Dear Dr. Nerdlove,
I’m a nerd of the female persuasion, with a loving and nerdly partner whom I’m about to marry. Things are great with him; our relationship is the best thing that ever happened to me. However, our romance grew from an existing friendship, and he is the first and only person I’ve ever “dated”. I’ve gone my entire life without ever having navigated the murky and treacherous waters of the dating scene, and as a result, I suspect I might be a little stunted when it comes to certain skillsets.
Basically my question is this: How can I tell when someone is flirting with me?
It doesn’t happen very often (thank god), as I do my best to radiate “not-interested” vibes. But every now and then a friend or acquaintance will lean in a little too close, start finding reasons for the two of us to see each other without mutual friends or my fiance, or just behave in a way that feels too intimate. I should probably mention at this point that I’m somewhere on the shallow end of the Aspie spectrum, and have difficulty picking up signals that other women find obvious. So when a guy (or girl) is displaying apparently amorous intent but isn’t being explicit, I find myself grappling with… Schrödinger’s come-on. This is what goes on in my head:
“Is he hitting on me? That last conversation was pretty weird. He knows I’m getting married, so that means he can’t be hitting on me… right? Maybe he’s just really friendly. Maybe he just has bad boundaries. I used to have bad boundaries, so I should cut him some slack. Oh god, he’s coming over. Should I make eye contact? Does that smile have a double meaning? What if he wants to hang out after work today? What if I tell him I’m not interested and he is offended because he was just trying to be nice? AAAAHHHH!”
Then my head explodes, and I ooze towards the nearest exit in a slimy trail of social awkwardness.
Thing is, if people are up-front about their interest, I can just say something like “I’m flattered, but I’m getting married soon, and as such I’m not interested”. It’s still awkward, but at least the course is clear. But if people are being subtle, I’m never sure whether I’m interpreting their behavior correctly. Some people really ARE just touchy-feely while getting to know new friends. Those same people occasionally react with fury and indignation when being told to back off. (“Ugh, I was never interested in YOU. Why are you such a bitch?” etc)
So, can you help me, Doc?
Here’s a dirty secret: those guys who react with fury and indignation? Lot of ’em were flirting with you. You caught ’em, you shot ’em down and that hurt ’em. Assuming you weren’t being cruel when you turned them down (“How DARE you? I’m ENGAGED, YOU LITTLE TROLL, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!!”), that little “UNGH, AS IF!” is their way of trying to take back the power. They’re trying to lash back at you – first by insulting you then by trying to make it about you rather than about them. “I’m not the wrong one here, you are…”. Secure guys say “well that sucks” and move on. Insecure guys freak the fuck out and try to gaslight you instead.
But let’s get to the crux of your problem: how to tell when guys are hitting on you, especially if you’re not so good on picking up their signals. It’s worth noting: sometimes it’s not about you not being able to pick them up so much as them trying hard not to give them off. Lots of nerdboys have a hard time openly expressing their interest in women; they’re afraid that if they’re overt, they’ll get shot down and would rather risk getting friend-zoned than have to actually close the book on the hope of getting together with someone. So as a result, they’ll pull the “I like you, no just kidding… unless you like me back” card. They’ll tentatively put out a feeler or two, yank it back almost as soon as they say it – trying to pretend that it’s a joke – and then hope that you’ll take it seriously after all.
Now, some general tips: keep an eye on their eyes. If they’re pulling the “triangle gaze” on you – looking from eye to eye to lips and back – they’re thinking more about how much they want to kiss you… especially if they’re leaning in close. Watch the hands as well: is he touching you a lot more than he might touch other people? How his he touching you? With the back of his hand to your shoulder, say, or putting his palm on your back or your forearm? Touching your hand or forearm carries more implied intimacy than, say, a friendly slug in the arm. If he’s a hugger – some guys are – then see if he’s trying to do the full-body hug instead of the a-frame.
If they’re coming up with contrived reasons for the two of you to get together – just the two of you – then it’s more likely than not that he’s hoping that getting you alone will increase his chances of getting somewhere. See how he reacts if you suggest bringing someone else along; if he resists, then it’s not unreasonable to wonder if he’s hoping to slip a date through the back door without your noticing it1 .
Here’s what you don’t have to do: don’t worry about if you’re accidentally leading him on or giving false signals. When you start over-thinking whether he is or isn’t flirting with you and start trying to second-guess your own behavior, then all that’s going to happen is that you’re going to make yourself even more anxious and awkward than you already are. I’ve found that dropping references to your fiancé is a subtle (for suitably low values of subtle) way of saying “I think you’re hitting on me, but I’m not sure, but please stop if you are”… it indicates that you’re not interested, reaffirms the existence of your soon-to-be hubby and gives enough plausible deniability to the both of you that you can get through the rest of the interaction pretending the Schrodinger’s Flirt didn’t actually happen.
