Dear Dr. NerdLove:
I’m a cis female who has identified as bi for years (though lately I’m pretty sure I’m actually a lesbian but that’s not what I’m asking about.)
So I’ve recently gotten vaccinated. Me and a couple vaccinated friends (both women) had a meetup for the first time in a long time and it was all great. But one, call her J, was telling us a bad date story from awhile back about a guy who did nothing but talk about himself nonstop, and we winced with her. But in the process she said something that’s stuck with me. “He said he hadn’t dated anyone in like six years” and she made a face, and my other friend winced. Apparently this guy was about our age, little older (we’re all like 24/25).
Now…I’m sitting over here trying not to feel gutted because…that’s almost me. I know these friends didn’t mean anything by it, and honestly they AREN’T shallow like you’re going to say. They’re not “only tall guys for me” stereotypical people. They just, it seems, honestly think a guy who hasn’t dated AT ALL in six years is a red flag and I know these people… they’re mature and sensible and not super judgemental so when it comes from them, it’s a lot different than if I’d heard it from some rando online. I do wish the one who KNOWS my actual dating history hadn’t nodded and agreed (I don’t go into it as a rule because I’m kind of ashamed) because it makes me wonder if this is what she’d think of me if it were six years, and also what she thinks of me now and if I’m that friend people lowkey pity. I know this is all irrational and that’s not what they think, that’s not how they are but it still stung, though I said nothing about it.
Full disclosure…the last time I dated someone AT ALL was late 2018, and I dated this one girl for like a month or two. Since then the only person who’s ever shown an interest is a dude who drunkenly hit on one of my friends and then me by comparing us in terms of hotness and personality, openly. Yeah, we didn’t talk to him after that.
And before my first gf? I went out with ONE guy a few times. In twenty-goddamn-fourteen. And a female friend, one of my best ones, was into me for awhile but eventually got over that almost soon after she told me.
Granted, in the last year and a half there has been a pandemic, I don’t hold that against myself. But honestly, what was my excuse before?
I know I know, dating is a numbers and luck game, you’re worth more than who you date blah blah blah, but honestly? Looking back I realize it took me years to be willing to make the first move myself due to hearing about how girls shouldn’t be the pursuers as a teenager. And I also never tried online dating due to…honestly I don’t fully know why.
Maybe it was the horror stories I heard online and from at least half my friends, (especially in regards to how bi women especially get treated online). Maybe it was the idea that I just… don’t know if I know how to sell myself and I also don’t know what there is to sell? The pandemic had me reckoning with a lot of things in my life: even before, I had a lot of regrets in how I felt I didn’t handle my own life very well, and wasn’t grateful for the life I could’ve had. Other people have been in the closet struggling with unaccepting family but they managed to find love. I’ve accepted myself for years and had plenty of opportunities to look for love. What’s my excuse?
And also honestly? I’m just a very boring person. I feel like I consume media and write about it but I used to be able to write creatively and the spark of ideas and/or the will to actually put them down consistently has dried up almost two years before the pandemic. I don’t know what I have that anyone else doesn’t (I’m nice? I’m funny sometimes? Big fucking whoop. I suck at video games, I’m not that good at…anything? Except singing but when I went out for a music major I flunked theory twice (not for lack of trying it’s just hard lol) and also just found the workload and the type of life of a musician to be overwhelming and not what I wanted at all.
I guess I just am very aware I’m nothing special but when I think of how to fix it all I hear is stuff I’ve already thought of and tried before. Whenever I get into a conversation I feel like I struggle to connect or think of anything to say that others will care about unless the other person comes up with something interesting or I know its something we’re both into. Its so fucking lame, and passive, and I’m trying not to be. But conversations with anyone besides my friends (and even some of them) are fucking TERRIFYING to think about, even if I successfully hit it off with another woman online, what happens when we meet in person? Or run out of things to talk about? Everyone does eventually.
So long story short, the whole idea of building a relationship or seeking it out terrifies me and I know I know, the whole idea is to get out there and Just Do It! Or else you’ll probably say just go to therapy and work on yourself first, but honestly? I’m terrified that’ll take too much time for financial reasons and mental health reasons, if I wait to get myself in order to start dating I’ll be almost thirty before I’ve ever even tried to go on one singular date. I’m not doing that. I’ve waited long enough for things to just fall into my lap I cannot do it again but now I’m trying to psych myself up for it and I feel sure I’ll get into the ring now with a high-schoolers idea of relationships, and a high-school level of relationship skills.
