Hi Dr. Nerdlove,
I only just found your column, but I love that there’s somebody out there giving nerdy men encouraging, thoughtful dating advice that also takes a respectful look at gender relations.
I relate to a lot of what you say about “leveling up,” making yourself attractive by being fun and improving your life. I’ve been doing this, and have come a long long way from the friendless nerd I was a dozen years ago in high school. I’ve got a decent job, great friends, creative outlets, and an overall lifestyle that I’m very happy with. I’m very satisfied with myself as a person, though I’m taking every opportunity to grow and seek out new things.
So of course, I’m finding myself eyed up by the opposite sex a lot more. What’s tough for me, though, is that my confidence and my wit go out the window around women I’m attracted to. I often end up dating women I’m less into because I’m comfortable around them, and before you know it, we’ve fallen into a relationship.
Recently, this has really come to a head for me. For the sake of my anonymity, let’s say I do slam poetry on weeknights. Slam poetry is my passion. I’m really good at slam poetry, have lots of friends in the slam poetry community, and esteem from other slam poets in my town. In the last month a two, I’ve seen a woman around the slam poetry circuit. She’s just started, and I like her. A lot. She’s gorgeous, fun, and interesting. And I’m pretty sure she likes me. Like I keep catching her sneaking glances at me likes me. Like she comes and talks to me.
But like I said before, I’m terrified of women I’m attracted to. I’m scared to come on strong and be a creep. Part of that’s learned behavior from high school and college, when I’d ask girls out point-blank, they’d say yes, but then never take my calls and avoid me. Part of it’s also seeing just how much hassle from men you get when you’re a beautiful woman. And this woman is gorgeous. Like for the first time since I was 14, I was talking to this woman and looked into her eyes and forgot what I was saying.
And I’d be okay if I knew I didn’t have a chance. I’m so charming to women I don’t have a chance with.
So the other day I was at a Slam Poetry event, and she spent much of it talking to me. Good sign, right? But still the whole time, I was petrified. Then, I had an opportunity to ask for her number. I got it, then quickly excused myself from the entire event. Like things were going to suddenly go pear-shaped. I know I didn’t like ruin anything by going, but it said a lot to me about myself that I couldn’t just enjoy myself around her, let the night wind down on its own. Now I’m not sure what the next step to take is.
This is like a specific situation that illustrates an overarching problem for me. I’m having trouble interacting with women I’m attracted to, and I have a lot of trouble making my intentions known, asking them out, showing that I’m interested. What advice do you have for a man who’s scared of women?
You have a very common problem, SB. It’s something I went through during my own transformation. In fact, I’d say it’s something that just about everyone who has that unpleasant awkward period goes through when they’re trying to get better at dating.
You’re still dealing with a scarcity mentality. You’re treating awesome women that you’re attracted to like an incredibly rare resource and that if you don’t do everything perfectly, you’re going to fuck it up and God alone knows when you will ever find someone that awesome ever again. As a result you put an insane level of pressure on yourself to succeed… which is a very good way to trip yourself up.
Think of it this way: one of the best ways to psyche out an opponent in sports is to get them to think about what they’re doing. Talk to a golfer and ask them “Hey, do you inhale on the backswing or do you hold your breath?” and suddenly they’re incredibly conscious of everything they’re doing. They’re letting their head get in the way of the things they’ve done a million times before and suddenly they slice an easy shot into the rough.
To put it another way: you’re treating talking to women you’re attracted to like you’re on the bomb squad. Every awesome girl who seems like she might be cool to know is a giant explosive with a mercury switch and redundant failsafes and if you so much as jiggle the wrong wire, it’s good bye the the St. Cecilia’s Orphanage For Special Needs Kids (and Puppies). You’ve done this thousands of times when there weren’t any consequences but now it’s for keeps and if you don’t get it right…. boom.
This is what you’re doing to yourself with girls you feel like you stand a chance with. You have an easier time to talking to women you’re not interested in because you don’t fear the possibility of failure. Who cares, right? You’re better able to be yourself because you don’t give a shit about how the interaction goes. You’re not constantly trying to analyze your own performance or constantly checking for little microclues that let you know how you’re doing, you’re just letting the interaction flow. You’re not coming away from talking to them feeling like a failure because you didn’t get her number or because you didn’t get a date or any other major milestones.
It’s when you start treating talking to a girl like defusing a bomb that you fuck yourself up. Now the pressure is on because you’ve convinced yourself that this is your one shot and if you don’t do everything exactly right then it’s all going to blow up in your face.
Except women aren’t bombs. The women you’re attracted to aren’t fundamentally different from the ones you’re not attracted to – they put their pants on one leg at a time, same as everyone else. They have their own little quirks and insecurities and annoying habits that every other woman you’ve felt comfortable around has had. The only difference is that you’re investing them with more importance because you’re still operating from a place that says “THIS IS MY ONLY CHANCE AND I NEED TO MAKE IT HAPPEN NOW!”
You need to adopt that same consequence-free mentality when you’re talking to women you’re actually attracted to – and that means learning to accept that there are millions of awesome women in the world. As soon as you understand that there will be other women out there, you start to understand that not every interaction has to be 100% perfect and that the slightest screw up means failure. Just because you didn’t hit a perfect S-level performance with one doesn’t doom you to a life of masturbating and crying alone in your room. You shrug, dust off your shoulders and just roll on because there will be more women and a rejection doesn’t define you as a person.
