Hi Dr. NerdLove,
Recently, I had a potential relationship fall through. As I was moving on, I looked through your article “5 Times When You Shouldn’t Be Dating“.
This definitely applies to me, as there are plenty of things I should work on before starting to look again. The problem is I’m still wanting to go about finding someone. How should I go about dealing with these feelings while I attempt to improve my circumstances?
Wrong Place, Wrong Time
I’m sorry things fell apart for you, WPWT, but you should take heart that you’re doing the right thing. One of the things that can be useful in the wake of a break up is to do a sort of self-assessment. As you get distance and the pain of the break up isn’t so immediate, taking the time to ask “so, what went wrong?” is great way to learn and grow from an otherwise painful experience.
Sometimes the answer as simple as “we were just not right for each other, no harm, no foul.” Other times, as evidently your case, it may be that you just weren’t in a good place. And when that’s the case, taking some time away from dating is a good idea. Dealing with rejection and break-ups can be exhausting, even for people who enjoy dating and all the steps of the human mating dance. Beating your head against that particular wall too many times can leave you feeling lower than a snake’s ass in a wagon rut.
Putting dating on pause for a while is a great way to recharge your batteries and free up some much needed mental bandwidth to get your head right and work on yourself.
Problem is: you may know that you need a break, but your heart (and other bits) may not have gotten the message. So while you’re ready to shut down Tinder and spend a few more Saturday nights at home, you still feel that nagging urge: “shouldn’t you be trying to get out there?” It can be worse when your Instagram seems to be nothing but happy couples canoodling all over the place and Facebook is full of people talking about how awesome their girlfriends or boyfriends are.
And to be fair: there’s a lot of social pressure to just couple up. We’re all neck deep in a sea that sees being single as a problem to be solved, instead of just a state of being. That fear of missing out is very real; after all, what if Ms. Right (or Ms. Near As, Dammit) shows up while you’re on your social sabbatical? Did you miss your only chance at happiness because you decided you were on a break?
What do you do when you want to just press pause on things while you get back into fighting shape?
First: remind yourself that this is temporary, not forever. It’s not as though you’re joining a monastery in the mountains of Tibet; you’re just taking some time away from dating in order to sort your life out. As much as you might feel like every day that goes by means that the supply of singles is dwindling away, love really can no point where the window for love is closed forever wait. There’s no statute of limitations on romance,. People in their 60s and 70s and 80s fall in love, get married and have absurd amounts of sex.
(No, for real. Senior centers are dealing with skyrocketing levels of STIs among their clientele.)
Second: reframe how you see this break. One of the reasons why it can be hard to take a break from dating is because it feels like failure. You feel like you’re giving up, when everything and everybody is telling you to get back up and get back in there. But as any fighter can tell you: getting back up just to run into the same fist is a bad idea. Sometimes you will find that you’re just outmatched. In those cases, it’s better to take the L… because while you may not be able to win that fight, you’ll be in a better position to win the next one.
You’re not taking a break because you’re a failure or because dating was a mistake. You’re going into training. You’re doing the social equivalent of every martial artist who goes into isolation to hone their skills. You’re building yourself up and developing the mindset and lifestyle you need to utterly dominate the dating market. You’re not a loser licking his wounds, you’re Rocky Balboa running the steps on the Philadelphia Museum of Art until you can make it to the top.
Every time you feel that nagging voice that tells you that you should be trying to find someone, remind yourself that you’re doing this so that you can. After all, it doesn’t do you any good to meet someone who’s right for you at a time when you aren’t right for them.
Third: Get busy. Not just with your self-improvement regimen, but with your life. One of the best ways to beat feeling lonely is to fill your life with activity. Finding things that engage you – not just busy work, but things that you actually care about – is a great way to feel more satisfied with your life over all. It’s harder to feel like you’re missing out on things when you have so many cool things to do and see and experience – so many so that you might not have time for them all.
Of course, it certainly doesn’t hurt that living an amazing life full of cool experiences is a great way to meet women when you are ready to get back out there…
Fourth: Get social. Another reason why taking a break from dating can feel so lonely is because, frankly, we have a tendency to hermit up. Guys especially are bad about relying on romantic relationships for all of their social and emotional needs. As a result, when we find ourselves single again, we’re left isolated because… well, there was nobody else.