TL;DR: What I really need is just need tips to become more interesting, to become the type of woman I’d feel was worth putting out there in the online dating world or the dating world in general, and how to give people a sort of “hook” in my profile and initial online chats without giving away too much personal stuff. Like, small talk is good actually, but how do I manage the bridge between it and Things I am Obsessed With and Deep Stuff? (Also I’m-lowkey-panicking about how to get good at sex cough cough) That middle is what I struggle with most of all.
Thanks for your time,
I’ve Got To Take Control Already
So, the thing that leapt out at me off the bat, IGTTCA, is your understandable worry about what people would think about having not dated for years. This is actually an anxiety a lot of folks have, especially men who’re either late bloomers or older virgins — that they’ve been single for so long or haven’t dated anyone for so long that people will take it as a red flag. In fact, I rather suspect quite a few are going to look at that part of your letter and miss the rest because they’ll go into a panic spiral.
But here’s the thing that I think you may not have picked up on: the only reason why his being single for six years is relevant was because he was a bad date. His lengthy dry spell wasn’t a red flag until after the fact, when it became something your friends could point to and say “see, there’s the problem, should’ve seen that coming a mile away”. Latching on to this singular fact about him is a retroactive justification for why he was a bad date; his lack of relationships didn’t keep him from being appealing to your friend when they were making plans after all. In fact, his experience — or lack thereof — would never have come up at all if this had been a good date; if anything it would be a case for wondering how someone never snatched this guy up before and wasn’t your friend lucky? While there’s certainly a possibility that his being a bad date and his being single for so long were related, this is correlation, not causation. Lots of folks who’ve had relationships are also self-centered, self-absorbed assholes who mostly talk about themselves.
It’s easy to assume that being single for a while or having little relationship experience is an inherent negative… but that’s not true, and it’s entirely dependent on context. Someone who was constantly moving because they were a military kid, for example, might never have been in one place long enough to start dating. There’re folks who were doing charity work overseas, or focused on their schooling, or dealing with trauma or whose faith or spirituality meant they weren’t going to date the way that many folks do. None of those reasons imply anything inherently negative about them; it’s just a matter of circumstances that affected their chances of meeting someone and fostering a relationship with them.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that the things you fear mark you as undesirable from the jump are just fears. They’re just your jerk-brain dripping poison in your ear, feeding your worst anxieties by telling you that they’re all true and nobody could ever possibly be interested in you. And the thing is: anxiety lies. Fear lies. Just because it seems convincing doesn’t mean it’s true, any more than the fact that something hurts you means it’s legitimate. That’s just what YouTuber ContraPoints calls “masochistic epistemology”: if it hurts, it must be true, and if it’s true, then it must hurt. And it’s bullshit.
Here’s the thing: you ask why, if other people who have similar backgrounds, sexualities, etc. are able to date successfully, why aren’t you? Well… less than a paragraph later, you answer your own question: you’d internalized a lot of horror stories about dating while bi, you got fed a lot of bullshit about how women should never be the initiator and you feel like you don’t have anything to offer. Which, again, comes down to “internalized a lot of bullshit that other people fed you,” especially if that bullshit happened to conform to things you already feared. And it’s very easy, once you have this idea in your head, for everything to confirm those anxieties.
Case in point: you seem to think that you need to be amazing at something in order to be “good enough” to date. A lot of folks internalize this idea; they think that they need to be exceptional in order for people to be attracted to them. They grouse that “good enough is never good enough”. But the truth is that if this were at all accurate, humanity would’ve died out before we ever left the savannah. People who are exceptional are just that… exceptions. If that were the standard, then nobody would date; even the exceptions who did match and mate would be having equally exceptional children to the point that they become the norm and you’re right back at nobody being an exception.
But you don’t need to be a concert pianist to enjoy playing music. You don’t need to be an Olypmic-level athlete to enjoy a pick-up game of basketball, nor do you need to be a classically trained Juilliard graduate in order to enjoy singing, or even to have people who enjoy hearing you sing. You don’t have to be “the best” at something in order to have value to others or to be “worth” dating.
In fact, if I were to recommend something to you — or anyone else with anxieties like yours — the first thing I would tell you is to eliminate “should” from your vocabulary. “Should” is based around the idea that there’s a universal narrative or path that everybody grows up and is supposed to follow… and there isn’t. Everybody is on their own path, everybody is living through their own story and their path is going to be unique to them. “Should” doesn’t matter because that narrative is arbitrary and changes all the time. Look at some of the accepted wisdom surrounding relationships in the 1950s and 60s and tell me that “should” has meaning or import.
No, the thing you need to do is, honestly, anything. You want things to be different. Ok, well… start doing different things. You say that you’ve been waiting around too long for things to fall in your lap. Ok, so… stop waiting. Go out and make things happen. If you want different results, you have to do things differently. Sitting around in paralyzed anxiety isn’t serving your needs, so let’s do something different.