If you freak out because you think that you’ve just pulled the wrong wire and now the bomb is about to destroy the orphanage – metaphorically speaking – then yeah, you’re going to have a harder time. If you just accept that hey, you’re a little nervous but it’s no big deal – even if this doesn’t go the way you hoped – then you will find that you will be much more at ease.
You can recover from fuck-ups. You can trip over your dick (again, metaphorically speaking) and not make her hate you forever. It’s not all or nothing. And even when you fuck up, you will have other opportunities to succeed again later with other people.
Next time, take a deep breath. In through your nose, hold it for a second or two, then exhale slowly through your mouth. Let your heart rate slow a little. She’s just a person, same as you. You’re not going to reject someone if she’s not 100% perfect… and neither is she. If your jokes fall flat or you aren’t as suave as Tony Stark, that’s just fine. It happens and you’ll do better next time.
She’s not a bomb. She’s not your last chance at happiness. She’s just a person.
Start accepting this and you’ll find that you’ll do much better.
I’m in need of some advice. I hope that I don’t ramble on too long, but there’s some back story to lay out.
So I’ve been friends with this girl for the past year and a half or so. We hang out quite a lot and spend a lot of time together. I like her, and I’ve told her so on a few separate occasions. She has never really rejected the idea, but would just tell me that she was focusing on herself and wasn’t ready for dating at the time. I told her that was okay and didn’t let it get to me. I’ve been open to other dating opportunities, but none have really presented themselves.
Anyways, this girl went on a trip for a week for both work and personal reasons. She came back and a few days later, I noticed via Facebook that she entered a relationship with her ex, who I knew happened to live where she traveled to. This was basically out of left field based on other conversations about him and how she felt about it.
The first thing I need advice about is whether I should confront her and ask her about it. It’s been about a week since I found out about this, and I feel like the fact that she hasn’t told me is weird. I might not be that concerned, but we are supposed to be going on vacation in two months. Now, I didn’t have any expectations about going on vacation, but now that she’s in a relationship, I think it’s going to be weird. So should I bring it up? Or is this a case where I need to ignore it and “grow up” and let her tell me if she wants?
The second part is how to handle things going forward. I’ve read a lot of your articles, and I’ve been trying to incorporate a lot of your advice into how I deal with relationships in general. In this case though, I feel like it wouldn’t be appropriate to go nuclear and cut her out. She’s one of my closest friends and I wouldn’t want to shut her out.
Any help you could give would be much appreciated
Friend Zone Parolee
Um, I hate to tell you this FZP, but she rather definitively rejected the idea already. She couched it in softer terms – that she was working on herself and not really wanting to date right now – because women are still socialized to be deferential to men and not be too direct for fear of offending them.
She was trying to tell you that no, she really didn’t want to be more than friends, but you were looking for reasons to keep holding on and took her answer as “well, she didn’t say never…”.
I used to do this back in the bad old days. A girl could tell me that she’d date me when hell froze over and I’d think “So she’s saying there’s a chance…”. It’s the triumph of hope over experience.
Should you confront her over this?
Oh FUCK no.
I get that you’re feeling hurt and a little confused about this. It would’ve been helpful if she’d been more direct about what she meant, but you’re not going to win any points by trying to rules-lawyer this. She didn’t break any promises or betray you. She went on a trip and reconnected with an ex. She didn’t bring this up with you because a) she likely knew you’d be weirded out about all of this and she’s trying to maintain your friendship and b) it’s really none of your business. She will tell you – or not – as she feels it’s appropriate. The best thing you can do is accept it and move on.
Now I want to say something about your planned vacation. Your word choice is kind of significant here: you’re worried that it’s going to be “weird”. This tells me that you may not have had any expectations about this trip with her… but you were sure as fuck hoping that something was going to happen. You may have had specific plans or you may have been just hoping that togetherness in a new place would bring you closer and then nature would just take it’s course.
This is a very bad idea and if you don’t want things to get weird, you need to start getting over the idea that you can turn things around NOW. Otherwise I can guarantee you that this will be the vacation that ends your friendship.
If you want to be friends with her, you’re going to have to do so with the understanding that you and she are not getting together and you must be cool with this. You can’t make every interaction with her a referendum on “WHY WON’T YOU LOVE MEEEEEE!?”. You can’t sit around waiting for her to break up with him so that you can have another shot. You can’t, in short, be a Nice Guy about this. If you can’t be her friend without the hope that you’ll get together with her eventually, then it’s better to cut ties. Otherwise you’ll be making yourself miserable for no good reason and you’ll be making it even worse for her. Not only will she be upset by the way you’re acting, but she’ll also be feeling bad because you’re feeling bad because of her and there’s really nothing she can do about it.
That is incredibly unfair to her. And if you’re really her friend, you wouldn’t want to put her in that position.
So there’re your choices. If you want to be her friend, you have to get over your infatuation with her. If not… well, then sometimes cutting ties is the kindest thing to do until you can come back without an agenda of hooking up.