Above all else, don’t forget to use your words. You don’t have to ask “Hey, are you hitting on me?” Just tell them that you’re not comfortable with them being so touchy-feely or standing so close to you or making those jokes and you’d really appreciate it if they’d stop. It’s important to remember that you’re not required to go along to get along if someone’s making you uncomfortable. Even if it’s a little awkward afterwards, being willing to say “Hey, listen, pull it back a notch” is important; even if it’s all a misunderstanding, you’re not obligated to put his comfort above your own.
Doc, you gotta help me.
I have never really had a problem meeting women. Most of my best friends have been women. I have had women ask me out; which I must add was quite nice. However, I have problems feeling attracted to women who are not friends. It is rather difficult to explain. I am attracted to women, but I don’t feel the same level of sexual attraction as my male friends. I notice how nice she looks or her eyes, but that is about it.
There are exceptions: with some of my female friends.
I don’t feel that spark unless I have known someone for a long time- several years. I don’t feel sexual attraction except in the confides of a relationship. There is just no twiddle in the pants or brain otherwise. I don’t feel chemistry or the other things people describe about dating except when I date one of my best friends. Even then, the feelings are pretty low.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t develop friendships with the goal of dating. I fear dating will ruin that close friendship; been there, done that. But, for me to feel sexual attraction, I have to be able to know a person, converse, and have few walls between us.
It may sound like bullshit, but psychology is starting to study asexuality. The little information available describes me. My sex drive is very low and almost nonexistent. My sexual interest is focused upon her: pleasing her, helping her feel relaxed and happy. I don’t really care about my own sexual release. In fact, I vowed to myself to remain a virgin until marriage out of religious and personal conviction.
As a 30 year old, people who know about my virginity either hold me in awe (especially when they know I have had a few girlfriends who attempted to seduce me) or view me as a weirdo.
I honestly don’t feel strong attraction except toward female friends. I have tried standard dating, and I felt terrible. I felt like I was leading my date on because I had little to no attraction for her.I asked them out because they where interesting, but I felt little beyond intellectual interest.This happens every time I ask a non-friend to date. My lack of sexual attraction has hurt people, and my slow development of attraction toward my close female friends has hurt many friendships.
I think I need emotional intimacy before my physical attraction revs up. Obviously, this leads me to be friend zoned and frustrates my girlfriends. I go out of my comfort zone to meet my girlfriend’s attraction, but mine is a slow burn that requires months and even years to develop despite my efforts to force it. As much as I try, making out and all that other stuff doesn’t appeal to me. I would rather cuddle, cook her dinner, or give her a massage. I especially enjoy giving girlfriends massages.
In any case, what your thoughts?
– Slow Burn
I think there are a couple of issues at play here.
First of all, it sounds like you have a low libido under the best of circumstances. This isn’t entirely unheard of; some folks just have a low sex-drive. You may well lean more towards the asexual end of the spectrum, with little to no sexual drive in general. After all, even when you do feel desire for someone – your various female friends of long-standing – it’s not terribly strong.
What you do about this depends on how you feel about your generalized lack of attraction. If it’s something that bothers you – you want to feel physical desire, but don’t – then it might be worth talking to your doctor and getting a physical; sometimes a reduced sex drive is a symptom of an undetected physical problem. Sometimes it can be psychological – stress, for example, is a known boner-killer. If you’re taking antidepressants, especially SSRI’s, then those can definitely screw up your sex-drive.
On the other hand, if you’re comfortable with your sex drive as it is but feel awkward about how it affects you socially – which I suspect is the case – then you should look into the asexual community. Asexuality.org and AVEN have a wide variety of resources, not just about asexuality in general but also help with common dating issues as well: after all, just because you’re not interested in physical intimacy doesn’t mean that you’re not interested in emotional intimacy.
As for your dating issues… I’m guessing that much of your tendency to fall for your friends comes from your feeling uncomfortable about your lack of desire. I’m willing to bet that much of your issue comes about because you feel abnormal and fear the rejection and strife you’ve had before. In fact, I’m willing to bet that a lot of the problem comes from feeling like a freak or a weirdo because of your low sex-drive… and this makes you feel as though you don’t “deserve” a relationship. Your female friends are “safer” in a way, because you’ve already built up this long-standing emotionally intimate relationship but at the same time they’re off-limits; you know that they’re not interested, so you don’t have to face trying to negotiate the tricky issue of mismatched libidos if they did decide to date you. This way you can have your neurosis cake and eat it too.
I think that the sooner you become more comfortable with who you are – that you’re perfectly normal, that there’s nothing wrong with you and that you’re certainly not the only one with a low sex-drive – the fewer problems you’ll have when it comes to emotional attraction. You may still take time to get interested in someone, but I think you won’t keep unconsciously punishing yourself by pursuing relationships you know won’t work out.
- Fnar [↩]