Would therapy help? Yeah, probably. I think most people would benefit from talking to someone. It certainly sounds like you may have some sort of social anxiety issue and talking with a therapist or counselor would likely go a long way to helping you resolve it. But is that what you need to do? Not necessarily Imperatives aren’t really the answer here.
What you “need” to do — in as much as you “need” to do anything — is to relax and start being outcome independent. Part of what is making you freeze up is that you feel pressure to perform, to impress people and get them to like you. And while that’s an understandable feeling, it’s also not real. While yes, you want to give people a good impression of you, the problem with your outlook is that you’re so focused on other people’s thoughts and feelings that you make it impossible for you to succeed or feel secure. Nobody can control how other people react or how other people feel and if you’re feeling like you need to win the approval of others, you’re always going to feel like you’re behind the eight ball.
How do you get past this? Well, first is to let go of the worry about how much experience you have or don’t have. It’s not relevant. People don’t date your resume. People date you. Do you need to be incredible for people to want to date you? FUCK no. Completely average people meet, date, and marry all the goddamn time. It’s literally definitional; the majority of any group is going to be average. But it also means you never ask the most important question: are they worth your time? Are they someone who’s right for you? The fact that they exist and you find them attractive doesn’t mean that you and they are compatible. You know very little about them except that you think they’re hot, and you’re making assumptions about their worth based on that. All that does is feed your anxieties back to you.
Conversations are actually a great example of how you can apply this concept of outcome independence and their value to you. Part of how you can connect with people and not worry about running out of things to say is shockingly simple: take interest in other people. Be interested in learning about them. The way I recommend people put this into practice is to treat it like a game: this person has something about them that’s secretly fascinating; it’s your job to find out what this is. You do this by asking questions and try getting to know them — what makes them tick, what are they into, what’s their story? You keep the conversation interesting by remembering that a conversation is a lot like tennis. You ask a question (the serve), they reply (the return), you find a way to relate to it or connect with it and use that as the springboard to another question (the volley). When that particular line of conversation dies, you can ask a different question like you’re returning to the top of a dialogue tree. And because most people never meet someone who actually wants to hear what they have to say or what they think, you’re providing them with a gift. You’re doing them a favor by actively listening, rather than waiting for your turn to talk.
And in doing so, you will likely find points of connection, places where the two of you share interests or experiences, things that you can relate to. Even if it’s not immediately obvious, there’re ways of relating to people; you may not have had their experiences or their perspective but you can almost certainly relate to the emotion behind their experiences. Will you end up getting their number and setting up a date? Maybe! Or maybe not! And it’s cool either way. You’re not trying to angle for a particular outcome; you’re just seeing where things go. And if they go in the direction of dates, romance and sex? Well hey, bonus. But if not, then you’re not out anything either because you were willing to do this just for the sake of good conversation with a potentially fascinating stranger. As a wise man once said, that’s one of life’s great pleasures.
How do you become more interesting? Well, you do so much the same way: you get curious and explore that curiosity. Explore your interests and your surroundings; you’d be amazed at how much there is out there that you don’t know about. Try things just for the sake of trying them. Do things you might not do otherwise, just because they might lead to an interesting story. And even if they don’t… that can sometimes be a story in and of itself.
And honestly, having been vaccinated is the perfect time to put this into practice. We’ve all been cooped up for so long by the pandemic that it’s the perfect time to break old patterns and build new ones. Never had Ethiopian food before? Now’s a great time to try it, especially after the monotony of the previous year. Always wanted to sing with a band? See if you can find live-band karaoke and indulge your rockstar dreams. See what happens when you zig instead of zag in your daily routine. Take a new route to work or to your favorite coffee shop. Pretend to be a tourist and learn the hidden nifty shit in your town.
Collecting these experiences and stories, putting yourself out there and seeing what happens are all ways of taking action, instead of waiting for things to fall into your lap. They’re a way of making things happen for you, shaking up your life and breaking those old routines that don’t serve your needs and apparently haven’t for quite some time. And by taking the pressure off yourself to Find Love or Meet Someone To Date, you’ll actually be improving your odds. Not only will you be living a more interesting life overall, but you’ll be opening yourself up to opportunities — opportunities that you just aren’t seeing right now. And, more importantly, you’ll be in a position to actually take advantage of them when you do find them.
But it all starts with deciding that, if you want things to be different, then you need to take an active hand in making it happen.
Pick one thing to do differently this week. Have one conversation with someone new and try to find the secretly fascinating thing about them. Do this a little bit at a time and watch how quickly these go from being things you have to force yourself to do, to just being part of who you are.
