread cautiously, but if your instincts tell you he’s on the up and up? Then I’d say roll the dice and take your chances.
- two, if you’re a Shownly or not [↩]