That is, needless to say, no bueno. We are all social creatures; isolating ourselves is as bad for our physical health as smoking. And it’s even worse for our mental and emotional health.
So while you’re working on yourself and getting yourself back into fighting trim, prioritize reconnecting with your friends and family. If you’ve let those connections fade, then now is a great time to reach back out to them and rebuild things. Haven’t talked to your brother, your dad or your best friend from college for a while? Hit ’em up and catch up on what’s been going on in your lives. Get some friends together to catch the Super Bowl, the WestWorld season premier or just fart around and play Gang Beasts on your PS4.
Rebuilding those connections and feeling like you have your community, your Team You at your back is vital. Not only does it help to close the hole you feel in your social life, but it can be a vital part of reinvigorating you. Taking care of yourself can be a long, frustrating process and it can be incredibly demoralizing at times. You may feel like you don’t have the strength to improve. You may think that there’s just too much. But knowing that you have these people in your corner, cheering you on and supporting you is huge.
Don’t let those feelings stress you out. They’re perfectly natural. You don’t need to try to force yourself to not feel them; in fact, it’s better that you just let them wash over you and past you. Feel the fuck out of them, note them and let them go. They’re just a reminder of what you have to look forward to when you are ready to get back in the pit. And you’ll be there soon enough.
I recently asked a friend I’ve known for a little over a year out on a real date.
We’ve had a casual creative relationship. We both work in somewhat the same field, and would meet up for coffee, friendly drinks, or events and talk are.
I recently started becoming attracted to her as more than a friend, and asked her out.
As per your advice, I let her know it was totally cool if she didn’t feel the same. She responded that she values what we have and didn’t want that to change.
Which meant no.
I told her that’s totally cool. I value what we have together too and won’t bring it up again unless she does, and that we should remain friends.
She was glad I brought it up because she felt there was always some vague, uncertain tension between us.
Sure I was a bit disappointed, but I’m actually pretty cool about it all. I’m in a great point in my life, which gave me the courage to ask her out. So everything I said is true, I’d like to remain professional, creative friends. And promised her that nothing would change.
The only dilemma I’m having is I’ve been thinking about how to go about setting some boundaries for our friendship going forward.
Something I told another friend is that I’m still open to hang with the girl I asked out, but in fewer situations that might be confused for romantic (like nice moody bars), or do things that are “datey”, and keep it professional. That includes our conversations. The girl I asked out and I would sometimes go on these pseudo-dates, which caused that uncertainty. And I want to avoid that going forward.
My friend I was telling this to said that I wasn’t keeping my promise then, and that things ARE going to change going forward.
Am I wrong here by tweaking the dynamic of our friendship going forward?
I’m not ignoring/ghosting her. I’m not mad at her at all. I do feel I made a bit of a mistake of not being upfront in the beginning/or setting boundaries. Even though I didn’t like her that way early on, I was pulling out things I normally reserve for dates cause she was fun and is attractive. I just think that I should reserve that side of me for romantic pursuits, as I don’t do a lot of that stuff with my other friends I have creative, professional relationships with, so why should I have to keep doing it with her?
What are you thoughts?
Finally Chill About Rejection
There is absolutely nothing wrong with changing things up in the face of rejection, FCAR – especially if you’re doing so in the name of maintaining your friendship. After all, it doesn’t do any good to try to be friends if you’re ripping your heart out every time you see them. Nor, for that matter, do you want to keep behaving as though you’re trying to date them.
Just as you want to act like a potential lover with someone you want to date, if you want to be friends with someone, you need to act like a friend with them. However, don’t mistake avoiding a dating frame for cutting emotional intimacy to zero. Friends hang out, friends grab dinner and go do things together. As with many behaviors, it’s context that makes a difference – including the context of your friendship. If your friendship is primarily based around being fellow creatives, then let that be the foundation of how you two behave together. Hang out, grab coffee and talk shop, trade news and tips, and so forth. Treat her exactly the same as you’d treat other friends you have in the industry.
However, one thing I always suggest is to not necessarily limit your friendships either. Sometimes important friendships start as casual “we work in the same industry”and end up being an important part of your life – without a romantic component. So by all means, dial things back, especially so you can let your more amorous feelings fade. But don’t hold be quick to hold people at arm’s length in the name of “we’re just colleagues” either. You may have connected because of your work, but sometimes that can be the start of a beautiful friendship.