You’ll be amazed at what this will do for your life.
Dear Dr. NerdLove:
It’s been 4 years since my ex-wife left me, and I still can’t get over her. We were together for 8 years, 6 of which we were married. Towards the end of our marriage, she started hanging out with new people and her personality dramatically changed in a short period of time. She told me I didn’t fit in with her new life and left me.
I’ve tried everything I can think of to get past it, but I still miss her, the old her before she changed. I’ve tried meaningless one night stands, casual hookups, and even got into a serious relationship last year. I haven’t had any problems with these relationships, I don’t compare the women I’m with to my ex. But in the back of my mind, I still miss her and I end up breaking things off.
Mentally, I’ve been on depression medication since the breakup. I’ve been doing well with self care. I have a good social support network with awesome friends. I even enjoy being single! I take myself on dates and I’ve learned to appreciate living by myself.
But I still miss her. I don’t want to get over her to move on to new relationships. I don’t need to get over her to keep mentally healthy. I just feel like I’ve been in mourning for years and I’m hoping that eventually it will get better. Does it get better?
Lost In The Past
Here’s what’s going on, LITP: you’re having a hard time getting over your ex-wife because the way things ended has clearly hit you in a vulnerable spot. And I can totally understand that; being told “hey, you just don’t fit in my life anymore byeeeeeee” is some cold shit. But as much as that feels personal… it really isn’t.
I know, I know, how can it not be personal? Well, in the same way that outgrowing a pair of shoes or pants isn’t personal. Or the way that you outgrow an old life. One of the things that we don’t talk about much when we talk about marriages and long-term relationships is that we don’t stop growing or changing as people. This is normal; if you’re the exact same person you were ten years ago, five years ago, hell, last year, then you aren’t living; you’re in stasis at best. Humans don’t live like that; every experience we have changes us. The wisdom we accumulate, the perspective we find, the people who enter and exit our lives… these all change who we are, even if it’s in a very minor way.
For much of the time, couples (or triads or what-have-you) grow in ways that are complementary to one another and in ways that mean that they’re still compatible as a relationship. But there are many times when we change in ways that mean that we’re no longer compatible. This isn’t inherently good nor bad; it just means that our lives were growing together in the same direction and then reached a point where we diverge. That doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with you or her; it just means that you’re different now and what worked before doesn’t work now.
If you want an example of how this divergence can be a good thing, imagine a relationship that works in part because the roles that each partner takes are defined in part by something traumatic in one person’s life. But, as they process their trauma and overcome it, they find that the role that they’d taken no longer fits them or their relationship. Their needs have changed, and their new life and new outlook doesn’t necessarily mesh with their partners’. While it’s a shame that the relationship may not work, that doesn’t mean it’s a failure; it means it was right for the two of them at that time in their lives. Now that particular time has come to its end and a new chapter in their stories begin… and the newly single person is in a better place in life because of that relationship and having healed their trauma.
Now getting back to your situation: It’s entirely understandable that you miss the woman you married. In a very real way, it’s like that person died and the relationship you had with her died along with it. But I suspect that there’s that part of you that feels responsible, that you could have prevented this. That if you did the exact right thing at the right time, your wife would still be the way she was and your relationship would still be going strong. But… you couldn’t have, because this wasn’t about anything you did or didn’t do. This is about what she was doing, the experiences she was having and the life she was living. You two lived and grew together for a while, and then that time came to its end. She changed into who she is now, and the person who she used to be is in the past… and that new person was not compatible with you.
And that sucks. It’s a tragedy. And I think part of why you still cling to this is because you still cling to the idea that your ex is in there — as though this new person were possessing her and shoved your ex-wife out of the controls. But she didn’t; this is just who she became over time. It’s not who she was, but it’s who she is now.
I think what you need to do is to let go of her. You need to let go of the hope that your ex-wife as she was still exists and mourn the loss of her and your relationship properly. Let yourself feel that grief, let yourself experience that pain and resignation of knowing that she’s gone and that there’s no coming back. Give yourself permission to let part of her live on in your memory and in your heart… but let her go. Let yourself finally have that grieving process that I suspect you’ve been holding at bay and I think you’ll finally find both release and catharsis.
It’ll suck. A lot. It’ll hurt worse than it does now. But that pain is the pain of healing, of draining the infection and cleaning the wound. It’s the pain that means you’ll finally be able to let the wound close, instead of picking at the scabs. And while it’ll hit you like a hammer to the chest, you’ll realize — sooner than you think — that you feel better. Like the pain is a little less and getting less every day after.
Because yes: it will get better. If you let it.
You’re going to be ok LITP. You’ve got this.
All will be well.